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Police Charges Against Zinzun, 2 Others Dropped

August 20, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — The state attorney general's office has dropped all charges against community activist Michael Zinzun and two others in connection with a violent confrontation with police last year at the Community Arms housing project.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Noreen Berra said Tuesday that after a three-month review of the case she had found insufficient evidence to proceed any further.

Berra said the charges were dropped in part because of conflicting reports from civilian witnesses and police officers about what happened during the confrontation that Zinzun said left him blind in his left eye.

"There must be sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," Berra said. "At the end of our review, there wasn't enough."

Zinzun hailed the decision as a victory that ended 14 months of "harassment" by City Atty. Victor Kaleta.

"I've gone through a lot with this case, and it's a big relief to have it all finished," Zinzun said. "They didn't have a leg to stand on and were getting deeper and deeper into trouble."

Zinzun's attorney, Terrence Bennett, said the decision supports his original contention that the charges against Zinzun, Stevie Eugene Rivers and Frank Anthony Taylor were filed only as a "retaliatory action" in response to the civil suits the three men have filed against the city.

"This was clearly retaliation," Bennett said. "I think it speaks very poorly of the city attorney that when the case was looked at by an independent agency, all charges were dropped."

Kaleta refused to comment on the case because the suits are still pending in U. S. District Court.

The dismissal of 11 misdemeanor counts against the men, including charges of resisting arrest, striking a police officer and inciting a riot, came after seven months of trying to find a judge willing to hear the case.

Five Pasadena Municipal Court judges excused themselves, citing potential conflicts because of their connection with some part of the prosecution.

The case was eventually referred to Judge Norris Goodwin in Los Angeles Municipal Court.

In May, he ordered the city's special prosecutor, John Slawson, to step down, saying there appeared to be a conflict of interest because Slawson, as a city employee, was prosecuting three men who had filed multimillion-dollar civil suits against the city.

The case was then turned over to the state attorney general's office for prosecution.

Despite the resolution of the criminal case against the three men, Zinzun said he and his supporters will continue to push the city to release a confidential report on the confrontation prepared by independent investigator Edwin J. Wilson Jr.

Zinzun, a former Black Panther and now chairman of the Los Angeles-based Coalition Against Police Abuse, said his group will also continue its efforts to prohibit the Pasadena Police Department from using choke holds and metal flashlights in subduing suspects.

The confrontation occurred about 1:30 a.m. on June 22, 1986, after police Officers Christopher Vicino and James Ballestero responded to a complaint about a family disturbance at the Community Arms housing project, near Summit Avenue and Painter Street.

As they walked through the apartment complex, the two officers noticed Rivers, who they said resembled a man involved in the disturbance.

Both officers began questioning Rivers, who Vicino said appeared to lie about his age and identity.

A few moments later, the officers were notified by police dispatchers that a car alarm had gone off nearby.

Vicino reported that Rivers looked "extremely nervous" and that after being questioned about the alarm he tried to run away.

The officers chased Rivers and handcuffed him after striking him several time on the legs with batons and spraying him with Mace, according to Vicino's report on the incident.

Rivers has claimed that he was repeatedly struck after he was handcuffed.

Rivers' cries for help attracted about 30 people, including Zinzun and Taylor, according to a witness.

The group demanded the officers' names and badge numbers. Ballestero reported that the "mob" became hostile and began "yelling obscenities."

During the confrontation, a fight broke out between Taylor and several officers who had arrived to help control the crowd, according to Ballestero's account.

As Ballestero ran to help the officers, he said, Zinzun punched him in the chest and then ran about 30 feet down a driveway, out of sight of the crowd.

There are conflicting reports on how Zinzun was injured. Ballestero said Zinzun fell as he was being chased; Zinzun said he was pushed down on the pavement and struck in his left eye with a flashlight.

Rivers was arrested for burglary, but the district attorney's office declined to file charges.

In January, Zinzun was charged with four misdemeanor counts, including resisting arrest, striking an officer and inciting a riot.

Taylor was charged with four misdemeanor counts of inciting a riot and resisting arrest. Rivers was charged with three misdemeanor counts, including striking an officer and resisting arrest.

The dismissal of the charges leaves unresolved one remaining criminal case against Vicino and Ballestero, who were charged in March with unnecessarily beating Rivers.

Vicino is now assigned to desk duty with the Police Department. Ballestero is no longer a member of the department. Both men are scheduled to be arraigned in Pasadena Municipal Court on Monday.

The misdemeanor charge against the two men carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.

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