Webb's fear main factor in verdict

It was shaky, dark and blurry.

But what is clear about the videotape of the Elio Carrion shooting is that it wasn't enough to convict the gunman.

Former San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Ivory J. Webb Jr. was acquitted Thursday of all criminal charges against him for the shooting of the off-duty airman after a high-speed chase.

Confusing, deceiving, unclear were all words used by the jurors in San Bernardino to describe the video that many outside the jury box viewed as the crucial piece of evidence.

But if a video showing Webb firing three shots at an unarmed Carrion in Chino isn't enough to convict the ex-deputy, what is?

In officer-involved shootings, it comes down to the fear factor, experts said.

Jurors on Thursday said Webb's fear for his safety was believable. In their explanation, they stressed that Carrion was intoxicated and not complying with orders. Webb was also alone, without any backup, they said.

Grant Fredericks, an expert in forensic video analysis, said that in officer-involved shooting cases, a peace officer could be convicted if it is determined that he had no fear for his safety.

Just a hint of fear would mean the officer was reacting in
self defense, he said.

That's how juror Michael Thompson, 39, of Fontana explained it. Thompson downplayed the role of the amateur video, saying there were other pieces of evidence to show that Webb considered himself in danger after the high-speed chase.

Thompson, a production supervisor for the 7-Up bottling company, said the first time he saw the video was in the courtroom.

"What we saw was different than what somebody watched on television," he said. "We had the opportunity to hear statements made before and after (what happened on the video)."

The role video plays in the courtroom has evolved through the years, said Fredericks, who teaches video analysis to law-enforcement officers.

"In the old days, video was deemed as a silent witness that could speak for itself," Fredericks said. "As video becomes more prolific, it becomes easily misinterpreted. Violent events that occur very quickly, at night, using digital systems that posses errors ... the interpretation is critical."

Fredericks said if the jurors didn't find the video to be a helpful piece of evidence, they likely relied more on witnesses' testimony.

Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope said he had no regrets on how he prosecuted the case.

"I'm not sure if it was retried I would have done very much differently," said Cope after the verdict was read Thursday.

Stacy McGoldrick, a professor of sociology and criminology at Cal Poly Pomona, said there is a prevailing sense that jurors see police officers as credible in the courtroom.

"There's a long history of, at least, the impression that jurors are pro-police," McGoldrick said. "A lot of times, we want the police to be right. Sometimes the jury does give them leeway."

In Webb's case, McGoldrick says the acquittal will likely create some feelings of fear.

"I think people in the community feel - when they get this kind of acquittal - that the police are above the law," McGoldrick said. "It's very sad. It really damages the relationship between the community and the police force."

Staff writer Rod Leveque contributed to this report.

No comments: