By Crescenzo Vellucci
The body camera – or lack thereof – of a University of California police officer led to a motion by a defendant’s lawyers here late last week to ask for permission to peek into that officer’s personnel records.
Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso, representing UCD student Noah Benham (now in graduate school at UC Berkeley), filed a “Pitchess” motion asking the court to check the files of UC Davis Police Department Officer William Beermann for “prior incidents” after it was revealed Beermann’s camera was not turned on during Benham’s arrest.
Benham is being charged with two battery felonies on a police officer and two resisting-related misdemeanors during his arrest at the Jan. 13, 2017 UCD appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, British commentator and author associated politically with the Alt-Right.
“Defense believes that this information is impeachment and exculpatory material as to the three officers who conveniently had their body cams turned off while an unrelated officer had (his) body camera footage engaged only to catch the end of the ‘scuffle,'” Borruso has charged.
In a motion filed with the court, Borruso stated, “The portions of the video (by another officer) presented by the District Attorney show Mr. Benham calmly and politely informing officers that he did not run into them…video of the end portion of the arrest do(es) not show any struggle or fighting by Mr. Benham while several officers surround him. Lastly, Mr. Benham did not cause any injuries to Officer Beermann’s hand.”
Benham, who has no police record and denies all charges, turned down a plea deal on minor misdemeanor charges earlier this year. The Yolo County District Attorney’s office then added felony charges because Officer Beermann found a half-inch scratch on his hand after the Benham arrest.
Borruso argued in court last week that because there is “no record of the arrest it comes down to the word of my client versus the officer’s word…we want to see prior incidents of the officer,” suggesting there may have been other incidents where Beermann failed to follow UCD policy of turning on his body-cam.
Borruso also noted that the officer wrote in his report that “I don’t know how (the injury) occurred,” only that he noticed the scratch after the arrest. “Even the officer said he was not sure how the scratch was made,” added Borruso. Beermann also claims Benham “lowered” his shoulder and ran into him. But there is no record of that, either, Borruso said.
But Amanda Iler, an attorney representing the UCD Police Dept., told the court “good cause has not been established” to require the production of Beermann’s records, adding, “There are multiple statements from other officers” that Benham charged Officer Beermann, noting UCD policy is that officers “may” activate body-cams.
Borruso shot back: “That’s not true – policy says officers ‘should’ activate” their cameras.
Judge Paul Richardson ruled that “threshold has been established” to look into Beermann’s records because “it is hard to see how the injuries occurred.” But, after reviewing the records in chambers, Richardson told the both parties that “there is nothing to disclose,” which meant nothing in those records would be relevant to the defense.
A preliminary hearing for Benham will be held Dec. 4 to determine if enough evidence exists to proceed to a full trial.
Benham is represented by Borruso of the Public Defender’s Office and by Josh Korr of Morrison & Foerster, one of the largest law firms in the U.S., which volunteered to work for free on behalf of Benham after reading about his case.