Riello Speaks at Forum on Fathers' Rights
By Lisa Gosselin, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 14, 2001
Fatherhood Coalition chairman addresses common myths about arrest in domestic situations
in letter to editor
PITTSFIELD -- Roughly 30 people attended a panel discussion focusing on false allegations of domestic violence, hosted by the Berkshire chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition yesterday.
Pittsfield Police Chief Anthony J. Riello and attorney Barbara Johnson of Andover answered several dozen questions from coalition Co-Chairman Rinaldo Del Gallo III during the two-hour forum.
Mayoral candidates Sara Hathaway and James Ruberto were invited, but did not appear after viewing a list of questions to be asked, Del Gallo said.
"I am not here to debate the issues," Riello said at the outset of the forum. "We as police officers enforce the law. We don't make it."
He answered several questions about how police respond to reports of domestic violence and how they assess a situation, but he refused to answer hypothetical questions about when an arrest is proper.
Johnson also urged the audience members not to blame the judges or the police who enforce the law. "It's the people that you vote into office that write the law," she said. Johnson specializes in defending people falsely accused of abuse.
The Fatherhood Coalition, which is based in Milford and has about 60 members in Berkshire County, was organized locally several years ago. One of the group's goals is to promote the idea of "shared parenting," Del Gallo said.
The group participated this year in the North Adams Fall Foliage Parade and also plans to have a float in the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade next summer, he said.
Yesterday's panel discussion was the first in a series of forums planned to raise awareness about issues related to fatherhood, Del Gallo said.
"We, as the Fatherhood Coalition, deplore domestic violence," Del Gallo said. Still, he continued, some men are mistreated by the system when women make false allegations, and they have few rights to defend against restraining orders issued by the courts.
Riello explained that when officers respond to reports of domestic violence, they look for evidence that a crime has been committed. Officers have to establish "probable cause" in order to make an arrest, he said.
Two officers respond to every domestic situation and approach cautiously, Riello said. Sometimes they will stand outside the home for a few minutes and listen to what is happening inside so that they know what kind of situation they are getting into, he said.
The officers are trained to separate the parties and speak to them individually in order to find out what has happened.
Probable cause is established when "an average person would have reason to believe that a crime has, is or will be committed," the chief explained. "You can't just show up and make an arrest."
If men are arrested without probable cause or based on false allegations, that will be apparent in court, Riello said.
And those who are wronged by the system can always sue for a bad arrest or malicious prosecution, Johnson said.
When asked to make judgments on hypothetical situations, Riello said that he could not
do so, because officers have to
make decisions every day based on what they observe when they arrive at a scene.
"There is no black and white in the law," Riello said. "It's the totality of the situation."
The coalition, which meets weekly at Berkshire Medical Center, has a Web site at http://www.fatherhoodcoalition.org/.