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Deputy Acquitted of Homicide Charges

Posted on Tuesday, November 01, 2005 at 12:00PM
Posted by Paul Q. Goyette

Shasta County Sheriff’s Deputy Gregory Dean was found not guilty of the homicide of Khamhane Philapandeth by a Shasta County jury on Thursday, October 13, 2005. That same jury convicted Dean of assault under color of authority.

The Shasta County Grand Jury indicted Dean on charges of Penal Code § 192(b) (involuntary manslaughter) and Penal Code § 149 (assault under color of authority) rising from Dean’s arrest of Philapandeth on May 18, 2004. This incident started when Dean tried to place Philapandeth under arrest. Philapandeth resisted and a lengthy and intense struggle erupted to gain control of Philapandeth. At the conclusion of the struggle Philapandeth appeared to lose consciousness and eventually died. Shasta County’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Susan Comfort, conducted an autopsy and concluded that Philapandeth died of restraint asphyxia, specifically because Dean placed his full body weight on Philapandeth’s back for an extended period of time, thereby causing Philapandeth’s death. If convicted of the homicide charge, Dean faced almost five years in state prison.

The entire use of force incident occurred in the Win River Casino Security Office and was recorded on the security office’s surveillance video camera. Prior to Dean’s arrival, Philapandeth had been detained in the security office for a car burglary. When Dean arrived, Philapandeth was uncooperative and defiant. As Dean tried to handcuff him, Philapandeth jerked away, forcing Dean to take Philapandeth to the floor. At that time, three security guards jumped in to assist Dean. A lengthy struggle ensued on the floor. Dean sprayed Philapandeth with O/C spray but he continued to fight. Eventually, Dean and the security guards successfully handcuffed Philapandeth. However, Philapandeth continued to struggle and attempted to get up. Dean struck Philapandeth with his O/C spray canister several times on Philapandeth’s shoulder. Eventually, Philapandeth struggling diminished as backup deputies arrived. Approximately one minute after backup deputies arrived, Philapandeth appeared to lose consciousness. The deputies and two security guards, who were EMTs, immediately began to try to revive Philapandeth. Paramedics were called and the efforts to revive Philapandeth continued. Unfortunately, the paramedics, EMTs, and deputies were not able to revive Philapandeth and he was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

This case presented two complicated issues for the defense. First, the coroner concluded Philapandeth died of restraint asphyxia (also known as positional asphyxia). The defense consulted extensively with Dr. Tom Neuman from the UC San Diego Medical Center, who has conducted extensive studies on the human body’s reaction to various police restraint activities, including the hogtie position, O/C spray, and weight up to 225 pounds on a subject’s back. Through his studies, Neuman has concluded that police restraint procedures, including extensive weight on a suspect’s back, do not lower the suspect’s blood oxygen levels and therefore do not result in injury, let alone death. Neuman has concluded that restraint or positional asphyxiation is a myth in the police use of force context. Neuman testified extensively at trial, and jurors later reported that Neuman’s studies and testimony helped lead them through their acquittal of Dean on the manslaughter charges. Neuman concluded that Philapandeth probably died of a cardiac arrhythmia shortly after the backup deputies arrived at the scene.

The other complicated issue in this case was the reconstruction of the event through the videotape. The videotape was of extremely poor quality, which made it difficult to tell exactly what each of the parties was doing during the use of force incident. Dean’s lawyers consulted extensively with forensic video analyst and photogrammetry expert Michael Schott. Through his measurements of the scene of the incident and Dean, Schott was able to determine that Dean never was positioned in such a way that his full body weight was on Philapandeth. Schott’s video enhancement work was also able to greatly discredit the testimony of the security guards, who testified on behalf of the prosecution. The defense was able to show through the enhanced videotape that many parts of the security guards’ testimony was inaccurate, showing that they misperceive much of what Dean was doing to get Philapandeth under control.

Jurors later reported to the defense team that they were able to reach a decision of not guilty on the homicide charges quickly. However, the jury convicted Dean of the assault charge for striking Philapandeth with the O/C spray canister. One juror reported that even though the evidence was undisputed that the blows to Philapandeth were of no medical consequence the jury felt that the blows were too numerous and therefore excessive.

Gregory Dean was represented at trial by myself and other lawyers of Goyette & Associates, Inc. I am the managing partner of Goyette & Associates, Inc., who specializes in the representation of public safety employees and their associations in numerous types of legal matters.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.