A prosecutor told a federal jury Wednesday that a Pomona Police Department internal affairs sergeant illegally attempted to dissuade a woman from pursuing a complaint into her son’s alleged officer-involved beating, but the defense countered that the defendant was simply trying to honestly move the probe along.
Sgt. Michael Neaderbaomer — the third Pomona police officer to be tried in Los Angeles federal court in connection with the case — is charged with obstruction of justice and two counts of lying to the FBI.
Neaderbaomer is accused of falsely telling Erain Aguilar that he had video footage of her son, Christian Aguilar, punching an officer. Prosecutors also allege that the sergeant falsely insisted that if the teen wished to pursue a complaint for excessive force, the then-16-year-old boy would have to meet by himself with police officials for a videotaped interview.
The false statements counts stem from taped interviews with the FBI when Neaderbaomer denied his earlier exchanges with the mother, who works as a dispatcher with the Irwindale Police Department.
“This case is not about whether officers of the Pomona Police Department used excessive force,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Lewis told the jury in downtown Los Angeles. “You are here because of what happened to the complaint when it was (initiated) by Erain Aguilar. Instead of investigating it fairly and impartially, the defendant decided to obstruct justice.”
Defense attorney Vicki Podberesky offered a different narrative, telling the 14-member panel that her client did not intend to lie and truly believed he had video of Christian Aguilar punching an officer during the encounter in September 2015 at the Pomona Fairplex.
“This is a case about words — what was intended and what was meant by those words,” Podberesky said in her opening statement.
The attorney alleged that when Neaderbaomer told the FBI in a recorded interview that he did not recall telling Erain Aguilar that he had video of her son punching an officer, the sergeant was relying on his memory of the exchange.
“What is the meaning of trying to recall a conversation from eight months earlier?” Podberesky said.
The trouble for Neaderbaomer began on Sept. 24, 2015, when Erain Aguilar walked into the department to file a citizen’s complaint on behalf of her son. Weeks later, she received a call from Neaderbaomer in which the Internal Affairs Department sergeant allegedly tried to talk her out of pursuing the investigation into her son’s violent arrest at the Los Angeles County Fair.
“Instead of encouraging her and her son to come forward to share their side of the story in a safe and neutral environment, defendant did the opposite,” the government alleges in its trial memo.
Lewis alleged in her opening statement that Neaderbaomer left the mother a series of voicemails in which he falsely told her that neither she nor her attorney would be allowed to attend an internal affairs interview with her son.
Two other Pomona officers — Chad Jensen and Prince Hutchinson — were initially charged together with Neaderbaomer in 2017. But U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez subsequently severed Neaderbaomer’s case from that of his colleagues.
In January, Jensen and Hutchinson were acquitted in a retrial of charges stemming from the violent arrest of the teen. The first trial ended last October with jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on all counts.
Two years ago, the city of Pomona paid Aguilar $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit over the encounter.
The trial before Gutierrez is expected to last three days.
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