Candidate says he pleaded no contest to assault in 1970s

October 10, 2018

FILE--In this Sept. 27, 2018 file photo, independent Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate, former state Rep. Joseph Trillo speaks during a televised debate in Bristol, R.I. WPRO-AM reported Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018 that Trillo was in his 30s when he was charged with simple assault in the 1970s against his Cranston neighbor, Nicholas Mattiello. Trillo says that decades ago he pleaded no contest to assaulting a teenager who grew up to become the current Democratic speaker of the House, and says it was an accident. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, file)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An independent candidate for governor in Rhode Island said Wednesday he pleaded no contest decades ago to assaulting a teenager who is now the Democratic speaker of the House.

Former Republican lawmaker Joe Trillo, seen as a possible spoiler in the race between Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and Republican Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, confirmed a WPRO-AM report about the incident.

Trillo was in his 30s sometime in the 1970s when he said he was charged with simple assault against his neighbor in Cranston, Nicholas Mattiello, who was then around 13 years old. Trillo said he was outside working when he heard a neighbor girl who was around 12 or 13 and home alone screaming.

He said he found Mattiello among several boys banging on her door.

“I immediately dropped everything I was doing and ran over to the house, and started waving my arms around furiously to disband the group of boys doing everything they could to get in that house. That’s when one of my arms unintentionally struck young Nicholas Mattiello,” Trillo said in a written statement.

Trillo went on to say that while he wishes he hadn’t accidentally come into contact with Mattiello, “I know I did the right thing, trying to protect the frightened young girl.”

He said he had been arguing with Mattiello’s family at the time about things that were happening in the neighborhood, and they pressed charges. Trillo said he pleaded no contest with the understanding the file would be sealed if he stayed out of trouble.

Mattiello’s office told the station that he doesn’t remember what happened and deferred to Trillo.

“I vaguely recall an incident that took place well over 40 years ago. I respect Joe Trillo, who is a friend and a good person, and I have a lot of affection for him,” he said in a statement.

Later Wednesday, WPRI-TV reported that Trillo was found not guilty of a 1975 assault charge out of Cranston following a trial in early 1977, rather than the no contest plea Trillo recounted. Trillo said it was so long ago he could not remember the details.

Trillo chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Rhode Island in 2016, then left the party to run for governor. His candidacy is seen as a threat to Fung, who trailed Raimondo by double digits in a poll released Tuesday .

Trillo told the station that the news of the incident surfacing was “dirty tricks” from the Fung campaign, and said not enough is known about Fung’s 1989 car crash that killed a man on Interstate 95. Fung disclosed the crash when he ran for governor in 2014, and has said he lost consciousness at the wheel. He was not prosecuted and had his record sealed, and the victim’s family said it forgave him.

Fung told WPRO that Trillo was “unhinged” and said Trillo was bringing up the crash because his campaign was “out of control.”

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