The Supreme Court vacated last week the conviction of a Department of Corrections officer who was accused of assaulting an inmate.
DOC officer Ray A. Camacho, who was recently found guilty of assault and battery, appealed the conviction and asked the Supreme Court to review the Superior Court’s order.
The Supreme Court found that the trial court misinterpreted the criminal intent requirement of the statute.
Camacho argued that the trial court incorrectly interpreted the law that warranted his conviction by applying the statute without considering mens rea (criminal intent).
The Commonwealth was initially tasked to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Camacho did unlawfully strike, beat, wounded, or caused bodily harm to the victim, Ryan Cavalear, but because he is a DOC officer, he has the authority to use force so the issue became whether the use of force was unlawful or without lawful authority or purpose, or contrary to law, regulation or order of the detaining authority.
The trial court examined an internal DOC training policy that was created to guide officers in using the appropriate levels of force and applied that policy to the statute to determine whether Camacho’s actions constituted assault and battery.
The application of the policy led to the court finding that Camacho violated the law and therefore convicted him of assault and battery.
The Supreme Court, however, after reviewing the order, said the trial incorrectly interpreted the statute and seemed to not have applied mens rea to the element of unlawfulness.
“Had the court properly applied the statute, it would have considered whether Camacho was aware that he did not have authority to put Cavalear in a chokehold. In doing so, it would have delved further, for example, into Cavalear’s disobedience and whether his actions would indicate to Camacho that his authority as a DOC officer allowed a greater level of force,” the court stated.
According to court information, Camacho put Cavalear in a chokehold after he failed to comply with an oral command that resulted in a verbal altercation.
Cavalear was allegedly yelling for medication for a recent oral surgery over the facility’s intercom.
When Camacho attempted to enter the cell to remove Cavalear’s cellmate, Cavalear failed to comply with at least one of the oral commands given and resulted in a verbal exchange.
Camacho then grabbed Cavalear by the neck and forced him down on the floor, restrained him, and slapped him.