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LAPD officer won’t face new trial on accusation of filing false police report

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 17, 2017: Defense attorney Bill Seki, from left, Los Angeles Police Depart
Defense attorney Bill H. Seki, left, LAPD Officer Rene Ponce, defense attorney Ira Salzman and Officer Irene Gomez listen to testimony.
(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

A Los Angeles police officer accused of failing to arrest a drunken motorist because he wanted to wrap up his shift will not face a retrial after jurors deadlocked recently on a charge that he falsified a police report.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jose Sandoval granted a motion Thursday to dismiss the case against LAPD Officer Rene Ponce, and prosecutors opted not to oppose the motion.

Ponce and Officer Irene Gomez were acquitted Aug. 7 of conspiring to obstruct justice after prosecutors accused them of failing to arrest a drunk driving suspect and writing false reports in connection with the Oct. 26, 2014, incident so that they could wrap up their shift and go home.

After three days of deliberating, jurors found Gomez not guilty of filing a false report but deadlocked 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal of Ponce, a 15-year-department veteran.

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Ponce’s attorney, Bill H. Seki, said prosecutors made the appropriate decision not to pursue the case further. The case relied too heavily on the statements of the DUI suspect, he said.

Seki said Ponce remains assigned to home. The LAPD has yet to complete an administrative investigation of the officer.

Gomez’s attorney, Ira Salzman, said previously that the officers already were working overtime on the day of the incident and had no motive to try to wrap up their shift.

The incident began on a Sunday morning when Del Mar Alan Garcia Gomez, 32, was driving home from his son’s first birthday party around 6 a.m. Near his apartment, he testified, he fell asleep behind the wheel and slammed his friend’s Mustang into two parked cars in his Boyle Heights neighborhood.

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When he came to, several people huddled around the car and grabbed him when he got out, accusing him of being drunk, Garcia Gomez said. He testified that he had not been drinking.

Someone took his house keys and wallet, and he went across the street to wait for police, he said.

When Ponce and Gomez showed up in a patrol car, a witness said she told the officers she thought the driver was drunk, LAPD Sgt. Anthony Vasquez, who investigated the officers, said at an earlier hearing.

Another witness said he heard the driver admit to one of the officers that he had been drinking, according to Vasquez.

Garcia Gomez said Ponce asked him to walk in a straight line and shone a flashlight in his eyes, but later told him to deny that he was driving the car. The officers then dropped him off at his nearby home.

They then wrote reports indicating that the Mustang was abandoned at the scene and the driver “was not at scene.”

The next day, Garcia Gomez and his friend, the car’s owner, went to claim the Mustang from an LAPD impound yard. There, Garcia Gomez said, he found out the car was tied to a hit-and-run investigation. He complained, telling an LAPD traffic detective he never fled the scene.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Martha Carrillo argued during the case that the officers lied and let Garcia Gomez go because they were in a hurry to finish their shift.

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Salzman said the driver never spoke to Gomez, his client, and was nowhere around when Ponce was accused of telling Garcia Gomez to falsely say he had not been driving the car.

The attorney said Gomez and Ponce were not trying to hide anything during their investigation. While the officers were at the scene of the crash, he said, they asked dispatchers whether a specialized traffic officer could respond to the scene. No one was sent.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes


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