Custody dispute outside Worcester church that led to pastor tasered, churchgoers arrested
Police say a storefront church on Waverly Street turned into a crime scene Sunday when an officer had to use a Taser to subdue a preacher who interfered during an investigation of a child custody dispute.
Three people arrested during the Sunday evening incident at the Cornerstone Bible Baptist Church at 78 Waverly St. were arraigned Tuesday in Central District Court.
Police said officers were called to the church shortly before 7:30 p.m. for a father's report of "custodial interference."
After their arrival, 55-year-old Joseph J. Rizzuti Sr. of 312 Massasoit Road allegedly kept stepping in front of Officer Diony Nunez while telling a woman involved in the dispute not to speak with the police and to just leave if she was not detained, according to a statement of facts filed in court by Officer Michael Cappabianca Jr., who said he was wearing a body camera.
In an interview after the arraignments, Mr. Rizzuti said he objected to police taking an 11-year-old child from the woman who was involved in the custody dispute because they did not have the proper paperwork. He said he did not understand why police believed they had the right to "kick in the door" to the church and arrest him and that he was "looking forward to seeing this thing play out" in court.
A video posted to the church's Facebook page shows Mr. Rizzuti, who is listed as an evangelist, preaching at a church service Sunday that apparently ended before the police showed up.
Officer Cappabianca wrote that Mr. Rizzuti was advised to step aside, go into the church, and allow Officer Nunez to speak with the mother.
"Joseph continued yelling that I could not tell him what to do and that I was a tyrant," Officer Cappabianca said in his report.
The mother, meanwhile, was getting into a vehicle while neighbors watched the disturbance from their windows, according to the statement. The woman was driving off as Officer Nunez was knocking on the window of the vehicle, explaining that he needed to speak to her.
Mr. Rizzuti allegedly continued to yell and was cautioned to quiet down and go inside or face arrest for disturbing the peace, Officer Cappabianca wrote. Mr. Rizzuti allegedly refused and Officer Cappabianca said he approached him to place him under arrest.
Mr. Rizzuti began to back up, then ran into the church, throwing the door into Officer Cappabianca as he gave chase, according to the statement. After running to the front of the church and around the pulpit, Mr. Rizzuti lost his balance and was taken down by the officers, Officer Cappabianca wrote.
Mr. Rizzuti allegedly resisted as Officer Cappabianca tried to pull his arms behind his back so he could be handcuffed. Another man, later identified as Joseph J. Rizzuti Jr., was allegedly "hovering" over the officer's back, "interfering with the arrest of Joseph," according to the statement.
The elder Mr. Rizzuti allegedly continued to refuse to place his hands behind his back and Officer Cappabianca said he used his Taser, delivering "A 5 second drive stun" to the middle of Mr. Rizzuti's back, between his shoulder blades. The suspect then complied and was handcuffed, the officer wrote.
Joseph J. Rizzuti Jr., 30, of 184 Cohasset St., allegedly tensed his arms and pulled away as Officer Nunez tried to take him into custody on a charge of interfering with the arrest of his father.
Karissa M. Rizzuti, 29, with a last known address of 51 Ernest Ave., was arrested on an interfering with police charge after she allegedly picked up several items removed by police from the pockets of one of the two men arrested and began to run away. Officer Nunez said he pushed Ms. Rizzuti down, grabbed her arm and placed her under arrest.
Ms. Rizzuti said she was pregnant and wanted medical attention. An ambulance was called to the scene, but Ms. Rizzuti declined medical treatment, Officer Nunez said in his statement of facts.
Joseph J. Rizzuti Jr. is identified as the church's pastor on its website. Ms. Rizzuti is his wife, accordng to the website.
Joseph J. Rizzuti Sr. was arraigned on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (door), assault and battery on a police officer, interfering with a police officer, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Joseph J. Rizzuti Jr. was arraigned on charges of interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest and Ms. Rizzuti was arraigned on single count of interfering with a police officer.
Judge Jennifer L. Ginsburg entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of all three and continued their cases to Oct. 16. The Rizzutis said they had hired lawyer Elliot M. Weinstein to represent them, but that he was tied up in federal court Tuesday and could not be present for the arraignment. The Rizzutis were all released on personal recognizance.