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Former officer guilty in 2nd trial

After an earlier hung jury, he is convicted of assault and filing a false police report in Maywood department.

June 19, 2008|Victoria Kim and Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writers

A former Maywood police officer was convicted Wednesday of assaulting a handcuffed suspect and filing a false police report about the incident afterward.

Prosecutors argued in a seven-day jury trial that Michael Joseph Singleton rammed the prisoner's head against a wall in retaliation for a stream of insults and behavior that included spitting at the officer.

The victim, Jose Bernal, now 35, was knocked unconscious, his nose was broken and he suffered temporary paralysis to one side of his face.

The conviction is a significant victory for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which has struggled to win convictions in cases involving police brutality. A jury deadlocked earlier this year in favor of acquitting Singleton, with nine jurors voting not guilty.

Police misconduct trials present a challenge to prosecutors because testimony of on-duty officers is pitted against the accounts of victims who more often than not have criminal records, experts say.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Margo Baxter, who prosecuted the case both times, called Singleton's conduct "a huge betrayal of the public trust; it deserves a punishment."

At trial, a trainee working with Singleton that night in May 2004 testified against the veteran officer, saying excessive force was used and was covered up in the report. A surveillance camera captured a small part of the incident, which prosecutors argued contradicted Singleton's account.

Michael P. Stone, Singleton's attorney, argued that both men lost their balance and fell against a wall, causing Bernal's injuries. He said Joseph Densmore, the trainee, had a tainted perspective because his own promotion was at stake.

Stone said he was surprised that the jury returned such a quick verdict after being handed the case late Tuesday, adding that jurors had appeared to be mistrusting of law enforcement officers.

"Jury's acceptance of police testimony is far less apparent than it used to be," Stone said.

In a federal civil suit, Densmore alleged that he was fired for reporting the abuse. The suit was dismissed and Densmore has appealed.

Maywood police conducted an internal investigation but did not deliver the case to the district attorney's office for almost three years, until the statute of limitations had nearly expired, Baxter said.

In this month's retrial, Baxter called to the stand the officer who was in charge of the internal investigation, as well as medical experts.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said his office was committed to prosecuting officers who break the law.

"This conduct is the kind that people in law enforcement despise and resent because it hurts the overall integrity of the profession and denigrates the heroic work that goes on every day," Cooley said.

Singleton, 43, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 11. He faces a maximum sentence of three years and eight months.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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