RIVERSIDE – A Riverside jury began its third day of deliberations on May 16 in the trial of a former Beaumont policeman who blinded a woman when he fired a pepper-spray gun inches away from her face.
Enoch “Jeremy” Clark, 38, faces more than 20 years behind bars if convicted of assault by a peace officer causing injury, assault with a less lethal weapon, battery causing serious injury and assault resulting in great bodily injury.
Jurors began weighing evidence in the case Wednesday May 14. Since then, the panel has sent two notes to Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher seeking clarification on matters of law, without indicating which way it may be leaning.
Clark fired a pepper spray pistol at point-blank range into the eyes of 32-year-old Monique Hernandez on the night of Feb. 21, 2012.
Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney told jurors in his closing argument that instead of behaving like a professional law enforcement officer, Clark got “annoyed” with Hernandez as she resisted his attempts to handcuff her.
“And look at what happened,” Carney said. “Monique Hernandez will never see again.”
The prosecutor condemned Clark for firing a JPX pepper spray gun, which discharges propellant at 400 mph, 10 inches from Hernandez’s face while arresting her for misdemeanor DUI. The prosecutor characterized all of the defendant’s statements to investigators regarding the confrontation as “bull—-.”
“There was no imminent threat to his life. He wasn’t slipping off balance when he pulled that trigger,” the prosecutor said. “Any option was better than what he did. He goes from a little bit of effort to inflicting a brutal injury.”
“She has her hands behind her back. Yes, she’s mouthy and drunk, but there is no way to justify his response,” Carney said.
Defense attorney Steve Sanchez faulted his client’s superiors, inadequate training on the weapon, unclear instructions on how to use it and other factors for what transpired.
Sanchez said the JPX manufacturer’s warnings on the minimum safe distance to fire the pepper pistol were confusing. He pointed to errors in the instruction manual, including a misplaced comma that suggested the weapon could be fired from one meter – three feet – away, instead of the 1.5 meters actually required.
The attorney said that because the Beaumont Police Department was “too cheap” to purchase practice cartridges, officers were deployed with the JPX devices without ever having had an opportunity to fire them.
Sanchez said his client’s decision to fire the pepper spray gun was “made in a split second, and you can’t second-guess the officer.”
A dash-cam videotape taken from Clark’s patrol car on the night of the confrontation showed an intoxicated Hernandez with her hands behind her back, jostling as Clark attempts to handcuff her.
The lawman repeatedly tells the woman to “stop resisting” and “get your hands behind your back,” while Hernandez answers, “I’m not resisting” and demands to know why she’s being taken into custody.
The grainy black-and-white video clip runs two to three minutes, at the end of which Clark reaches toward his duty belt and unholsters a device, firing it into Hernandez’s face.
Clark and the city of Beaumont are being sued in federal court for alleged civil rights violations leading to permanent injury. Los Angeles attorney Milton Grimes is representing Hernandez.
Clark is free on $50,000 bail.