Four San Diego police officers invoked the Fifth Amendment in court Tuesday, refusing to testify about two other officers charged with beating a handcuffed prisoner.
The surprising turn of events came in the preliminary hearing for Officers Mark Keyser, 30, and David Nellis, 29, who are charged with assault under color of authority in a Sept. 18 incident with drug suspect Keith Beals, 19. San Diego Municipal Judge Nicholas Kasimatis ordered the two men to stand trial on the felony charge and set an arraignment for Feb. 7.
Beals testified that he tried to evade the officers but was captured in a cemetery, handcuffed and beaten.
A First for Lawyer
The four officers who refused to testify said such testimony might incriminate them. Three of the officers were called by the prosecution, and the fourth was called by the defense. They were: Scott Greenwood, Danny Hollister, William Jeffers and Toby Freestone.
"I've been a lawyer for 17 years, and this is the first time I've ever had a police officer take the Fifth Amendment," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig Rooten, who indicated that the four officers called to the stand were present during the alleged beating. "I think it's pretty unusual."
Beals, who is black, said the white officers chased him into a cemetery and caught him. He said he didn't resist arrest.
"I was being beat," Beals said. "I was receiving hits from both sides of my body."
He estimated that he was struck 15 times in the ribs, ankles and thighs with fists and possibly a baton. He said one of the eight officers present used profanity and hit him in the stomach.
"He (Keyser) struck me twice in the stomach. He turned me around, and then he kicked me in the testes. . . . I was scared."
Under the Influence
On cross-examination, Beals said he had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol and had "a little bit" of crack cocaine in his possession. Beals said he was not struck until he was handcuffed in the 11:30 p.m. incident.
Officer Mark Johnson testified that he saw one officer strike Beals with his fist while Beals was handcuffed.
Officer James Schorr said Keyser kicked Beals' legs apart after Beals refused an order to spread his legs for a patdown. Both Schorr and Officer Lee Norton said they did not see Nellis hit anyone.
Nellis and Keyser are free on their own recognizance. If convicted, they could be sentenced to state prison for three years and fined $10,000.
Beals has a hearing today in an attempt to withdraw his guilty plea to possession of cocaine.