West Michigan police officer faces trial in excessive force case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A former west Michigan police officer accused of assaulting a driver while on duty last year is headed to trial, the state attorney general's office announced Thursday.  

Following a preliminary hearing Thursday, a judge bound Matthew Mistretta's case over to circuit court, records show.

The 31-year-old was arraigned in May through the 7th District Court in Van Buren County on two counts of assault and battery, a 93-day misdemeanor; and one count of misconduct in office by a public official, a five-year felony. 

He was charged after an investigation by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s Public Integrity Unit.

"My office will continue to hold public servants accountable who fail to uphold the integrity of their oath to protect and serve,” she said in a statement.

Authorities have said Mistretta, who worked with the Hartford Police Department, conducted a traffic stop in August 2020 on a truck that was speeding and being driven erratically.  

Bystander video showed Mistretta removing the driver from the truck, shoving the man into the side of the vehicle to handcuff him then slamming him onto the hood of the patrol car, investigators said.

"Mistretta then proceeded to take the individual to the ground and knelt on him in a similar manner to the George Floyd murder," Nessel's office wrote in the statement. "At no point during the arrest was the man resisting or obstructing Mistretta, according to video evidence. A passenger in the truck reported hearing the driver tell Mistretta he couldn’t breathe."

According to a campaign to pay his legal fees on GiveSendGo, a crowdfunding website, Mistretta, a former Marine, "was informed the suspect and his passenger had just committed homicide."

He was terminated as Michigan State Police investigated the incident, WKZO AM/FM reported in May.

Hartford police officials and an attorney listed as representing Mistretta did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Mistretta’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 20.