A Mexican citizen who allegedly fired at a Huntington Park police officer last August was found not guilty of attempted murder Wednesday in Norwalk Superior Court after the officer testified that during the confrontation he had experienced flashbacks to a prior shoot-out.
Jose Silva Coria, 34, of Huntington Park, was shot six times by four Huntington Park police officers who fired 31 times. None of the officers was injured.
During the 2 1/2-week jury trial before Judge Ramona Godoy Perez, Coria said he never had a gun and authorities said no gun was ever found. Coria, who is disabled as a result of his injuries, was also found not guilty of assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon.
The prosecution charged that Coria fired a gun at Officer Henry F. Batterton in a car chase Aug. 10. The chase, which began after the officer attempted to pull Coria over for driving erratically and not having a rear license plate, ended when Coria crashed into a parked car in Huntington Park.
During the 1.7 mile chase, Batterton testified he saw at least four large orange "muzzle flashes" coming from the driver's side window of Coria's van.
Batterton testified that he shot at Coria because he believed Coria had fired at him, and because Coria was in a semi-crouching position with his right hand obscured.
"I shot six times to protect my safety and the safety of others, and the fact that I was scared," Batterton testified. The officer, however, said that during the car chase, he "momentarily" experienced flashbacks to a 1983 car chase in which he shot and killed a theft suspect.
Because of the flashbacks, jurors decided the officer's testimony was "kind of shaky," said jury foreman Phillip Flores of Hacienda Heights.
Coria's attorney, Frederic J. Warner of Beverly Hills, attributed the muzzle flashes and noises Batterton said he witnessed to backfires from Coria's van.
Warner said that police conduct in the case was "appalling" because officers repeatedly shot an unarmed man. "This case should have never been in criminal court in the first place," he added.
Coria, who testified through a translator, said he never used a gun, and that he fled from the officer because he was "scared." He was shot six times in the chest, shoulder, both arms, left leg and right foot after the crash when he did not obey Batterton's repeated orders to "Freeze."
The shots were fired by Batterton and three other officers--Carlos J. Nuguez, Antonio Luna and Thomas L. Martin CQS--who responded to Batterton's radio call for help. Other bullets struck Coria's van and three houses on Live Oak Street, according to court testimony.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence C. Morrison said he could understand why jurors decided Coria was not guilty of attempted murder, but said that he believed he had presented sufficient evidence to justify a conviction on the assault charge. Morrison contended that Coria discarded the gun during the car chase.
Jurors, however, did not believe there was sufficient scientific evidence to convict Coria, according to foreman Flores.
In the trial, Gary Chasteen, a criminalist with the sheriff's department, testified that gun residue tests on the driver's window in van--where Batterton claimed to see the flashes--were inconclusive and that no evidence of gunpowder residue was found on Coria's shirt. Officers were unable to do similar tests on Coria's hands because he was taken for emergency surgery at Martin Luther King Hospital.
No gun was ever found despite searches by 10 Huntington Park police officers and several sheriff's deputies.