Tuesday, February 23, 2010
C.A. Upholds Ex-Maywood Police Officerís Conviction
By Steven M. Ellis, Staff Writer
This districtís Court of Appeal yesterday upheld a former Maywood police officerís convictions for ramming a handcuffed suspectís head into a wall, then covering up the incident in a false police report.
Div. Four ruled Michael Singletonís constitutional rights were not violated when an investigator who compelled him to give a statement, saying it would not be used at trial, opined in court that Singleton had control of the suspect during part of the arrest depicted in a video recording.
Writing for the panel, Justice Nora M. Manella said the investigatorís testimony did not violate principles articulated in Kastigar v. United States (1972) 406 U.S. 441 regarding treatment of witnesses exposed to compelled statements because it was narrowly confined to assessing Singletonís control over the suspect on the basis of the video images.
Singleton was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to up to 18 months in jail and three years of probation for the assault, which left Jose Bernal with a broken nose, parts of his face temporarily paralyzed and intermittent loss of consciousness.
The charges stemmed from a May 2004 incident in which Singleton and a probationary officer he was training were called to a neighborhood dispute. As officers took Bernal, one of the neighbors, into custody, he fought back, cursing and spitting at the officers.
When they arrived at the police station, an infuriated Singleton retaliated by pushing Bernalís head into a wall near the prisonerís entrance after removing him from a patrol vehicle, prosecutors said.
Part of the encounteróbut not the assaultówas captured on a nearby surveillance camera, and prosecutors contended it contradicted Singletonís statement that Bernal was violently resisting. They also said Singleton wrote in a report that Bernal was injured in a fall, and pressured the trainee to falsify his account.
The trainee, Joseph Densmore, reported the incident to his supervisors the following day. He was subsequently fired and testified against Singleton at trial.
Singletonís first trial ended in a mistrial in 2007 after nine jurors voted to acquit, but he was convicted in a second trial before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Marcelita V. Haynes.
That trial included expert testimony from private investigator David Weldon, a retired Maywood police officer hired by the city to investigate Bernalís claims of police brutality. As part of the investigation, Weldon required Singleton to provide a statement in exchange for a grant of use and derivate use immunity pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Courtís opinion in Garrity v. New Jersey (1967) 385 U.S. 493.
Weldon concluded in a report to the city that Singleton used excessive force and lied in his own use-of-force report, but Haynes limited Weldonís testimony only to his opinion of the actions depicted in the video images.
On appeal, Singleton argued that Weldonís trial testimony was inadmissible in view of his exposure to the compelled statement, but Manella disagreed, concluding that the prosecution met its burden of showing the testimony derived from an independent source.
ďA careful examination of [Weldonís] testimony establishes its independence, as every aspect of the testimony was closely tethered to the video images and specific control techniques he had learned as an arresting officer,Ē she wrote.
Manella also said Haynes did not err in declining Singletonís request to exclude Weldonís testimony under Evidence Code Sec. 352 over the danger that it might prejudice the jury. She noted that Haynes limited the prosecutionís direct examination at trial to testimony about the video images and left open the scope of cross-examination, indicating Haynes was prepared to allow Singleton to elicit the additional fact that Weldon concluded his report unfavorably to Singleton, demonstrating potential bias.
Presiding Justice Norman L. Epstein and Justice Thomas L. Willhite Jr. joined Manella in her opinion.
The case is People v. Singleton, 10 S.O.S. 910.
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