Guedry case goes to the jury

December 2, 2010

Law & Courts

BEAUMONT — Following compelling closing arguments from both sides, a Jefferson County jury is now deliberating whether Beaumont police officer James Cody Guedry unlawfully and intentionally mistreated Derrick Newman by twice using a Taser against him.

Before closing arguments began, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ed Shettle announced that prosecutors had decided to proceed on only the first count of the indictment on the misdemeanor indictment — using the Taser against Newman, who was a passenger in a car pulled over on a routine traffic stop on Aug. 24, 2007. They abandoned the second and third counts, for wrongfully detaining and arresting Newman. [For more background on the case and a link to a police video of the incident, click here.]

Mitch Adams, Guedry’s lead defense attorney, began his closing by saying the prosecutors had done “a very good job of making a case against Officer Todd Burke,” referring to the since-resigned officer who was convicted of the same offense by a Bexar County jury in September.

But, Adams told the jury, the case was not about what Burke or any of the other officers involved in the late-night incident in a high-crime area in Beaumont’s South End had done or said that night. “This case is only about what Cody Guedry did, thought and believed when he confronted Derrick Newman,” he said.

Adams told the jury that, unlike them, Guedry had “mere seconds, if that” to decide what to do when he and his training officer arrived on the scene to find two other officers struggling with a combative Mario Cole and two other men — Newman and Willie Cole, Mario’s brother — standing at the open doorways of their vehicle.

He recounted Guedry’s version of the events when he took the stand earlier Thursday — that as he began to pat down Newman in order to make sure he didn’t have any weapons on him, the other man grabbed his wrist and pulled it down, amounting to an assault on a police officer. Immediately after the altercation ended with Newman handcuffed on the ground, Adams stressed, Guedry told three other officers, including his patrol sergeant, that Newman had grabbed his hand.

“It is incredible to me to think that Officer Guedry would go out there and have it in his mind to unlawfully shock (Newman) with a Taser and then concoct a cover story to cover his tracks,” Adams told the three-man, three-woman jury. [In his own testimony, Newman denied grabbing the officer’s hand but admitted making a course remark during the search.]

Adams stressed that the prosecution had to prove that Guedry had an unlawful intent, pointing out that Guedry, 28, was then a rookie officer still in a training period who was ordered by a senior officer to use the Taser during the struggle.

Assistant Criminal District Attorney Pat Knauth began the state’s closing arguments by countering Adams’s statements about Guedry being a rookie officer who was following orders.

“He’s a peace officer. He’s been entrusted by the citizens to carry a gun,” Knauth said, adding that he hoped that if a senior officer had ordered Guedry to “shoot and kill” Newman that he would disobey such an illegal order.

Knauth told the jury that he and fellow prosecutor Shettle were often frustrated at their attempts to get “honest information” from their own witnesses, most of whom were Guedry’s fellow officers, and from Guedry himself.

Waving toward the many officers from the Beaumont Police Department (including Chief Frank Coffin) and other area agencies in the court gallery, Knauth told the jury that “law enforcement is a noble and admirable profession. Most of the people in the Beaumont Police Department are noble and admirable people. They do a tough job, even the ones that disagree with this prosecution.”

But some police officers, he said, “believe the Blue Line is more of a fraternity, and that protecting the brotherhood is more important than their integrity, or more importantly, the rule of law.”

Knauth told the jury that Beaumont’s high-crime areas are not unique, and that every area law enforcement agency encounters similar challenges. But, he said, “we don’t have these problems” with those other agencies. “It’s only this small crew,” he said.

Shettle, who admitted earlier in the day to state district Judge John B. Stevens that he often gets “a little agitated” during trial, next rose to end the state’s closing argument.

He referred to the testimony of another officer, Lt. Chris Schuldt, who said that the Beaumont Police Department has a “zero tolerance” policy in designated high-crime areas, which he said effectively meant they treated the residents of the South End differently than others. That, he said, was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Shettle recounted statements heard on the videotape by officers indicating they weren’t concerned about a potential investigation of the incident by the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

“They’re the police who are supposed to police the police,” Shettle told the jury. “In this case, y’all are going to have to do it.”

Shettle told the jurors that their verdict might the most important decision they ever made.

“You will affect the lives of thousands of people,” he said, referring to the innocent residents of the city’s so-called COMSTAT, or high-crime, areas. “If you make the wrong decision, people are going to suffer. People are going to suffer.”

With that, the jurors left to begin their deliberations. If convicted, Guedry faces up to a year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. He could also lose his peace officer’s certification.

UPDATE:  After the jurors deliberated for two and a half hours, Judge Stevens released them at 7:30 p.m. They will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Find links to full coverage of the Guedry and Burke trials here.

Copyright © 2010 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.

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About Ken Fountain

I'm a journalist and writer in Houston, Texas. My areas of specialty inxfcgclude law and courts, local government and industry and environmental issues. You can follow me on Twitter at @twitter.com/kenfountain and email me at kenfountain1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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