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2 Call Teen's Arrest Fitting

An Inglewood officer's lawyer says a D.A. investigator and a police trainer state officer's use of force was fitting and seeks dismissal of case.

November 01, 2002|Steve Berry | Times Staff Writer

An investigator for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has said a police officer did not use excessive force in the videotaped arrest of a handcuffed Inglewood teenager, contradicting a key element of the criminal indictment against him, a defense attorney said Thursday.

Defense lawyer John Barnett cited the opinions of the investigator, who is a former Inglewood police training officer, and those of a current use-of-force instructor at the department in asking Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Hollingsworth to dismiss the indictment.

Barnett argued that the charges should be dismissed because the grand jury would not have indicted Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse if the investigator and the Inglewood instructor had testified to the panel.

In interviews with the district attorney's office, both officers -- Senior Dist. Atty. Investigator David Ishibashi and Inglewood Officer G.D. Sanford -- said Morse used justifiable force when he picked 16-year-old Donovan Jackson up off the ground, then apparently slammed him on to the trunk of a sheriff's deputy's vehicle, Barnett said.

Sanford, according to the transcript of an interview obtained by The Times, also said the force was acceptable because Jackson intentionally went limp, which he described as "active resistance."

That contention offers the first insight into how the defense plans to explain a crucial portion of Morse's use of force in the July incident.

The videotape, shot by a bystander, was broadcast repeatedly across the country, prompting nationwide protests of police brutality and drawing the attention of U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

Both Sanford and Ishibashi said Morse's action would not have been justifiable if Jackson were unconscious or near unconscious, as prosecutors contend, according to Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. She said neither men have qualified in a courtroom as use-of-force experts.

Prosecutors interviewed the training officers after the indictments, as they were preparing the case against Morse. Gibbons said prosecutors decided to interview them because of their experience as police trainers.

Morse, 24, was indicted in August on a charge of assault under color of law, and his partner, Bijan Darvish, 25, is accused of filing a false police report after the incident.

The incident happened July 6, after police began questioning Jackson's father at a gas station. Videotapes, recorded by a man across the street and the gas station's security cameras, show several officers struggling with Jackson for several minutes until they handcuffed him, at which time his resistance appears to cease.

At that point, the camera shows Morse picking Donovan up, carrying him to the patrol vehicle and apparently throwing him down on the trunk. He then punches him in the face. Morse has said Jackson had grabbed his testicles and he had to hit Jackson to make him let go.

Few details about Ishibashi's statements to prosecutors were available Thursday. Barnett said he has had "only a very general" conversation with Ishibashi, but that the investigator confirmed that he told the district attorney's office that he thought the use of force was justifiable.

Ishibashi did not return phone calls from The Times on Thursday.

Gibbons said she did not know Ishibashi's opinion on whether Morse was justified in punching Jackson.

Sanford, the Inglewood use-of-force instructor, said the punch and Morse's method of placing him at the car were justified.

In a transcript of his interview with prosecutors, Sanford said Jackson appeared to be conscious when Morse picked him up and took him to the car.

He said that Jackson's resistance before being handcuffed "sets up" Morse's subsequent actions. Sanford said Jackson, by going limp, continued "active resistance" after he was handcuffed, thus justifying the way Morse forcefully put him on the car.

Moreover, Jackson's dead weight forced Morse to pick him up high so he could put him up high enough on the car to keep the youth from sliding off the sloping surface of the trunk.

Although Sanford said Morse placed Jackson on the trunk forcefully, he said he would not describe the action as "slamming" the youth down.

He also said the video backs Morse's contention that Jackson grabbed the officer's testicles. Although Sanford conceded that Jackson's hands are out of the video camera's viewfinder, the tape does show Morse reaching down toward his groin area just before he throws the punch.

The hearing on that motion to dismiss and others was postponed until Nov. 25.

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