Suspect Later Died : Suspension of Officer In Taser Case Lifted

Times Staff Writer

The five-day suspension of a San Diego police sergeant for the Taser shooting of a drug suspect who later died was reversed Thursday, and police officials instead were directed to issue a written warning to the sergeant for using unnecessary force.

The lighter punishment for Sgt. Charles A. Mattingly was announced by the city's Civil Service Commission, which ruled that the sergeant's "use of unnecessary force constituted more of a good-conscience judgment error than a willful, intentional or malicious act of misconduct."

Considerable Suffering

The commission also noted that Mattingly "has already experienced considerable suffering and anxiety" and a reassignment from field duties to an administrative job since he shot the man in November, 1987.

Mattingly, on the advice of his attorney, declined to comment about the ruling, although he did say he "certainly hoped" the Civil Service Commission's decision would be the final chapter in the case.

Cmdr. Cal Krosch, a Police Department spokesman, said the department will not appeal the ruling. "We'll abide by the decision of the commission," he said.

A written reprimand was the original punishment that the Police Department had wanted to give Mattingly, a 15-year police veteran. But testimony before the commission showed that the city manager's office stepped in and urged a stiffer penalty because it was concerned about public criticism that police officers were not being seriously disciplined for misconduct.

The police chief's office then compromised with the city manager, and a five-day suspension was issued. Mattingly appealed that punishment, arguing that the city manager's office improperly intervened in the discipline process.

Placed on Light Duty

The police sergeant was placed on light duty after he shot Mario Gastelum with the electronic stun gun when police found Gastelum inside a basement crawl space, dressed only in underwear and acting irrationally and violently from the effects of drugs.

Mattingly shot him once with the Taser while Gastelum was in the crawl space. The 24-year-old man then was removed, handcuffed shackled by the feet and taken to the San Diego Physicians & Surgeons Hospital.

Officer Cal Flores, who drove Gastelum to the hospital, told Mattingly on the police radio that the suspect was still irrational and violent inside the police car. Mattingly met the police car outside the hospital emergency room. When it arrived, he reached inside the patrol car and once again shot Gastelum with the Taser gun.

Gastelum died three days later, but the coroner's office did not directly connect his death to the use of the Taser.

Gastelum's family is suing the Police Department in connection with the incident.

The commission, in reaching its decision Thursday, said that neither the police chief nor the city manager exceeded their authority in the disciplinary process for Mattingly.

Failure to Communicate

The panel also ruled that Mattingly "failed to adequately assess the situation at the hospital" before shooting Gastelum the second time with the stun gun. But, at the same time, the commission said Flores should have advised Mattingly that Gastelum had calmed down between the time he radioed him and they arrived at the hospital.

"Flores' failure to communicate with (Mattingly) contributed to the ensuing situation," the commission said in its ruling.

Finally, in calling for the lighter punishment, the commission said Mattingly "has been a very satisfactory and dedicated officer and sergeant for 15 years with no previous disciplinary action or allegation of unnecessary or excessive force."

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