An Orange County jury this afternoon gave a proverbial shoulder shrug to a lawsuit claiming that Fullerton cops singled out a citizen for physical harassment and fabricated criminal charges because he used his iPhone to film alleged police brutality in 2010.
The unanimous verdict from a panel of five women and three men–who could have easily been corralled for civic duty while shopping at Fashion Island–came after about only two hours of deliberations following this morning's closing arguments.
Garo Mardirossian, the veteran lawyer for plaintiff Veth Mam, had passionately urged jurors to "send a message" to police that citizens have a right to record their conduct and not face retaliation from "abusive" cops.
"[Mam] saw an injustice, took out his camera and began filming," said Mardirossian, who compared his client to the unknown but famous Chinese man who risked his own life by standing in front of a line of tanks during 1989 communist brutality in Tiananmen Square. "Veth Mam was that tank man in downtown Fullerton."
He also blasted cops for "their code of silence" to protect one another from accountability for lying and cautioned the jury that if they rule against Mam, they are giving dirty cops in Orange County an unmistakable signal.
"They are going to think, 'We can get away with [corruption],'" said Mardirossian. During his closing argument to the jury, Dana A. Fox, an attorney for officers Frank Nguyen and Jonathan W. Miller, ridiculed Mardirossian's attempt to "play on your emotions" and shamelessly linked his clients with another unrelated event: police work in the recent Boston Marathon bombings.
Fox–a superb, commanding speaker–said the problem for Mam was that he didn't obey numerous officer commands to "back up" from the scene and that his lack of compliance created his own troubles with cops, who were rightfully worried about a crowd getting out of control.
Steven J. Rothans, the lawyer for Kenton Hampton–known for his participation in the police beating death of Kelly Thomas in July 2011–urged jurors to put themselves in the shoes of the officers who, despite concocting wildly falsified police reports to make themselves heroes, had truly been motivated, he said, by one passion: "preventing a riot" on the night of the incident.
Using the deep voice of a movie-trailer announcer and the cadence of a Baptist preacher a week away from paying rent, Rothans argued that despite police errors (and there were many), the cops acted "reasonably." He dared jurors to compare the credibility of Mam, who was found innocent in 2012 of all of the criminal charges filed against him, to the officers, who tried to send the innocent man to prison–and still don't seem the least bit regretful.
Like Fox, Rothans also tied the Fullerton cops in this case to the "first responders" in Boston, who are "special folks" who run toward explosions.
U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton Tucker eventually told the jurors to disregard both Tiananmen Square and Boston bombing references.
Having covered notoriously pro-cop Orange County juries for nearly two decades, I knew what the two cop lawyers from Los Angeles might not have fully appreciated until today: They really didn't need to break a sweat.
This is, after all, a county in which law-enforcement officers can stand feet away from a pretrial inmate being viciously beaten to death for 30 or 40 minutes by a massive group of fellow inmates, absurdly claim they saw and heard nothing, and escape any legal culpability.
A subdued Mam didn't look too pleased by today's outcome. He declined to comment on the verdict. But Hampton–the cop accused of attacking him for the filming–happily hummed in the hallway inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse.