Testimony opens in trial of White Wolves member

Connecticut Post/January 15, 2004
By Daniel Tepper

Bridgeport -- He might not be the leader of the pack, but witnesses testified Wednesday that Matthew Zrallack, a member of a white supremacist group, the White Wolves, did his best to disrupt a Stratford meeting of gays and lesbians last year.

"The group came in in an intimidating way, like if you got in their way they would knock you down," Luciano Cappiello told a Superior Court jury.

"He [Zrallack] was a very angry person," he testified in Superior Court.

Testimony began Wednesday in the trial of the 18-year-old Zrallack, of Roosevelt Avenue, Stratford, who is charged with third-degree intimidation based on bigotry or bias, third-degree assault and second-degree breach of peace.

He is accused of disrupting a meeting of Bridges, a gay and lesbian group, at the Stratford Library last May 21, and then attacking a police officer called to quell the disturbance.

Zrallack's older brother Kenneth is the leader of the White Wolves, based in Stratford. Under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Susan Filan, Cappiello, a Shelton resident, said he went to the meeting at the library to help his son, David, who is the president of Bridges. The group planned to discuss establishing a community center for gays and lesbians.

The elder Cappiello said he saw a group of youths standing outside the library and one gave the Nazi salute. "It made me uneasy," he said.

Cappiello said he was helping set up the meeting in the library's first-floor meeting room "when all of a sudden the whole group I had seen outside came in. I had an uneasy feeling and felt there was going to be trouble." He said many of those who came to discuss the community center got up and left.

Zrallack let out a short laugh as Cappiello identified him as one of the youths who covered up the Bridges' meeting sign with a protest sign of their own. The laugh drew a sharp rebuke from Judge Lubbie Harper Jr.

Earlier, David Cappiello had testified he went to call police after the Wolves and their supporters entered the meeting room. "I was afraid for the safety of the people in the room." Stratford Police Officer Mark Lecardo said he was called to the library and saw Zrallack place a large poster over one for the Bridges' organization.

Lecardo said he escorted Zrallack from the room, but on the way out he said the defendant turned and yelled back, "We don't want your kind here, you bitch!"

Stratford Police Detective Frederick Wilcoxson testified he came to the scene in plain clothes.

Under cross-examination Zrallack's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Anna Del Mastro, pointed out that her client would not have known Wilcoxson was a police officer when he allegedly grabbed him by the neck.

"No, he wouldn't," agreed the detective. "And that's why we only charged him with third-degree assault and not assault on a police officer." Testimony is to continue this morning.

He said there was a crowd of people walking up the ramp from the meeting room when he spotted Zrallack pushing his way through the crowd, shoving other people into the wall.

"I put my hand on his arm to tell him, 'Hey, wait your turn,' and that's when he grabbed me around the neck," Wilcoxson said. He demonstrated for the jury how Zrallack grabbed his neck with one hand.

Wilcoxson said he then pulled Zrallack's hand from his neck, identified himself as a police officer and placed him under arrest. Daniel Tepfer, who covers state courts and law enforcement issues, can be reached at 330-6308. The poster read on one side, "Stratford vs. homosexual rights," and on the other side, "Homosexuality is a sin."

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