Federal prosecutors have charged three Pomona police officers in the beating of an unarmed teenager, accusing a 20-year department veteran of attacking the boy and all three of lying to justify his actions during an incident that a bystander caught on video.
Cpl. Chad Jensen, Officer Prince Hutchinson and Sgt. Michael Neaderbaomer surrendered to authorities Thursday morning and were arraigned later in the day in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. They each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were ordered released on $50,000 bond. A trial in the case was scheduled for Dec. 19.
Michael Schwartz, an attorney for Jensen, said that the video of the incident “is just a small window into the entire event” and that he was confident his client would be exonerated. An attorney for Neaderbaomer declined to comment. A lawyer for Hutchinson could not be reached. A receptionist at the Pomona Police Department said officials did not have an immediate comment.
The allegations stem from a night in September 2015, when Christian Aguilar and his family attended the Los Angeles County Fair at the Pomona Fairplex. As a minor, Aguilar is not named in court papers, but has been open about the incident.
After a cousin, who was frustrated that a beer stand at the fair had closed, exchanged some words with police officers, Aguilar’s father stepped in to defuse the situation, said David Gammill, an attorney for the family. Police arrested both men on suspicion of public intoxication, according to Gammill.
As the men were being escorted away by several officers, Aguilar followed about 10 to 15 feet behind and began recording with his phone, according to Gammill. When an officer instructed the teen to stop following the group, Aguilar rebuffed the command and kept walking, the attorney said.
Moments later, Gammill said, Jensen grabbed Aguilar and shoved him against a wall. A bystander’s video, posted online, shows an officer identified by Gammill as Jensen whipping Aguilar around and striking him twice in the face with his forearm as the boy kept both of his arms at his side. The blows sent Aguilar backpedaling.
An officer Gammill identified as Hutchinson quickly grabbed the teen as another officer delivered a hard blow with his baton to the boy’s knees. Hutchinson then tossed Aguilar to the ground, the video shows. Hutchinson and Jensen worked as patrol partners, federal authorities said.
Aguilar was ultimately arrested, along with the bystander who shot the video, Gammill said. The teen was charged with obstructing a peace officer and his father with public intoxication.
Jensen, 50, and Hutchinson, 31, knowingly lied in the reports they wrote about the incident and later when they testified at the boy’s trial, prosecutors allege. Jensen also faces a charge of violating Aguilar’s civil rights by using excessive force.
In his report of the incident, Jensen falsely claimed he struck Aguilar after the teen attempted to punch him in the face, according to the charges against the men. And he wrote that Aguilar had come within an “arms length” of the officers who were escorting his father.
Hutchinson gave a similar account in his own report, falsely saying the boy had run to within a few feet of the other officers and then yelled at onlookers in an attempt to “incite unrest” as he was being led away, federal authorities said.
Neaderbaomer was assigned to the Police Department’s internal affairs unit, court records show. When Aguilar’s mother attempted to file a complaint about the beating, Neaderbaomer tried to dissuade her by telling her that he had a video that showed her son trying to hit Jensen and that the boy would have to meet alone with police officials if he wanted to make a complaint, prosecutors allege.
Neaderbaomer, 49, is also charged with lying to FBI agents when he denied the exchange with Aguilar’s mother.
If convicted, the men would face maximum sentences of 30 to 50 years in prison.
In an interview, Gammill said the bystander who recorded the violent encounter was released without charges. Before returning his phone, however, police downloaded the video, Gammill said.
Before Aguilar’s trial, local prosecutors from the L.A. County district attorney’s office gave Gammill a copy of the bystander’s video that Pomona police had submitted as part of its investigation. The first several seconds of the incident, when Jensen yanked Aguilar off the wall and spun him around, were missing. Without those frames, Gammill said, there was no evidence to refute the officers’ assertion that the force was justified.
At Aguilar’s trial, Gammill said he showed the full video and compared it with the police version, which the attorney argued had been edited. During testimony, the attorney said, Jensen at first stuck to the claims he made in his report but ultimately conceded that account was inaccurate, Gammill said. The judge dismissed the charges and, shortly after, prosecutors dismissed the case against Aguilar’s father.
Last year, the city of Pomona paid Aguilar $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit over the beating, Gammill said.