A state appeals court panel Friday upheld a former Los Angeles Police Department officer’s conviction on two felony assault counts stemming from an off-duty run-in with a man in El Segundo.
The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there were errors in the trial and sentencing of Joseph William Rooney, who was convicted in May 2018 of two counts of assault with a firearm stemming from the May 22, 2016 confrontation in the 100 block of Main Street.
Jurors also found true allegations that he had personally used a handgun.
Rooney — who testified in his own defense — described the confrontation as a “minor fight” in which he had his phone in his hand. He denied striking the victim with a gun or even having a gun with him.
He told jurors he “couldn’t believe what they were trying to allege,” when he was called in for questioning by El Segundo police about what he described as “a 30-second dust-up.”
“I’m being accused of a crime that is something I would never do. This is a life-changing moment at this point,” Rooney told jurors, noting at the time that he had been on administrative leave from the LAPD for nearly two years.
Jurors acquitted Rooney of two additional counts of assault with a firearm involving two other men.
In his closing argument during the trial, Deputy District Attorney Oscar Plascencia reminded jurors of a comment he had made in his opening statement, in which he had told the panel, “This is a case about a bully with a gun who just happened to be an LAPD officer.”
The prosecutor told jurors that there was “overwhelming evidence” that the off-duty officer pointed a gun at the man and then pistol-whipped him in the face. The other two men also alleged that Rooney had pointed a gun at them.
Plascencia questioned what motive the three men would have to lie about the encounter, noting that they had never met Rooney before and did not know he was a police officer.
Rooney’s trial attorney, Bill Seki, had urged jurors to acquit his client, questioning why the men waited nearly 36 hours to notify police instead of immediately calling them.
The defense lawyer asked jurors whether it was unreasonable to believe that Rooney was holding his cell phone, not a gun, during the fracas.
In its 18-page ruling, the appellate court panel noted that Rooney insulted the three men, walked away, returned a few minutes later, pointed the gun at the victim and then struck him in the face with the back of the gun.
The justices found that the trial court had “acted well within its discretion” in sentencing Rooney to six years in state prison in June 2018.
The appellate court panel noted that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy had concluded that she didn’t think Rooney had “ever been truthful about this incident” and that his “conduct was completely inexcusable.”