A federal prosecutor in the criminal trial of two Pomona police officers charged in a violent encounter with a teenager told jurors Tuesday that a video showing cops pummeling the teen would prove the officers’ guilt, while defense attorneys countered the same footage would help to vindicate the men.
The dueling claims over the video a bystander captured on his cellphone came during opening statements in the trial. Cpl. Chad Jensen, a 21-year veteran of the Pomona department, faces charges he used excessive force against then-16-year-old Christian Aguilar during the incident at the Los Angeles County Fair three years ago.
Jensen and Officer Prince Hutchinson, his partner on the night of the encounter, are also accused of lying in reports and court testimony to cover up the two blows Jensen dealt to the teen’s face. A separate trial for a third officer, who faces charges stemming from how he conducted the department’s internal investigation into the incident, is scheduled for next month.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Frances Lewis seized quickly on the video, saying Jensen “snapped” when he saw Aguilar using his phone to record Pomona officers who had arrested his father and cousin for public intoxication
Jensen struck Aguilar while the teen was in a defenseless position as “his arms were hanging by his side, his chin was up, and his neck was exposed,” Lewis said.
The officers were indicted last year after a lengthy FBI investigation into what happened on the night in September 2015 when Aguilar and his family attended the Los Angeles County Fair at the Pomona Fairplex.
As several officers escorted his father and adult cousin out of the fair grounds, Aguilar and a relative followed at some distance, and the teen began recording, Lewis told jurors.
On the teen’s video, which Lewis also played for the jury, Aguilar is heard rebuffing a calm request from an officer to stay back. A few seconds later, Jensen grabs Aguilar and pulls him over to a nearby wall, Lewis said. The bystander's video, which was posted on YouTube, shows Jensen whipping Aguilar around and striking him twice in the face with his forearm as the boy had both arms at his side. The first blow sends Aguilar backpedaling, but Jensen pulls him back in by his arm and strikes him again.
Hutchinson quickly appears in the frame and joins in the effort to tackle Aguilar to the ground. Another officer strikes the teen hard in the leg with his baton and Hutchinson then tosses Aguilar to the ground, the video shows. With the teen on the ground and officers struggling to subdue him, a supervisor walks over and threatens to use a stun gun on Aguilar.
That night, Jensen and Hutchinson wrote short reports of the incident, claiming the teen had ignored repeated commands to stay back and made it to within a few feet of the officers who were escorting his father and cousin. When Jensen had Aguilar against the wall and tried to pull him around, both officers wrote, the teen tried to hit the officer in the face. Hutchinson claimed Aguilar had tried to incite a crowd of onlookers as he was led away.
Aguilar was arrested for resisting arrest and charged as a juvenile. Eight months later, the officers repeated their accounts of the incident while testifying against the teen at a court hearing. The charges against the teen, as well as those against his father and cousin, were eventually dropped.
Attorneys for the men implored jurors to view the incident through the eyes of the officers. Jensen’s attorney said the video, when slowed down, supported the officers’ claim that Aguilar appeared to take a swing at Jensen as he was spun around. And the officers’ estimations about how close the teen had come to his father were also reasonable given how fast the scene unfolded and the danger they perceived, they said.
That sense of danger, they argued, was heightened by things not caught on the videos — namely a large crowd of onlookers who the attorneys said were angry at the officers for arresting the two men and were hurling insults at them. And Aguilar, who weighed nearly 200 pounds, did not appear to the officers to be a teenager, the attorneys added.
“You need to see the world as they see it in order to sit in judgment of them,” said Stewart Adams, Hutchinson’s attorney. “They are trained to act quickly before situations get out of control.”