SAN DIEGO — Calling the case "truly a tragedy for all of San Diego," Municipal Judge J. Richard Haden ordered Friday that Sagon Penn stand trial in Superior Court on charges of killing a San Diego policeman and wounding another officer and a police ride-along.
Meanwhile, testimony by hospitalized Patrolman Donovan J. Jacobs in a closed hearing contradicted that of witnesses to the shootings.
Haden, while noting that there were apparent inconsistencies in the testimony between some witnesses--including that of Jacobs--nonetheless determined after a weeklong preliminary hearing that there was sufficient evidence to try Penn for the March 31 shootings.
In doing so, the judge dismissed assertions from Penn's attorney, Robert Slatten, that Penn had been stopped unlawfully, was beaten by the officers and was acting in self-defense when he grabbed Jacobs' holstered revolver and began firing.
Penn, a 23-year-old karate expert, is to be arraigned in Superior Court on June 3 on charges of killing Officer Thomas E. Riggs and attempting to kill Jacobs and Sarah Pina-Ruiz, a civilian observer who was accompanying Riggs. Penn has pleaded innocent and remains in San Diego County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
Jacobs, recuperating at Grossmont Hospital, testified Friday from a hospital conference room about the shootings, but the judge barred the public and reporters from the proceeding, citing the officer's health. Jacobs continues to suffer pain in his arms and neck, and experiences slight paralysis in his left arm and left leg.
In recalling how he was shot, Jacobs' voice choked with emotion and tears welled in his eyes, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter. At one point, the hearing had to be stopped so that Jacobs could compose himself.
According to a court transcript obtained late Friday, Jacobs testified that he stopped Penn because he suspected Penn of being a gang member and also because the truck Penn was driving had failed to signal before making a left turn.
Jacobs said he asked for Penn's driver's license and that he fought with Penn only after the suspect stormed away from the truck and appeared to hit Riggs.
Jacobs' recollection of who first tangled with Penn directly contradicts those of several earlier witnesses, including Pina-Ruiz, who said that violence erupted initially between Jacobs and Penn.
Haden, however, discounted the inconsistency in testimony between Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz over which officer first scuffled with Penn. "The court is aware of the terrible shock to both of these people (Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz)," Haden explained.
The judge also discounted allegations that Penn had been beaten.
"The defendant undoubtedly was struck by the officers with their fists and their batons," Haden ruled. "But the (evidence) does not convince the court that the defendant was beaten. He was hit as he resisted the officers."
Overriding Slatten's arguments that Penn had been detained unlawfully, Haden said Jacobs had probable cause to question Penn. Jacobs, a seven-year police veteran, was searching for an armed member of a black gang who had been seen on foot nearby. Riggs and Pina-Ruiz followed close behind in another patrol car.