Ex-officer guilty in lesser assault on woman

A divided jury Friday found an ex-Philadelphia police officer guilty of misdemeanor assault - but acquitted him of a more serious felony-assault count - in a 2010 fracas with a woman he knew, after a hockey tournament at a Northern Liberties playground.

The Common Pleas Court jury of seven women and five men started deliberations Wednesday afternoon - and seemed deadlocked - before returning the guilty verdict Friday afternoon against Damien Walto, 32.

In addition to acquitting Walto of aggravated assault, the jury could not reach a verdict on misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats and possession of an instrument of crime.

The two counts on which the jury hung involved allegations that Walto threatened to stab Diane Janssen, 26, with the pointed end of a broken hockey stick in an alcohol-fueled physical confrontation July 17, 2010. Assistant District Attorney William L. Inden said he would likely retry Walto on those two counts.

Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. set a hearing for May 31 when Walto will be retried, or sentenced if the prosecutor decides not to pursue the case.

Berry let Walto remain free on bail pending the hearing, but he ordered him to stay away from Janssen and her family.

According to trial testimony, the late-night incident occurred at Tip Top playground near Front Street and Girard Avenue.

Janssen described Walto as a platonic friend of about five years and said both were out with three friends drinking beer after a hockey tourney Walto helped to organize.

Janssen testified that she and Walto began arguing after he insulted her. She said Walto tripped her and slammed her face into the ground causing severe bruising.

Walto, an officer for three years, who was fired after his arrest, testified in his own defense, denied tripping Janssen, and said she tripped on one of her flip-flop sandals.

Defense attorney Gerald Stanshine argued that the argument got out of control when Janssen threw a beer can at Walto and then hit him in the side of the head with another can.

Friends pulled Walto away, and witnesses said Walto smashed a hockey stick, menaced Janssen, and threatened to stab her.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian

at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com,

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