Penn Shot Officers to Escape Arrest, Prosecutor Argues
The prosecution wrapped up final arguments in the trial of Sagon Penn on Wednesday by urging jurors to convict Penn of first-degree murder because he refused to cooperate with police and had no reason to shoot two San Diego police officers and a civilian observer.
Revealing his theory of the shootings for the first time, Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Carpenter said that Penn duped Police Agent Donovan Jacobs, who was sitting on Penn, into thinking he was going to surrender. When Jacobs reached back for his handcuffs, Carpenter said, Penn grabbed the officer’s gun and shot Jacobs in the neck.
“He was determined to do everything in his power to avoid that arrest,” Carpenter said. " . . . Sagon Penn has got the gun and he’s warning them. He’s not acting in self-defense . . . Clearly there was intent to shoot and kill in the neck to avoid being arrested. Deliberate. Premeditated. To avoid jail. To avoid the shame.
“It wasn’t the batons, it wasn’t the punches, it wasn’t the scuffle, it wasn’t anything that was said. You know why he pulled that gun out and shot? The handcuffs that come out. He saw them. That’s where it is.”
The jury will begin deliberating today after Superior Court Judge Ben W. Hamrick instructs them on the charges in the 12-week trial.
Penn, 24, is charged with murder in the shooting death of Police Agent Thomas Riggs and attempted murder in the shootings of Jacobs and Sarah Pina-Ruiz, who was a civilian passenger in Riggs’ patrol car.
The defense maintains that Jacobs stopped Penn for no reason and provoked him by repeatedly beating him with his baton and using racial slurs.
In delivering his final remarks to the jury Wednesday morning, defense attorney Milton Silverman retraced the American civil rights movement and quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous “I have a dream” address.
“Well, Dr. King, the dream is here,” Silverman said. “We may not have reached the Promised Land yet, but we have as Americans turned our back on bigotry and hatred and race prejudice and the image of a police officer sitting on top of a black man beating him in the face, telling him that he is a nigger and he is going to beat his black ass.
“We turned our back on that.”
Silverman waved the list of charges against his client in front of the jurors and told them the name of a fourth victim--Sagon Penn.
“He was a victim, too,” said Silverman, whose brief 20-minute delivery at the start of Wednesday’s court session hushed the courtroom and brought tears to the eyes of several jurors. “And he will be a victim regardless of what your verdict in this case is. There will be no happy endings to this case. No celebrations. No champagne. This began as a tragedy and it will end as a tragedy.”
Carpenter moved quickly to warn jurors not to be swayed by the defense attorney’s dramatic remarks.
“Mr. Silverman is a very persuasive, charming individual, and he has done an excellent job for Mr. Penn in closing argument,” Carpenter said. " . . . If you think I’ve done a bad job or good job or mediocre job, it’s simply not important. What is important is testimony and evidence.”
Both attorneys told the packed courtroom that Penn had received a fair trial and asked jurors to reach a verdict in the case.
During his closing remarks, Carpenter told the jury that if Penn had dropped Jacobs’ revolver after he shot the two officers, perhaps they could buy a self-defense argument.
“But what did he do?” Carpenter said. “He says, ‘You’re a witness,’ and shoots (Pina-Ruiz) . . . and he drove over a helpless officer.”
Carpenter spent most of Wednesday responding to attacks on the prosecution’s case launched by Silverman the day before.
The prosecutor said that Pina-Ruiz was unfairly criticized. The defense had attempted to show that Pina-Ruiz lied on the stand to protect Jacobs.
“What did she do to have her character vilified?” Carpenter asked. “What did she do to deserve that? She was there. She was shot . . . What did she do to have somebody call her a liar? What did she do? She was shot!”
The prosecutor said that physical evidence and testimony from witnesses supported Pina-Ruiz’s testimony that she saw much of the shootings.
He chastised the defense for falsely accusing Jacobs of using excessive force and racial slurs against Penn.
“The attempted character assassination on Donovan Jacobs didn’t work,” Carpenter said. “It was a ploy . . . a tactic that can be very successful. . . . You pick out somebody to use as the fall guy. . . . You overemphasize a particular aspect of the case to de-emphasize the guilt of Sagon Penn.
“It failed miserably here. . . . They used the wrong tactic. They used the wrong guy.”
Carpenter suggested that the defense portrayed Jacobs as a bad person so that the jury would “consider the fact that he’s not worthy of being a victim of a crime.”
Jacobs is “a hero” and a superior officer in a superior police department, Carpenter said. He noted that 13 character witnesses--most of them police officers--testified on Jacobs’ outstanding reputation and solid police work.
Carpenter said that fewer witnesses in the trial testified that they heard Jacobs tell Penn, “You think you’re bad, nigger . . . I’ll beat your black ass,” than those who did not. He said the bruises on Penn indicated that he had not been severely beaten.
He added that Jacobs did not lie when he was the only witness to testify that Penn made an illegal U-turn in his pick-up truck before being stopped and that Riggs initiated the physical encounter with Penn.
“He’s wrong about those things,” Carpenter explained. “Is he lying? No, he’s not lying. . . . He thinks back on that day. That’s a painful memory. He wound up with his arm paralyzed. He has trouble walking. Tom Riggs was killed with his gun. . . . That is not a conscious alteration of reality . . . that is a defense mechanism. We all do that when we have these painful things to remember.”
The prosecutor noted that Penn did not mention any racial epithets when he surrendered to police. Even if Jacobs lied and used racial slurs, the prosecutor said, Penn didn’t have the right to shoot and kill.
“It’s not just, ‘OK, Donovan Jacobs called him a nigger and therefore (Penn) is not guilty,’ ” Carpenter told the jury. “It’s not that simple. You have to make a determination of whether the words were said and what effect they had on both parties.”
Carpenter said that Jacobs had a legitimate cause to stop Penn’s truck because he was looking for a black gang member with a gun.
“Unfortunately, Sagon Penn took umbrage at what was going on. It would have been nothing more than a 30-second detention. They would have determined (the gang members) were not there, and they would have gone on their way,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter explained that Penn had a duty to cooperate, whether the arrest by police was lawful or not. He said that any complaints about an arrest should be raised in court, not on the streets.
The prosecution’s case benefited from testimony by several defense witnesses who said they thought police had shot Penn when they first heard gunfire, Carpenter said.
“If they’ve got him on the ground defenseless and they’re beating him to a pulp, what is there about that situation that would lead anybody to believe that they were going to shoot him?” Carpenter said. “There’s no reason for guns. . . . The significance of that testimony is that Sagon Penn was actively resisting and they thought that the officers had resorted to deadly force because of the resistance.”
The voice of Riggs on the police radio calling for “cover now” revealed the fierce struggle between officers and Penn, Carpenter said.
“Yes, he’s dead,” Carpenter said of Riggs. “And yes, he can’t take the stand and testify. But also, yes, his words ring out in this courtroom as to what was going on . . . “
Once Penn resisted and relied on his expert karate skills, Carpenter said, the 24-year-old Southeast San Diego man did not count on the “tenacity” of Jacobs.
“Donovan Jacobs grabbed and hung on,” Carpenter said. " . . . Jacobs was able to get on top . . . (Penn) refused to submit. He refused to be arrested. At that point in time, Jacobs went for the cuffs . . . bared his gun. And that’s when the gun was taken and that’s when the gun was used.”
Jacobs and Riggs used their batons in a professional manner and in compliance with San Diego Police Department regulations, the prosecutor said.
“They played it by the rules,” Carpenter said. “They played it professionally. They did what they were trained to do. They used what force they thought was necessary under the circumstances. Did that lead to the struggle? You’re darned right it did. . . . But a police officer does not have the right when a person assumes a karate stance to pull out his gun and plug him.”
Carpenter added: “This is reasonable use of force. It’s not pretty. It’s not nice to watch. But it’s in the San Diego Police Department rules and regulations. . . . That’s what the situation is. You give them that force because they are out there in uniform, and they’ve got a job to do--restrain and arrest people who violate the law.”
Both attorneys ended their final arguments Wednesday with dramatic appeals to the jury.
“If (Penn) is due punishment, conviction, retribution, give it to him,” Silverman said. “But if he deserves to be acquitted, give him that.
“I will ask you for no more. Society demands no less. As the (Hebrew) prophet Micah said, ‘What does the Lord God ask of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’ May He guide you in your task.”
Carpenter’s closing remark ended three full days of final arguments. He said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, let right be done. Find justice. It’s there. Assess Sagon Penn’s guilt and tell the community. Thank you.”