Details are scant, but the Vanguard has learned that Ernesto Galvan, the victim of a vicious beating in 2005 by two West Sacramento police officers, has died in Guadalajara, Mexico, at the age of 41. According to unconfirmed reports, Mr. Galvan, who suffered serious delusions stemming from the beating, may have succumbed nearly 15 years later to injuries inflicted from that beating.
The beating, resulting in his skull frontal plate pushed in 17 mm and a deep dent in Mr. Galvan’s forehead, left him disfigured and brain-damaged. If it could be proved that the death was the result of the injuries and Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig was so inclined, the two officers involved, Officer Donald Schlie and Officer Justin Farrington, could potentially face murder charges.
The incident occurred in 2005. It was the brothers, Ernesto along with his brother Fermin, and not the officers who stood trial – three times on charges of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. The first two trials hung 11-1 in favor of guilt. The third one resulted in acquittal on one charge and a hung jury in favor of acquittal on the other five charges between the two brothers.
Following the third trial, the Yolo County DA’s office reconsidered the prosecution and declined to try the brothers for a fourth time.
In a statement, “We determined there is sufficient evidence to establish proof of each defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; that 27 of the 36 jurors who have examined the evidence have agreed with us that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt as to most counts; and that the officers acted within the confines of permissible use of force based on the circumstances and the
However, ultimately they were convinced that there was a decreasing likelihood of obtaining a unanimous verdict of 12 members of the community in this matter.
“Therefore, it is our intent to seek a dismissal of all charges and to not proceed to a fourth trial,” the statement concluded.
But over the course of the three trials, discrepancies emerged in the accounts of police officers – from initial statements in the field, to explanations under skillful cross-examination from Public Defender Martha Sequeira and private attorney Anthony Palik, who represented Ernesto Galvan in the first and third trials.
In a statement in 2011, Mr. Palik to told the Vanguard, “I, personally, was very concerned during the third trial when one of the police officers claimed Mr. Ernesto Galvan was still wearing his boots at the time he was in restraints, and that being kicked by Mr. Galvan with his boots was the only way that officer could have torn his trousers during that incident.”
He continued, “This was especially concerning since the three officers who were actually involved in the altercation claimed steadfastly, through three trials, that Ernesto had kicked off his boots and took a barefoot ‘fighting stance’ prior to being subdued by the officers’ batons.”
According to the DA’s office’s version of events, on June 14, 2005, at approximately 3:33am, Officer Schlie of the West Sacramento Police Department noticed a car parked on Riverbank Road in West Sacramento.
The release continued, describing that as Officer Schlie approached Riverbank Road, he noticed two men standing in the road. Officer Schlie exited his patrol car and contacted the two subjects, later identified as Ernesto and Fermin Galvan.
Upon contacting the two men, Officer Schlie noticed Ernesto Galvan was sweating profusely, was fidgety, and would not look him in the eyes. Officer Schlie suspected that Ernesto Galvan was under the influence of a controlled substance and attempted to detain him to conduct a further evaluation.
Ernesto Galvan failed to comply with his requests and Officer Schlie grabbed him by the wrist.
The release says that Ernesto Galvan pulled away, swung around and struck Officer Schlie in the chin. Galvan fought Officer Schlie and another officer for nearly four minutes. Officers were unable to stop the onslaught of kicks and punches from Ernesto Galvan. During this struggle, the officers attempted to gain control and compliance from Ernesto by verbal commands, take-down techniques, the Taser and the use of batons.
The DA’s version continues, stating that it was not until the officers used their batons that Ernesto Galvan stopped fighting.
Ernesto Galvan was charged with felony resisting arrest and obstructing Officers Schlie and Farrington by threats and violence, and misdemeanor battery on the same two police officers.
Fermin Galvan was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest and obstruction by threats and violence against Officer Jim Reeder, and misdemeanor obstructing/delaying of Officer Schlie, who was struggling with his brother.
In our view, evidence that came out during the third trial, as well as the second trial, clearly contradicts this reading of events.
Officer Schlie’s contention was that Ernesto Galvan appeared under the influence of a controlled substance and also he was putting his hands in and out of his pockets.
To back up the contention of under the influence of a controlled substance, the officer stated that Ernesto Galvan was sweating a lot on a night that was not particularly hot and that he wouldn’t make eye contact. However, none of the symptoms that he mentioned are official symptoms that trained officers would be looking for, according to earlier testimony.
Ms. Sequeira pointed out that he was never charged with being under the influence, which is a crime and would have anchored the resisting arrest charge. Deputy DA Carolyn Palumbo tried to explain away the lack of an underlying charge, arguing that they did not have time to administer a blood test. But the hospital certainly would have, particularly in the course of doing surgery. What testing was done in the hospital was inconclusive and was deemed of no consequence to the immediate surgery, and was, in court proceedings, excluded from evidence.
Moreover, the argument about his hands in his pockets was not backed up by other facts. Officer Schlie pointed his partner to checking out the parked car down the road rather than asking for assistance with a possibly-armed man. He never drew his weapon, and there was inconsistency about whether he clearly ordered Mr. Galvan’s hands to be shown. Instead he walked next to him, almost casually. In short, Ms. Sequeira was able to show to the jury that Officer Schlie’s actions were inconsistent for dealing with a subject he thought reasonably could be armed.
The defense uncovered inconsistencies with the officers’ stories. At one point the defense noted that Mr. Galvan was beaten so badly he lapsed into a coma, and yet they argued he continued to resist. There was also testimony from Officer Reeder that Ernesto tried to kick him with his shoes when he was on the ground, except that the other officers said he had kicked off his shoes almost from the start.
There were questions raised about the injuries sustained by the officers, which include some pretty superficial cuts and a single bruise, and are not consistent with an out-of-control man kicking and punching officers repeatedly.
During his closing remarks, Mr. Palik cited testimony from the defense’s one witness, expert Dr. Steven Gabaeff, which suggested that Ernesto’s minor injuries to his extremities (mainly arms and hands) were more consistent with being handcuffed, and that the extreme injuries to his skull could reflect lack of any defensive movements by his arms.
Moreover, there was the disturbing testimony from use-of-force expert Don Cameron, who is apparently very notorious for supporting virtually any use of force.
Mr. Palik indicated that a key moment occurred during Martha Sequeira’s cross-examination of Mr. Cameron.
“The best part was when she asked him whether he’d be able to testify against a police officer, because doing so would mean he wouldn’t get business for his training classes,” Mr. Palik told the SF Weekly. “I don’t think he had an answer for that.”
The SF Weekly captured an exchange between Mr. Palik and Mr. Cameron from a previous trial:
“What about two batons against an unarmed man with bare hands and feet? Are you saying that’s appropriate?” Mr. Palik asked.
“Yes, sir, I am,” Cameron replied.
“And you were saying that an unarmed man who is kneeling on the ground, that would be appropriate as well. Is that true?” Mr. Palik said.
“If the person was continuing to swing at the officers in an attempt to assault them, it’s perfectly appropriate,” Mr. Cameron said.
“And he’s not trying to get up from the ground. It’s still appropriate?” Mr. Palik said.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Cameron answered.
Said Defense Attorney John Scott in an interview with the Weekly, “I don’t know if he’s ever seen a shooting or a use of force he didn’t like.”
The brothers sued the city of a West Sacramento and won a nominal sum of money in a civil suit.
The Vanguard filed for the records in this case under SB 1421, and the city of West Sacramento turned over communications to the Vanguard indicating that they had destroyed records related to this case. The suit is currently pending in Yolo County Superior Court.
—David M. Greenwald reporting