Perhaps we should forgive Fullerton Police Department (FPD) officers Frank Nguyen and Anthony Ciciarelli for believing their conduct would go undetected in the wee hours of Feb. 11, 2011. For law enforcement, it was still the golden age when Orange County residents steadfastly believed cops never lie or abuse citizens or attempt to cover up their wrongdoing. That faith took a huge blow five months later, when the world realized a degenerate cancer had beset FPD as exemplified by the savage killing of Kelly Thomas.
Use your time machine to arrive with Nguyen and Ciciarelli (sometimes spelled Cicciarelli) at a Princeton Circle West residence to investigate a loud-noise complaint. The officers couldn't find evidence of the alleged crime. They didn't hear yelling, screaming, arguing or music. They heard . . . well . . . relative silence for an urban setting.
To investigate that quiet, the cops knocked on the door of the targeted home without identifying themselves. An occupant—resident Matthew Goggans—replied, "Go away." It must have been a slow crime night. The officers took Goggans' words as the beginning of an assault on their authority and responded with a series of decisions fitting a police-state mentality.
After identifying themselves as cops, Nguyen and Ciciarelli pounded on the door to get Goggans outside on his front porch. He told the pair he wasn't aware of a noise issue and assured them there wouldn't be one. But the officers demanded he give them his name so they could hand him a written warning that would result in a citation or arrest if they returned.
Goggans—then a 20-year-old, 6-foot-3, 225-pound star quarterback at Fullerton College—had taken a criminal-law course taught by a former cop and refused their request because he believed the U.S. Constitution protects him from police interrogation in such a non-emergency situation. He told them only his first name and declined to provide his date of birth or telephone number. The officers didn't appreciate his assertion of rights, a fact they confirmed in later depositions. In their view, he was "argumentative" against their authority and, according to Nguyen, giving "us a hard time" when they were dealing with "just a party call."
When the student attempted to re-enter his home, the officers blocked him and decided to show him who was boss. They ordered him to sit and, opining he didn't sit fast enough, accused him of obstructing their investigation, a crime. Nguyen and Ciciarelli also decided they could arrest him for public intoxication because, they declared, they were worried about his safety. A transcript shows, however, that Ciciarelli—who incredibly thinks he can make a public-intoxication charge against a person standing anywhere visible to someone standing outside—continued to steam over the "go away" line.
As far as FPD documents go, the arrest was largely a non-controversial, textbook public service. Both officers—supposedly trained in the art of recording accurate facts—wrote sworn, identical reports claiming they observed on the porch Goggans' slurred speech, swaying body and watery eyes. They even claim to have vividly recalled smelling alcohol on his breath.
"I saw a person who'd been drinking a lot," Ciciarelli said during his deposition.
But beside the chump act of luring a resident out of his home to make a public-intoxication charge, there was a problem undermining the officers' integrity. Goggans says he wasn't intoxicated that night. According to court records, he wasn't slightly tipsy either. In fact, he hadn't consumed any alcohol or drugs, and FPD has no forensic evidence otherwise.
Did the officers accidentally ascribe the conditions of intoxication to a sober person?
After handcuffing Goggans, kneeing him in the back, placing him in a patrol car and huddling with Nguyen, did Ciciarelli temporarily turn off his department-supplied Digital Auto Recorder (DAR) so the officers could concoct probable-cause scenarios to justify their arrest? The department disciplined the officer for the violation of DAR procedures, and the Orange County district attorney's office thought so little of the cops' story it refused to file any charges. Nonetheless, Goggans had to continue to reveal the failed case to National Football League teams interested in hiring him.
What was the reason those officers put their suspect in a room at FPD headquarters, left the door open, and encouraged other cops to parade by and gawk as Ciciarelli labeled the student a "smart ass" and "asshole" who "thinks he knows everything because he was in a law course at Fullerton College"?
To Garo Mardirossian, Goggans' Los Angeles-based lawyer who believes FPD has a shameful history of employing thugs as cops, the message of the episode was obvious: The officers "were out on a witch-hunt to prove a point to [Goggans] that they were in control and whatever they felt was okay to do, then they would act on it."
According to Mardirossian, "Jail-surveillance video of Mr. Goggans after his arrest demonstrates that he was not impaired in his balance and he was walking in straight lines unassisted."
Cop lawyers have failed to convince U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna that Goggans' civil-rights lawsuit should be killed before it reaches a future jury inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana. But they've enlisted the aid of Curtis Jeffrey Cope, a former Huntington Beach Police Department officer and nowadays a professional witness who, at a cost of $2,500 per day to taxpayers, is willing to testify he can't find anything troubling with the arrest. No surprise. Cope comes from a department that in the 1990s made public-intoxication arrests of beer-holding residents standing in the doorway of their homes during, ironically, Fourth of July celebrations of independence from an oppressive government.
Selna has scheduled a June 30 hearing to discuss pretrial motions.
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LOAN SHARK BEACHED
The Little Saigon businessman arrested in a loan-sharking scheme that allegedly used a Westminster Police Department officer as the enforcer to collect 60 percent annual interest has pleaded guilty and faces a maximum five-year prison sentence.
After originally claiming innocence, Kevin Khanh Tuan Do admitted less than a week before a scheduled trial that he's guilty of a federal crime: lying to thwart FBI agents investigating the loan-sharking operation with surveillance and wiretapping.
According to the June 13 plea deal, the government will drop other charges while Do acknowledges he "knowingly and willfully made a materially false" statement denying his loan activities. The Fountain Valley resident is known to have police and political connections by being generous with food and cocktails, but he must personally declare his guilt to U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, who can accept or reject the deal.
The development prompted the Department of Justice to seek a postponement of this week's trial against Do's co-defendant, Westminster cop Anthony Duong Donner, until June 15, 2015.
Though Donner—whom the FBI accuses of using his police job and equipment to harass Hanh Le, the alleged loan-sharking victim—is in agreement with the delay, Carter makes all trial date rulings.
Le—who claims on-duty Westminster police harrassed her, her employees and her customers with their obnoxious intrusions on behalf of Do—has filed a separate civil lawsuit against the loan shark, Donner, police chief Kevin Baker, and officers Timothy Vu and Phuong Pham.
The civil case is scheduled for a one-week trial in October 2015.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.