Four Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were acquitted Tuesday of federal charges that they violated the civil rights of a Missouri trucker in 1987 by beating him in the parking lot of a Whittier mini-mall.
Deputies Sam Ferri and Everett Maldonado were acquitted on three counts each of using excessive force and conspiring to submit false evidence in order to justify the arrest and use of force against the trucker, Coy Blane Willbanks.
Deputies Joseph Lomonaco and Bruce Prewett both were acquitted on two similar counts.
The U.S. District Court jury in Los Angeles deliberated less than a day before reaching the verdicts.
Attorney Donald Re, who represented Ferri, said he spoke to jurors afterward and their "basic feeling was that the government simply didn't offer any credible evidence to demonstrate that the person had been beaten."
"They apparently went through the machinations of hashing out all of the testimony, and they couldn't find anything that would convince them that Willbanks was actually kicked in the face--one of the primary points that the government was trying to make."
Prosecutors alleged that the deputies pulled Willbanks, then 26, from the cab of his truck and kicked him in the head when he refused to move his rig, which was parked illegally.
Suzanne Drouet, who prosecuted the case for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, was not immediately available for comment.
Maldonado's attorney, Roger Cossack, said the government's case was weakened because prosecutors did not file charges until five years after the incident. Throughout the trial, defense attorneys suggested that the much-publicized Rodney G. King beating case sparked the prosecution.
"The jurors didn't like the fact that this case was brought five years later," Cossack said, "and they didn't like Willbanks."
Re said the defense team was "concerned about the fact that it looked like the Justice Department decided that they had to find a case because of what was going on in Los Angeles (in the wake of the King beating)."
"They picked this case, and it was a bad case. . . . The jurors seemed to agree that there may have been some political overtones to the prosecution. They were concerned about it," he said.
Defense attorneys maintained during the trial that Willbanks was drunk and under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident. The defense also contended that the trucker kicked one of the deputies in the head without provocation.
Willbanks was hospitalized for two days after the incident and treated for cuts to his head.
"The police feared that they were dealing with a dangerous maniac," Cossack said. "All they asked him to do was move his truck."
Prewett's lawyer, Michael Nasatir, said jurors did not believe three prosecution witnesses who seemed to substantiate Willbanks' version of events.
"I'm elated that the jury system still works and that the jury had the courage to come up with the right decision in today's political climate," Nasatir said.
"It was the right result in this case," he said.