Virginia man gets probation for assaulting St. Paul police officer

A Virginia man will not serve additional prison time for a violent attack on a police officer in St. Paul in 2021.

Cuyler Mason Howard, 22, had pleaded guilty to assault in connection with the attack and repeated beatings of Officer Michael Ganzel during an arrest in the city’s Summit Hill neighborhood.

Ramsey County District Judge Kelly Olmstead on Monday followed through on a plea deal Howard reached with prosecutors in June. She maintained the 86-day sentence for one year and dismissed two felony charges – fourth-degree assault on a peace officer and attempting to disarm a peace officer. Howard spent four days in jail after his arrest.

Ganzel, who was in the courtroom with his wife and her father, suffered from headaches, blurred vision, ringing in the ears and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the attack, prosecutor Nelson Rhodus said at the sentencing.

A man with a black eye and a bruised nose.
Bruises can be seen on St. Paul Police Officer Michael Ganzel’s face after an alleged attack by a man he was trying to arrest on September 24, 2021. (Courtesy of the St. Paul Police Department)

“I recognize the resolution,” Rhodus said of the plea agreement, “but it was a very serious attack involving an officer sent to investigate suspicious activity.”

Ganzel was dispatched to the 700 block of Linwood Avenue at approximately 12:30 a.m. on September 24, 2021 after two homeowners reported a man attempting to break into their homes. The homeowners confronted Howard, who walked away after causing damage to each home, the criminal complaint says.

They passed his description on to the police. Shortly thereafter, Ganzel spotted him walking about a block from the source of the calls.

Ganzel stopped his car, got out and twice asked Howard to stop and put his hands on his head. Howard began to obey, but as Ganzel approached him, Howard struck him several times in the head with his clenched fist, according to the complaint.

The two ended up on the ground while Ganzel tried to handcuff Howard and Howard tried to gouge Ganzel’s eyes and hit him repeatedly in the head and face, the complaint says. As Ganzel attempted to protect his eyes by burying his face in Howard’s chest, Howard bit Ganzel’s head, leaving tooth marks on the officer’s scalp.

Ganzel was able to use pepper spray to distract Howard, who stopped hitting him and instead reached for and drew the officer’s gun.

Cuyler Mason Howard booking photo
Cuyler Mason Howard (Courtesy Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

In an interview, Howard said he was angry about being sprayed in the face “and that he wanted to kill the officer,” the complaint states.

“I thought he was going to kill me, so I tried to kill him, but then his gun was strapped to his waist so I couldn’t get it,” Howard reportedly told police.

He admitted to being at the two homes but said he was only looking because he was interested in homes in the area, the complaint states. He apologized repeatedly and said he shouldn’t have fought the officer.

“There are no winners here”

Howard’s public defender, Mark Austin, said at sentencing that a Rule 20.02 examination showed that Howard had multiple mental disorders and that he was suffering from psychosis at the time of the offense.

Although a psychiatrist believed Howard qualified for the mental illness defense, Austin said, “Mr. Howard wanted to take some responsibility for that, even though he knew that.”

Howard, who was living in an apartment on Grand Avenue at the time, has returned to Virginia, where he has “strong family support,” Austin said. According to Austin, he is involved in programs for young men with severe mental disorders who have recently experienced their first psychotic episode.

“He has a much better handle on his mental health now,” he said. “He is doing everything he can to prevent such an incident from happening again.”

Howard, wearing a blue shirt and khaki dress pants, declined to speak in court. His parents sat in the courtroom gallery.

“My only encouragement in this case is the incredible amount of work that has been done through it,” Judge Olmstead said. “It makes me sick when I see cases where our officers are attacked and they are injured in this way in the line of duty.”

Olmstead said she has “incredible compassion” for Ganzel’s injuries and ongoing issues while understanding “the extenuating circumstances here given the mental health issues and the episode that (Howard) faced.”

“There are no winners here,” she said. Virginia man gets probation for assaulting St. Paul police officer

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