Officer Told to Testify on Deadly Incident

Times Staff Writer

Municipal Judge J. Richard Haden, over the objection of the prosecutor, has ordered wounded San Diego policeman Donovan J. Jacobs to testify today from a hospital room in the preliminary hearing of Sagon Penn, accused of wounding Jacobs and killing another officer.

Haden ruled Thursday that Jacobs was healthy enough to testify from Grossmont Hospital, where he has spent recent weeks recuperating.

Prosecutors had asked that defense attorney Robert E. Slatten not be allowed to interrogate Jacobs. However, after speaking with the officer’s doctors, Haden determined that Jacobs, 28, should answer Slatten’s questions--but for no more than one hour.

Haden restricted access to Jacobs hospital room and said he will decide this morning whether to allow a microphone in the room so news reporters can listen to Jacobs’ statements while standing outside.


Penn, a 23-year-old karate expert, has been accused of shooting Jacobs, then killing Officer Thomas E. Riggs and wounding Sarah Pina-Ruiz, a civilian who was riding with Riggs. Several witnesses have testified that Jacobs started the fight with Penn and was beating him when Penn grabbed Jacobs’ revolver, shooting the officer in the neck.

The preliminary hearing is being held to determine if Penn will be bound over to Superior Court to stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder. He has pleaded innocent to all counts against him.

The bloodshed occurred March 31 in the 6500 block of Brooklyn Avenue in Southeast San Diego after Jacobs, purportedly searching for an armed gang member seen on foot in the neighborhood, stopped Penn’s pickup truck. Penn was driving home with eight others from a Sunday outing in Balboa Park.

Several prosecution witnesses have testified under oath that Jacobs instigated the scuffle with Penn, directed racial slurs toward him and hit him repeatedly with his baton. Their testimony in some instances apparently contradicted statements given by the same witnesses to police during the hours immediatedly following the shootings.


Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter on Thursday called to the stand two detectives whose reports, based on witness accounts, suggested that Penn pushed Jacobs first.

But after Carpenter rested his case, the defense’s first witness, Penn’s half-brother, Sean Arkwar, corroborated earlier testimony that it was Jacobs who was the aggressor. Arkwar, 15, was in Penn’s truck when it was stopped.

Arkwar said that, as Jacobs approached Penn after both men had stepped from their vehicles, the officer asked, “May I see your license, please?” Penn removed his wallet from a pocket and asked, “What’s the problem?”

Then, according to Arkwar, Jacobs asked Penn, “What do you claim? Cuz or blood?” (The terms refer to two different families of black street gangs.) Penn told the officer that he belonged to no gang and that he didn’t associate with gang members, Arkwar said.

Previous witnesses have said that Penn refused to remove his driver’s license from his wallet despite Jacobs’ specific request to do so. Arkwar testified Thursday that Jacobs grew agitated and remarked to Penn, “This is the last time I’m going to ask you. Let me see your license.”

Instead, according to Arkwar, Penn said, “I didn’t do anything,” and walked away. When he did, Jacobs went after him, grabbing Penn’s arm, which Penn yanked away. The officer then removed his baton and began swinging at Penn, Arkwar said. Riggs, who had been in another patrol car with Pina-Ruiz, removed his baton from his equipment belt and hit Penn in the ribs three or four times, Arkwar said.

“Sagon was saying, ‘Please don’t get into this; please don’t do this’ . . . ,” Arkwar testified. “Sagon kept saying, ‘I didn’t do nothing. Why are you doing this?’ ”

Eventually, Penn fell to the ground. Jacobs straddled Penn, sat atop his stomach and hit him repeatedly in the face with his fist, Arkwar said. Arkwar added that Jacobs told Penn, “Turn over on your back, you nigger,” so that Penn could be handcuffed. Arkwar said he heard Riggs say to Penn, “Turn over on your back, you black bastard.”


During the scuffle, Penn allegedly wrested Jacobs’ .38-caliber revolver from its holster and fired upward at Jacobs, striking the officer in the neck. He then shot Riggs twice before moving to Riggs’ patrol car, where he shot twice through a window at the unarmed Pina-Ruiz, prosecutors and witnesses have alleged.

Penn left the scene in Jacobs’ patrol car--allegedly running over Jacobs--and drove to his grandfather’s home on 40th Street, where Penn was residing.

His grandfather, Yusuf Abdullah, testified Thursday that when Penn came in, “His clothes looked like he’d been beat up.” Blood was trickling down the left side of Penn’s face, there was a welt on the left side of his neck and a knot on the back of his head, Abdullah said.

“He asked me what to do and I guess I told him that the best thing to do . . . that if it was in self-defense, he should turn himself in,” Abdullah told the court.

Abdullah, using his own car, then drove Penn to police headquarters, where Penn was taken into custody without incident. Abdullah said he and his grandson talked for only a minute or so before Penn agreed to surrender.

“He was sort of excited,” Abdullah said. “He said he didn’t want to die.”