By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 03/30/17 – 4:32 PM PDT |
SAN BERNARDINO >> One of three former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies accused of assaulting an Apple Valley man following a chase through the High Desert two years ago was found guilty Thursday in Superior Court, while a mistrial was declared for the other two defendants.
After two days of deliberations, the jury, before a packed courtroom, found Charles Foster guilty of one felony count of assault by a public officer under the color of authority on Francis Jared Pusok. Foster faces up to three years in county prison when he is sentenced April 28 before Judge Dwight W. Moore.
The jury, however, deadlocked on defendants Michael Phelps and Nicholas Downey, voting 8-4 in favor of guilty verdicts. Judge Moore scheduled a pretrial hearing for April 21 and a tentative trial date of May 8 for the two.
It was unclear Thursday if the District Attorney’s Office will retry the case against Downey and Phelps.
Foster’s attorney, Heather N. Phillips, said after Thursday’s court proceedings she will appeal the verdict.
“It’s never what we want to hear at the end of a case and, quite frankly, not what I expected to hear at the end of this, particularly given the fact that we had three defendants and the comparative effects of all of their acts, but it’s what the jury said,” Phillips said. “I will tell you that this is one battle.”
Phillips said she will appeal on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, mainly due to comments made by prosecutor Robert Bulloch during his closing arguments this week, which included the biblical story of the good Samaritan.
“Religion plays absolutely no part in this and should not be anywhere near a courtroom,” said Phillips, adding that Bulloch also made comments Moore had previously ruled as inadmissable. “(Bulloch) chose to prosecute this case in a manner that turned this trial into a circus — into a completely anti-law enforcement environment, and really capitalized on anything he could even if that meant crossing the line and violating court orders.”
Bulloch declined comment Thursday, deferring comment to District Attorney Mike Ramos.
“Thank you to the jury for the hard work they put into this case,” Ramos said in a statement Thursday. “I want to emphasize that the actions of these three defendants should in no way diminish the outstanding work being done every day by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.”
Downey’s attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, declined to comment Thursday as he left the courthouse.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Phelps attorney, Kasey A. Castillo, said, “Obviously, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t a not guilty verdict. But we are pleased that some of the jurors were very strong in their belief he was not guilty. It gives us hope for the next time around.”
On April 9, 2015, Downey and Phelps were the first deputies to detain Pusok, a repeat criminal offender who had stolen a horse during an hourslong chase and rode into steep and rugged desert terrain between Apple Valley and Hesperia before falling off the horse and being felled by a dart from Phelps’ Taser.
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