VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) - Two San Diego County sheriff’s deputies were found not guilty Tuesday after facing charges of assaulting a father and son during an arrest that was caught on camera.
Deputies Nicholas Morgan, 27, and Joshua Nahan, 31, were facing charges of misdemeanor assault without lawful necessity.
On May 7, 2018, Gerardo Martinez Jr. and his father, Gerardo Martinez Sr., were taken into custody after the deputies responded to a domestic violence call.
Martinez Jr.’s girlfriend had called 911 to report being punched by her boyfriend. Part of the 911 call was played for jurors during the trial’s opening statements.
During the trial, jurors viewed cell phone video of the arrest that was recorded by a neighbor. The video appeared to show Nahan pushing Martinez Sr. into a fence while handcuffed. Martinez Jr. was repeatedly struck in the head by Morgan while on a concrete sidewalk.
Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh told jurors the footage, which garnered widespread public attention, showed the deputies displaying an "unreasonable and unnecessary" amount of force.
The prosecutor said Morgan and another deputy were the first on scene and tackled Martinez Jr. to the ground and punched him. Martinez Sr., who was walking his dog nearby, saw that his son was hurt, approached the deputies, and was pushed away, according to the prosecutor. Martinez Sr. then began walking away, but Morgan took him to the ground and threw him into some bushes, Trinh said.
The prosecutor said the deputies ordered both men, who were each laying face-down, to put their arms behind their backs. However, neither man was able to do so, Trinh argued, because the deputies were on top of them, pinning their arms beneath their bodies. The prosecutor said that despite their inability to follow those commands, Morgan struck each man using his fists and knees. Martinez Jr. was also Tased for not following the commands, Trinh said.
Defense attorney Michael Begovich told the jury that the deputies were involved in a "chaotic, dangerous situation with two subjects actively resisting."
Begovich played a series of clips from the 911 call Martinez's girlfriend made, in which he can be overheard saying several times that he was "not going to jail over this."
"Had (Martinez Jr.) cooperated with law enforcement, had he followed the commands, we wouldn't be here today, folks," Begovich said in his opening statement. "This was the man who moments earlier beat a woman, earned a felony conviction for it and said 'I'm not going to jail.'"
The attorney alleged that both men resisted deputies trying to subdue them, prompting the lawmen to do what was necessary to keep the situation from escalating.
"An ongoing domestic violence call with escalating violence is the most serious call that law enforcement responds to," Begovich said. "That's where people get hurt. That's where people die."
Begovich said that after being handcuffed, Martinez Sr. moved away from the two deputies who were escorting him, causing one of them to lose his grip, and leading Nahan to shove him into the fence.
The attorney said law enforcement training dictates that when" taking a subject who is combative and resisting like that, you turn and put them into a hard object, which can be a wall, which can be a fence."
Begovich said Martinez Jr. tensed and tried to get up when he heard his father impact the fence. Begovich called the strikes Morgan gave to Martinez Jr. "open hand distraction blows," which he said is a reasonable use of force designed to control a resisting subject.
“Law enforcement officers hold a position of trust in our community and are required to abide by the rules in the exercise of their powers. The evidence on which the charges are based shows the force used by the two deputies exceeded the legal line, violating that public trust. For justice to thrive, it is important that no one is above the law,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in November.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department sent a statement to 10News last fall, which read in part, “The Department does not tolerate misconduct of any kind. We have the utmost confidence in the criminal justice system and we will continue to coordinate with and support the District Attorney's Office as these cases move through the judicial process."
Morgan faced up to two years in jail and Nahan faced one year for misdemeanor assault if they had been convicted.
City News Service contributed to this report