A former Signal Hill Police Department officer pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 60 days of home confinement for misdemeanor excessive force stemming from what prosecutors said was an off-duty road rage attack in Orange County on another motorist afflicted with multiple sclerosis.
Jacob Emory Swigger took the plea deal with prosecutors nearly a year after a mistrial was declared when jurors deadlocked 8-4 for acquittal on felony counts of assault and battery by an officer and assault with a firearm.
“It’s an appropriate resolution for all sides,” Swigger’s attorney, John Barnett, said.
Swigger, 41, of Lake Forest, also was placed on a year of informal probation, according to court records.
The trouble between the two motorists began near the transition between the Santa Ana (5) and San Diego (405) Freeways at Bake Parkway in Irvine on Nov. 20, 2014, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Jess Rodriguez.
Swigger was not in uniform — he was clad in a gray sweatshirt and jeans — and was driving his own car, a Dodge Charger, according to the prosecutor, who told jurors in last year’s trial that victim Douglas Cruse had “no way of knowing Mr. Swigger is a police officer.”
At one point, while trying to get to the far left lane, Cruse merged over and then noticed he was “really close to the car behind him,” Rodriguez said. Cruse “thought he had enough room, but after the lane change,” he realized he “probably cut him off,” Rodriguez said.
The driver of the Charger then began “driving more aggressively, honking at him, yelling at him,” Rodriguez told the jury.
The two made it onto the 5 Freeway, where traffic slowed to “stop-and- go” as it usually does at the Laguna (133) Freeway, Rodriguez said. That gave Swigger enough room to maneuver in front of Cruse and force him to stop “in the middle of the freeway,” the prosecutor said.
A gun-wielding Swigger got out of this car and walked over to Cruse, “yelling at him, cutting at him,” then pulled Cruse out of his vehicle and “slams him repeatedly” against it, Rodriguez said.
Swigger then put his service revolver to Cruse’s head and dragged him to the back of the victim’s Mazda and, as the victim fell to the ground, put his foot on him, Rodriguez said.
“Mr. Cruse wouldn’t have been able to get up anyway because of his multiple sclerosis,” Rodriguez said.
The victim’s MS worsened after the encounter and he lost the use of his left hand, which is his dominant hand, as well as his job as an architect, Rodriguez said.
Witnesses told police the defendant `looked like he was in a fit of range, out of control as he arrested Cruse, “who was being tossed around like a limp doll,” Rodriguez said.
Barnett said his client was driving to work to testify in traffic court that morning. Barnett said the officer, who had been a cop for seven years, was cut off at least twice and alleged that Cruse purposely pumped his brakes in front of the defendant.
“So his antennas are up,” Barnett said at last year’s trial. “He thinks this guy is a danger. He tried to call 911, but he couldn’t get to his phone.”
Swigger pulled up alongside Cruse and announced he was a police officer while holding up his badge, but Cruse did not pull over, Barnett said. He said Swigger determined the other driver was “potentially dangerous.”
When traffic slowed, Swigger blocked his way and ordered Cruse out of the car, but he refused, Barnett said.
“What’s he supposed to do?” Barnett asked. “He doesn’t know Mr. Cruse has MS.”
–City News Service