Photo by Alexander Nguyen
Photo by Alexander Nguyen

A former cop who blinded a woman when he fired a pepper spray pistol inches from her face during an arrest will have to wait at least until April to learn his fate after another mistrial was declared in his criminal case.

According to a prosecutor, the defendant discharged a pepper gun into the eyes of then-32-year-old Monique Hernandez on the night of Feb. 21, 2012, after he became “annoyed” with her because she wouldn’t comply with his commands to stop resisting arrest.

The woman’s corneas were shredded and her optic nerve irreparably damaged, according to trial testimony.

With the defense insisting that it wasn’t provided government documents and exhibits, a judge Wednesday declared a mistrial for 41- year-old Enoch “Jeremy” Clark.

Clark’s attorney, Brandi Harper, objected that documents, photographs and videos associated with the witness, a police sergeant, had not been turned over to the defense during the discovery phase.

Despite protestations to the contrary by Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney, Superior Court Judge Michael Donner sided with Harper and dismissed the jury, scheduling a retrial status conference for April 10 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

Clark, a former Beaumont police officer, is free on a $50,000 bond. He could face four years behind bars if convicted of assault by a peace officer causing injury, assault with a less- lethal weapon, battery causing serious injury and assault resulting in great bodily injury.

In May 2014, a Riverside jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Clark, paving the way for the most recent retrial on all counts.

Prosecutor Carney in this most recent trial alleged that Clark was completely unjustified when he pulled the trigger on the JPX Jet Protector pepper spray gun, which discharges propellant at 400 miles per hour. The device was less than 10 inches from Hernandez’s face, and the contents penetrated her eyes, dispersing into her skull, according to the prosecutor.

He alleged the defendant lied to cover up his actions, telling investigators that he felt his life was threatened and he was “slipping off balance” while holding the gun, causing it to fire prematurely.

The defense blamed Clark’s superiors, inadequate training on the weapon’s use, unclear instructions on how to use it and other factors for what transpired.

According to the defense, JPX manufacturer’s warnings on the minimum safe distance to fire the pepper pistol were confusing, most notably in the instruction manual, which included a misplaced comma suggesting the weapon could be fired from one meter — three feet — instead of the 1.5 meters actually required.

The defense argued that the Beaumont Police Department never gave officers an opportunity to test-fire a JPX pistol before carrying one on patrol, even though a videotape recording played during Clark’s trial showed him and other officers receiving instruction on the appropriate use of the device, which resembles a Star Trek phaser.

Dash-cam video from Clark’s patrol car on the night of the confrontation showed Hernandez with her hands behind her back, jostling as Clark tried to handcuff her.

The lawman repeatedly tells the allegedly intoxicated motorist to “stop resisting” and “get your hands behind your back,” while Hernandez answers, “I’m not resisting,” demanding to know why she’s being arrested and what she “blew” in her roadside breathalyzer test.

The video clip shows Clark firing the device directly into Hernandez’s face.

The ex-cop, the city of Beaumont and several additional law enforcement officers were sued in federal court for civil rights violations. The suit was ultimately settled out of court, resulting in an $18.5 million payout to Hernandez and her family, according to U.S. District Court documents.

–City News Service

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