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The Huntington Park Police : The Jose Silva Coria Case

July 06, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO

HUNTINGTON PARK — These are accounts of five of the 30 brutality claims filed against the Huntington Park Police Department in 1984 and 1985. During those two years, the 30-member department had the highest frequency of brutality claims among 11 municipal police departments in the Southeast/Long Beach area.

Officer Henry F. Batterton was chasing a speeding van last Aug. 10 when he saw orange muzzle flashes coming from the driver's side of the van.

Batterton radioed for help, saying he was being shot at. Other officers joined in the car chase that ended with a collision and a desperate footrace down Live Oak Street.

As residents stirred in their sleep, four officers fired 31 shots at Jose Silva Coria, the van's driver. When the officers handcuffed the critically wounded man just before 2 a.m., he was unarmed.

Batterton was interviewed later that morning by sheriff's investigators. According to their report, Batterton repeatedly said that "when he saw the muzzle flashes" during the chase, he had "flashbacks" to a similar 1983 car chase and shooting. In that chase, Batterton shot and killed a suspect in a jewelry store robbery who had fired at him.

As a result of the shooting, Coria lost the use of his right arm and has not worked since. A Mexican citizen, Coria painted cars in a Santa Monica body shop. In March, he filed suit in Superior Court against the city and the four officers, seeking an unspecified amount of damages.

Coria, 25, was tried last month in Norwalk Superior Court on charges of attempted murder and assaulting a police officer with a firearm. In his testimony, he said he did not have a gun and never fired at Officer Batterton. On June 18, a jury found him innocent.

The night he was shot, Coria watched the Dodgers beat the Reds 3-1 at Dodger Stadium, then rode a bus to Santa Monica to get his van. He was on his way home to his wife and two sons in Huntington Park when he was pulled over at Florence and Santa Fe avenues by Batterton. Coria had been driving erratically and the rear of his 1973 Chevrolet van had no license plates, Batterton testified at Coria's trial.

When the officer approached the van, Coria sped away. Batterton went after him.

While pursuing Coria, Batterton testified, he saw "muzzle flashes" in the driver's side window of Coria's van. Batterton said he believed that he was being "set up" because during the chase, Coria repeatedly turned around in the driver's seat to look back at the officer.

Other police officers took up the pursuit. After traveling less than two miles, Coria crashed into a parked car on Live Oak Street. Crouching behind the driver's side door of his cruiser, Batterton drew his gun and repeatedly ordered Coria to "freeze."

Officer's Testimony

Coria ignored the orders and began to get out of the van. According to Batterton's testimony, Coria was in a semi-crouch and his right hand, which was near his waist, was obscured.

Batterton fired six shots at Coria, who fell backward and then ran. Batterton testified that the reason he fired was "to protect my safety and the safety of others, and the fact that I was scared." He said he felt that two of his shots hit Coria.

Officer Carlos J. Nuguez arrived as Batterton ordered Coria to "freeze," according to Sheriff's Department reports. Two other officers--Antonio Luna and Thomas L. Martin --arrived as Batterton began firing at Coria. They all opened fire.

Nuguez testified that he fired six shots because he believed that there had been an exchange of fire between Batterton and Coria, and because Coria was in an apparent "combat stance" and appeared to have "a two-hand hold of a gun." Luna said he fired six shots because he felt that Batterton was in danger. And Martin fired six shots because Coria had both hands clasped together in front of his hips and "I was afraid he was going to kill me," he testified.

The officers reloaded and chased Coria, with Batterton firing five more times and Martin twice, before Coria collapsed on a porch.

6 Bullets in Victim

Ten shots struck the van and others hit three houses on Live Oak Street. One slug entered a bedroom window and struck a wall. A woman who was asleep in the bedroom at the time was not hurt. Six of the .357 magnum bullets hit Coria--in the chest, shoulder, both arms, left leg and right foot.

All four officers used .357 magnums and police said they did not determine whose shots hit Coria. In testimony, Batterton said he handcuffed Coria then dragged him by the arms toward the street.

Sheriff's deputies went through Coria's van and found no gun or shells. A gunshot-residue test on the van was inconclusive and no evidence of gunpowder residue was found on Coria's shirt. Police were unable to conduct similar tests on Coria because he was undergoing emergency treatment at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital.

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