‘You Aren’t Sure Where You Are’ : Officer Doused With PCP Takes the Stand at Man’s Trial

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles police officer, a Medal of Valor winner who says he has suffered flashbacks, memory loss and speech difficulties since a man threw liquid PCP in his face during a foot chase in Boyle Heights, recalled his experiences on the witness stand Friday.

Officer Robert Yarnall, 32--who is seeking a disability pension as a result of the February, 1984, incident--testified in the opening session of the non-jury trial of Jose Gomez, accused of assault on a peace officer, assault with a caustic chemical and possession of PCP.

Gomez, 24, was initially identified by Yarnall through a police photo, after the officer had been taken to White Memorial Hospital after the attack.

Yarnall, who was on patrol in Boyle Heights, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz that he was chasing a suspect who held a container of liquid--and the man, once cornered, threw the liquid at him.


‘Got It in My Left Eye’

“I got a bunch of liquid in my face. I got it in my left eye,” said Yarnall, who appeared uneasy as he testified. “I swallowed (some). . . . I would estimate probably like about a gulp of a cup of coffee.”

The feeling, he said, “is hard to describe. It’s not like being high on liquor--you aren’t sure where you are or what’s real.”

Yarnall added that when he was high on PCP--and during the flashbacks he says he has subsequently suffered--he wasn’t even sure if the walls he saw in front of him were real--and it didn’t matter anyway, he added, since he felt as if he could push them away.


The leadoff witness called by Deputy Dist. Atty. Craig E. Veals, Yarnall said his eyesight, appetite and thought processes also have suffered: “A lot of times I can’t bring out what I’m thinking, it’s kind of like stuttering.”

Claim for Pension Filed

Hospitalized about eight days, Yarnall has since been back to work only three days total. He has filed a claim for a post-traumatic stress disorder pension, which has been discussed once by the city’s Board of Pension Commissioners and faces further action in July.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Richard Gomez questioned whether Yarnall’s medical problems had any impact on the identification of his client, a carpet salesman.


The officer, however, stuck resolutely to the identification.

Yarnall won the Medal of Valor in 1977 after he shot and killed a man who had wounded his partner. He held two other suspects at the scene until other officers arrived.