Trial Opens in Case of Two West Sacramento Men Beaten by Police

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police_tapeAfter nearly five years, the trial opens for Fermin Galvan-Magana and his brother Ernesto who face counts of resisting arrest and battery on police officers for an incident that occurred back in 2005.

The Vanguard covered this story back in 2007.  The defendents have alleged excessive force by the police officer.  At that time, they had been unable to come to trial because the younger brother had suffered debilitating head injuries.

The question before the jurors will in part be whether these men truly resisted arrest as the police allege or whether they were simply the victims of an overzealous police officer who beat one of the defendants to the point where he was in a coma.

Defense Attorney Hector Salitrero said in 2007:

“Ernesto was in a coma 1 1/2 months and he was in the hospital for two months.  “There were no less than eight strikes to Ernesto’s head, any one of which could have been lethal”

Officers struck Ernesto Galvan-Magana three times with a Taser gun and then several times with their batons.  Mr. Salitrero described the officers’ actions as excessive and racially motivated. He said the baton blows caused Ernesto Galvan-Magana’s skull to collapse.

The incident occurred on June 14, 2005 at nearly 3:20 am in West Sacramento.  Officer Donald Schlie of the West Sacramento Police Department was on patrol, driving solo.  He stopped to check out a vehicle and two men along the roadway, and began questioning them.

According to the Deputy DA’s oppening statement, Officer Schlie, upon approaching the brothers, noticed that they were sweaty and behaving oddly.  This included Ernesto repeatedly thrusting his hands into and out of his pockets. Officer Schlie did not know if he might have a weapon. Officer Schlie asked him to keep his hands out of his pockets, then tried to detain Ernesto by grabbing his wrist. As he tried to detain Ernesto, Ernesto turned and struck Schlie, and kept on punching. Schlie repeatedly tried to subdue Ernesto verbally, but Ernesto fought wildly and with unusual strength. Schlie tried his Taser, but that was also ineffective.

At this point the backup officer, Officer Farrington arrived, but both were unable to restrain Ernesto.  They used their batons multiple times. A few blows inadvertently struck Ernesto on the forehead, although they were intended for the extremities.  A third officer arrived, and subdued Fermin (to the ground), inadvertently causing asphalt scrape injuries and a broken tooth.

According to the Deputy DA, an expert witness will testify that all of Ernesto’s head injuries were consistent with “glancing blows.”  Another expert will testify on use of force, as defense tactics. Ernesto and Fermin resisted the officers’ legal investigation, in performance of their duties, and resisted violently.

In Defense Attorney Salitrero’s opening statement, he argued that it was difficult to believe that two large, trained officers could not subdue one small fighting without putting Ernesto into a level three coma with permanent brain damage, and without putting both Galvans into the hospital. Whatever resistance they were giving did not justify these beatings. And they had not even committed any crimes, nothing illegal was found on their persons or in their car; they were just talking.

In 2007, the Sacramento Bee had reported,

“No drugs were found on either man, according to testimony, and no drugs were detected in their systems.”

According to Mr. Salitrero, the prosecution has no evidence of the Galvans “being under the influence” of some controlled substance.  They only have only the officer’s testimony which is inconsistent with other evidence. No sobriety test was attempted, Ernesto had no weapons in his pockets.

Mr. Salitrero argued that Officer Schlie should have realized that it was unreasonable for a small man such as Ernesto to attack the larger Schlie. All that the evidence will show is that all Ernesto did was defensive behavior, as he was being beaten while he was down.

The defense will produce an expert medical witness who will testify that Ernesto’s head injuries were actually the result of direct blows to the head, not “glancing” as the People contend, and that there were no comparable wounds to Ernesto’s extremities. The evidence will show that the head injuries were direct and intentional blows, 4-6 of them, and the resulting coma was enough to kill Ernesto. The evidence will show that the officers could not have feared for their lives, and that their injuries were minimal compared to the Galvans’. This claim is nothing more than justification and cover up for nearly killing Ernesto.

The Vanguard will have an update on this story at the conclusion of the trial.  Judge Tim Fall is the presiding judge in this case, and despite the publicity that this case received, there appears to be no other media coverage on hand.

At last report, the brothers had also filed a federal law suit alleging excessive force and racial violence by the West Sacramento Police Department.  At the time of publication, the status of that lawsuit is unknown.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Cathy Aubill contributed to this report.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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