Examined Defendant : Nurse Says Penn Didn’t Appear Severely Beaten

Times Staff Writer

An emergency-room nurse testified Wednesday that in her opinion Sagon Penn was not severely beaten by police officers before he fatally shot one San Diego policeman and seriously wounded another.

Elaine Hilliard, a registered nurse at San Diego Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, said she examined Penn the morning after the March 31, 1985, shootings. She described the many bruises and abrasions to Penn’s neck, back, arms and legs as resulting from “a minor tussle” with officers swinging night sticks.

“I don’t believe he was severely beaten to cause injuries to his body,” Hilliard said. “Severely beaten to me means someone who sustained significant physical injuries requiring further treatment or hospitalization.”

During the 20-minute hospital examination, Penn complained of pain to his hand and back, Hilliard said. Penn received a bandage for his hand, and X-rays of his chest revealed no serious injuries.


Penn, 24, is charged with murder in the killing of Agent Thomas Riggs and attempted murder in the shootings of Agent Donovan Jacobs and civilian Sara Pina-Ruiz, who accompanied Riggs in his patrol car under the police ride-along program.

Attorney Milton Silverman has argued throughout the four-week trial that Jacobs was beating his client when Penn grabbed the officer’s revolver and fired in self-defense.

On Tuesday, Jacobs filed a $5-million lawsuit against Penn, claiming that Penn willfully grabbed Jacobs’ gun during the fracas and shot him without justification.

The suit said Jacobs’ injuries have disabled him and that he is unable to continue working as a police officer. Jacobs, who was run over by a police car driven by Penn as the suspect left the scene, was shot in the neck and has a disabled arm.


Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz are expected to testify next week.

Superior Court Judge Ben Hamrick said in court Wednesday that a lawsuit Pina-Ruiz filed last month against the City of San Diego and Penn “may open the door to some credibility problems and bias” concerning her testimony. Her suit alleges that Jacobs attempted to arrest Penn “in such a manner as to result in a violent reaction which (Jacobs) was unable to control.”

Pina-Ruiz watched the shootings from the front seat of Riggs’ patrol car before being shot twice herself.

Witnesses have testified that Jacobs pulled over Penn’s pickup truck, beat him with a baton and provoked him with racial slurs.


Prosecution and defense photos submitted in the trial have shown that Penn suffered multiple bruises, including two six-inch-long abrasions to the back, a black eye and a mark on the back of the head.

Dr. Barbara Groves, who also examined Penn, is scheduled to testify when the trial resumes today.

During 90 minutes of cross-examination Wednesday, Silverman attempted to discredit Hilliard’s interpretations of the injuries.

At one point, Silverman inquired why Hilliard did not ask Penn any questions regarding the conditions under which he was injured.


“I normally do not ask very much of homicide suspects because the less I know the less I am asked to testify in court,” Hilliard said.