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Jury: police officer did not use excessive force in violent traffic stop

SHARE Jury: police officer did not use excessive force in violent traffic stop

SALT LAKE CITY — In the video, the police officer throws Cesar Medina to the ground moments after pulling up behind the man's vehicle.

What precipitated the incident was the subject of a federal trial, which ended Thursday with a jury verdict that West Valley police officer Jared Cardon did not use excessive force — and that Medina should receive nothing in punitive damages.

The way Cardon tells it, the routine traffic stop had turned into a volatile situation with a non-compliant driver.

"I felt there were many things outside my control at that point," he testified. "I felt they were escalating."

So Cardon said he turned to physical force, eventually throwing Medina to the ground, handcuffing him and citing him for speeding, running a stop sign and disorderly conduct.

But Medina said he was just driving to his girlfriend's house on July 18, 2009 — as he had countless days before — for a day of birthday festivities. He saw the officer following him, but didn't know why. He understood even less when the officer parked behind him and approached.

"I remember thinking something had gone wrong," he said. "Something had happened, so I just go with it. The officer turns me around and pushes me against the truck and I let him do that. I remember thinking, 'This is a misunderstanding.'"

Medina sued Cardon in federal court, alleging that the officer used excessive force and violated his constitutionally afforded protection against unreasonable search and seizure during that July 18, 2009 stop. Both men took the stand Wednesday — the second-day of a three-day jury trial.

Medina testified that he saw the officer following him a few blocks before he arrived at his girlfriend's house and was especially aware of his driving. He didn't want anything to ruin his birthday.

"I was constantly checking my speedometer and all my mirrors, so I was very careful driving down that road," he said. "I wasn't nervous, I just didn't want anything to happen that day."

Cardon said he saw Medina roll through a stop sign and initiated his traffic lights. He said he followed Medina until the man parked his car, but the man failed to comply with his repeated requests to stay in the vehicle.

"From the perspective I had, (Medina) never made any attempt to comply with that last command or any command I made," he testified. "What I saw was an upset young man who was non-compliant with verbal commands."

Cardon said he made the decision to "bring him down" in an effort to handcuff the man.

Medina said he didn't realize the officer had parked behind him until he exited his truck. He said he heard a commotion and heard indiscernible screaming coming from the officer's patrol vehicle, which was further muddled by music the officer was playing. He said he only understood what the officer was saying when he was a few feet away.

"Everything was too fast. I was in shock still from what was happening," he testified.

Medina said he constantly argued with the officer's assertion that he had run a red light and signed the citation because he didn't want his girlfriend and her family to see him in handcuffs. He said he later pleaded guilty to the speeding charge, simply because he didn't have the money to fight the charge in court.

Though he was scraped and bruised, he was not severely injured, though the incident aggravated a pre-existing pain in one knee. He testified he spent almost $3,000 paying for medical treatment and an attorney within days of the incident, but said he did not lose any potential earnings, as he was unemployed at the time.

"So, it's your testimony that the officer walked to the truck and threw you to the ground for no reason?" Cardon's attorney, Heather White, asked Medina.

"That's what happened," Medina replied.

When Cardon switched on his police lights, it should have triggered a recording on his dash cam video. Cardon said that a full video would show Medina walking away from the vehicle despite Cardon's warnings to stop and return to the vehicle.

Yet the video starts with Medina standing at the door of his parked vehicle and shows Cardon struggling with the man before throwing him to the ground. Cardon's explanation was that the VHS recording system sometimes has a delay before it starts recording.

The jury took just over five hours to make its decision, White said.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam