A forensic psychiatrist hired by the prosecution in the Sagon Penn murder trial on Thursday contradicted a defense psychiatrist who last week said Police Agent Donovan Jacobs deliberately lied on the witness stand.
The defense psychiatrist, Dr. Haig Koshkarian, had said he believed Jacobs made up a story about Penn making an illegal U-turn so the officer could justify having stopped Penn's truck.
But on Thursday, Dr. Wait Griswold said Jacobs may have believed he was telling the truth. Griswold attributed Jacobs' apparent misstatements to "unconscious distortion of reality" brought on by the trauma of the shooting and feelings of guilt over a fellow officer's death.
"I think mainly it would be the confusion and stress of the situation at the time that could cause some distortion of his memory of what occurred," said Griswold, who was asked by the district attorney's office to review Koshkarian's testimony.
He said of Koshkarian's conclusions: "I think a good deal of it is speculation and cannot be proven one way or another."
During two months of testimony, no prosecution or defense witness has supported Jacobs' contentions that Penn made a U-turn or that the subsequent fight broke out initially between Penn and Police Agent Thomas Riggs, rather than between Penn and Jacobs.
Koshkarian had testified that Jacobs either deliberately lied or subconsciously concocted his version of events. Griswold countered Thursday that Jacobs had no reason to lie. He suggested that Jacobs is a more credible witness than civilian eyewitnesses.
"I'd be more inclined to accept the opinion of the police than the people in (Penn's) truck," Griswold said on cross-examination. " . . . It's just my general opinion of police officers and people you meet on the street, be they black, white or whatever."
Griswold suggested that the witnesses' apparent unanimity seemed peculiar.
"All their testimony seems to favor the defendant universally, which seems a little odd," he said. "No one backs up the police officer. That just doesn't make sense to me."
Griswold attributed that near-unanimity to "ethnic and cultural reasons."
"Well, I would think that the people in that area being, I'm told, largely black would tend to favor the defendant," he said, "and be more apt to agree in their statements that it was not his fault and that he was defending himself."
Asked by defense attorney Milton Silverman whether he was suggesting that blacks might be more likely than other groups to side with Penn--who is black--against the police, Griswold said, "Not necessarily, no."
Riggs was shot to death and Jacobs was wounded in the March 31, 1985, incident. Penn is also accused of attempted murder for shooting Sarah Pina-Ruiz, a civilian who was observing police practices while riding in Riggs' car. Jacobs testified that he stopped Penn's truck while investigating a report about a gang member with a gun.
Riggs arrived as a backup, and an altercation ensued, involving Penn and the officers. Several defense witnesses have testified that Jacobs provoked a fight, and that both officers beat Penn repeatedly with fists and batons. The witnesses also testified that Jacobs used racial slurs while beating Penn.
Penn grabbed Jacobs' service revolver from its holster and fired six times, hitting Jacobs once, Riggs three times and Pina-Ruiz twice. Penn fled in Jacobs' patrol car and surrendered a short time later at police headquarters.
'Rude' Language Cited
In other testimony Thursday, a police sergeant said Jacobs used "rude" language when he and another officer stopped a man who later filed a complaint against Jacobs, though Jacobs was exonerated in a subsequent departmental investigation.
Sgt. James McGinley said he investigated a complaint by Edward Serdi, who charged that Jacobs was abusive and pushed him against an embankment on Sept. 5, 1982, when he was stopped by Jacobs and Officer William Maheu.
Maheu testified Thursday that he was en route to a call in his patrol car, with Jacobs following in his car as a backup, when he tried to make a left turn at Skyline Drive and 61st Street. The officer said he did not see Serdi's motorcycle coming in his direction and almost hit him when he tried to turn left. Serdi continued on and yelled something at him as he passed by, Maheu said.
Both Turned Back
Instead of responding to the call they had received, Maheu testified, the two officers made a U-turn and went after Serdi, who had pulled over and was waiting for them. Maheu testified that Serdi swore at the officers, but said that he could not remember how they responded to Serdi's remark.
Under questioning by Silverman, Maheu said he could not remember if Serdi was white or black, short or tall, fat or skinny.
Maheu said that at no time did Jacobs push or threaten Serdi, as Serdi has testified. Serdi testified on April 24 that before he was pushed into the embankment, Jacobs threatened him with his baton.