By Tracy Ficaro
The preliminary hearing for Hector Valdez Perez resumed on July 16, with the dash cam footage from the night of Perez’s arrest. The court sat in silence as the defense played the video from September 3, 2017, when Perez was pulled over by CHP Officers Montano and Nielson. There is no audio from the video and, due to the lighting from the early morning and the police headlights, some movements were difficult to discern.
The video shows Perez pulling over immediately into a parking lot for the officers, and subsequently stepping out of the vehicle when asked to do so. Montano and Nielson quickly noticed Perez was under the influence of alcohol, based on his slurred speech and staggered stance, and attempted to perform sobriety tests. The questioning between the officers and Perez was not caught in the camera’s full view and only Montano and part of Perez’s body were visible. For this portion of the video, the officers stated Perez was not compliant and tried to refuse to take the sobriety tests. The footage shows Perez walking away from the officers once, and Montano ushering him back over for questioning. A few minutes pass and Perez turns and attempts to run back toward his truck a second time, although he is impaired from the alcohol and is not moving as fast as probably anticipated. Montano immediately chases after him and tackles him to the ground, where the two land on a cement parking block, stunning Perez and injuring Montano’s knee. Montano’s baton, notepad, and flashlight were dislodged from his belt during the fall.
Officer Nielson is seen on video rushing over to assist Montano and beginning to try to place Perez in handcuffs. Nielson struggles as Perez continues to pull his hands and arms away from the cuffs. Nielson then resorts to physical restraint by administering continuous blows to Perez’s face and body with his fist. It is difficult to tell at this point in the video whether Perez has stopped resisting arrest and is simply reacting to the blows or if he is still actively attempting to fight Nielson. During this time Montano can barely be seen lying by the other side of Perez, either due to his injuries or from trying to help restrain Perez.
Perez then picks up the dislodged baton and begins swinging it at Officer Nielson from his prone position on his stomach. Officer Nielson later testified the baton struck him in his left arm. The contact is difficult to see on video. Nielson uses his Taser to subdue Perez, although it seems to have little to no effect. Montano has since risen and kicks Perez, but where his foot landed on Perez is also difficult to view. However, it does appear as though Montano kicks Perez with the same leg he injured falling onto the cement block. The two officers are then able to cuff and subdue Perez, whose head is now bleeding. Montano limps around in obvious pain, waiting for other officers to arrive. As the other officers arrive on the scene, at 20 minutes and 10 seconds, the defense ended the video.
The defense argued to reduce the charge of resisting arrest and drop the charge of assault with a deadly weapon. The defense stated Perez was not driving badly and immediately complied with the officers by pulling over and exiting the vehicle when asked. It was argued that Perez did not really run away from the officers, but only slowly jogged toward his truck – it was not an extreme getaway. When Montano tackled Perez, the defense stated Perez was out cold for a few moments and was just coming to when Nielson was attempting to place him in cuffs. His body movements of pulling his hands away is argued as self defense on Perez’s side from sustaining so many blows, Tases, and a kick. The defense argued for the charge of assault with a deadly weapon to be dropped, considering Perez was lying down waving the baton backwards while intoxicated. The defense argued he could not have committed serious physical harm to Officer Nielson and that in this situation the baton should not be seen as a deadly weapon.
Judge Timothy Fall disagreed and stated the evidence of the dash cam footage supports every single charge. Arraignment was set for the upcoming months.