By Monica Velez
On August 28, 2015, Elijah Jackson was arrested after attempting an escape from the handcuffs of four police officers, hopping two fences and dodging traffic over the I-5 highway, northbound and southbound. Jackson was charged with resisting arrest; the question for the jury however, is whether this is true, or if the evidence points to an excessive force case.
On the morning of December 8, 2015, the trial opened with prosecutor Michael Vroman calling Sergeant Brent Shultz of the California Highway Patrol to the stand. On the morning of August 28, Shultz was called to the Northbound I-5 Dunnigan rest stop outside Woodland because a suspicious man had been locked in the bathroom for an hour.
Shultz, being the second officer on the scene, was assisting Deputy Johnathan Fielding of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. When Fielding asked Jackson his name and birthday, Shultz said Jackson responded in a low mumble, giving them two names at first that did not match the birthday, until finally giving them the name Elijah Jackson that matched up.
Shultz explained that, as Fielding attempted to handcuff Jackson, the defendant bolted to the left, sprinting out toward the highway. Shultz followed him until he could see Jackson begin to slow down and start walking.
CHP Officer John Kitamura, the second witness called to the stand, drove across the interstate to the southbound rest stop, catching Jackson and ordering him to lie flat on the ground while he cuffed his left hand.
Shultz told Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, on cross-examination, that the handcuffs were placed higher up the arm than usual, and, instead of the most comfortable backhand facing backhand position, the cuffs were placed backhand to palm. Shultz explained that if handcuffs aren’t placed properly it could get painful.
“He (Jackson) screamed quite loud,” said Shultz.
Kitamura and Shultz both used the word “flailing” to describe the actions of Jackson at the scene. Kitamura said he could feel Jackson flailing and hear him swearing because of the pain.
Although Kitamura attempted to adjust the handcuffs into a more comfortable position, Jackson’s comfort was not his priority at the moment. Instead, security was.
“He already ran once, I didn’t want him to escape again,” said Kitamura.
Vroman and Hutchinson both questioned Kitamura regarding the police report the deputy wrote. Kitamura wrote that Jackson was “arrested without incident” on the report, not mentioning the chase.
Kitamura explained to Hutchinson that he sees a person in pain as non-resistant, and that’s why he wrote the report, saying “without incident.” However, in retrospect, he said he now thinks he should have written more.
Two videos were shown throughout the trial, first from Fielding’s patrol car camera, and the second from Sheriff’s Deputy Robin Gonzalez’s patrol car camera.
The second video showed the drive from the northbound rest stop to the southbound rest stop and then Gonzalez getting out of the patrol car to help Shultz and Kitamura keep Jackson under control.
In the video, Gonzalez starts off to the side of Jackson and then moves to his feet, putting him into a figure-four leg lock, a control hold designed to keep the legs from moving. When called as the third witness, Gonzalez said all deputy sheriffs go through jujitsu training where they are taught the figure-four hold.
“They (Shultz and Kitamura) were trying to put the cuffs or adjust the cuffs … I wanted to help stabilize him (Jackson) a little more so they could adjust the cuffs,” said Gonzalez.
Jackson resisted the figure-four leg lock Gonzalez tried to put him in, continually slipping his feet from her grasp, and kicking her hand with his foot, causing her to think she had dislocated her finger.
“He (Jackson) was strong, a lot stronger than me,” said Gonzalez.
Although Gonzalez believed at the time she dislocated her finger, later that day on August 28 she went to get it checked by the fourth witness called to testify, Dr. John C. Forsyth, who confirmed it was actually a fourth finger (ring finger) metacarpal fracture.
Before Gonzalez knew her finger was fractured, she had attempted to pop her finger back into place.
“If I could pop it out, I won’t have to say anything,” said Gonzalez in the video shown of her patrol car.
Hutchinson questioned Gonzalez heavily on this issue, asking her why she did not want to report her injury, even though it is required that all work-related injuries be documented.
“Nobody wants to get hurt on the job,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez also explained the tedious paperwork that is a result of injuries and how going to the doctor can be a hassle.
This was only the beginning of the repetitive questioning Hutchinson aimed at Gonzalez, adamantly asking her if she knew and heard Jackson screaming on the morning of the arrest.
“So it’s possible that before you were kicked, you knew he was in pain because of the handcuffs,” Hutchinson asked.
Once again Gonzalez replied with a seemingly restless expression and answer that had characterized much of her testimony – that she couldn’t recall or make out what Jackson was saying or why.
Hutchinson even made it a point near the end of her testimony to ask Gonzalez if she is on good terms with her superiors at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, bringing up the two-year sexual harassment lawsuit she had against a coworker, which was dismissed shortly before the incident on August 28.
The last witness of the day was Fielding, the sheriff’s deputy who made the arrest and drove Jackson to the Yolo County Jail. When asked, Fielding said that Jackson did not complain about any pain while walking to the car or on the drive.
Fielding’s testimony had just begun and was cut short, but is to proceed December 9 at 9 a.m.