Prosecutor’s Penn Witness Recalls Fight, Racial Slurs

Times Staff Writer

A prosecution witness testified Monday that he heard Police Agent Donovan Jacobs shout racial epithets at Sagon Penn as he pummeled Penn with his fists.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter is expected to rest the prosecution’s case today against Penn, a black man accused of wounding Jacobs and civilian ride-along Sarah Pina-Ruiz and fatally shooting Agent Thomas Riggs. Carpenter called his last witnesses Monday, including Allan Cepeda, who said that he heard Jacobs, who is white, call Penn a “nigger.”

Cepeda, who said that he viewed the shootings from a yard adjacent to the driveway where it occurred, was the only prosecution witness to testify that he heard Jacobs use that description of Penn. Defense attorney Milton Silverman said that he expects to call several witnesses who heard Jacobs use racial slurs when he attempted to arrest Penn.

Penn, 24, is charged with wounding Jacobs and Pina-Ruiz, and killing Riggs on March 31, 1985. Riggs died when Penn, while scuffling with Jacobs, took Jacobs’ service revolver from its holster and began firing.


Cepeda testified Monday that on the day of the shooting he was visiting a friend who lives next door to where the incident occurred. Cepeda said that his friend’s son ran into the living room and said that the “police were beating up somebody.” According to Cepeda, he went outside and saw Jacobs straddling Penn, who was lying on his back.

“He (Jacobs) had his legs around his (Penn’s) waist and was striking him at the same time. . . . The defendant was just trying to block the punches and at the same time the other officer (Riggs) was hitting him with the stick (a police baton). . . . There was a lot of screaming and shouting, people saying, ‘This ain’t justice,’ ” Cepeda said.

Penn, who is skilled in martial arts, used his skills in what police said was a “knock-down, drag-out” fight with Riggs and Jacobs before the shooting occurred.

Cepeda said that Jacobs ordered Penn to roll over so Jacobs could handcuff him.


“But he couldn’t. The officer’s dead weight was on him,” Cepeda said. “The officer was telling him to turn over, but I don’t see how the person could have.”

He said that Penn was trying to block Jacobs’ blows to the head, “but he was getting hit a lot.”

It was while Jacobs was on top of Penn that Cepeda heard the officer use racial slurs, Cepeda said. During cross-examination by Silverman, Cepeda said that Jacobs told Penn:

“Oh, you think you’re bad. You think you’re bad. Well, I’m gonna kick your ass, nigger.”


In his testimony last week, Jacobs denied using racial slurs and said that the word nigger is not in his vocabulary.

Cepeda described how Penn shot both officers.

“I saw him struggling. I saw him reach for the gun, and I heard the shots go off . . . He grabbed the gun and as soon as he pulled it out it went off. . . . He (Jacobs) kind of flew back,” Cepeda said.

According to police investigators, Jacobs was shot once and Riggs three times. The dead officer never drew his service revolver.


Cepeda said that, before the shootings, Penn and other bystanders pleaded with the officers to stop hitting Penn, and Penn attempted to “give up.”

“He said, ‘Stop hitting me. I give up.’ Others said, ‘You don’t have to do this to the man. . . . This ain’t justice. What are you people doing?’ ” Cepeda said.

While Jacobs was hitting Penn on the head, arms and ribs with his fists, Riggs was hitting him with his and Jacobs’ batons, Cepeda said. “You could hear it hitting the bone,” he said.

During his testimony, Cepeda contradicted information contained in a police report written by investigators after he was interviewed. According to a police report, Cepeda was interviewed at 9:40 p.m. on the day of the incident, but Cepeda said the interview occurred closer to 3 or 4 a.m. the next day.


Cepeda also testified during cross-examination that he saw Pina-Ruiz sitting in the back seat of Riggs’ patrol car. But under further prodding by Silverman, he said:

“I take my statement back. She was in the front seat . . . the passenger side.”

He also testified that, since the shooting, he has been harassed by police.

“I was getting harassed by police,” Cepeda said. “They were stopping me every other day.”


Carpenter’s final witness was Detective David Ayers, who testified under cross-examination that he interviewed a witness who said he heard both Jacobs and Riggs use racial slurs when they attempted to subdue and arrest Penn.

The prosecution has called more than 70 witnesses.