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Looking ahead: FPD excessive force trial

Friday, January 18, 2013

Four Fresno police officers on trial for beating a suspect are preparing to try to persuade jurors they did nothing wrong. They're expected to testify about the night they used a bean bag gun and kicked a suspect who other officers say posed no threat.

The officers will be explaining why they felt it was necessary to use additional force to get Rolando Celdon in custody. They will also be questioned about why they changed significant details in their reports after they made their initial drafts.

Defense attorneys say the first witnesses they intend to call will be the ones with the most accurate account of what happened.

Former Fresno police K9 officer Sean Plymale is expected to take the stand first. He's accused of changing his account of what happened the night Rolando Celdon was arrested and planting evidence. His attorney Marshall Hodgkins says Plymale will give a reasonable explanation.

"He took a beer bottle and it was a number of yards down and it finally occurred to him, yeah that shiny object I saw, maybe this is the beer bottle," Marshall Hodgkins said. "He had to get away from the scene, tend to his dog and his hand because he thought he broke his hand and so he took the bottle back to the general vicinity and said hey photograph this and collect it."

The defendant facing the most charges and exposed to 20 years in prison is Chris Coleman. He's accused of using his police car to intentionally drive it within feet of Celdon. Other officers at the scene testified when he slammed on the brakes it covered the suspect in dirt.

Coleman is also accused of shooting Celdon several times using his bean bag gun without justification.

Paul Goyette said, "Chris Coleman will talk about what he did and why he did it. And what was in his mind and all the information he had at the moment he used force on Mr. Celdon."

This trial is unique to many other excessive force cases because the key witnesses for the prosecution are other Fresno police officers. Three other officers who responded told jurors they were shocked at the treatment the suspect received since he was not resisting arrest.

Since Monday is a holiday and Tuesday will be used for motions and hearings, the trial will resume next Wednesday.

Defense attorneys are still discussing their next move and which order the defendants will take the stand.

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