A Pomona police officer beat a teenager without provocation at the Los Angeles County Fair four years ago and he and his partner then lied about it, a prosecutor alleged Wednesday, but a defense attorney 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.
It is their second trial in federal court in Los Angeles. Like the first trial that ended in October with jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt on all counts, the retrial of the two officers is expected to last about seven days.
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.
“This was a defenseless kid doing nothing more than videotaping cops,” Lewis told jurors. “Christian Aguilar’s hands stay limply at his side when defendant Jensen strikes him.”
But Jensen’s attorney, Michael Schwartz, offered a different narrative, telling the panel that Aguilar “became belligerent and combative” before he was taken into custody for resisting arrest.
The defense lawyer said that at just under 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, the teen looked like an adult, not a juvenile.
“He’s not a little rag doll,” Schwartz said, telling jurors that they had “the hardest job in the courtroom — keeping an open mind.”
Hutchinson’s lawyer, Stuart Adams, is expected to give his opening statement Thursday morning before the first witness is called.
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 next month.
Three 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.