As Ronald Bell crouched on his hands and knees on his driveway, the Streamwood police officer started whaling away with his metal baton, striking Bell on his back.
Bell tried to block the blows with his right arm, but Officer James Mandarino then hit him on the head and arm — 15 times in all — until Bell collapsed to the pavement, clasping his head in his hands in a desperate attempt to shield himself from further abuse. Bell was charged with resisting a police officer and reckless driving, both misdemeanors, and was issued a handful of traffic tickets, including driving under the influence.
But less than a day later, the attention of law enforcement shifted to Mandarino. A digital camera mounted on his squad car recorded every second of what Cook County prosecutors said was an unprovoked beating. The early-morning assault played out amid the headlights of the police cruiser as its windshield wipers swept back and forth in the rain. Mandarino, a 15-year veteran of the northwest suburban department, surrendered Thursday to face felony charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct. Prosecutors said the attack left Bell with a concussion, extensive bruising and seven stitches to close a wound in his right ear.
Prosecutors dropped all the charges against Bell, 28, as well as his passenger, Nolan Stalbaum, 38, of Glendale Heights, who was also charged with resisting a police officer. The two had been driving when Mandarino gave pursuit for a short distance before Bell parked in the driveway of his Streamwood residence. “Every law enforcement officer holds his or her powers through the public trust, and this defendant’s senseless act of rage against an unarmed citizen constitutes an offensive violation of that trust,” State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said at a news conference.
The seven-minute video released by prosecutors showed that Bell didn’t appear to act in a threatening or aggressive manner toward the officer. Instead, he appeared compliant and calm even as the officer used a stun gun on Stalbaum, who collapsed in a heap on Bell’s front porch. Bell’s brother, Stacey, said he witnessed the attack. He is seen in the video stepping from the home during the beating. “(Ronald) always had his hands in the air … and then (the officer) just started going to town on him, beating the hell out of him,” he said.
Early March 28, the two were driving west on Schaumburg Road after attending a union banquet and a showing of an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout. Mandarino was at the intersection of Schaumburg Road and East Avenue when he allegedly saw Bell spin his vehicle’s tires, then head down a side street. The officer flipped on his lights and followed Bell a few blocks to his home in the 200 block of Juniper Circle.
As Bell and Stalbaum got out of the vehicle, Mandarino can be seen in the video — which has no audio — pointing his firearm at them. Bell almost immediately sat back down in the driver’s seat, and the officer moved toward Stalbaum as he stood on the front porch of the residence. Authorities said Mandarino then used a stun gun on Stalbaum. The video shows him collapse. At that point, Bell stood up from the car and placed his hands behind his head. For the next 90 seconds, Bell stood at the side of his vehicle with his hands either in the air or clasped behind his head.
The video showed Mandarino extend a collapsible metal baton as he ordered Bell to the ground. Bell immediately dropped to his knees with his hands behind his head and his face turned downward. Mandarino then pushed Bell forward to his hands and knees and began striking him repeatedly. Stalbaum could not be reached for comment, and Bell referred all questions to his attorney, Arthur Loevy, who did not return calls. “We’re elated,” Stacey Bell said of Mandarino’s arrest. The pavement outside the home remains stained from his brother’s blood, he said. “We don’t feel vindicated yet. If he loses his badge and loses his job and goes to jail, then I’ll feel vindicated.”
The incident was discovered when a department official was reviewing the arrests from the previous night and saw a booking photo of Bell with his head wrapped in a thick bandage, said Sally Daly, Alvarez’s spokeswoman. Alarmed, the official pulled the police reports and the video showing the beating. The case was quickly turned over to prosecutors. The video and other records were given to the state’s attorney’s office within the next few days. “While this is a difficult day for their department, they are to be commended for taking quick and proper action following his action,” Alvarez said. “They acted swiftly. We got on it quickly.”
In a brief statement, Streamwood police officials said Mandarino was placed on paid administrative leave pending disciplinary action. “Integrity serves as the foundation of the Streamwood Police Department operations,” the statement said. “We believe that as difficult as it is, our actions in this incident reaffirm our complete commitment to the community.”
Mandarino turned himself in to authorities Thursday after a warrant for his arrest was issued the previous night. A judge set bail at $50,000, and Mandarino was released hours later after posting 10 percent of the amount. The officer refused to answer questions as he walked out of the Criminal Courts Building. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been advised by my attorney not to make any statement,” he told reporters before his brother pulled up in an SUV and whisked him away. Mandarino’s lawyer, Edmund Wanderling, disputed prosecutors’ accounts, contending that Bell and Stalbaum were fleeing from his client.