Thursday, May 5, 2011

ESCONDIDO: Video shows police breaking car's window at DUI checkpoint (The Californian)

ESCONDIDO: Video shows police breaking car's window at DUI checkpoint
Police say the driver failed to comply; two men face charges
By EDWARD SIFUENTES - North County Times - The Californian
Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 8:44 pm

A video of two young men being arrested at an Escondido sobriety checkpoint in February shows police breaking the window of their car after the driver refuses repeated requests to roll down his window and show his driver's license.

The North County Times obtained a copy of the video on Tuesday from one of the attorneys for the men. It shows the driver, Angel Navarrete, and his passenger, Daniel Alfaro, as they drive to the checkpoint Feb. 11.

Navarrete and Alfaro, both of whom live in Escondido, were arrested and charged with resisting a police officer. Both men pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge on March 29 in Vista Superior Court. The driver had a valid license and was not intoxicated.

The video is part of the evidence in the case against the two men. It was released by the San Diego County district attorney's office to the defense attorneys, one of whom provided the video to the North County Times.

Anti-checkpoint activists have held numerous protests near the traffic checks warning drivers of the operations. They have accused the Police Department of harassing them because officers have videotaped and photographed protesters and asked them to move away from certain locations.

Alfaro is affiliated with Alianza Comunitaria (Community Alliance), a North County-based group that opposes checkpoints and immigration raids.

The seven-minute video taken by Alfaro, who was the passenger, appears to show that the two men planned to challenge the checkpoint by refusing to provide their driver's licenses. It shows the driver asking the passenger in Spanish what to say if asked for his driver's license.

"Nothing," the passenger answers. "The same thing, 'Am I being detained?'"

The district attorney's office and the Escondido Police Department declined to comment on the incident, saying the case is in litigation.

Victor Torres, an attorney representing Navarrete who provided a copy of the video, said his client did nothing wrong.

"There is no reason for this," Torres said regarding the arrest and the misdemeanor charge against his client.

The video, taken from inside the vehicle that night, is dark, grainy and has poor sound quality. But it provides a telling picture of what happened during the incident.

When the driver encounters the police officer at the checkpoint, he greets the officer. The driver's side window is lowered about 2 inches. Here is the conversation that follows:

Navarrete: "How are you doing?"

Officer: "Can you roll down your window?"

Navarrete: "I can hear you just fine."

Officer: "I want you to roll the window down."

Navarrete: "Why is that, sir?"

Officer: "Because I'm going to break it if you don't open it."

Navarrete: "Go ahead."

Officer "I'm sorry?"

Navarrete: "Go ahead."

Officer: "Go ahead and break it?"

Navarrete: "It's up to you.

Am I being detained or am I free to go?"

Officer: "You are not free to go."

Navarrete: "So am I being detained?"

Officer: "You are being detained."

Attorneys for the two men said they plan to argue in court that they were illegally detained because they had complied with what they were told to do, up to the point where the officer said they were detained.

Isaac Blumberg, an attorney representing Alfaro, said the window was rolled down enough to have a conversation.

"I contend that they did comply," Blumberg said.

The officers at the checkpoint did not ask the driver to show his driver's license until after both men were detained, Blumberg said.

The sound on the video is distorted and it is difficult to understand what the officer outside the vehicle said, but he appears to wave for another officer, who approaches the vehicle. The second officer appears to explain that the driver is required to show a driver's license or he will be taken to jail, but the exact words are difficult to hear.

Lt. Neil Griffin told the North County Times the day after the checkpoint that an officer asked the driver to provide a license and that the driver made "no attempt of any sort to produce one."

Navarrete repeatedly asks the officers whether he is being detained or whether he is free to go. The officers say he is being detained, according to the video. Navarrete asks why he is being detained.

"Last opportunity," the second officer says.

The second officer then attempts to open the locked driver's side door.

"Go ahead and break it," the second officer says.

The passenger then asks why the officer wants to break the window.

"Because we asked you to roll down the window," the officer says.

Alfaro then repeatedly asks for the officer's name and badge number, but neither officer appears to provide the information.

The video also shows that about two minutes after the incident begins, a police officer drives a patrol car in front of the vehicle, blocking the road.

Navarrete repeatedly asks the officers why they want to see his driver's license if the purpose of the checkpoint is a sobriety checkpoint.

At one point, one of the officers says: "You know why."

About 3 1/2 minutes after arriving at the checkpoint, an officer strikes the window, shattering the glass and then pulling it off toward the exterior of the car. One of the officers then opens the driver's side door, by reaching into the car and pulling the door handle.

In the video, Navarrete can be seen turning off the ignition, unfastening his seat belt and stepping out of the vehicle.

An officer handcuffs Navarrete, who offers no resistance. Another officer then enters the vehicle though the driver's side door and asks Alfaro to open the other door.

Moments later, the video ends.

Police confiscated the video camera and impounded the vehicle.

The district attorney's office provided a copy of the video to the defense attorneys last month.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for June 10, and the misdemeanor trial is scheduled for July 12 at the Vista Courthouse.

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