2 Ex-Deputies Deny Attacking Inmate in Cell : Trial: Former Orange County officers say they thought they were answering a prisoner’s call for help at the Maywood jail as testimony ends.
In court testimony that ended Tuesday, two former Orange County sheriff’s deputies and a former Maywood police officer said they never attacked a Maywood jail inmate and only entered his cell to answer a cry for help believed to have come from a prisoner.
For the last three days of their trial, former deputies John Rice and Ivan Budiselich and former policeman Michael A. Elliott have taken the witness stand in Superior Court here to defend themselves against criminal charges alleging that they beat up Marino D. Martillo of Huntington Park on March 23, 1990.
Budiselich, the last of the three officers to testify, characterized the encounter with Martillo as little more than a bed check after Elliott supposedly heard someone calling for help from the cellblock.
The former deputy, dressed in a gray sports coat with an American flag lapel pin, recalled that Elliott entered the cell and asked the prisoner, “ ‘Are you all right? Did you call for help?’ ” Budiselich testified that Elliott only grabbed the inmate by the wrist and told him to go back to sleep upon finding out that there was nothing wrong.
During the entire incident, Budiselich testified, neither he nor Rice entered Martillo’s cell.
Budiselich, 26, Elliott, 31, and Rice, 25, are charged with assault under color of authority, and assault and battery with serious bodily injury. If convicted, they could get up to three years in prison for the first count and four years for the second. All have lost their jobs after departmental investigations of the incident.
Their sworn testimony sharply conflicts with earlier testimony by Martillo and a Maywood police clerk-dispatcher indicating that Martillo was beaten in his cell.
Prosecution evidence has indicated that the officers went to the Maywood Police Station in a chauffeur-driven limousine after midnight on March 23 to visit friends and play with a Breathalyzer, which is used to determine if someone is legally drunk.
The testimony shows that before their arrival, Elliott, Rice and Budiselich had been drinking and celebrating at a bachelor party thrown for a second Maywood officer who was getting married the next day.
Having heard that a jail inmate had been involved in a scuffle with another officer, testimony indicated that the three officers entered the cellblock at 2 a.m. in search of the prisoner and mistakenly singled out Martillo, an auto-parts clerk being held on traffic warrants and a bad check charge.
Martillo, 30, who identified all three in court as his assailants, said he was beaten for 30 to 40 seconds and that Elliott threatened to hang him in a way that would make it look like suicide. A police dispatcher also recalled that she saw Elliott slap Martillo on a jail video monitor.
But the testimony brought out by defense attorneys Martin Geragos and Paul DiPasquale gave a different version of the events, which began, Elliott said, when he heard a “cry for help” come from the department’s small cellblock.
Their sworn statements suggest that Elliott went to investigate and entered the cellblock with Rice acting as a backup in case of any problems. Elliott recalled that when he entered Martillo’s cell, Martillo stood up and said something like, “I am not the one you want.”
At that point, Elliott told the court, he grabbed Martillo and threw him back down on the bunk. Neither Rice nor Elliott said they hit anyone. Their testimony, however, showed that Rice and Budiselich never heard a cry for help and that the defendants did not look into two other cells in search of the person who supposedly cried for help.
Budiselich told Superior Court Judge Judith L. Champagne that Elliott was only in the cell 15 to 20 seconds and then left as Carolyn Lowers, a clerk-dispatcher, interrupted them and told them to leave.
He said he never saw any threatening gestures in the jail cell and that nothing was ever said to Martillo, who has claimed that Elliott threatened to hang him and that Budiselich had choked him and hit him on the side of the head repeatedly.
Under cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey D. Oscodar asked Budiselich how much he had had to drink during the bachelor party. Although Budiselich said that the mood was festive and that they had consumed almost three pitchers of beer at a topless nightclub, he testified that he could clearly recall that he had drank no more than five beers during the entire evening. But he also testified that he had no reason to count the beers and that being intoxicated was not a concern because they had a driver for their limousine. He denied that the group’s use of the Breathalyzer at the Maywood station had turned into a contest to see who was the drunkest.
In another line of questioning by Oscodar, Budiselich testified that he would never have entered a cell area at the Orange County Jail after he had been drinking. Although officers can get in trouble for that kind of conduct, he said, he was not concerned about it at the Maywood police station because he was with Elliott, a Maywood officer.
When Elliott went into Martillo’s cell, Budiselich told the court, he was concerned about Elliott but didn’t really know why he was there. He said he just looked on in case Elliott needed help with what appeared to be a job-related duty.