$1 million criminal retrial vs. Fresno police officers

The federal government will likely spend another million dollars to prosecute four current and former Fresno police officers charged with crimes connected to an attack on a suspect.
January 14, 2014 4:24:54 PM PST
The federal government will likely spend another million dollars to prosecute four current and former Fresno police officers charged with crimes connected to an attack on a suspect.

Christopher Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, Sean Plymale, and Michael Manfredi were indicted for their roles in an October 2005 incident. A year ago, a jury couldn't agree on a verdict in their case.

Two of the officers are accused of a bad beating on a Mexican national named Rolando Celdon. And all four of them are accused of falsifying their police reports. But the man at the center of it all got a six-figure settlement from the city and disappeared.

Celdon may never again tell the story of the injuries he suffered at the hands of Fresno police. Prosecutors say Officer Christopher Coleman shot him several times with painful less-lethal ammunition. They say Paul Van Dalen repeatedly kicked him and stepped on his ankle. Celdon was bruised and concussed when he was finally arrested for stalking his ex-girlfriend, whose 911 call brought police to the scene.

Now those officers and two others will stand trial for the second time, and for the second time, Celdon -- who was deported to Mexico in 2006 -- will be a no-show.

"It's just kind of a weird situation not to call the alleged victim but try to convict police officers based on a ghost who isn't even going to testify at trial," said defense attorney Marshall Hodgkins.

Hodgkins is defending Sean Plymale, one of two officers accused of fudging their reports to cover up the severity of the beating.

Jurors in the first trial voted 9-3 in favor of acquitting the officers, and Hodgkins says the second trial isn't likely to be much different.

"I think what we're looking at is Groundhog's Day all over again," he said. "The same evidence is going to be presented."

One juror from last year's trial told Action News the retrial is a waste of time and money and Hodgkins agrees. He says it'll cost somewhere around $500,000, just from the defense side -- including attorney's fees, which this time around are being paid for by the court. But ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says prosecutors wouldn't have filed criminal charges against police officers unless they strongly believed they committed a crime on the job.

"The government's position is what they did to the victim in this case was so egregious, so bad, that you just can't let it go," he said.

A couple police officers who testified that Coleman and Van Dalen went overboard will be on the stand again in the second trial, but again, nothing really new except for the jury. But Celdon's girlfriend will also be absent this time around. She was very sick when she testified at the first trial and attorneys tell me she passed away not long after.

Opening statements are expected Wednesday afternoon.


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