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Ex-Huntington Park Officers Charged With Felony : Youth Testifies Police Used Stun Gun to Question Him

November 19, 1987|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

A teen-ager testified in Los Angeles Superior Court this week that two Huntington Park police officers shocked him at least three times each with an electric stun gun to extract a confession that he had stolen car stereo equipment.

But two key witnesses testified that they heard Jaime Ramirez, 18, cry out in pain only after Officer William J. Lustig reached toward him while Officer Robert Rodriguez stood to the side and never moved forward.

Lustig, 32, and Rodriguez, 26, each are charged with a count of felony assault causing "great bodily harm," and a misdemeanor count of inhumane treatment of a prisoner. Both men were fired from the Police Department as a result of the incident.

" I felt I was being burned," the Spanish-speaking Ramirez said through an interpreter. "I could not hold my leg still. I felt a pressure in my heart. I could not breathe freely."

Ramirez told the jury that Rodriguez shocked him three times on his upper left leg with the stun gun before Lustig took the device and shocked him four times. While being held by the officers, Ramirez stayed with his story that he bought the equipment for $25, but he later confessed to stealing it.

Arrested on Suspicion

The interrogation occurred shortly after 4 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1986, after Ramirez was arrested by Officer Eric Ault on suspicion of stealing the car stereo equipment, according to testimony. Ramirez, who was 17 at the time, was walking by his 58th Street home carrying a paper bag containing car stereo equipment.

Ault, the prosecution's first witness, testified he stopped and questioned Ramirez but did not believe the youth bought the equipment. Ault called for assistance to search the area for a burglarized car. He handcuffed Ramirez and put him in his police car, behind the driver's seat.

Rodriguez arrived shortly before Lustig, according to testimony. After being briefed by Ault, the two began to interrogate Ramirez.

"They were getting irritated," said Ault, 24, said of Lustig and Rodriguez. "They weren't getting the responses they were expecting."

Ault testified that Lustig went to his car and returned with a stun gun. Lustig stood in the left rear doorway of the police cruiser during the interrogation, while Rodriguez stood behind him to the side. Ault said he heard the crackle of the stun gun "four or five" times.

Ault, who was standing near the left front wheel of the police cruiser, said his view was partially blocked and he never saw either Lustig or Rodriguez touch the stun gun to Ramirez's leg. But Ault said he saw Lustig crouch in the doorway and reach in toward Ramirez. Ault said he could not tell if the stun gun was ever passed from Lustig to Rodriguez, and that he never saw Rodriguez move toward Ramirez.

Explorer Scout Maria Fragoso , who was on patrol with Ault that night, provided similar testimony.

"I saw officer Lustig's left hand reaching through to where Ramirez (was seated)," she said.

Under cross-examination, Ault testified that he followed an unwritten code of silence that initially kept him from telling his superiors about what he had heard and seen during the interrogation of Ramirez. He spoke of a camaraderie born of the danger of police work.

"I didn't want to get the officers in trouble," said Ault, who admitted he was trying to protect himself as well.

Richard A. Levine, defense attorney for Lustig, asked Ault why he did not try to stop the alleged abuse. "I don't know," Ault said. "I just maintained my position. I didn't approach them, try to stop them or anything."

Ramirez squirmed and cried out in pain, Ault said, after the officer heard the stun gun fired the first time. Ault said he turned away.

"I knew what they were doing and didn't want to be part of it," the police officer testified.

After the stun gun sounded several times, Ault testified, Lustig stepped away and said, " 'Well, I guess the kid is telling the truth.' "

A forensic pathologist testifying for the prosecution said Ramirez had 13 separate, small ulcerations representing what he thought were about four applications of the stun gun. Dr. Terence Allen said the small wounds appeared to be caused by electrical burns and that Ramirez apparently suffered no other injuries.

Attorneys representing the two defendants said the first four days of testimony strengthened their cases.

"He's (Ramirez) saying Rodriguez used it (the stun gun) at a time when two other witnesses said he didn't use it at all," said William J. Hadden, who represents Rodriguez.

Levine, who represents Lustig, said Ramirez accused the officers to avoid prosecution for the burglary. (The district attorney's office declined to prosecute Ramirez, citing insufficient evidence.) Levine also noted that Ramirez testified he could not identify Lustig as one of the men who allegedly shocked him until after he saw Lustig's photograph in news reports.

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