By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
"He looked really distressed," she recalls. "He was in the water, he was in pain, and I saw him splashing water in his face, and then the cop came up, and I saw him hit him. It was really loud. You could hear it from down the beach." Martocci says the incident was traumatic to watch. "What took place shouldn't have taken place. It definitely shouldn't have happened in front of the kids and stuff. I didn't see him act in any aggressive manner toward them, so I felt he was wrongly abused and publicly humiliated."
Lifeguard Jack Bond also testified. He had seen Zilliott at the beach several times before that day, but he had never spoken to him. The lifeguard says he watched the cops go up and speak with Zilliott for several minutes without incident, but that Zilliott was clearly becoming impatient with their questions. "They were harassing him because some parent thought he could be a criminal," Bond says. "He got fed up and pushed them away. What happened [next] didn't seem right to me at all. He wasn't being combative. They could have calmed him down without the pepper spray."
Bond says the cop who hit Zilliott with the baton swung his club like a baseball bat. "He hits him twice, really hard," Bond says. "It was baseball swings, like he was swinging for the fence." Everyone on the beach seemed to be staring in disbelief. "He just wanted to go on with his day," Bond adds. "He was having a peaceful day, and these guys interrupted him and wrongfully accused him."
Another lifeguard, Ben Hester, who was named Lifeguard of the Year in 2006 and is now taking pre-med classes at an East Coast college, also testified at Zilliott's trial. He failed to respond to numerous messages to his cell phone, but he did sign a sworn declaration attached to Zilliott's lawsuit. In his statement, Hester wrote that Zilliott was a frequent visitor to Treasure Island Beach. He says one of the beach-patrol officers who confronted Zilliott approached him to ask if he was familiar with Zilliott; Hester told the officer that "Zilliott was a nice man who was not causing any difficulties at all."
Hester then went back to watching the water. About five minutes later, he heard Zilliott yelling and saw all three officers spraying something in his face. "I next noticed Mr. Zilliott was on all fours at the edge of the water, screaming and trying to avoid being Maced any further," Hester wrote. "At this time, a Laguna Beach motorcycle officer approached Mr. Zilliott and the other three officers. He went right to the scene and did not stop to inquire of the other officers as to what was going on, but merely removed his nightstick and struck Mr. Zilliott two times in the hand."
According to his declaration, Hester called a police watch commander to complain about "this brutal assault," but he never heard back and never followed up with a written complaint. "There were many beach-goers who were asking questions as to why Mr. Zilliott was so viciously attacked," he wrote. "It appeared to me the Laguna Beach Police Department utilized an excessive amount of force concerning this incident with Mr. Zilliott, as he was not doing anything I detected out of the ordinary for a beach-goer and certainly did not provoke and/or strike any of the police officers from my view where I was located."
Sergeant Jason Kravetz, a Laguna Beach police spokesperson, refused to comment on Zilliott's allegations against the department because of Zilliott's lawsuit. But he said that Zilliott would not have necessarily had to walk across the street to fetch his identification to go about his merry way. He simply could have waited while officers took his name and birth date and matched it with a court-ordered alcohol-monitoring device.
"We would have initiated a records check to make sure that ankle bracelet is actually tied to a DUI case and not someone on house arrest for burglary, and that's what they would have verified," Kravetz said. "Then they would have thanked him for being cooperative and sent him on his way."
Zilliott's arrest didn't exactly make headlines. On June 30, the Laguna Beach Independent ran a brief and erroneous item on the incident in its police blotter: "Beach Patrol officers made contact with a man on the beach, asking for identification. The man immediately became uncooperative. When a training officer interceded, Robert Zilliott, 50, of Laguna Beach, allegedly became combative and refused to comply until a Taser was used."
Much more high-profile—for entirely understandable reasons—was the fatal confrontation that took place 10 months later at the Montage Resort & Spa when Kevin and Joni Park booked a $2,200-per-night bungalow at the hotel under assumed names. Neighbors and family friends would later say that they had been acting strangely in recent weeks. The couple had recently met with Orange County Sheriff's Department deputies and had filed a civil lawsuit concerning their family-run real-estate business. The Parks brought with them to the hotel a box of documents, a semi-automatic handgun and a hefty supply of ammunition.