By Edward Garcia
In the absence of Eric Michael O’Connor, the jury delivered their verdict this past Friday afternoon which found O’Connor guilty of resisting arrest.
O’Connor’s absence did not come as a surprise, as he had stopped attending the court proceedings since Thursday.
This short jury trial addressed an arrest on May 24, 2017, in West Sacramento. On that day, police officers were dispatched to a mobile home park and, ultimately, tased O’Connor for his lack of compliance. The events were caught on camera.
This verdict did come as a shock to the defense, who argued the officers involved used excessive force. In their closing, the defense stated, the officers entered the trailer park area looking for a fight.
In response, the prosecution found the behavior of West Sacramento Police Officers Nathann Ogden and Raymond Barrantes appropriate for the situation—a situation that had them report to a high crime area with knowledge that the defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine.
These two officers were the key witnesses for the prosecution. Through their testimony, counsel was able to piece together the events that took place on May 24, 2017.
Their dispatch to the mobile home park was a result of a report by O’Connor’s 88-year-old grandmother, who did not want him on her property, especially when he was on meth. Prior to this encounter, she had evicted the defendant because of his drug use.
Officers Ogden and Barrantes mutually highlighted that they turned on their body cameras before coming into contact with O’Connor.
In the video, Officer Ogden is trailing behind Officer Barrantes while they make their way to a mobile home, where they first come into contact with O’Connor on the porch. After O’Connor removes his backpack, Officer Barrantes orders him to approach and turn around—the defendant fails to follow these instructions.
O’Connor’s inability to follow instructions leads Officer Barrantes to grab him by the hand and help him turn around, while at the same time telling O’Connor to relax or he will be Tasered.
During these events, Officer Ogden noted the defendant was resisting, “moving his hands erratically,” and making strange facial expressions. Ogden identified these as signs of being under the influence of meth.
These statements allowed the People to place emphasis on the defendant being “high,” which the defense found inappropriate because the case was about whether the police acted accordingly, not the state of their client.
The next few seconds in the video are too blurry to distinguish, but Officer Ogden confirmed he was ordered to take down O’Connor. The video refocuses with the defendant on his side and the officers struggling to secure his hands. The defendant had his right hand in handcuffs.
While directing O’Connor to relax, and attempting to secure his left hand, Officer Ogden informs the defendant that he will use a Taser on him. The defendant begins to shout profanities and Officer Ogden tases him in the lower back. Seconds later, Officer Barrantes deploys his baton in readiness as he commands O’Connor to his stomach.
After placing O’Connor in handcuffs, the two officers searched his belongings and found a meth pipe.
The prosecution used these events to demonstrate O’Connor’s lack of compliance. According to the body camera footage, the police officer said, “Give us your hand,” which the defendant then hid under his stomach. Furthermore, the People stated, the police officers had no way of knowing if the defendant had any sort of weapon that could cause harm.
Explaining the behavior, evidence showed police making statements like “relax your hands,” and, when O’Connor did not comply, the police officer deployed his Taser for his personal safety, stated the prosecution.
In contrast, the defense believed O’Connor’s uncontrollable shaking of hands did not allow him to comply with police requests. Also, they felt the use of handcuffs was unnecessary considering the officers were called for a simple domestic disturbance.
The defense, in cross-examination, got the officers to clarify that dispatch gave them no report of a weapon, needles, violence, or injuries. Additionally, Officer Barrantes confirmed the defendant was not acting aggressively, he only failed to comply with orders even when given numerous warnings.
O’Connor was giving clear indications of being a threat to officer safety, according to the prosecution. The baton was expanded in case the defendant would continue not to comply, stated Officer Barrantes.
Under further questioning from the defense, both officers explained handcuffs were used to restrain individuals who were not free to leave and for officer safety.
After the defendant’s 88-year-old grandmother gave her testimony, the jury was read instructions and sent to deliberate, and, after a day of deliberation, they returned with a guilty verdict.
Due to the absence of Mr. O’Connor, sentencing was not scheduled. Judge Janene Beronio declared the jury’s civic duty completed, and brought an end to the short trial.