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Man acquitted of spitting on Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy

Several jurors say deputies' testimony was inconsistent with video footage of the man's arrest after he crashed his truck about half a mile from his Rancho Palos Verdes home.

June 15, 2012|By Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times

A man charged with spitting on a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was acquitted of battery this week after his defense attorney produced video footage that jurors said contradicted testimony by deputies.

Several jurors said after the trial that deputies gave conflicting accounts of the October 2010 arrest of Steven Sartori and that the video did not show one of the deputies wiping away spit as she testified she had.

The video, they said, also showed the deputies using more force than they acknowledged on the stand.

"When we saw the video, it was completely inconsistent with what the deputies said," said Sarah Valdez of Torrance, who works as a restaurant server. "I'm not going to say they should lose their jobs, but something should be done."

Valdez and other jurors, however, stopped short of saying they believe the deputies lied under oath.

"I don't think they were forthcoming with a lot of things, but I don't think they perjured themselves," said another juror, Domenic, who asked that his last name be withheld.

A district attorney's spokeswoman said prosecutors disagreed with the verdict and believed that the video was generally consistent with the deputies' testimony. "People's memories do vary, but there are no substantial or glaring inconsistencies that I'm aware of," said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.

Sartori, 23, was arrested after he crashed his truck about half a mile from his Rancho Palos Verdes home and left the scene. He told deputies his mother had been driving.

Sgt. Annmarie Matusik wrote in a report that Sartori smelled of alcohol, yelled profanities and spat at her as she and a partner tried to handcuff him to a hand rail at his home.

He allegedly spat at another deputy soon afterward, according to sheriff's arrest reports. The grainy video footage, which came from security cameras at Sartori's home, shows deputies using force as a handcuffed Sartori struggles, though it's unclear if he ever spits at them.

Sartori was charged with misdemeanor counts of marijuana possession as well as battery and assault on sheriff's deputies. He was not charged in connection with the crash. A judge dismissed the assault charge during the trial, and the Torrance jury on Tuesday found Sartori not guilty of the remaining charges.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to discuss details of the case, citing pending civil litigation, but said department officials were disappointed with the verdict. "Our deputies didn't do anything wrong," he said. "It wasn't a clear video at all."

Sartori's defense attorney, Thomas E. Beck, accused the deputies of using excessive force and then lying.

"It's outrageous, and they should be punished," Beck said.

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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