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Judge rejects felony charge against man 'deluged with physicality’ by Solano County deputy in courthouse

  •   5 min reads
Judge rejects felony charge against man 'deluged with physicality’ by Solano County deputy in courthouse
The Solano County Justice Center in Fairfield.

VALLEJO – A Solano County Superior Court judge rejected a felony charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer that prosecutors filed against a man who a Solano County Sheriff’s deputy punched eight times in the hallway of a Fairfield courthouse in 2019.

Judge Daniel Healy admonished the force Deputy Alvaro Pena used while arresting Corey Turner. During a preliminary hearing on Friday regarding charges stemming from Turner’s arrest, Healy questioned why Pena punched Turner in the face and slammed his head into a wall.

Pena testified that he decided to use force against Turner because he feared Turner would attack him. Pena later said he slammed Turner’s head into the wall after he was already handcuffed because he thought Turner was about to head-butt him.

But after reviewing body-camera video of the incident, the judge rejected that argument, saying that half the people in the country would be shocked by the idea of “compliance strikes” and most others would question why Pena would go for the face or push him against a wall.

“There are compliance blows and there is this,” Healy said.

The Solano County District Attorney’s Office charged Turner with felony obstruction of an officer by threat or violence, battery on an officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest. Healy rejected all but the misdemeanor resisting charge.

Healy also ordered the sheriff’s office to return a cell phone seized from Turner’s girlfriend, who was recording the incident. The sheriff’s office produced body camera video of the incident to prosecutors and defense attorneys, but not the cellphone video. The sheriff’s office still has the phone two years later, according to Pena’s testimony. Pena said he did not know if the sheriff’s office had extracted video from it.

The body camera video was played in court but has not been publicly released. The Vallejo Sun has submitted a public records request for all video of the incident. State law says the department must respond to the request within 10 days.

Turner had been in court on June 11, 2019, for a child custody hearing. Pena testified that he first approached Turner because he was talking loudly in the back of the courtroom and that Turner wasn’t “being receptive” to Pena’s request for him to lower his voice. Pena said Turner made a derogatory remark about the size of his ears.

Pena said he asked Turner to leave the courtroom. Turner did, but then came back a few seconds later, Pena testified. Turner gathered his things and sat elsewhere in the courtroom, but the judge asked him to leave again. Pena testified that Turner turned just before he walked out the door and Pena blocked his way. Turner then left the courtroom, slamming the door and calling Pena a “bitch” as he left, according to Pena.

Pena testified that he decided that he needed to escort Turner out of the courthouse and called another deputy to assist him. Deputy Armando Sanchez arrived to help and Pena left the courtroom. Pena’s body camera started recording as he left the courtroom. There’s no sound on that part of the video because Axon body-worn cameras capture the 30 seconds of video prior to being activated, but not audio.

The body camera video shows Turner saying something to Pena, but he testified he didn’t remember what Turner said. Pena said he explained to Turner that he wasn’t allowed to go back into the courtroom. Pena testified that Turner turned like he was going to fight him.

“Therefore, I went hands-on with him,” Pena said.

But body camera video shows that Turner turned and walked away from Pena. Pena grabbed Turner’s arm and activated his body camera. The sound begins in the recording, but what happened after is difficult to discern in the struggle.

Pena testified that Turner tried to pull away from him. In the footage, Pena repeatedly tells him, “stop resisting,” and Turner responds, “I’m not resisting.” Pena testified that he punched Turner four times in the face while he was standing, took him to the ground, and punched him in the face four more times.

While the deputies struggled with Turner on the floor, Pena noticed Turner’s girlfriend using her phone to record the incident.

“No recording in the courthouse,” Pena said. “Take that phone.”

Turner, meanwhile, pleaded with bystanders. “Please help me,” he said. “He just beat the fuck out of me for no reason.”

Eventually the deputies handcuffed Turner, who screamed in pain. They picked him up, he again screamed, and the deputies pushed him into a wall. Pena testified that he believed Turner was going to head-butt him.

“You’re not going to spit on me or head-butt me,” Pena said on the video. Turner responded, “I didn’t do any of that.”

Pena testified that deputies attempted to force Turner to walk toward the jail but Turner tried to kick another deputy. So, he said, they forced him back to the ground.

As deputies pinned Turner  on his stomach, he said, “I’m not resisting,” and then, “I can’t breathe. I can’t fucking breathe, dude.”

Pena testified that he was holding Turner’s left arm and had his right knee on Turner’s back.

The deputies put leg irons on Turner and took him to jail. The district attorney’s office filed charges three days later.

During Friday’s preliminary hearing, Turner’s attorney, Nick Filloy, a deputy public defender in Solano County, said that the sheriff’s office had not given Pena’s girlfriend back her phone after it was seized that day. He said that Deputy District Attorney Renee Haase had requested the video in an email to Pena prior to the hearing, but he didn’t respond. Pena testified that the case was assigned to a different investigator, but he did not forward the request.

Haase argued that Pena did “what he was trained to do to try and get compliance.”

“I don’t think it was unnecessary or excessive,” she said.

Judge Healy, however, disagreed, saying that while he appreciated the deputies providing security in his courtroom, the incident was a “fabulous demonstration” of the value of crisis intervention training.

Healy asked Pena what the most aggressive actions Turner had taken towards him were, and Pena said that when he allegedly tried to head-butt him and kick another deputy. But the judge found that Turner was so “deluged with physicality” by that point that he couldn’t tell if any of his actions were voluntary.

Healy dismissed all but the resisting arrest charge and ordered the sheriff’s office to return the phone used to record the incident back to Mr. Turner’s girlfriend by Oct. 30.

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