For the second time in six weeks, Los Angeles prosecutors have failed to convince judges that sheriff’s deputies assaulted a gang member after he fled from a gunfight with law enforcement, court records show.
District Attorney George Gascon has had back-to-back losses that are almost unheard of in the office, said attorney Josh Ritter, who defended one of the deputies.
Gascon ran on a platform of holding police officers criminally responsible for abuses and has enacted a policy that assumes officers in all police shootings are guilty and, therefore, that the county should pay for the funerals of deceased suspects.
This sentiment makes it clear that the case has forged ahead to appease an anti-police support base, Ritter said.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Norman Shapiro denied a prosecutor’s motion to reinstate charges against sheriff’s deputies Woodrow Kim and Jonathan Miramontes for filing a false police report and assault in 2018.
The case was dismissed by Judge Robert Coen during an Aug. 11 preliminary hearing to determine whether enough evidence existed for a trial.
The case stems from a 911 call in known gang territory that a suspect was brandishing a loaded gun. Deputies followed the suspect's car to a park and saw Hector Martinez jump out of the vehicle and start running. As Miramontes and Kim drove after him, additional deputies responded and were shot in the face and the neck, Ritter said.
Martinez claimed he was injured when Kim opened the car door into him and he fell to the ground. The matter was deemed a traffic accident by the sheriff’s department.
A veteran prosecutor in the DA’s office said the motion for reinstatement was extremely rare but also unwise given that Coen is one of the most esteemed jurists in the state.
“Judge Coen said [the district attorney] could not prove his case and no crime was committed,” the prosecutor said. “Why would they continue a case against two deputies who didn’t commit a crime? Either they were too dumb to know it wasn’t a crime or more likely they don’t care. It’s simply Gascon … trying to please his political supporters.”
Gascon did not respond to a request for comment.
Ritter, who worked in the DA’s office for 10 years, said he has never seen such a legal maneuver.
“They went on this bizarre step, which is incredibly rare, to not refile the case but ask for the same case to be reinstated by another Superior Court judge,” Ritter said, “to ask another judge to rule that the previous judge misunderstood or misapplied the law.”
Gascon’s next option would be to appeal the matter to a state appellate court or refile the entire case again. But then the matter would be back in front of Coen, the prosecutor said.