4 Fresno police officers found not guilty on 7 of 8 excessive force charges

Chris Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, Sean Plymale and Mike Manfredi were found not guilty on seven of eight charges related to the very physical arrest of a domestic violence suspect in 2005.
February 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
A verdict was reached on Wednesday in the excessive force trial of four current and former officers with the Fresno Police Department.

It was the second trial for the officers accused of police brutality.

Chris Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, Sean Plymale and Mike Manfredi were found not guilty on seven of eight charges related to the very physical arrest of a domestic violence suspect in 2005.

After about a four-week trial -- and nearly two days of deliberations -- jurors said they're relieved to finally put this behind them. They came to a unanimous decision on all but one count -- an obstruction of justice charge for former Fresno police officer Christopher Coleman.

Bakersfield teacher George Walker was one of 12 jurors who spent 10 hours over two days deliberating before deciding on a verdict in the case of a Fresno police sergeant and three former officers accused of using excessive force while arresting Rolando Celdon back in October 2005.

"It was emotional. There were some people who said, 'there something's wrong here, and somebody has to be held accountable,' but there was no charge that fit what we thought was wrong," said Walker.

He said the prosecutors did a poor job presenting the evidence; therefore the jury found Sgt. Mike Manfredi, Sean Plymale and Paul Van Dalen not guilty.

Van Dalen was the back-up officer to arrive on scene of the fleeing suspect after he broke into his ex-girlfriend's apartment, beat her and threatened to kill her in front of her young child. Even though a police K9 clung to his leg, Celdon continued to run, ignoring the officers' commands.

Van Dalen's attorney said Wednesday's outcome proved the force used by his client was proper and caused no injuries to the suspect.

"Paul Van Dalen was charged with using excessive force in kicking the suspect twice and also for writing a false police report. "There was really thin evidence as to both of those counts, and I'm certainly not at all surprised, I'm gratified of course, but I'm not at all surprised by the verdict," said attorney Harry Stern.

Attorneys were also not surprised by a hung jury on the obstruction of justice charge for Coleman.

"It was the first draft document he wrote and it was significantly incorrect, and the jurors that I talked to wanted a much clearer, better explanation as to why he changed it. I thought we did that, and we did do that to the satisfaction of 11 jurors, but one wasn't convinced," said Paul Goyette, Coleman's attorney.

But they don't expect the federal government to ask for a retrial.

"I simply cannot believe 9-3 not guilty first trial, 11-1 not guilty for Mr. Coleman in this trial. I simply cannot believe that the United States government, although they have the resources, will come back," said Marshall Hodgkins, Plymale's attorney.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer also reacted to the verdict. In a written statement to Action News, he said:

"I would like to extend my appreciation to the jurors for their sacrificial service and for their thoughtful deliberations during this trial. This has been a very stressful time for the officers involved, as well as their families. I wish all of them the very best for their lives and look forward to Sergeant Michael Manfredi resuming his normal duties."

Manfredi is currently employed with the Fresno Police Department. Plymale is now an officer with the Madera Police Department. Coleman and Van Dalen have moved on to careers in construction and travel entertainment.


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