With jurors saying they were hopelessly deadlocked, a federal judge declared a mistrial Monday in the trial of two Pomona police officers facing charges stemming from the violent arrest of a teenage boy at the Los Angeles County Fair three years ago — and the alleged cover-up that followed.
The jury was divided 11-1 in favor of guilt on all counts in the trial of Officers Chad Jensen and Prince Hutchinson. A judge scheduled a status conference for next Monday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles to discuss the next steps in the case, including whether the pair will be tried again.
The jury began discussions late Friday and deliberated for about six hours Monday before telling U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. — who was filling in on Monday for the absent trial judge — that the panel was hung and could not reach unanimous verdicts.
Jensen, 51, is charged with deprivation of rights under color of law for allegedly beating then-16-year-old Christian Aguilar in September 2015. Both Jensen and Hutchinson, 32, are charged with preparing false reports that attempted to justify the use of force. The officers are also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly giving false testimony during state court proceedings regarding criminal charges against Aguilar.
Prosecutors allege the officers gave false testimony similar to that in their written reports and created the false impression that Aguilar posed a physical threat to other officers before Jensen assaulted him.
If found guilty of all charges, Jensen and Hutchinson face the possibility of several years behind bars.
The confrontation began when Jensen noticed the teen filming police as they escorted the boy’s apparently drunk father and cousin out of the fairgrounds, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Lewis contended at the start of trial last week.
Although Aguilar’s cellphone stopped recording just before the alleged assault, video footage taken by another fairgoer appears to show Aguilar being spun around and struck. Prosecutors allege that Jensen “grabbed” the youth and pulled him away to a small alcove where the officer struck him.
“You can’t use excessive force to punish someone and teach them a lesson,” said prosecutor Donald Tunnage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “Wearing a uniform certainly didn’t put these defendants above the law.”
Michael Schwartz, Jensen’s lawyer, told jurors during closing arguments Friday that they must consider his client’s use of violence “from the perspective” of the officer. Jensen believed he had to protect himself from Aguilar, whom he thought was “resisting” and had assumed a fighting stance, the attorney said.
Aguilar was taken into custody for allegedly resisting arrest and charged as a juvenile. Eight months later, the officers repeated their accounts of the arrest while testifying against the youth at a court hearing. The charges against the boy, as well as those against his father and cousin, were eventually dropped.
Two years ago, the city of Pomona paid Aguilar $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit over the encounter at the Pomona Fairplex.
Federal prosecutors allege that in reports prepared soon after the encounter, Jensen falsely wrote that the “belligerent” teenager attempted to punch him in the jaw and came within arm’s reach of another officer.
A third Pomona officer, Michael Neaderbaomer, is charged separately for attempting to dissuade Aguilar’s family from pursuing an internal investigation into the arrest. He faces trial in December.
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