Local News

Friday, Aug 31 2012 05:58 PM

No charges to be filed against deputies in excessive force investigation

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced at a news conference that the DA's office will not file criminal charges against deputies Ascension Plaza and Aaron Nadal.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

No criminal charges will be filed against two Kern County sheriff's deputies accused of excessive force in an incident dating back to January.

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green announced Friday afternoon that she's declining to file charges against deputies Aaron Nadal and Ascension Plaza. The sheriff's department had requested criminal charges of excessive use of force against both deputies, plus a charge of filing a false report against Plaza.

"Based on our review of the evidence in this particular case, we do not believe we could convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the guilt of either deputy," Green said during a news conference.

She said she and other high-ranking DA's staff reviewed reports of the incident, video footage from a sheriff's helicopter, audiotapes, the deputies' training records and the opinions of two independent use of force experts in arriving at their decision. The case was submitted to the DA's office in May.

Green said the experts agreed Nadal didn't use excessive force, but disagreed as to whether Plaza used excessive force or filed a false report.

The incident that brought about the accusations against the deputies occurred about midnight on Jan. 14. Green said Plaza was alone on patrol and chased a suspect he believed had just set fire to the bed of a pickup truck into the backyard of a residence in the 400 block of Wilkins Street.

The suspect -- later identified as Jaime Duran -- ran into a shed in the backyard of a property where his family lives, Green said. Plaza entered the backyard with his gun drawn and ordered Duran to come out and show his hands, but Duran refused to comply.

When Duran did leave the shed, he moved as if he was going to pick up a nearby sledgehammer, Green said. Plaza twice told Duran he would shoot him if he picked up the sledgehammer.

Duran was non-compliant for 40 seconds, Green said, but then dropped to his knees with his hands behind his head as Nadal arrived.

"It is important to note that there is no discussion between Plaza and Nadal about the arson Duran has committed, the fact he did not comply with Plaza's orders to stop, or the fact he is continuously moving his hands up and down in the backyard," Green said.

Nadal tackled Duran, according to Green. Plaza struck Duran on the back of his legs with the baton and Nadal punched Duran once in the head.

It appeared during the struggle that Plaza swung his baton toward Duran at least 11 times, but the exact number of times isn't known, Green said.

Duran only stopped resisting when Nadal hit him with a knee strike, according to Green. Medical aid was immediately called.

Duran suffered serious injuries to his legs which required surgery, Green said. Arson charges were filed against Duran but later dismissed after it was determined Plaza was the only witness to the arson and was himself under investigation because of his handling of the incident.

Green said the test for the reasonableness of use of force necessitates taking into account the "totality of circumstances." Numerous factors, including the officer's perspective and actions, the suspect's actions, the officer's training and experience, environmental conditions, physical and video evidence are involved.

"In this case, after extensive discussion and review with supervisors in my office, the evidence convinces me that both Deputy Plaza and Deputy Nadal acted reasonably in using the degree of force that they employed on Mr. Duran in order to effect an arrest," Green said.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said Friday that he could give no comment other than that both deputies are still employed with the sheriff's department and an administrative investigation is ongoing.

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