Opening statements set in trial of ex-cop accused of blinding woman

RIVERSIDE – Opening statements are scheduled today in the trial of a former Beaumont police officer accused of firing a pepper spray gun so close to a woman’s face that it permanently blinded her.

Enoch Clark, 38, could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted of the disabling assault on 32-year-old Monique Hernandez of Beaumont on Feb. 21, 2012.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher on Wednesday swore in a jury to hear evidence in the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

Clark was indicted in April 2012 for assault resulting in great bodily injury, as well as assault by a peace officer, assault with a non-lethal weapon, unnecessary force causing injury and allegations of using a weapon during a felony and producing great bodily injury in the course of a crime. He’s free on $50,000 bail.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, sheriff’s detectives determined that Clark had fired his JPX pepper gun — which resembles a Star Trek Phaser and ejects propellant at 400 mph — 10 inches from Hernandez’s face in the process of trying to arrest her, damaging both her eyes. The recommended range to fire a JPX device is six to 16 feet from a target.

Prosecutors said the lawman had been trained in the proper use of the weapon.

”There was no justification for using such gross and excessive force,” said Los Angeles-based civil attorney Milton Grimes, who is representing the injured woman and her family in a civil suit filed in federal court. U.S. District Judge Harry Pregerson in Los Angeles is presiding in that case, which is still in discovery.

On the day of the alleged assault, Hernandez had driven her younger sister to pick up the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, who was visiting her biological father, according to court papers.

During the ensuing child custody exchange, Hernandez’s sister and ex- boyfriend got into an argument, resulting in the latter grabbing the woman, at which point Hernandez intervened and scuffled with the man, prompting his mother to call the police.

Hernandez left the location with her sister and the 2-year-old, and when they arrived at her parents’ house a few minutes later, Clark was waiting to question her about what had happened during the child custody exchange, Grimes said.

”For whatever reason, this officer decides to give her a field sobriety test,” he said. ”Then he tries to give her a breathalizer test, but the unit is not working right, so finally he decides to arrest her for being under the influence.”

Prosecutors allege that while in the process of cuffing Hernandez, Clark pulled his pepper spray pistol and fired point-blank into the woman’s face.

She suffered a split cornea in one eye and a severely damaged optical nerve, according to Grimes, adding that the mother of one can make out light but cannot see shapes or anything distinct.

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