After listening to six days of testimony, analyzing the validity of Myth-Buster-like experiments and claims of excessive use of force by officers, a Gila County jury on Wednesday found a Payson man guilty of aggravated assault against two officers.
After deliberating for four hours, the jury also found Brandon Lee Lewis, 24, guilty of resisting arrest and criminal damage during a DUI investigation the night before Halloween 2011.
During the call, Lewis spit blood and kicked and punched at officers Jesse Davies and Justin Deaton then slammed his head against a squad car, leaving a large dent in the hood, the prosecution said.
The prosecution tried to show that Lewis also injured Payson Police Officer Lorenzo Ortiz during the scuffle, who had scrapes on his knee after holding Lewis down. On this count, the most serious, the jury found Lewis not guilty. None of the officers was seriously injured.
A judge will sentence Lewis at 11 a.m. June 3 in Payson.
“We believe justice was served and we appreciate the jury examining the facts of the case and rendering a decision based on those facts,” said Police Chief Don Engler.
Lewis could have avoided the ordeal if he had only complied with officers’ orders that night, prosecutors said. Instead, he resisted at every step, refusing to comply with a field sobriety test, their commands to take his hand out of his pocket and then to calm down. When Lewis gestured that he would strike Davies, Ortiz and Deaton stepped forward and pinned his arms back, one neighbor testified.
Lewis continued to shout profanities and resist, according to testimony.
The officers took Lewis to the ground. Ortiz sat on his chest, delivering several blows to Lewis’ face with his fists and elbows. Deaton testified he held Lewis’ flailing legs with all his body weight.
Lewis’ roommates, who watched from their apartment’s balcony, videotaped some of the altercation. Given the late hour, the video is black, but audio picks up Lewis yelling at officers.
“Oh God,” he screams. “I’m not fighting!”
Lewis’ defense team played the video file repeatedly for the jury to hear, with Lewis sitting quietly just a few feet away from Davies in the crowded, narrow courtroom.
They said officers, specifically Ortiz, used excessive force with Lewis, bloodying his eye and fracturing his eye socket.
“Add their weights together (the officers) and it is close to 400 pounds with strikes being delivered to (Lewis’) body and they say, ‘Well we needed to do that,’” said defense attorney Michael Harper.
“There is no question at all that that force was excessive.”
Harper said the three officers lost their cool that night and went far beyond what was necessary.
“This happened and it happened here and it is serious, serious business,” he said.
Marc Stanley with the Gila County Attorney’s Office, who co-prosecuted the case with Joy Riddell, said officers used the force necessary to get a combative person under control.
“This wasn’t a fight,” he said, “this was an arrest.”
They said Lewis acted unlawfully from start to finish.
He was driving with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit when he hit a low retaining wall near his apartment. Instead of calling police to report the accident, he called his friends and had them pull his truck off the wall.
“Instead of doing the right thing and reporting the accident he attempted to hide it,” Stanley said.
When Davies arrived, he asked Lewis’ for his insurance information to pass it on to the property owner. While speaking with Lewis, however, Davies suspected Lewis was intoxicated.
Deaton and Ortiz watched as Davies started a field sobriety test.
Lewis refused to do the test and started cursing at Davies to get off private property. That’s when the other officers approached, Stanley said.
Harper argued it is no crime to mouth off and Lewis was never a threat to any of the officers, who were armed, trained and bigger than him.
“Officers have a tremendous amount of power ... they are armed, they have fancy equipment, power to investigate and detain and deprive people of their liberties,” Harper said.
Harper said the officers lost their cool and got violent with Lewis.
“Honestly what would the defense have these officers do, let him go?” Stanley said during his rebuttal closing argument. “This isn’t a fight, you can’t just walk away.”
Stanley added that police have the right to use force when necessary and “they are not required to match the force they are getting. If they have to use more force to subdue someone, they have to do that to protect their own safety.”
Harper disagreed, asking the jury to consider that if he were the one punching Lewis in the face that night he would be on trial now.
Stanley agreed, but added it wasn’t a fight, it was three officers making an arrest.
“These officers were doing their job,” he said. “They responded with force that was necessary.”
When officers finally had Lewis cuffed, they brought him up to the street where they held him against a squad vehicle.
Lewis, however, slammed his head on the hood about 10 times, leaving a salad bowl-size dent.
Harper questioned how officers could watch someone slam their head repeatedly and not stop them sooner.
Furthermore, he said Lewis couldn’t have created the dent in the hood with his head anyways.
A paid expert witness testified that he ran his a series of tests in an attempt to re-create the dent, but could not. Tests including dropping a medicine ball onto the hood of a vehicle and videotaping someone going through the motions of slamming their head.
Stanley said these tests were ridiculous and did not prove that Lewis’ head could not create the dent.
What is for sure is that Lewis spit blood at officers, he said. Davies had at least one drop of blood on his uniform.
The officers testified they are horrified at the prospect of contracting diseases from bodily fluids. Once at the jail, Lewis continued to resist, according to testimony.
Sgt. Donny Garvin testified he watched Lewis kick at officers as they escorted him inside. Lewis finally calmed down only when Sgt. Jason Hazelo, a family acquaintance arrived.
The lengthy trial saw all three officers take the stand, but Lewis did not.