A Harbor View man testified Wednesday that a San Diego police officer, mistaking him for a shooting suspect, kicked him repeatedly in the groin, struck him in the ribs with a baton and sprayed Mace into his eyes.
The testimony occurred during the first day of a hearing for Allen A. Stovall, a three-year veteran who was fired from the Police Department after the incident last year and is now appealing his dismissal to the city's Civil Service Commission.
The 28-year-old officer was dismissed in December. His termination notice also referred to an incident in 1987 in which he was given a two-day suspension for striking a citizen with the butt of a shotgun.
"At that time, you were advised that violations of a similar nature would result in more serious disciplinary action," the notice said.
Jose Gonzalez was the first witness called in the appeals hearing Wednesday. He testified that police were called to the 1700 block of State Street on the night of March 25, 1988, to investigate a gang fight and later a drive-by shooting.
Concerned about the incidents, Gonzalez, 35, said, he walked outside his home to find out what was happening. He said he spoke briefly to Stovall and his partner, Officer Frank Almond Jr. Then suddenly, he said, the officers grabbed him and, fearing he would be placed under arrest for no reason, he held onto a street sign pole to prevent them from taking him into custody.
"That's when all the problems started," Gonzalez said.
He said Almond twisted his arm around the pole, and Stovall stepped in front of him. He said Stovall kicked him about six times in the groin. He said Stovall thumped him in the side with his baton. And he said Stovall sprayed him in the face with Mace.
"That's the reason I let the pole go," Gonzalez said. "My eyes were burning."
He also testified that the officers did not allow him to clean the Mace out of his face until he was taken to the central police station 45 minutes later--apparently in violation of the 20-minute limit set by Police Department policy.
Under cross-examination by Stovall's attorney, Everett Bobbitt, Gonzalez said he had drunk three or four beers that night and he had been arrested twice previously for driving while intoxicated.
Officer Recalls Threats
He also said he could not remember if Stovall hit him with the baton on his right side or his left. And he said that, while he did at first suffer some bruises, he later told police investigators that he did not have bruises.
In addition, Gonzalez said his wife, Guadalupe Gonzalez, a diabetic, became highly emotional during the ordeal, and yelled at the officers to stop hurting him. He said she screamed out: "Get the cops' guns!"
Officer Almond, who was not disciplined in the case, testified that he remembered Guadalupe Gonzalez threatening him and Stovall.
"She was running around," he said. "She came up on Al a couple of times, screaming for us to let him go. She was screaming, 'Take their guns and shoot them!' "
Almond also testified that he did not see Stovall kick Gonzalez in the groin. "I saw Al raise his knee up a couple of times," he said. "But I couldn't see if he was hitting him."
Asked whether Stovall struck Gonzalez with the baton, Almond said: "No, Al drew his baton out and held it up, but then put it back. He didn't have time to strike anyone. He never swung and hit him."
Almond also said he believed the Mace used against Gonzalez was an appropriate level of force, particularly since the officers at first had reason to believe the man may have been responsible for the drive-by shooting in which a door to a nearby home was damaged by a shotgun blast.
Agreed With Termination
"We were just trying to get Mr. Gonzalez controlled and detained so we could talk to him," Almond said.
Rick Pinckard, a deputy city attorney, said he did not believe Gonzalez was ever prosecuted in the case, either for the shooting or for resisting arrest.
Capt. Ken Moller, one of Stovall's supervisors, said he agreed with the termination. He cited Stovall's suspension in November, 1987, for striking a citizen with the butt of a shotgun as having a "great bearing" on the officer's eventual dismissal in the Gonzalez case.
"This is a serious breach of conduct, in my opinion," Moller testified. "The first time, we hit him pretty hard, and I felt the second time we had a pattern. And the Police Department cannot afford to permit this kind of conduct."
The hearing continues today at City Hall, where Stovall is expected to testify in his own defense.