In an action routinely taken in cases of alleged police brutality, the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the repeated use of a stun gun by a Ventura police officer on an epileptic motorist.
Gary Auer, the FBI's regional supervisor in Ventura, said his agents are examining Officer Steven Mosconi's use of the Nova Spirit stun gun on Donn Christensen Jr. on June 23 after Christensen had caused a minor traffic accident during an epileptic seizure.
"The results of that investigation and the interviews will be provided to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and the United States attorney in Los Angeles for their review," Auer said.
The Justice Department and federal prosecutor's office then will decide whether there is any basis to file charges accusing Mosconi of violating civil rights laws, he said.
The FBI investigation, a common move in cases where state or local law enforcement officials are accused of brutality, was revealed just eight days after the Ventura County district attorney's office said it would not pursue criminal charges against Mosconi.
The district attorney's office ruled that Mosconi had committed "no provable violation of criminal law," and Ventura police officials agreed.
However, Ventura Police Chief Richard F. Thomas said his department would take appropriate action against Mosconi for violating department policy in the stun gun incident.
But Thomas has routinely refused to comment on the case. And by Thursday, more than five weeks after the incident, police still had not reached a decision on what action to take against Mosconi.
Police officials have said that violating department policy can carry a penalty ranging from an oral reprimand to firing.
Auer would not discuss what prompted the FBI's investigation. But another FBI source noted that civil rights investigations are frequently opened when the Justice Department learns of alleged incidents of police brutality.
The investigation is one of at least two the FBI has opened in Ventura County in recent weeks. The FBI also is investigating charges by four Oxnard men that they were beaten by Oxnard police who answered complaints about a loud party on June 15.
When asked how often such investigations have led to criminal charges in Southern California, FBI spokesman Fred Reagan in Los Angeles said he could not recall such a prosecution since 1984, when a California Highway Patrolman was convicted of civil rights violations in a murder case and sentenced to 90 years in prison.
But Christensen, who has filed a $2-million civil claim against Mosconi and the city of Ventura, applauded the FBI's entry into the case.
"Apparently, the FBI--whenever there's a civil rights allegation against a public official--is obliged to investigate, which is gratifying," Christensen said Thursday. "I feel I didn't have any action from the local D.A."
Christensen said he believes that the FBI will be "a lot more impartial than the local officials."
Christensen suffered an epileptic seizure behind the wheel of his 1984 Ford Ranger pickup truck, causing a traffic accident on Thompson Boulevard just after 6 p.m. on June 23. Mosconi arrived on his motorcycle and was told by paramedics that Christensen was recovering from the seizure.
Seeing that Christensen's eyes were red and glassy, Mosconi demanded the keys from him. When Christensen refused several times to comply, Mosconi drew his stun gun and again demanded the keys from Christensen, shocking him each time he refused, according to the police report.
After receiving six to eight shocks, Christensen finally got out and stood passively by the truck, where Mosconi shocked him at least twice more, according to the district attorney's office and witnesses at the scene.
Christensen's damage claim alleged that the shocks have caused him to suffer nightmares, sleeplessness and anxiety and that they may cause him to suffer post-traumatic stress disorders in the future.