FPD excessive force trial wrapping up, ex-juror weighs in

Jurors are about to decide whether four current and former Fresno police officers broke the law when they arrested a domestic violence suspect in October 2005.
February 6, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Jurors are about to decide whether four current and former Fresno police officers broke the law when they arrested a domestic violence suspect in October 2005.

Christopher Coleman and Paul Van Dalen are charged with using excessive force. Along with Sean Plymale and Sgt. Mike Manfredi, they're also charged with obstructing justice by writing false reports about the incident.

Jurors know some of the officers drastically changed the reports they initially wrote about the battle with Rolando Celdon. But they never really heard from Celdon because he hasn't been seen since he was deported to Mexico. And they know he's not exactly an innocent victim.

Rolando Celdon's injuries at the hands of Fresno police officers already earned him a hefty cash settlement from the city of Fresno. But ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says proving those officers broke the law by using too much force is a tough task for prosecutors.

"The standard of proof is very different," he said. "In a civil case, it's just preponderance of the evidence tipping the scale in favor of the victim. Criminal case, it's beyond a reasonable doubt -- different standard, a lot higher and very difficult in this case."

In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors called the incident an abuse of power by Christopher Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, Sean Plymale and Mike Manfredi.

Plymale was first on the scene when Celdon's ex-girlfriend called 911 for help. He sicced his dog on Celdon, tazed the suspect, and eventually punched Celdon as well. But his use of force is not being challenged and his attorney says prosecutors made a mistake in charging him.

"Plymale is, no questions about it, the hero here," said defense attorney Marshall Hodgkins. "And when I give my argument I've got to be so careful not to act mad because he shouldn't be here."

Coleman and Van Dalen are accused of going overboard in attacking Celdon after the suspect had already given up. Their attorneys say they only used the necessary amount of force. And given Celdon's violent history, Capozzi says a jury will be hard-pressed to convict the officers.

"The jury's not going to have a lot of sympathy for the victim, even though the police may have overreacted," he said.

One alternate juror was dismissed because of illness this week. She told investigators in the case she would've found the officers guilty.

Twelve jurors should start deliberations Friday.


Load Comments