By Mariel Barbadillo
The trial of the People v. Michael George Pedersen resumed the morning of July 19, 2016, with witness testimonies and presentation of evidence.
Proceedings began with Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian calling the prosecution’s first and only witness: Officer Jack Hatton, a peace officer in West Sacramento. Officer Hatton was on duty the day of November 15, 2015, when the incident with Mr. Pedersen occurred.
Around 1:00 PM that afternoon, the officer was traveling westbound to catch a speeder when he noticed several cars veering into the left lane on Industrial Boulevard in West Sacramento.
Upon seeing the cars swerving, Officer Hatton thought there might be an object in the road posing a hazard to drivers. He then saw a subject (later identified as Mr. Pedersen) stepping on and off the sidewalk. The officer also described the defendant as “dancing” and “flailing,” which the officer demonstrated to jurors by waving his arms above his head.
Officer Hatton drove by Mr. Pedersen and used the speaker microphone in his vehicle to advise the defendant to get off the roadway. The defendant yelled something back that was unintelligible to the officer, and continued to behave in a similar manner.
At this point, Officer Hatton made a U-turn to contact Mr. Pedersen once more. The officer claims he did this with the intention of checking Mr. Pedersen’s welfare and making sure he was okay.
Officer Hatton exited his vehicle and instructed Mr. Pedersen to have a seat on the curb. The defendant did not comply and, according to the officer, “seemed confrontational.” He was not yelling, but seemed agitated nonetheless, telling the officer there was no reason for him to be stopped.
As he got closer, Officer Hatton said he smelled the odor of marijuana. He considered that Mr. Pedersen’s seeming lack of coordination might have been attributed to being under the influence of the drug.
The officer then grabbed Mr. Pedersen by the arm, led him to the vehicle, and conducted a pat down search. When the defendant continued to resist, the officer attempted to use handcuffs, but he was unsuccessful due to Mr. Pedersen’s efforts.
While Officer Hatton recounted these events, Mr. Pedersen (in Judge Rosenberg’s words) “seemed to be overcome with emotion.” He began shaking his head and turned away from the jurors, weeping. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Aram Davtyan, took him outside for a few moments before the officer continued his testimony.
After continued resistance from the defendant, Officer Hatton said he attempted to take Mr. Pedersen to the ground by means of a leg sweep. However, the defendant slipped out of the officer’s grasp and began to run away.
Officer Hatton proceeded to chase after the defendant. Acting on what had happened during their first encounter, the officer took hold of Mr. Pedersen, took him to the ground, and handcuffed him.
The prosecution went on to present video footage from Officer Hatton’s car camera. Officer Hatton explained that the camera is always recording, but it does not capture footage until activated. In this case, the camera was activated when Officer Hatton turned on his emergency lights as he drove up to Mr. Pedersen the second time.
The video, time-stamped at 1:04 PM on November 15, 2015, shows Officer Hatton asking Mr. Pedersen multiple times to sit on the curb. The two are seen conversing for a while until the officer leads Mr. Pedersen toward the vehicle. The remainder of the video is out of the camera’s view and unintelligible due to loud shuffling noises.
During cross-examination, Officer Hatton disclosed that he did not at any point ask Mr. Pedersen why he was stepping off the curb. Nor did the officer ask about marijuana and conduct a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation to determine if the defendant was under the influence, though there was an opportunity to do so.
When asked by the prosecution why he did not ask such questions, Officer Hatton said he was more concerned about gaining compliance.
The defense then asked what specifically about Mr. Pedersen made the officer think there was a possibility he was carrying a weapon. Officer Hatton said that, because of Mr. Pedersen’s baggy clothes, he assumed the defendant might have had a weapon, prompting the officer to conduct the pat down search. The officer, however, said Mr. Pedersen did not threaten him in any way.
After a short recess, the defense called Mr. Pedersen to the witness stand.
The defendant admitted he stepped off the curb into the area near the gutter, but he cited the DMV handbook in saying that area is considered part of the “legal sidewalk” and what he did was “one-hundred percent legal.” He contended that he did not step further out into the road onto oncoming traffic.
Moreover, Mr. Pedersen said cars were not swerving around him and he was not flailing his arms as the officer described.
Speaking of the confrontation with Officer Hatton, Mr. Pedersen claimed the officer spoke in an “intimidating fashion” when he told him to sit on the curb. He said the officer “sounded like a bully,” and that is why he did not want to comply.
When asked why he ran away when the officer tried to handcuff him, Mr. Pedersen said, “Because I was scared.” He thought the officer was attempting to arrest him on false charges.
After running away from the officer for some time, Mr. Pedersen said he turned around completely with his arms straight up to surrender. Officer Hatton then tackled him.
Mr. Pedersen says he was “not resisting in any way, shape, or form.” He pleaded with the officer, “Stop hurting me.” The defendant received some scrapes on his legs, but his prior hip and spine injuries are now worse following the altercation.
During cross-examination, the prosecution asked about a portion of the video footage in which Officer Hatton appears to be saying, “Sit down on the curb, I’m just going to talk.”
According to Mr. Pedersen, the officer did not initially say, “I’m just going to talk.” The defendant claims, “The video footage appears to be manipulated.”
Mr. Pedersen is charged with resisting or obstructing a police officer. There are three parts to the charge: refusing to comply, pulling away from an officer, and running from an officer.
The defense is arguing that Mr. Pedersen was unlawfully detained.