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By PORAC | December 1, 2018 | Posted in PORAC LDF News

Monterey Deputy Acquitted Of Assaulting Inmate

Associate Attorney
Mastagni Holstedt, A.P.C.

Monterey County Deputy Max Crowell was acquitted halfway through his trial. The not-guilty verdict came on the one-year anniversary of his arraignment. The case was highly contested, with over 20 motions filed and argued by Deputy Crowell’s attorney, Kevin Wiemer of Mastagni Holstedt, A.P.C.

On January 16, Deputy Crowell was on duty in the Monterey County Jail when a fight between two inmates was announced on the radio. Deputy Crowell responded to the dorm and assisted two other deputies in the arrest of one of the inmates. The inmate resisted the deputies’ attempts to handcuff him. During his resistance, the inmate punched Deputy Crowell in the face, causing significant bleeding. Deputy Crowell used two knee strikes to the inmate to attempt to secure the inmate’s free hand. After determining the knee strikes were not successful, he quickly delivered one more. This final strike was effective, and the inmate was arrested.

Initially, the inmate was charged with a violation of Penal Code §243(c)(2). An investigation was started by the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and then turned over to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office for an independent investigation. The investigation revealed a total of six witnesses to Deputy Crowell’s use of force: two inmates, three deputies and a supervisor. All three deputies arrived at similar conclusions. The inmate was violently resisting, and while nobody saw the inmate strike Deputy Crowell, they did see a movement toward Deputy Crowell and the resulting injury. All saw one or more of the knee strikes, and nobody believed the inmate’s hands were secured in handcuffs when the knee strikes were used. All agreed that the handcuffs used to secure the inmate were silver. 

Conversely, the supervisor claimed the inmate was prone, compliant and secured in handcuffs when the final knee strikes occurred. However, the supervisor said the inmate’s hands were secured in yellow handcuffs. The two inmate witnesses claimed there was never any resistance, and all knee strikes were used illegally. 

After the prosecution completed their investigation, they dismissed the 243(c)(2) charge previously filed against the inmate and charged Deputy Crowell with a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code §149, assault under color of authority. After reviewing the evidence, and consulting with Deputy Crowell, defense attorneys informed the prosecution that no offer would be accepted. The only remedies were dismissal or to proceed with trial.

The discovery process began with three discovery requests sent to the Monterey County District Attorney. The requests were ignored, requiring judicial intervention.  Ultimately, the court granted Wiemer’s motion to compel discovery and ordered the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office to comply with defense requests for discovery. 

Meanwhile, Defense Investigator Grant Stomsvik was able to locate another deputy who was involved in the arrest of the inmate. The deputy was never questioned by the District Attorney’s Office. First, he remembered the silver handcuffs used to secure the inmate. Second, he remembered the deputy tasked with cuffing the inmate was wearing latex gloves; the gloves became stuck in the teeth of the handcuffs and prevented the cuffs from securing the inmate’s hands. This allowed the struggle to continue even after it appeared the inmate’s hands had been secured.
With this information, the defense hired Jeff Martin of DSI Consulting. He was able to provide a detailed reconstruction of events based on witness statements, Deputy Crowell’s demonstration and statement and a visit to the dormitory where the events occurred. Martin provided a detailed report explaining why the supervisor’s version of events was the least likely to have occurred. The prosecution reviewed the report but refused to dismiss the case.

At trial, the prosecution called the deputies who were involved in the incident and both supervisors. However, they declined to call any inmates who alleged misconduct. The supervisor testified and again claimed the inmate was prone, compliant and handcuffed on the ground when Deputy Crowell delivered the knee strike. According to the supervisor, the handcuffs were yellow, and there was no provocation for the knee strike. 

In contrast, the remaining deputies painted a different picture. The inmate kept his right arm underneath his body and refused to allow it to be placed in handcuffs. He thrashed violently on the ground and struck Deputy Crowell in the face, causing injury. The inmate was not secure when the knee strikes were delivered. After the knee strikes were delivered, the inmate was secured in silver handcuffs. Following the deputies, the prosecution called an expert witness to analyze Deputy Crowell’s use of force. His testimony articulated the need for an officer to use objectively reasonable force. When presented with hypotheticals depicting the supervisor’s version of events, the expert called such force excessive. The prosecution did not present hypotheticals depicting the other deputies’ version of events. Shortly after the expert testified, the prosecution closed its case.

The defense was prepared to call Deputy Crowell and Jeff Martin. However, after the prosecution closed its case, Wiemer made a motion for acquittal, pursuant to Penal Code §1118. He argued the prosecution failed to prove that Deputy Crowell had assaulted the inmate under color of authority. Under this argument, the burden had not been met, so there was no need to present a defense. The judge heard arguments from both sides and took the night to review the evidence. 

The following morning, the judge granted Wiemer’s motion and found Deputy Crowell not guilty. Deputy Crowell’s vindication was the work of dedication, determination and strategic use of experts and investigation. Deputy Crowell is grateful for the support of PORAC LDF and his legal team for securing this victory.

About the Author

Kevin Wiemer is an associate attorney with the labor and employment department of Mastagni Holstedt, APC. His practice focuses on the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights and the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act. He represents public sector employees in administrative and disciplinary investigations, hearings, critical investigations, officer-involved shootings and criminal defense.