Key witness in FPD excessive force case took the stand

January 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The man many consider the key witness in the case against four Fresno Police officers accused of excessive force took the stand. He said at first he was very apprehensive about turning in others for conduct he felt was harsh and unnecessary.

Martin Van Overbeek said that he felt sick to his stomach after he saw Rolando Celdon being kicked and pelted with a bean bag gun over and over. Van Overbeek told the court it hasn't been easy coming forward against these officers but what happened was just wrong.

Rolando Celdon never filed any formal complaints against officers Michael Manfredi, Chris Coleman, Sean Plymale and Paul Van Dalen. But other officers who watched what happened in a parking lot in Southeast Fresno 7 years ago said it was behavior they could not ignore.

Martin Van Overbeek was the first officer to bring this to the attention of internal affairs. We are not showing his face because of his concerns of retaliation. Van Overbeek told the court Friday, "I don't care what you've done, nobody deserves to be treated that way."

At least one defense attorney feels Van Overbeeks testimony is critical to the case.

"He is the governments first, most significant key witness," Paul Goyette said. "He's probably, its fair for me to say their most important witness."

Celdon was deported to Mexico and has been unable to locate to testify. Action News spoke exclusively to him after the 2005 incident. Through a Spanish interpreter, he described the force that was used during his arrest.

"The one that really hurt was the one on my stomach. I thought it was a real bullet because I got up and I wiped myself, looking for blood or a bullet hole and I didn't find one."

Van Overbeek described the events in detail. He said Celdon was not resisting, or attempting to flee when he was kicked by Officer Van Dalen. Van Overbeek described three kicks, "He kicked the suspect in the side like he was kicking a football. Full force." following the incident Van Dalen was referred by other officers as "place kicker Paul."

On the stand Van Overbeek did say he has one regret. That he didn't scale a fence to handcuff Celdon faster. He said, "He wouldn't have had to go through the kicks or the less lethal if I would've just hopped the fence."

Defense attorney Paul Goyette said the issue with Van Overbeek is he arrived after the defendants who had more information about the suspect. "He had far less knowledge of the event than the other officers that were already on the scene."

Goyette wrapped up his cross examination of Van Overbeek in court telling him you had a problem, you didn't do your job right.