When Compton jurors recently deliberated the fate of a man charged with possessing a concealed firearm, they thought the evidence was overwhelming — not that the man was guilty but that the Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who testified against him had lied
"These were not minor inconsistencies…. These were outright fabrications," said juror Ted Rhodes, 28, a construction project manager. "It'll be an injustice … if someone isn't held accountable."
For all the breakthroughs in DNA and other forensic evidence, the criminal justice system still depends heavily on the honesty and accuracy of law enforcement officers. In recent years, the age-old defense strategy of attacking the credibility of police has been aided by the proliferation of security surveillance and cellphone cameras, which have given bystanders the ability to record officers' encounters with suspects.
Still, it is rare for jurors to publicly say they believe law enforcement officers lied under oath.
Gipson's attorney, Alla Eksler, said her client declared his innocence and yelled in the courtroom, "Fingerprint the gun!" The revolver was never fingerprinted, Eksler said.
After the hearing, Eksler learned there was a video of the arrest that had been shot by a guest at the party.
The footage did not show Gipson running, tossing a gun or walking back to the deputies to be detained
. Instead, the grainy video showed deputies arriving and walking past Gipson, who was standing against a wall of the house near the rear of the yard. One of the deputies, Raul Ibarra, returned to Gipson and escorted him to the back of the yard.
The arrest report, written by Deputy Curtis Brown, indicated that Brown and the other deputies had seen Gipson with a weapon, using the word "we" to describe their observations of the suspect. During the trial, however, only Belville testified that he had seen Gipson with a gun. Brown and two other deputies at the scene testified that they had not.
"We just thought it was one lie after another," said juror Cynthia Reyes, 29, who is unemployed.
Some jurors criticized the district attorney's office.
"Why … did they go along with this case and waste taxpayer money … and risk imprisoning an innocent person when the evidence was so clear?" asked David Song, 32, a corporate spokesman who served as jury foreman.
District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors pressed ahead with the case after hearing deputies explain their actions while viewing a slowed version of the footage.
"We believe that the video did not contradict the officers' testimony," she said.
Belville, Ibarra and Brown all declined to comment.
Gipson, who spent more than a month in jail, disagreed, describing himself as a victim of police misconduct.
"I never thought an officer would lie," he said.