Union News, February 10, 2001

Officer convicted of assaulting son
By Marla A. Goldberg

SPRINGFIELD A Holyoke police officer, Nelson A. Vasquez Sr., could face up to 10 years in state prison for beating his son with a belt so badly that the child suffered severe bruises.

A jury in Hampden Superior Court found Vasquez guilty yesterday of one count of assault and battery on a child with injury, and one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, a belt and belt buckle. Both counts stemmed from a beating prosecutors said took place Jan. 6, 2000.

After deliberating for about two hours, the predominantly female jury also found Vasquez innocent of one assault and battery with injury charge.

Hampden County Assistant District Attorney Christine T. Maza said Vasquez, of Springfield, is scheduled for sentencing Feb. 21. There are no mandatory minimum sentences for the offenses Vasquez committed. The more serious offense, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, carries a maximum 10-year state prison sentence.

Vasquez's lawyer, Dale E. Bass, had argued that the boy bruised easily because of medications for attention deficit disorder and epilepsy, and could have gotten bruises from being physically restrained for behavioral problems at school. "You know what that therapeutic hold is, it's like placing that kid in a straitjacket," Bass said during closing arguments yesterday.

Bass emphasized that the boy was not hospitalized and suffered no broken bones when he got the bruises in question, and implied that school officials and Massachusetts Department of Social Services employees ganged up on Vasquez once the question of possible abuse arose. Drawing an analogy to a game he said his daughters play, called, "Pig Pile," Bass said there had been "a piling-on game."

In her closing arguments, Maza sought to distinguish between lawful parental discipline and child abuse. "The commonwealth has never suggested that Nelson Vasquez or any other parent was without the right to discipline their child," she said. "Some of you may remember getting the belt, in my generation it was something that was used . . . (but) this defendant is being prosecuted because he beat his child so severely that it caused bruises all over his body," she said.

Vasquez was allowed to remain free on personal recognizance, although Judge Daniel A. Ford ordered him to have no contact with the boy, and to report daily to the probation department.

Vasquez, a 15-year Holyoke police veteran, was arrested in January 2000. Holyoke Police Sgt. George A. Girard said Thursday that Vasquez is on unpaid leave, but could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The child, now 11, is in custody of his mother, Nellie Vasquez, 34, who also faces a charge of assault and battery on a child with injury. Maza said Nellie Vasquez was charged under a section of state law which makes it a crime to permit abuse of a child. Nellie Vasquez also has custody of the couple's other children, and Bass said the couple is living apart.

Nellie Vasquez's trial was scheduled to start Thursday, but Maza filed a motion to postpone it. Maza wrote that she herself has a family member who is seriously ill.

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