Excessive force trial begins for 4 police officers in Fresno

January 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Mike Manfredi, Chris Coleman, Paul Van Dalen, and Sean Plymale are being tried for going too far when they made an arrest.

The accusations include punching, kicking, and using "less lethal force" during the early morning confrontation. Plymale and Manfredi are accused of misrepresenting what happened in police reports.

Defense attorneys are desperate for the man at the center of this trial to return to the U.S. from Mexico. Prosecutors say they are unable to find Rolondo Celedon. But witnesses who will take the stand are many who worked side by side with these officers under fire.

The charges against four former and current police officers will put many called to testify in a difficult position. The witness list includes many current and retired Fresno police officers subpoenaed by prosecutors.

"It's unusual for a police officer to testify against another police officer," Tony Capozzi said. "What that does tell me is the government's case is pretty strong in this case."

The evidence the jury will hear will include nicknames the officers were given by other officers after the incident that related to the force used.

The investigation began after the officers were called to an apartment complex in October of 2005 by Celedon's girlfriend who said he was breaking into her apartment.

Officer Van Dalen is accused of confronting Celedon and kicking him and stepping on his leg. Coleman is accused of firing into Celedon's groin area using a less lethal bean bag gun. Manfredi and Plymale are accused of authoring misleading reports and concealing information.

Defense attorneys are asking for a dismissal of the case, based, in part on the fact Celedon is not testifying.

Harry Stern said, "There's some issues that he directly spoke about where he was in dispute with some of the witnesses and was actually we were hoping going to provide some helpful information and testimony for our client, he's gone now, that's a major problem."

Paul Goyette said, "And this trial date has been set for over a year and now at the last minute they can't locate him and they can't find him? I mean he's a key witness in this case and we think it's highly suspicious."

Of the officers on trial, only two are still in law enforcement. Mike Manfredi is a sergeant with the Fresno Police Department and Sean Plymale is an officer at the Madera Police Department. Coleman and Van Dalen have pursued other career fields.

The trial is expected to last a month. Jurors were questioned until court ended Tuesday afternoon. If the defendants are convicted, attorneys say they face from eight to 20 years in prison.