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|Judge to rule today in Framingham assault case||April 8, 2009|
|Norman Miller 508-626-3823||Metrowest Daily News|
FRAMINGHAM -- Framingham District Court Judge Douglas Stoddart said he would rule today on whether a Framingham priest will face assault charges.
Joe Rizoli, a vocal opponent of illegal immigration, had previously filed an assault complaint, but a clerk magistrate ruled on Feb. 2 there was no probable cause to charge the Rev. Joseph Pranzo with assault.
Rizoli, a Framingham resident, appealed that decision.
Rizoli claimed yesterday in court that Pranzo assaulted him as he tried to film a woman speaking at a gang forum held at St. Tarcisius Church on Dec. 6. Rizoli said he was filming the forum for his local cable TV show.
"I turned around and started filming and all of a sudden, bam, I got hit," he said. "He blind-sided me. His hands were all over me, and I was trying to protect my camera."
Rizoli said he and Pranzo struggled until Deputy Police Chief Ken Ferguson pulled the men apart.
Rizoli's brother Jim played video from the event. It shows the crowd for a second and then the camera shaking. At one point, Pranzo's face appears on camera.
Jim Rizoli said Pranzo grabbed his brother and began to shake him, and the assault only stopped because Ferguson stepped in.
"If he (Ferguson) didn't do this, they would have been wrestling on the floor, believe me," said Jim Rizoli. "It would have been a fiasco."
Harold Wolfe, who testified on Joe Rizoli's behalf, said he saw Pranzo grab the camera and watched the pair "wrestling around." He said Rizoli was nearly pulled off his seat.
Pranzo's lawyer, F. Beirne Lovely Jr., called Ferguson to the stand, who testified Pranzo had expressed concern before the meeting about the Rizolis filming. The decision to allow videotaping was made when Pranzo was not present.
Ferguson said he did not see any assault. He said he saw Pranzo confront Rizoli, but then he said he told Pranzo the videotaping was allowed and Ferguson walked off with him.
"I never observed him touch anybody," Ferguson said.
Town Manager Julian Suso, who attended the forum, also said he did not see any assault. He said it appeared Pranzo was only trying to obstruct the camera.
Pranzo did not testify.
During closing arguments, Lovely told Stoddart no assault occurred.
"There was nothing on that film that showed Father Pranzo touched, grabbed or obstructed the camera," he said.
Rizoli's lawyer, David Grossack said not only did an assault occur, but Pranzo violated Rizoli's rights as a journalist by trying to stop him from videotaping the forum. Grossack also said Pranzo may be getting special attention because he is a member of the clergy.
"If this was a domestic situation or a neighbor-to-neighbor situation, there is no doubt a complaint would have been issued," he said. "We believe they deserve their day in court."
Stoddart said he would try to rule by this morning.
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