MILWAUKEE – Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of former Milwaukee police officer Michael Mattioli, who is facing reckless homicide charges in the death of Joel Acevedo. Acevedo died six days after a house party at Mattioli’s residence in April 2020 during which the two engaged in a physical altercation leading to Mattioli allegedly applying a chokehold on Acevedo.
Criminal defense attorney and managing partner at Kim & LaVoy Julius Kim told Wisconsin’s Afternoon News he believes the issue of what exactly caused Acevedo’s death will be the main thrust for the defense.
“Mattioli’s actions could have contributed to Acevedo’s death, but was his actions, of putting this chokehold on him, was that a substantial factor in causing the death?” Kim said.
The defense has already pointed to Acevedo’s drug use and pre-existing health conditions to explain why Mattioli’s actions would not be that substantial factor in his death.
“Would he have suddenly just dropped dead because of his previous health conditions? Probably not. I think what the defense is hanging their hat on is that Acevedo apparently survived for a few days after this incident occurred and then died,” Kim said. “If he died right on the scene I think it would be a harder argument to make for the defense.”
Mattioli was charged in May 2020, but numerous delays and the unexpected retirement of the former medical examiner Brian Peterson, delayed the start of the trial until Monday, November 6, 2023.
Kim said he doesn’t believe the lack of Peterson’s testimony will be a major hindrance for the prosecution.
“That can happen, in fact it happens in a lot of different cases, where another expert, another professional, can testify as to the findings of another doctor, coroner, or medical examiner,” he said.
Peterson, in his role as Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, ruled the cause of Acevedo’s death was “traumatic suffocation.” Kim said that not being able to call Peterson to the stand could actually hinder the defense.
“I think that the defense is going to argue that might have been premature because Dr. Peterson might not have had in his hand or available to him Mr. Acevedo’s previous medical history which could have contributed to the death,” Kim said. “So without Dr. Peterson there to justify why he made the ruling that he did, that kind of ties the defense’s hands.”
The other big question for the defense is whether Mattioli himself will take the stand, a prospect Kim believes could happen.
“He may end up testifying, because I think that a lot of the words that he said on the scene were captured on bodycam. A lot of them, quite honestly, don’t sound very flattering, and I think quite frankly there’s going to be some explaining to do on his part in terms of why he did what he did or more importantly, didn’t do what he did.”
38 witnesses in total are expected to take the stand before it wraps up. It remains to be seen if one of them will be Michael Mattioli.