Judge Agrees Fresno Police Detained Defendant Unlawfully, Grants Defense Motion to Suppress Body Cam Footage

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By Özge Terzioğlu

FRESNO – Judge Gary Orozco—after noting that the Fresno police unlawfully detained the defendant—granted a defense motion to suppress footage from a Fresno police officer’s body camera and a 911 call in the arrest of defendant Reuben Acosta.

Reuben Acosta was charged with violating PC § 148 for allegedly resisting or obstructing a peace officer on August 22, 2019, in a Kohl’s parking lot in Fresno.

There was no arrest warrant or search warrant for defendant Acosta.

To oppose the motion, the prosecution brought three witnesses to the stand, including Fresno Police Officer Ryan Morin, who recalled that on the night of Aug. 22 he was leaving the police department after a briefing when he got a dispatch call for a disturbance at 9 p.m. in the parking lot of a nearby Kohl’s.

He stressed that the dispatch call described the suspects as two adult white males, one wearing a black t-shirt, who were involved in a disturbance with a white woman in a white car in the Kohl’s parking lot.

Morin stated that when he arrived he saw the white woman and the white car, but he also saw what he described as a lighter skinned white or “Hispanic” male in a black shirt walking in a direction away from the car and toward the Kohl’s building. Officer Morin noted that this man increased his pace when he saw Morin pull up, and he believed him to be involved in the disturbance because of that action.

Officer Morin pulled up next to the man in the black shirt, which was defendant Acosta, and told him to stop. He assumed Acosta was under the influence of “some drug” because he was “sweating, agitated, and flinching.”

The officer proceeded to ask him if he had any weapons on him, and Acosta answered affrimatively. Morin and his partner then proceeded to detain Acosta because they did not know what weapons he had. Officer Morin then claimed Acosta ran away from them while they were detaining him.

Upon cross-examination, Officer Morin admitted that he did not recall an update from dispatch saying the suspects were no longer in the area.

The public defender confirmed that the defendant was not a white male, and he was wearing a hat and had a beard, which was not in the description of the suspect.

The public defender refreshed Officer Morin’s memory with the body camera footage from that night (which was shown off the record). The defense confirmed from the video that the white vehicle mentioned in the dispatch call was nowhere near Acosta in the parking lot.

The second witness called was Officer Morin’s partner from that night, Brian Eschan, who recalled a different dispatch description than did his partner. He stated they were looking for a male subject in his 20s, who was wearing shorts and a black t-shirt. He added that he did not remember the race of the suspect from the dispatch call.

The public defender played body camera footage for Eschan to “refresh his memory,” then asked him if he heard officer Morin ask Acosta to turn around for a pat down, to which he responded no. The PD then asked Eschan if Acosta ran away, to which he responded yes.

The public defender seemed displeased with his answer, especially since she showed him footage to jog his memory.

The PD restated that Acosta had his hands at his side, he was not reaching into his pocket, he was not running away from the officers once they exited the vehicle, and noted that there were police cars already on the scene before Eschan and Morin arrived.

The DA noted that Acosta was the only male in the area who matched the description. Since it was an active investigation when they entered the scene, Morin and Eschan had the right to search Acosta since he was near the scene of the disturbance.

The third witness, Emily Noel, was a custodian of records for the Fresno Police Department. She described that there might be a delay in getting information from the dispatcher to the officers.

The public defender played the dispatch call for Noel, and asked her what time the call came in, to which she answered 9:41 p.m.

The PD then asked her if she heard one of the officers respond “copy” to an update that the suspects were no longer on the scene, to which Noel affirmed that was correct.

In closing arguments, the district attorney argued that there was reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Acosta because the officer witnesses articulated facts, the disturbance could have been an attack, and the only people who matched the description when they arrived were Acosta in the parking lot and the female in the vehicle.

The DA also claimed that the officers had further reason to search Acosta because he said he had a weapon when they asked him, and then he did not comply with being detained. They also declared that the Harvey-Madden requirement was met.

The defense disagreed and argued it was not reasonable for officers to believe that Acosta was responsible for the disturbance just because he was in the same parking lot.

They also argued that there were officers already on the scene a few minutes before Eschan and Morin, so it would not make sense for an individual involved in an altercation to stay at the scene as law enforcement kept arriving. The defense also mentioned how one of the officers knew the suspects were no longer at the scene because they responded to the dispatch update.

The defense also maintained the two officer witnesses were not consistent in the description they received for the suspect; therefore, they could be altering the description to justify detaining Acosta. Furthermore, the female was still on the scene, and the officers could have asked her if Acosta was involved instead of detaining him.

After considering both arguments, Judge Orozco decided to grant the motion to suppress the body camera evidence because the level of the call was not high enough to justify detaining Acosta without explanation or reason.

The judge reiterated, “There was not a lawful detention of the defendant. The officers did not show that they exercised the requisite diligence to justify their conduct.”

The preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 25 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 2.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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