Federal jury deadlocked in civil rights and conspiracy lawsuit involving homeless Marine veteran and seven Orange County sheriff’s deputies after facing polar oppositions looks into what is happening passed during an unexpectedly lengthy trial.
As Jeremy Holloway recounts, he was kicked out of his tent at O’Neill Regional Park on January 21, 2018 and searched without explanation. He complained to a neighbor and went to the ranger station to do the same, only to be visited again by the same MPs, this time more angry than before and with their guns drawn.
Holloway testified that he was knocked unconscious, tasered in the buttocks, and repeatedly kicked and punched by a group that his lawyer, Narine Mkrtchyan, compared to a gang that targeted Holloway “because that he is homeless. He cannot assert his rights. So they beat him like that.
“I just don’t have any patience for this stuff. Tomorrow, they’ll shoot you if you don’t get to the ground. That is what it is about in this case. It’s not about Jeremy Holloway, ”Mkrtchyan said in his closing argument. She referred to her upbringing in what was then the Soviet Union in Armenia and Russia, telling the jury: “I come from a country where you are guilty until proven guilty… Now is the time. for you to send a message. Are you going to tolerate this?
In hours of testimony over the course of two weeks, MPs – Joel Gonzalez, Mark Borba, Jameson Gotts, Chad Renegar, Kevin Pahel, Justin Gunderson and Brandon Billinger – described a completely different encounter. MPs first contacted Holloway after reporting that a woman was assaulted in a park tent, then returned after hearing Holloway angrily threatened campers for reporting her to police and that a caller heard a little girl scream.
MPs said they had to forcibly handcuff him, but accused lead instigator Reneger denied punching Holloway in the face, which is a key claim in Holloway’s lawsuit for excessive force.
Instead, Renegar said Holloway hit his face on dirty gravel when officers took him to the ground after Holloway ignored repeated warnings to comply with their orders. He said he tased Holloway twice “so that we could handcuff him and stop them kicking us,” according to a court reporter ‘s transcript of testimony.
But after a scheduled four-day trial spanning 11 days over three weeks, the eight people who remained on the jury for deliberation struggled to come to an agreement. It took them about six hours out of two days to stalemate, but U.S. District Judge David O. Carter read them an additional instruction that urged them to continue the talks. The jury returned the next day and deliberated for a day or two before announcing again that they couldn’t get along.
The judge himself had expressed a similar sentiment. Outside of the jury’s presence, Carter told lawyers he could see the case going both ways.
The stalemate prompted Carter to declare the trial overturned. Lawyers are due to return to his courtroom next week to discuss the details.
Mkrtchyan told TimesOC she expected to try the case again “unless there is an offer to settle.”
“To date, the county has not made an offer. From my conversations with the jury after the trial, there are some adjustments and highlights of some issues that I can do for the new trial. We were close to the verdict, ”Mkrtchyan said in an email Wednesday.
S. Frank Harrell of Lynberg & Watkins, who represents the county, said the issue of a settlement “is above my level of pay.”
“Orange County has a press office that can help you with their official position,” Harrell said in an email to TimesOC.
During the trial, Mkrtchyan grilled Renegar over what she described as a plot between him and his fellow MPs to assault Holloway and then lie about what happened.
“And isn’t it true, officer, that you punished him for calling you verbally on first contact when you met him at the campsite?” Yes or no? “Asked Mkrtchyan.
“No, that’s not true at all,” Renegar replied.
Jurors saw a photo of Holloway’s bruised and cut face, which Harrell described to jurors as “not pretty.”
Harrell said MPs displayed professionalism and restraint when confronted by Holloway. “We didn’t want to do this. But the security concerns of our officer and the safety of the other campers meant that if he doesn’t want to collapse to the ground, we have to. We have to bring it down so that everyone is safe.
Honestly released from the Marines in 2000, Holloway was working as a photocopier repairman and was camping in his truck when the confrontation occurred. He said he sought advice from Paul Walters, the former Santa Ana police chief who now heads the Orange County District Attorney’s Office of Investigation. Holloway said his mother worked for the Santa Ana Police Department for 27 years and that Walters “knew our family quite well.”
“He told me I should ask for a lawyer,” Holloway said.
“I saw how easy it was for law enforcement to lie and get away with it. If I had not insisted on this, they would have managed to put me in the hospital and I would be in jail, ”he continued.
Harrell said Holloway testified in a deposition that he calmly obeyed them but was assaulted for no reason, apparently not realizing that even though they weren’t wearing body cameras that night, they had audio recorders, and the recordings “show MPs calmly addressed Mr. Holloway, showed him unwavering respect, tried to get answers to what happened. The second time around, with problems of Even more security, they still “showed him enough respect to tell him to get down to the ground. They use a voice of command and yes, that’s loud.”
Jurors have heard the recording several times.
“That tone of voice is supposed to tell anyone, scientists told law enforcement, that you have to go to the field,” Harrell said. “Did it work with Holloway?” No.”
Judge dismissed MPs Billinger and Gunderson as mid-trial defendants after finding they were not involved in a conspiracy, so if the case is retried, only five MPs remain as defendants .
Meghann M. Cuniff is a TimesOC contributor.
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