A Pomona police officer beat a teenager without provocation at the Los Angeles County Fair three years ago and he and his partner then lied about it, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday, but defense attorneys countered that the youth swung first and both lawmen told the truth about the videotaped encounter.
Chad Jensen is charged with violating the civil rights of then-16-year-old Christian Aguilar in September 2015, and he and fellow officer Prince Hutchinson are accused of filing false reports that attempted to justify the use of force.
Federal prosecutors contend that in reports prepared soon after the encounter — which was filmed by a bystander — Jensen falsely wrote that the “belligerent” teenager attempted to punch him in the jaw and came within arm’s reach of another officer.
The incident began when Jensen “snapped” after noticing the teen filming police as they escorted the boy’s apparently drunk father and cousin off the Pomona Fairplex grounds, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frances Lewis alleged in her opening statement.
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 contend that Aguilar was “grabbed” and pulled away to a small alcove where Jensen struck him.
“You will see this video again and again at this trial,” Lewis told jurors hearing the case in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. “Christian Aguilar’s arms stay by his side when defendant Jensen strikes him on the chin.”
But Jensen’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, offered a different narrative, telling the panel that Aguilar “took a fighting stance … and took swings that night” before he was taken into custody for resisting arrest.
The defense lawyer said his client had to decide how to respond to Aguilar “in hundredths of a second.” Schwartz said that at just under 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, the teen looked like an adult, not a juvenile. In fact, Schwartz said, Aguilar was first placed in adult custody before he was taken to a juvenile holding cell.
“The defenseless teen,” Schwartz said with sarcasm, told officers at one point that they “hit like a bunch of (weaklings).”
In his opening statement, Hutchinson’s lawyer, Stuart Adams, told jurors that the trial would offer a glimpse into a world “that’s different from yours and mine,” where police officers are trained to “act quickly — especially when there’s a crowd, and people have been drinking.”
The attorney told the panel that his client was honest in his incident report, accurately describing a “volatile” scene where Aguilar was shouting and trying to “incite” fairgoers.
“I’ll be very clear — the government is wrong,” Adams said.
A third Pomona police officer — Michael Neaderbaomer — is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly making false statements to Aguilar’s family designed to dissuade them from reporting the incident to law enforcement. Neaderbaomer faces trial in December.
Two years ago, the city of Pomona paid Aguilar $500,000 to settle a civil lawsuit over the violent arrest.
If convicted of all charges, the officers — who are on administrative leave from the department — could be sentenced to several years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.