Police whistleblower testifies against Fresno officers

A police whistleblower told his story as the officers he reported are standing trial for civil rights violations and obstruction of justice.
January 23, 2014 5:30:46 PM PST
A police whistleblower told his story as the officers he reported are standing trial for civil rights violations and obstruction of justice. Four officers are on trial for a second time. Three fellow officers testified for the prosecution Thursday.

Officer Martin Van Overbeek said he felt sick to his stomach after he saw a domestic violence suspect kicked and pummeled by bean bags from a less-than-lethal gun, so he had to come forward. But defense attorneys question his true motives.

Rolando Celdon's injuries are obvious in photos he shared with Action News days after he encountered Fresno police on a cold October night in 2005.

Celdon's ex-girlfriend had called 911 and when police caught him, they clearly worked him over. Federal prosecutors say it was excessive force. But defense attorneys say the situation required aggression by the police.

"Anybody who has not been searched and has their hands up like this and goes down like this towards their waistband, there's not an expert on force that exists who won't say, you have to assume he has a weapon," said defense attorney Marshall Hodgkins.

Officer Van Overbeek didn't see it that way. More than eight years later, he walked out of court Thursday after testifying he thought two officers seriously overstepped the limits of good police work. He reported it to a superior and within days, Paul Van Dalen and Chris Coleman lost their badges.

Sean Plymale and Mike Manfredi are also accused of fudging reports to cover up what really happened. But Plymale's attorney says Van Overbeek may be part of the real cover-up.

"I think that he and his officers stood there and did nothing and didn't assist by going over the fence because it was too hard for them to do that are trying to justify their nothingness by accusing these officers who are the ones who did do something and took a serious felon into custody," Hodgkins said.

A hung jury in the same case last year favored a "not guilty" verdict nine to three. And legal analyst Jeff Hammerschmidt says it's hard in an emotionally charged case like this to sway any jurors who've already made up their minds.

"They don't tend to go with the flow because they wouldn't want to see a police officer go to prison for a crime he didn't commit," Hammerschmidt said. "Others feel very strongly they wouldn't want to let an officer go free for a crime he did commit."

The retrial is in its second week. It's expected to last a month and defense attorneys tell Action News at least three of the four officers are expected to testify in their own defense.


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