It was Billings, Montana on Christmas Eve 2004, when eight-year veteran of the police department, Officer Greg Jacobs, riding with a partner, was called to a home on a domestic disturbance call; they had been there before. They walked in on a donnybrook situation– two generations, men and women, physical altercations, lots of alcohol, probably meth as well. One of the men, about twenty-years-old, was on the fight, and Jacobs handcuffed him in the residence before taking him outside. The fight was on; the suspect in the handcuffs kicked and assaulted Jacobs and other family members, even kicking his sister in the head more than once. Every time he was successfully subdued, he started again. Jacobs called for back up. He finally managed to move the violent suspect to the rear of the patrol car on the top of the embankment away from the house and controlled him into partial submission there while the other officer worked to try to restore order in the residence; radio between the two officers cut out. Jacobs had muddy footprints all over his uniform coat where the suspect had repeatedly kicked him. Jacobs had no leg irons with him. There were too many people in close proximity to use pepper spray. The suspect was bleeding, but not severely, from the head where he had been injured by another man in the residence before the officers’ arrival.
Billings police vehicles are equipped with videotape machines and microphones. One of Jacobs’ command officers arrived on the scene, facing his vehicle toward Jacobs with the suspect. Although it was necessary continuously to subdue the suspect who continued to fight and squirm against the back of the patrol vehicle, Jacobs directed the command officer to the inside of the house because he didn’t know the status of the other officer. Meanwhile, Jacobs had called medical personnel to examine the suspect to clean the blood off of his face and clear him for transport to the jail. Just as the firefighter/medics arrived to clean the suspect’s face, two officers from the local county sheriff’s office also arrived in response to the back up call. They were standing with Jacobs, who had cleared the scene for safety as the three firefighter/medics arrived. As soon as they were close enough, the suspect aimed a full-force kick at the middle firefighter in the groin area, causing a loud crack to his protective coat as he jumped back. Jacobs, with the two sheriff’s deputies at his side, took the suspect to the ground; he hit the ground, still squirming and kicking. Jacobs delivered three strikes to the face, instructing the suspect to quit kicking people, in front of the command officer’s vehicle camera. As soon as the command officer returned, Jacobs reported that he had struck the suspect. The command officer was not concerned enough to prevent Jacobs from transporting the suspect to the jail, which he did. But he did order, with visible indignation, that the tape was to be kept for review. The investigation was conducted by the acting chief, during a political turmoil within the department, after which it was expected by all that the acting chief would be made the permanent chief.
Many months went by, with requests for review by state officials, and so forth. Finally, with no one else prosecuting, the county attorney’s office hired an experienced trial lawyer who had never previously prosecuted a case. The charges were not brought until the suspect had been shipped from the area by the Army; he was rumored not to remember much about the incident. No charges were ever brought against the suspect. Nonetheless, hired to prosecute it, the attorney brought two felony charges in the alternative against Jacobs and refused to settle without a guilty plea with a qualification to end Jacobs’ law enforcement career; Jacobs declined.
Jacobs made contact with Teresa McCann O’Connor, along the Legal Defense Fund’s contract attorney in Montana, in private practice for nearly fifteen years and a prosecutor for eight years before that with experience in nearly every kind of major felony litigation. She viewed the tape; but, while conceding that it showed an officer hitting a handcuffed suspect in the face three times while he was on the ground, it was her opinion that Jacobs made a strong witness and that the case could be won if it was tried optimally to a well-chosen jury.
There were months of ensuing protracted pre-trial litigation.
Finally, at trial the end of January 2006, O’Connor’s voir dire consisted of inquiry into whether potential jurors had ever been involved in a fight or observed one. O’Connor reserved her opening. Once the prosecution opened, the tape was shown almost immediately; and the city officers testified, largely against Jacobs. Testimony nonetheless was received that Jacobs was a decorated officer who had served as shop steward for his shift in the police union. The command officer on the scene on that Christmas Eve, and who appeared to be a motivating force behind the drive to charge Jacobs criminally, testified against him. On cross, there was inquiry as to whether he had called Jacobs “union boy” at meetings; he first lied and denied that before finally admitting that it was true. An expert, formerly an instructor from the Montana State Law Enforcement Academy, and who had taught Jacobs, took the stand and testified against Jacobs. The Legal Defense Fund provided a very impressive expert to neutralize that testimony. The state also offered medical expert testimony. The defense attorney decided to neutralize that testimony with cross-examination alone. Officers from the other agencies– both the firefighters and the sheriff’s deputies, as well as medical personnel from the detention center where the suspect was transported– all testified in support of Jacobs. Finally, Jacobs testified in his own defense. The case was vigorously argued in closing.
The verdict was returned after two ballots– the first 11-1, and the second the required unanimous verdict for acquittal.
Jacobs and his attorney are both grateful for the support offered by the Legal Defense Fund. The case was tried in three days, but many hours of witness interviews, research into expert backgrounds, legal analysis and briefing were required. In the end, location of and transportation for some key witnesses became an issue, and the Legal Defense Fund never balked. They placed their trust and confidence in O’Connor, never interfered, and supported her decisions completely in every way she requested.
The verdict was a happy one for Officer Jacobs, his family and other law enforcement officers in the region– those neighboring agencies not currently members of the Legal Defense Fund are rumored to be checking into membership at this time!
Article written by/or information provided by tcamos