Maywood Officer’s Criminal Case Dismissed
At about 3:30 a.m. on Friday morning, October 27, 1995, Maywood Police Officer Sean Richardson was processing a stolen car he had located. Working auto theft was a particular knack of Richardson’s. His Sergeant, J.J. Williams, came to the scene of the vehicle recovery.
Williams noticed a’72 Datsun approaching at a pretty fast pace, then spin an unusual, clockwise U-turn and hurry away. The sergeant followed to check it out.
The ’72 Datsun had no current registration. Its driver continued speeding, would not pull over and run stop signs and red lights. Williams pursued it onto the Long Beach Freeway southbound, where other patrol cars, from Maywood and Bell, joined the pursuit.
Richardson joined the pursuit near its southernmost point. He was ordered to take the lead position because he had … guess what? … a video camera mounted near the passenger’s visor area of his patrol car.
The Datsun got off and back onto the Freeway, this time northbound. The pursuit ended 27 miles and 21 minutes after it had begun, near the Maywood location where it had started.
Almost seven months later, Richardson achieved vindication and got out from under the weight of career-threatening criminal charges that he had misused oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, had used excessive force at the end of the pursuit and had filed a false report as to his use of force.
At the end of the pursuit, a Bell unit had pulled up perpendicular to the Datsun driver’s door, creating a possible crossfire, so Richardson approached the driver’s door. Officers were yelling “hands up!”
As Sergeant Williams later testified at trial, the passenger in the Datsun disobeyed, bringing his right hand down and to the left, toward the driver’s side of the car. Richardson, at the driver’s window, used his OC (pepper) spray on the driver and passenger to make sure there would be no further effort to resume a vehicle pursuit, and no physical threat from inside the car.
He tried the driver’s door, but it would not open, so he pulled the driver out the window of the car. As Richardson tried to get the driver to the ground, he felt pushing and tension from the driver, so he delivered two quick punches downward, to the driver’s torso. Once down, the driver was handcuffed and processed without further incident, by all accounts but those of the driver and passenger.
In his use of force report, Richardson said he had used the spray, pulled the driver out the window and punched him twice to get him to the ground. No euphemisms.
He didn’t claim “brisk downward gestures”, he called them punches. He did not put every single act into the report, and, heaven forbid, he overlooked the fact that he had seen the passenger’s hand move down and to the left.
Based on the videotape of this incident, recorded by the camera Richardson had activated in his patrol car, the Maywood brass and D.A’s office decided this was a case to end a career.
On January 16, LDF panel attorney, Paul De Pasquale represented Richardson at the preliminary hearing in Division 45 of the L.A. Criminal Courts Building. Judge David M. Horwitz saw the video, listened to the testimony of J.J. Williams and ruled that, although he was not sure what he had seen, he had not seen the commission of a felony.
He refused to hold Richardson to answer in the Superior Court. The D.A’s office went forward with misdemeanor charges.
A jury trial began on May 9, 1996, in Division 41, before Judge S. Patricia Spear. Jury selection was an intelligent and informative process, without direct participation by the lawyers.
Judge Spear was receptive to suggestions as to areas of inquiry, but she asked the questions. Each potential juror had to answer each question rather than the later panel members being asked the usual idiotic question about whether he or she had anything to volunteer about what others had been talking about all day.
Once testimony began, the driver and passenger testified for the prosecution. Then Maywood Capt. Danny Farrell testified against Richardson, offering his opinion that he could tell from the video the passenger’s hand never went down after the car stop.
This became the gist of Deputy D.A. Susan Steinfeld’s argument in the case. No one else saw it that way.
Several Maywood Police Department employees testified that the driver and passenger had been allowed to wash off the pepper spray, had not complained about the force used (although the spray had burned) and showed no signs of injury.
Williams and Richardson testified as to what had happened and why. Richardson was an excellent witness in his own defense. L.A.P.D. Metro SWAT Sergeant Charlie Duke testified as an expert witness – explaining that the force used, under the circumstances, was reasonable and necessary.
On May 20, 1996, the jury decided unanimously that there was no intentional falsehood in Richardson’s use of force report. They hung 11—to—one for acquittal on charges of excessive force under color of authority. The one holdout for conviction had an apparent attitude about police officers.
He thought that no force should have been used at all. Judge Spear then dismissed the case without any discussion as to possible retrial on the excessive force charges.