It was an "arrogant" Sagon Penn, his "insolence" empowered by his skills in the martial arts, who turned a routine stop by San Diego police into a tragic, deadly confrontation in an Encanto driveway, a prosecutor argued Thursday as Penn's retrial drew near a close.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter insisted that Police Agents Thomas Riggs and Donovan Jacobs acted legally and responsibly in attempting to question Penn in the early evening of March 31, 1985.
But Penn--"Mr. Arrogance," in Carpenter's phrase, a young man burdened with "an insurmountable attitude problem towards authority"--escalated the incident "into a life or death struggle," culminating in his intentional killing of Riggs and his attempts to kill Jacobs and civilian ride-along Sarah Pina-Ruiz, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Milton J. Silverman had only a few minutes Thursday to begin his closing argument. But as he had throughout the 13-week retrial--and through Penn's first trial a year ago--he shifted the focus of the proceedings to Jacobs, contending that it was he, not Penn, whose conduct was "aggressive and childish."
Jacobs, he said, was "like a worm in a tomb--nice and whitewashed and pretty on the outside, and mean and evil and aggressive and hateful and spiteful inside."
In the course of presenting almost 400 exhibits and calling 100 witnesses to the stand since the trial began in mid-March, both the defense and the prosecution had often strayed into arcane and technical areas of contention.
But in a five-hour monologue Thursday, Carpenter honed in on the fundamental elements of the prosecution case against Penn--a case that has strained relations between the black community and the San Diego Police Department like no other in the city's history.
Carpenter--borrowing some of the play-acting and theatrics more characteristic of Silverman's courtroom style--argued that Penn, a karate brown belt, was in full control of the confrontation with Riggs and Jacobs from its inauspicious start to its deadly conclusion.
It began, Carpenter recounted, as Jacobs and Riggs, in separate cruisers, patrolled the streets of Encanto looking for a gang member suspected of threatening a neighborhood man with a gun. Driving along Brooklyn Avenue, they saw Penn, who was at the wheel of his pickup truck, taking some friends home after a day at Balboa Park.
Though Jacobs testified in both trials that he stopped the truck after Penn made an illegal U-turn--a contention rejected by every other witness--Carpenter said tapes of police radio traffic made it clear that Jacobs was looking for the suspect in the gun-waving incident.
The "routine stop" escalated into a battle, Carpenter said, when Jacobs walked up to Penn and asked to see his driver's license. Penn showed him his wallet, but Jacobs insisted that he remove the license--a request, Carpenter noted, that is required by police procedure.
'Real Simple Thing'
Had Penn answered Jacobs' questions and assured the officer he was not a gang member, the encounter would have ended there, the prosecutor said. Instead, Penn--taking affront at being stopped--drew Jacobs into a conflict, Carpenter said.
"It would have been a real simple thing, and they would have been on their way," he said. "But Mr. Penn refused to allow that, by his utter arrogance at being contacted by the police."
Carpenter, abandoning the methodical style that seemed to limit the impact of his arguments in Penn's first trial, hammered away at the theme. By focusing on Penn's responsibility, he provided the jury of eight men and four women with a stark contrast to the defense's contention that Penn was a disciplined innocent pressed to use deadly force to protect himself from the unjustified, unbridled attack of a hotheaded, racist Jacobs.
Penn, according to Carpenter, was "arrogant, insolent, brazen and immature." Jacobs, for his part, "made one mistake," the prosecutor added--"and that was in not recognizing the explosive personality he was dealing with."
The law, Carpenter said, required that Penn submit to questioning and arrest, if necessary, by Jacobs, even if the thought the arrest was illegal. Society's rules require that disputes over an officer's conduct be resolved in court, he said--not on the street.
"We want to avoid losing lives," Carpenter explained. "We want to avoid shoot-outs. We want to avoid people being killed and injured on street corners because they don't like to show licenses to police officers."
But Penn, he argued, was not about to "kowtow" to authority in front of his friends. It was not Penn who felt threatened by the officers, as the defense contends, but Penn--armed with martial arts skills the officers were ill equipped to combat--who threatened Riggs, Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz, Carpenter said.
Threw Up Arms
"If 99 1/2% of the population would have been controlled in this situation by the police officers, who's creating the problem?" Carpenter asked. "Sagon Penn."