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San Diego Officer Acquitted in Trial to Resume Duties

June 11, 1996|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The police chief said Monday that he has decided to return to street duty an officer recently acquitted of felony assault--the only San Diego officer ever charged in an on-duty shooting.

Chief Jerry Sanders said the quickness of the jury's verdict, new evidence presented at the trial, and Officer Christopher Chaney's professional demeanor during the nine-month ordeal convinced him that Chaney should remain with the department and return to full duty.

"Chris was a good police officer before this occurred, and I'm confident he will continue to be a good police officer," Sanders said.

After a Superior Court jury took only 10 minutes May 16 to acquit Chaney, Sanders said he would review the case before deciding whether to fire Chaney or send him back to patrol duty. The five-year veteran has been on desk duty since being charged.

"I'm looking forward to going back to work," Chaney said. "I expected [Sander's decision], because I knew I was innocent."

Chaney, 34, who won a series of commendations before the controversial Oct. 8 shooting, said he has received up to 200 letters of support since his acquittal. Jurors and other community members also wrote Sanders.

Sanders said he felt that the homicide investigators who probed the shooting had done a good job, but that information that was not available to them, and only was revealed during Chaney's trial, put the incident in a different light.

Chaney was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon for shooting a fleeing suspect after a high-speed, nighttime chase of three suspects who refused to yield for a traffic stop. The suspect was struck in the back of the arm but survived.

While being interrogated by investigators, Chaney said he may have shot at a suspect who was fleeing about 30 feet from him.

During his trial, however, Chaney's lawyers argued that he had been confused about the events of the shooting and that a reconstruction of the scene showed that he shot at a suspect who was charging directly at him, that the bullet had missed and that it ended up striking the fleeing driver. The department's ballistics expert testified that Chaney's version was not inconsistent with the evidence found at the scene.

Sanders said he was impressed with how Chaney "handled the spotlight." Chaney has never criticized the Police Department.

Sanders' decision comes as the Latino Police Officers Assn. is planning a fund-raiser Friday to help Chaney, an African American, pay $25,000 in legal bills. Novelist Joseph Wambaugh has donated autographed copies of his latest book, "Floaters," for a raffle.

"It was obviously a bum rap," Wambaugh, who lives in San Diego, said of the case against Chaney. "The jury saw through it immediately, and now somebody has to help him."

Police Capt. Hank Olais, commander of the department's southern division, where Chaney is assigned, said reaction to Sanders' decision "has been favorable from the troops in this command and others. I'm ready to put Chris back in the field."

But before Chaney can go back on patrol, he must complete one chore: qualify on the pistol range with his service revolver.

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