Man convicted of badly beating police officer could be free by judicial release after serving 9 months in prison

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A man convicted of violently assaulting a North Royalton Police Officer is granted judicial release by a Cuyahoga County Judge. Police officer Alexandra Bell says she was shocked to learn that the man she says tried to kill her could be back on the streets in just days.

“This was not just an assault. He wasn’t trying to hurt me to get away, he was trying to kill me, and he said so three times,” Officer Bell said.

Officer Bell was attacked by John Pugnea outside of his home on Lynn Drive. Pugnea tried to gouge the officer’s eyes out by literally putting his thumbs in her eye sockets while stating he would kill her. The officer followed Pugnea into his driveway after a 911 call about a road rage incident where the North Royalton man apparently threatened to kill other drivers back in August of 2019. Officer Bell said Pugnea had clearly been drinking as he pushed her to the ground and kept punching her in the head and face.

“He gets his fingers into my eyes, my eye sockets, and he begins pushing down. I couldn’t reach my gun really because of the way we were lying on the ground, and I was afraid if I took it out - I had no visual, and I didn’t want to hurt his wife. So I grabbed my mace, and I ended up pepper-spraying him.

Officer Bell says at one point, Pugnea told her, “Ma’am, the only reason you’re still alive right now is because of my wife. This is my wife, and you’re the only reason you’re still alive.”

The North Royalton officer tells 19 News that Pugnea’s wife had come out of the house and used her body to try and shield the officer’s head and face as she yelled at her husband to get off of the patrol officer.

Pugnea was arrested when another officer arrived at the call. Officer Bell was sent to the hospital, “I was just scared. I was just trying to fight to stay alive at that point because when he looked at me and said he was going to kill me, he had that look on his face. I knew he wasn’t lying; he wasn’t kidding. I knew that he was trying to kill me.”

After facing numerous charges, including attempted murder, Pugnea was allowed to take a plea deal to felonious assault on the officer and menacing for threatening others, including the North Royalton Police Chief.

Pugnea was sentenced to the minimum of four years in prison, instead of the 15-year maximum according to Officer Bell. After serving just nine months in prison, Bell was alerted on Tuesday that Pugnea was eligible for judicial release and would be free in just a few days.

But Officer Bell is fighting back, “I felt like it was a slap in the face.”

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office filed a motion for reconsideration in the judicial release case because Officer Bell says she was never notified so that she could be present at the hearing.

She says Judge Daniel Gaul, who sentenced Pugnea, also granted him the judicial release, “I’m obviously extremely upset. First of all upset with the county, the prosecutor’s office because there are fail-safes that are in place based on Marcy’s Law and the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights. I had absolutely every right to be there to speak on my behalf and the other victims as well.”

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement: “This convicted felon brutally beat a police officer by punching her in the head multiple times and trying to gouge her eyes out while threatening to kill her. He should serve his entire sentence and not a day less.”

Pugnea will not be released from prison until a new hearing can be held for the judge to reconsider whether he should be set free after serving nine months and not his full sentence for assaulting a police officer.

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