(CNS) - A former Beaumont police officer who destroyed a woman’s vision when he shot her in the face with a pepper spray pistol inflicted a "brutal injury’’ that justifies convicting him of felony charges, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while the man’s attorney argued that his client’s “split second’’ reaction to a tense situation should not be viewed as criminal.
“It was this officer’s responsibility to use reasonable force to effectuate this arrest,’’ Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney told jurors in his closing statement. “Instead he got lazy, annoyed and careless. And look at what happened. Monique Hernandez will never see again.’’
Carney condemned Enoch “Jeremy’’ Clark’s reasons for firing a JPX pepper spray gun 10 inches from Hernandez’s face while arresting her for DUI on the night of Feb. 21, 2012, characterizing all of the defendant’s statements to investigators regarding what happened as “bull——.’’
“A man is bound to the lies he tells, and Officer Clark told his share,’’ the prosecutor said. “There was no imminent threat to his life. He wasn’t slipping off balance when he pulled that trigger. He pulled it because he wanted to. There were other ways of resolving that situation other than shooting her in the eyes.’’
Clark is charged with assault by a peace officer causing injury, assault with a less lethal weapon, battery causing serious injury and assault resulting in great bodily injury.
Carney said the defendant “over-reacted’’ and “jumped the gun’’ in subduing Hernandez.
“Any option was better than what he did,’’ Carney said. “It was a battle of egos. She was drunk and acting like a jerk; he was way too stern and getting annoyed at her behavior. Then he goes from 0 to 60. He goes from a little bit of effort to inflicting a brutal injury.’’
Carney recalled testimony that when Clark discharged the JPX device, which fires propellant at 400 mph, the stream ripped through both of Hernandez’s eyes, “literally blowing them to pieces and entering her head.’’
“She has her hands behind her back. Yes, she’s mouthy and drunk, but there is no way to justify his response,’’ Carney said.
“When officers act like this, we can’t give them a pass. We can’t put a stamp of approval on what he did. Hold him accountable for robbing Monique of her sight.’’
Defense attorney Steve Sanchez faulted his client’s superiors, inadequate training on the weapon, unclear instructions on how to use it and other factors for what transpired.
Sanchez reiterated much of the case he made at the trial’s opening, saying the JPX manufacturer’s warnings on the minimum safe distance to fire the pepper pistol were confusing.
Sanchez pointed to errors in the instruction manual, including a misplaced comma that suggested the weapon could be fired from one meter — three feet — away, instead of the 1.5 meters actually required. JPXs are made in Switzerland.
Sanchez said that because the Beaumont Police Department was “too cheap’’ to purchase practice cartridges, officers were deployed with the JPX devices without ever having had an opportunity to fire them.
Sanchez questioned how officers could be properly certified to use a JPX pistol after what amounted to a “half-hour’’ of actual hands-on training.
While acknowledging that Hernandez suffered a ``horrific’’ injury, Sanchez said the 32-year-old woman’s condition might have turned out differently had it not been for the apathetic response of his client’s watch commander, who directed Clark to drive her to the nearest hospital in Banning, rather than having her taken by ambulance.
According to the attorney, Clark was ``in control of his fear’’ while contending with Hernandez but was nevertheless suffering anxiety about whether he might be attacked by her half-dozen family members standing 40 feet away, being talked down by his partner.
“If suspects know you’re afraid, they have the advantage,’’ Sanchez said.
Sanchez said his client’s decision to fire the pepper spray gun was “made in a split second, and you can’t second-guess the officer.’’
“When you’re in a situation with a suspect who’s resisting, you’re focused on controlling that suspect and getting that person into custody,’’ Sanchez said.
A dash-cam videotape taken from Clark’s patrol car on the night of the confrontation showed a drunken Hernandez with her hands behind her back, jostling as Clark attempts to handcuff her.
Clark repeatedly tells the woman to “stop resisting’’ and “get your hands behind your back,’’ while Hernandez answers, “I’m not resisting’’ and demands to know why she’s being taken into custody.
The grainy black-and-white video clip runs two to three minutes, at the end of which Clark reaches toward his duty belt and unholsters a device, firing it inches away from Hernandez’s face.
The prosecution will submit its rebuttal statement to jurors today, May 14, after which deliberations are scheduled to begin.
Clark, who is free on $50,000 bail, could face 20 years in prison if convicted.