By Danielle Eden C. Silva
The submission of evidence in the trial of Jennifer Clute came to an end, with the afternoon session encompassing jury instructions and closing statements.
Judge Paul K. Richardson would deliver the jury instructions, including repeating the instructions and the elements of the crime. Ms. Clute is charged with a violation of Penal Code 243(b) battery on an officer, and a violation of Penal Code 148(a)(1) resisting or obstructing a peace officer. In order to find her guilty of battery, the jury will have to find that Officer Kelly McCoy was lawfully acting and performing her duties as a peace officer, that the defendant willfully and unlawfully touched Officer McCoy in a harmful or offensive matter, and that these actions were done with Ms. Clute aware Officer McCoy was acting as an officer.
For Count 2, the jury will need to find, in addition to Officer McCoy acting as an officer and that Ms. Clute being aware of such, that Ms. Clute willfully resisted arrest. Willfully does mean the action was done with purpose, but does not require that the defendant is aware he or she is breaking the law. This second count would concentrate on the defendant attempting to escape the hold of Officer McCoy and another officer.
Special jury instructions were included, noting that the action must not be accidental and the detention must lawful, meaning the officer had some reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the arrest. Additionally, it is noted that the defendant would be allowed to use reasonable force to defend herself against the excessive force from a peace officer. In regard to trespassing, she must have willfully entered or remained in a non-commercial location with no right to enter the house.
Deputy District Attorney David Robbins would offer a concise first closing statement, sharing that this was not a case on whether she was justified in her anger, but what had happened to Officer McCoy. He noted that Officer McCoy had entered the dwelling in full police uniform after exiting a marked police vehicle. Officer McCoy had been called to remove a trespasser from the premises. She didn’t know all the details but she knew what she was called in to do.
Additionally, the defendant had been yelling and screaming at the officers. She would then push underwear into Officer McCoy’s face, the officer noting feeling her hand beyond the fabric. Because of her actions, the prosecution argued she touched her in an offensive and willful manner.
The prosecution did note that Ms. Clute lived in the residence but the homeowner wanted her removed. The agitated manner of the defendant did not help the officers, who would eventually hold her as she continually tried to pull away. As a result, she was resisting an officer. Mr. Robbins closed, noting that the defendant did apologize later but that was when she was already in custody. He asked the jury to find her guilty of all counts.
Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, representing Ms. Clute, would begin by stating that every occupation has high standards and when someone is acting difficult, a person needs to rise to the occasion. He states that in this circumstance, while the case is sad, the officers did not rise to the occasion with the evidence heard.
He first addressed the underwear which Ms. Clute had had in her hand. Putting the underwear in the officer’s face may have been an accident, but if it wasn’t, was there an abiding conviction that it was intentional? He stated that if there is even a possibility of it being accidental, the jury must vote not guilty on that charge.
Four witnesses had come to the stand with conflicting testimonies, and he shared that there was a possibility that the officers lied on the stand. He stated that Officer McCoy said very few “I don’t knows” in comparison to the other officer, and likely Officer McCoy saw the defendant as guilty of battery before she testified and continued to have that shape her viewpoint. She believed she was assaulted and also believed that Ms. Clute was homeless, describing her as cold and disheveled. However, Ms. Clute had just taken a shower when the officers approached her at the bathroom.
Mr. Hutchinson noted that Officer McCoy’s testimony also conflicted with the other officer’s. The other officer didn’t see many of the things she stated and possibly felt pressured by his boss to match her testimony, thereby saying he didn’t know. He did state that he saw the underwear go through the air which contradicts with the statement of the article of clothing being rubbed in Officer McCoy’s face. However, he couldn’t tell how it was thrown.
The defense argued that Officer McCoy used excessive force by grabbing and yanking a person. He mentioned the defendant had asked to get a change of underwear and clothes prior to being pulled. While the officer should take precautions, he notes that different actions could have been taken to allow her a change of clothes instead of forcing her out.
In regard to trespassing, officers had asked both her and the owner of the household if she lived there after arriving at the scene. However, after taking the owner’s statement, they didn’t ask follow up questions and assumed her to be trespassing.
The defense argued the defendant didn’t resist, as the second officer was able to check the handcuffs for tightness. Only one testimony stated the violent struggle. Because the situation was not clear, the jury must vote not guilty.
The prosecution was given their rebuttal. Mr. Robbins stated that the defense’s argument was full of red herrings. The case cannot be considered on being perfect police work or on sympathy or bias. The defense wanted the jury to see the defendant as a victim. He argued that the defendant had been yelling profanities at the officer, walked away and into the house through the back door, locked herself in the bathroom, and continued to scream. He noted that the second officer in his testimony did not tell much but if the officers were colluding, they did a very bad job of such.
He noted Ms. Clute was going with the program – they wanted to remove her and when she lunged for the door, they considered that a risk and pulled her back. That day, Officer McCoy’s voice wasn’t working so she had to use physical cues. Additionally, the defendant didn’t say she lived there and the property she was looking for was behind closed doors. By common sense, the officers could not allow her in there as she repeatedly reached for it.
The prosecution argued that the positioning of the defendant and the officers did not make it reasonable that the underwear was an accident. The second officer likely did not have a good viewpoint since the defendant pivoted. The prosecution again asked the jury to find Ms. Clute guilty of both counts.
With closing statements finished, the jury was released for deliberation.