BEAUMONT — The official oppression trial of Beaumont police officer Jason Cody Guedy began with strong opening statements from Jefferson County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ed Shettle and defense attorney Mitch Adams and testimony about high-crime areas in the city.
Guedry, 28, is the second officer tried for the misdemeanor offense stemming from events following a routine traffic stop on Aug. 24, 2007. Guedry is specifically accused of wrongfully using a Taser twice against a passenger, Derrick Newman, as well as wrongfully detaining and arresting him.
A since-retired officer, David Todd Burke, was convicted by a Bexar County jury in September, for wrongfully using his police baton to repeatedly strike Newman during a struggle while Guedry was patting down Newman for weapons. [For more background on the case and a link to a video of the incident, click here.]
In his opening, Shettle said the traffic stop of Willie Cole for failing to yield the right of way while making a left turn in the city’s South End was a “pretext stop” whose real purpose was to search the car and its occupants.
Shettle told the six-person jury that most of the state’s witnesses would be police officers who were “not on our side.”
“Blood is thicker than water, you realize that,” Shettle said. He said that the evidence would ultimately reveal to them “something that, while maybe not sinister, is scary that this is the way police officers think in this city.”
Adams countered in his opening that prosecutors would not be able to prove that Guedry was guilty either of committing any of the three methods of official oppression with which he’s charged — wrongfully using a Taser twice against Newman, detaining him and arresting him — or that Guedry, then a rookie officer only a few months on the force, had any illegal intent. Instead, Adams said, Guedry was following the directives of his training officer.
Adams told the jury the evidence would show that when Guedry was properly frisking Newman, the other man grabbed his wrist and pulled it toward his crotch, telling the officer to “Get you some of that.” By doing that, Adams said, Newman committed misdemeanor assault against Guedry.
As the first witness, Shettle called Lt. George “Chris” Schuldt, who at the time was the department’s midnight shift watch commander. The primary point of Schuldt’s testimony was to identify the voices of the officers heard on police car videos of the incident. But during his cross-examination, Adams pointedly asked Schuldt about weekly “COMPSTAT” meetings in which the department’s leadership directs its officers to patrol more thoroughly high-crime areas of the city. In reply to Adams, Schuldt said the South End (or South Park) area (whose residents are predominantly black) is often treated as such an area with a “zero tolerance” policy.
Shettle leaped on that testimony, asking Schuldt if “the Beaumont Police Department treats the citizens of South Park different than they treat the citizens of the West End?” When Schuldt hesitated in answering, Shettle let the question linger for the jury.
The next witness called, Officer Jason Torres, didn’t have an easier time with Shettle in the third instance the two have squared off in a courtroom. Shettle grilled Torres, who initially made the traffic stop, over whether he pulled the car over for a minor traffic violation simply because of the part of town.
The questioning became more intense as Shettle asked Torres about his reasoning for initiating a search of the car and its three occupants and whether any of them, including Newman, were free to refuse a search or simply leave the scene. Torres even contradicted his previous testimony in Burke’s second trial in San Antonio, where he said that Newman was free to simply take his to-go food with him and walk away.
Torres said that since that trial, he had read a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court case, Arizona v. Johnson, which he said gave officers the right to search a person stopped in a vehicle as long as the officer thinks the person may be armed and dangerous.
Under repeated questioning by Shettle, Torres insisted that Newman’s own actions, not the decision by him and other officers to search him, that led to Guedry’s use of force.
During Torres’s direct examination, prosecutors played the video from two officers vehicles, including the one showing Guedry and Burke’s struggle with Newman, before state District Judge John B. Stevens Jr. called for a lunch break. Testimony is set to resume at 1 p.m.
UPDATE — After Torres returned to the stand, his exchange with Shettle became increasingly terse, with Shettle asking the judge to allow him to treat the officer as an adverse witness. Stevens denied the request, but allowed the prosecutor more latitude to press harder.
Shettle asked Torres if it was proper procedure to approach Newman, whose hands were on top of the car, with his Taser already pointed at him. Torres replied that he believed it was.
“Would pointing a Taser bring into question (Newman’s) voluntary consent (to a pat-down search) without coersion,” Shettle asked. Torres said that it would not.
Shettle grilled Torres about a long conversation between several of the officers (some of whom had turned off their body microphones) in the immediate aftermath of the incident with Newman and before a shift supervisor arrived. When Adams objected on the grounds of relevance, Shettle told the judge that he was trying to demonstrate that the officers knew they had done something wrong, which would go to proving Guedry’s illegal intent.
Under cross-examination from Adams, the defense attorney, Torres testified that the actions of Mario Cole, the back seat passenger in the car who had an outstanding warrant, immediately made him concerned about the situation. That, combined with the location of the stop, the late time of night and the fact that there were three occupants in the car, raised his concern for his and other officers’ safety, justifying a search of the three men and the car.
Later, when Shettle asked Torres what command any of the officers could have given Newman that he could obey to avoid being struck and Tased, the officer said that Newman’s purported grabbing of Guedry’s hand was what justified the use of force.
Monday’s testimony ended with that of Det. Charles Duchamp III, who at the time was a patrol officer acting as Guedry’s field training officer. It was Duchamp who, when the two heard Torres’s call for backup over the radio, told the rookie to “Get your Taser ready” as they arrived at the scene.
Under questioning from Assistant Criminal District Attorney Pat Knauth, Duchamp reiterated Torres’s explanation of the reasons the officers believed searching both Newman and Willie Cole was warranted.
When Knauth asked Duchamp what specific reasons officers believed Newman might be armed to warrant a search (as required by a 1969 Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio, Duchamp insisted that the place and time of the stop, as well as Mario Cole’s resistance to being placed in Torres’s patrol car, were what justified the search.
As he did during Burke’s second trial in September, Knauth led Duchamp through a viewing of one of the videos and questioned him about many of the actions and statements made by the officers both before, during and after the incident with Newman. Duchamp admitted that many of those were “unprofessional” or “bad” police procedure.
As Duchamp’s testimony went well past 5 p.m. Knauth asked Stevens if he could show a second videotape to the jurors.
“No, not this evening,” Stevens said to a chuckling courtroom. He told the jury to report back for the rest of Duchamp’s testimony beginning at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
NOTE: Since it was original posted, this entry has been revised to more fully describe the official oppression charge against Guedry.
Find links to full coverage of the Guedry and Burke trials here.
Copyright © 2010 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.