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Surprise witness talks in FPD excessive force case

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A surprise witness took the stand in the case against four current and former Fresno police officers accused of excessive force and obstructing justice. She gave details defense attorneys say are significant.

Veronica Rivera was involved in a relationship with the suspect. She was the one who called 9-1-1 in 2005 to report Rolando Celdon was breaking into her apartment.

Tuesday morning, she told jurors he understood and even spoke some English. Prosecutors have alleged the domestic violence suspect did not understand commands given by officers in English- during his now controversial arrest.

Rivera was frail and just released from the hospital Tuesday when she showed up to federal court to testify for the defense. She told jurors she was Rolando Celdon's girlfriend in October of 2005.

When asked if he spoke English Rivera said, "He understands it and he talked a little bit of English."

Marshall Hodgkins said, "She's been around for 7 years, she's been local for 7 years, the fact of the matter is the U.S. attorney because it didn't fit in with their case, didn't want to interview her."

Prosecutors objected to Rivera testifying and told the judge they received no warning she would be called, even though her name was on the witness list.

The judge only allowed Rivera to give details about Celdon's knowledge of English since it was relevant to the case.

"Whether or not he spoke English has to do with whether or not he understood the commands," Hodgkins said. "Whether or not he spoke English has to do with whether or not he said he has been taking some type of drugs."

Celdon was deported to Mexico and has been unable to be located to testify.

Sergeant Mike Manfredi, Sean Plymale, Paul Van Dalen and Chris Coleman are all facing different charges related to the arrest of Celdon. But, the charge all four are accused of is obstructing justice by falsifying police reports.

Prosecutors have shown evidence during the three week trial that the defendants changed their accounts drastically from the time they wrote their initial draft until they authored their final report. Initial drafts said the suspect was attempting to hit the police dog with a beer bottle and stick. But, those accounts were taken out of the later reports.

Tuesday afternoon, a supervisor at the district attorney's office testified. Lisa Sondergaard told the court she gets draft reports often. She also said, "I've never seen the content of the crime change from a draft report to a final report."

Wednesday, there will be some final evidence and then jury instructions. Closing arguments are expected to follow and then the jury will begin deliberating.

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