Tustin PD's Thin Dude Line
On Oct. 15, 2009, Edward Rezek committed a horrific crime that highly trained members of the Tustin Police Department thought required a violent response. After nearly being struck by a car while in a crosswalk, Rezek fired 15 bullets from his Glock into the body of the inattentive driver and threw two grenades into the vehicle. Immediately before the bloody explosions, he laughed and ducked for cover.
Don't remember related Los Angeles-based TV news reports?
That's because the aforementioned scene never happened. Rezek was, in fact, unarmed when he reacted to being nearly run over. He simply slapped the hood of Jose Reyes' private-patrol-company car, lectured the on-duty security guard (and the man's partner) about poor driving skills, and then walked away.
But for Tustin PD cops Brian Chupp and Mark Turner, the hood slap became an opportunity to flex their government-issued police power. According to court records, the plain-clothed officers rushed to the scene, located a nearby Rezek calmly talking on his cell phone while standing in line to enter the Auld Dubliner Pub at the District and, without identifying themselves, forcefully dragged the man to an intersection where Reyes was waiting.
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"Is this the asshole that vandalized and punched your car?" asked the cops.
Reyes replied, "Yes."
Still not bothering to identify themselves as public servants, the officers knocked a startled Rezek to the ground and yanked his right arm high behind his back. When the victim screamed that they'd broken his arm and pleaded for help from onlookers, the men ordered him to shut up. According to court records, the officers then forced Rezek's mouth into the dirt, slammed a knee into his back and choked him until he was nearly unconscious.
A worried, independent witness—an employee at the pub—was so concerned about the one-sided violence that when he ran up to stop the attack, the men finally identified themselves as cops. After handcuffing Rezek and placing him in a police car, the officers refused to acknowledge his injuries and declined his request that they do Cop Work 101: Get the names of witnesses. Eventually, a paramedic arrived and determined an ambulance should transport Rezek to the Western Medical Center's emergency room. A doctor diagnosed a fractured elbow.
But the alleged police abuse wasn't over. The officers seized him for committing vandalism (striking the hood of the car) and resisting arrest. To bolster their case and justify their violence, Chupp and Turner concocted a deceitful official report that recounted how they'd immediately identified themselves as cops and a combative Rezek confessed to "punching" the car. The officers also disingenuously reported that they witnessed the entire incident and that Reyes never entered the crosswalk. Those claims of alleged police corruption are contained in a federal civil-rights lawsuit Rezek filed against the officers, the private-security team, Tustin PD and then-Chief Scott Jordan.
To shield Chupp and Turner, police officials employed a loophole in California law that allows law-enforcement agencies to keep police personnel files a secret from the public. Officials placed witness statements eventually collected during an internal-affairs probe inside the officers' personnel files, and then declared the records of the crosswalk incident were top secret. An appellate court eventually rejected the tactic.
Thomas E. Beck, the plaintiff's Los Alamitos-based attorney, wrote that Tustin cops blatantly "exploited their positions of authority," the department had a "deliberate indifference to the rights of the public," and his client genuinely feared for his life during the assault.
"Chupp [falsely] claimed he and Turner approached [the] plaintiff in line and allegedly overheard him on his cell phone say, 'I just punched the shit out of one of the security cars, and the security guard was too much of a pussy to do anything about it,'" Beck wrote in one of his court briefs. "Plaintiff never spoke these words or anything like them. Rather, he was conducting business with a client on the phone when seized and the phone knocked out of his grasp."
Beck also wrote, "Chupp further falsely claimed he approached [Rezek], showed him his police badge, identified himself, and [peacefully] walked Rezek out of the line."
During the civil litigation, prosecutors in the Orange County district attorney's office decided to mount a three-year effort to win two misdemeanor convictions based on the officers' version of events. A February 2013 jury convicted Rezek of vandalism, but found him not guilty of resisting arrest. As punishment, a judge ordered him to undergo probation for three years, perform 10 days of physical labor on the side of a highway and attend an anger-management program.
What happened to Chupp and Turner? Nothing. After reviewing an internal-affairs report that apparently did not address the allegations of police brutality, Jordan—who'd promised an unbiased probe—decided his officers' performance outside the pub "did not constitute misconduct under the circumstances."
In July 2010, the Tustin City Council also ruled the crosswalk incident an example of good police work, noting as unassailable fact that Rezek "resisted and struggled with the officers" and he didn't complain of "pain to his right arm" until he was already in custody. The city's officials hired Costa Mesa-based private lawyers who've repeatedly tried to kill the case before it can reach a jury. Two of their key arguments include that police officers should be automatically immune for on-duty acts and the veracity of their criminal case was confirmed by a guilty verdict on the vandalism charge.
But in late January, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter considered Tustin's push to dismiss the lawsuit and declined the request.
"The city of Tustin contends [the lawsuit's claims of police wrongdoing] are insufficient because [Rezek] has 'stated nothing but boilerplate allegations,'" concluded the judge. "The court disagrees."
Carter specifically ruled Rezek can continue to pursue a claim that Tustin PD management tolerated bad policing as a practice and knew of alleged similar misconduct, but failed to discipline Chupp and Turner. The judge is also allowing the plaintiff to advance on his false arrest and malicious prosecution counts. However, Carter dismissed the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and he dropped Jordan from the case as a defendant.
A seven-day jury trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 7 inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana.
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