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Former Oxnard Officer Says He Saw Flinn Beat Suspect With Flashlight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Breaking ranks in a police brutality trial, a former Oxnard police officer testified Thursday that he saw fellow Officer Robert Flinn knock a suspect across the head with a heavy metal flashlight after a foot chase last year.

But Flinn’s attorneys said his accuser is merely a biased witness and a jealous enemy of Flinn’s who was never in a position to see clearly what actually happened. The charges leveled by former Officer David Hawtin could destroy Flinn’s promising career.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 01, 1997 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 1, 1997 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Zones Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Brutality trial--A headline Friday about the brutality trial of Oxnard Police Officer Robert Flinn contained erroneous information. Several police officers have testified during the trial.

Hawtin, who served on the force for more than six years and was a member of the department’s SWAT team, testified that he saw Flinn strike Juan Lopez, knocking Lopez to the ground just as the former drug addict, who was a suspect in a burglary, was surrendering.

"[Lopez] had his hands up. . . . He shrugged and grinned . . . kind of like he was saying, ‘You got me,’ ” Hawtin recalled. “Then I saw Officer Flinn set his feet, raise his flashlight and hit [Lopez] in the head.”

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Hawtin is the first police officer to testify that he witnessed abuse by the 29-year-old Flinn.

Flinn is accused of beating 30-year-old Lopez on Jan. 27, 1996, and of bloodying the nose of another man, Victor Aguiar, in December 1995.

In testimony last week, Aguiar could not identify who had hit him.

And during testimony on Monday and Tuesday, Lopez testified that Flinn had hit him across the left eyebrow with a blow that knocked him unconscious and then hit him at least seven more times as he fell to the ground.

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Hawtin testified to seeing only the initial blow, but of hearing three more hits that he “believed were to the head.”

Hawtin testified he had been surprised by Flinn’s actions.

In the hospital waiting for Lopez to be treated, Flinn approached his fellow officer and asked him what Lopez had told a police supervisor, Hawtin testified.

“What do you think he’s saying?” Hawtin said Flinn asked him.

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Then Flinn asked Hawtin if he had told their superior officer about the incident, Hawtin testified.

Hawtin said he had told Sgt. Ron Whitney what had happened, and then asked Flinn: “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” Hawtin said Flinn responded.

Prosecutor Michael Frawley said Thursday that Hawtin, who since leaving the Oxnard department early last year has joined a police force in Tennessee, testified reluctantly.

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In court, Frawley asked Hawtin if he was worried about what other officers on the force would think about his testimony.

“I knew a portion, if not a large portion, would think that it was a betrayal,” Hawtin said.

But Hawtin said that he had told his superiors about the incident because “it is required by the Oxnard Police Department. Our code of ethics requires it, and state and federal statutes require it.”

The courtroom was filled Thursday with Flinn’s supporters, including his wife and more than a dozen active-duty and retired Oxnard officers.

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On cross-examination, Flinn’s defense attorney, William Hadden, tried to show that his client was merely attempting to subdue an uncooperative suspect and that Hawtin was in no position to clearly see what had happened.

Hadden also questioned Hawtin’s claim that he was an unbiased witness, painting Hawtin as jealous of Flinn for getting a choice assignment on the department’s gang enforcement team.

“Didn’t you think that you deserved that position more than Officer Flinn?” Hadden asked.

“Yes I did,” Hawtin finally answered.

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Hadden also said that Hawtin had in the past accused Flinn of infidelity in front of fellow officers. Hawtin said he had been merely joking about Flinn flirting with a waitress and that he had no malice toward Flinn.

Hadden also pointed out that initially Lopez had identified him as the officer who allegedly administered the beating, and that Hawtin had told Lopez: “No, it wasn’t me.”

The jury trial is expected to last until the end of next week. Officer Victor Boswell, who was also at the scene during the alleged beating, is also expected to testify.


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