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San Diego Man Was Acquitted on Self-Defense Grounds : Officer's Killer Seeks Job on Police Force

February 11, 1988|PATRICK McDONNELL | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Sagon Penn, who killed a policeman here in a racially charged encounter and was acquitted of murder on grounds of self defense, has taken out an application to join the Police Department.

Keith Enerson, police commander in charge of public affairs, said Penn picked up an application packet Tuesday from personnel officials at City Hall. Enerson said Penn apparently also was given an appointment for a written aptitude test--one of the first steps in the application process.

Penn's apparent interest in joining the force adds a bizarre twist to the riveting, divisive case that attracted nationwide attention.

Must Pass Tests

Enerson stressed that the job application matter was still "very preliminary," and that Penn must pass a series of written, physical and psychological tests before being considered for the department. The application process could last as long as a year, said Enerson, who declined to comment on Penn's qualifications.

"It's inappropriate to comment on any application," he said.

His comments were echoed by Police Chief William B. Kolender, who said Tuesday that he had heard that Penn intended to apply and declined to supply details.

Penn could not be reached for comment.

The confrontation between Penn, who is black, and two white police officers took place March 31, 1985. Before the struggle was over, Penn had grabbed an officer's gun and shot and killed Officer Thomas Riggs. Penn also shot and wounded Officer Donovan Jacobs and Sarah Pina-Ruiz, a civilian accompanying Riggs on a ride-along program.

At two lengthy trials, Penn's lawyers produced witnesses who stated that Jacobs had provoked the attack by beating Penn and taunting him with racial slurs after police had stopped Penn's pickup truck. Jacobs, who is still on the force, denied the charges.

The case has left bad feelings in the department, where Penn's acquittal was not welcomed, and in the black community, where many believe that proper police procedure could have averted the deadly confrontation.

Penn's apparent interest in joining the police force predates his involvement in the deadly shooting.

Penn applied to become a police officer in April, 1983. Police said that Penn passed a physical examination but failed the reading comprehension portion of the entrance test.

Despite all the publicity surrounding the case, Penn has remained somewhat of an enigma. He never testified at the trial and has yet to make a public statement of any kind since his arrest.

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