Amnesia Theory Discounted : Officer Lied on Stand, Expert Tells Penn Jury

Times Staff Writer

A forensic psychiatry expert testified Wednesday that San Diego Police Agent Donovan Jacobs deliberately lied on the witness stand last month during critical testimony in the murder trial of Sagon Penn.

Dr. Haig Koshkarian, past president of the San Diego Psychiatric Society, said he believes that Jacobs made up a story about Penn making an illegal U-turn so the officer could have a reason for stopping the truck.

He also said Jacobs lied when he said his partner, Agent Thomas Riggs, initiated a fight with Penn--a lie that allowed Jacobs to “avoid the unpleasant consequences of being the person who started it.”

Over the last seven weeks of testimony, not a single prosecution or defense witness has supported Jacobs’ claims that Penn made a U-turn or that Riggs began fighting with Penn.


Koshkarian said he knows of no medical theory to explain how Jacobs could describe in detail many of the circumstances surrounding the March 31, 1985, shootings and at the same time have difficulty recalling other significant events occurring that day.

The seven-year police agent either deliberately lied or subconsciously concocted his version of what took place before the shootings, Koshkarian said.

“To be charitable, it is possible that psychologically (Jacobs) made something up and believed it,” Koshkarian said. “But that is rare. . . . It’s usually found in someone who is psychotic. . . . It takes a psychological weakness to distort reality to that extent. It doesn’t happen to a basically normal person who is in touch with reality.”

Jacobs repeatedly struck Penn with his baton and punched him in the face after the 24-year-old Southeast San Diego man failed to give the officer his driver’s license, according to witnesses.


As he lay on his back, Penn grabbed Jacobs’ revolver and shot Jacobs once in the neck, Riggs three times and civilian Sarah Pina-Ruiz twice. Penn is charged with one count of murder in Riggs’ death and with three counts of attempted murder.

Penn’s attorney, Milton Silverman, spent all day Wednesday calling defense witnesses who testified that Jacobs used racial slurs and was aggressive in carrying out his police duties. His witnesses included a black heroin addict and the mother of a 14-year-old black youth who was arrested by Jacobs on the day of the shootings.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter reviewed the lengthy record of narcotics arrests against Terry Garrett, 39, in an attempt to discredit his statements before the jury. The prosecutor became irritated at one point and told Garrett: “If you’ll stop chewing your gum and listen to what I’m saying. . . . “

More testimony focusing on Jacobs’ aggressive tactics is expected during the remainder of the week from several witnesses, including the officer’s former police supervisor, Lt. Doyle Wheeler. Silverman indicated that he is considering calling Penn to testify next week.


On Wednesday, Koshkarian bolstered defense claims that Jacobs deliberately did not tell the truth when he took the stand last month.

During two days of testimony, Jacobs provided details of most of the events that occurred before and after the 6:13 p.m. shootings. These ranged from how he responded to a report of a gang member with a gun before stopping Penn’s truck to dramatic testimony of how he was shot with his gun and run over with his police car.

Dr. Joseph Devon, one of the physicians who performed surgery on Jacobs in the days after the shootings, testified that Jacobs had suffered partial memory loss because of a condition called “retrograde amnesia.”

But Koshkarian testified Wednesday that there was no indication in medical records that Jacobs had ever suffered a concussion that would have been likely to cause amnesia. And even if Jacobs had suffered amnesia, his memory loss would have been continuous and not in breaks, Koshkarian said.


“Retrograde amnesia is the absence of memory,” Koshkarian said. “That is different than making something up to replace reality.”

Koshkarian also was asked by Silverman to comment on the statements Jacobs gave to police during interviews from his hospital bed several days after the shootings. He said Jacobs’ remarks indicated that he was in touch with reality and could recall clearly many details of the shootings.

Koshkarian made it clear under defense questioning that his opinions were based on the assumptions that Jacobs’ statements on certain key events differed from those of all other witnesses.

But on cross-examination Carpenter asked Koshkarian, “Are you saying that Donovan Jacobs is lying to the jury?”


“Yes,” Koshkarian said without hesitating.

Carpenter suggested to Koshkarian that Jacobs’ memory lapses could have been caused by any of a long list of medical and psychological conditions. These included the 10 pints of blood Jacobs lost after the shooting; the heavy doses of narcotics and other painkillers he took; the seriousness of his head, neck and chest injuries; the traumatic effects of knowing that his partner was killed with Jacobs’ weapon, and extreme feelings of guilt.

But in each case, Koshkarian said none of the conditions could account for Jacobs’ memory loss.

For example, Carpenter asked whether Jacobs could have suffered memory loss from banging his head on the ground or from being run over by the police vehicle.


Koshkarian said: “That would not account for turning one reality into another reality in a selective way.”

Koshkarian’s remarks did not impress Colleen Riggs, widow of the slain officer, who sat in the back row of the courtroom as she has throughout much of the trial. In an interview outside the courtroom, Riggs said she did not believe that Jacobs would intentionally lie.

“I feel satisfied (Jacobs) is a truthful person and is not lying,” Riggs said. “What’s forgotten today is when he did this (hospital room) interview, he was under heavy drugs and morphine.”

Carpenter echoed those comments.


“Here is a guy who is taking all these painkillers, has been in intensive care fighting for his life, and is very fortunate to be alive,” Carpenter said. “I think all these things come into it. . . . I’ve come to know Donovan Jacobs well, and I wouldn’t think he would (lie) consciously.”