VISTA, Calif. — A pair of San Diego County sheriff’s deputies who were accused of assaulting two handcuffed men during an arrest in Vista last year were acquitted Tuesday of misdemeanor assault charges.
Nicholas Morgan, 27, and Joshua Nahan, 31, could potentially have faced jail time had they been convicted of assault without lawful necessity by an officer involving the May 7, 2018, arrests of Gerardo Martinez Jr., then 24, and his father, Gerardo Martinez Sr., then 50.
Morgan had faced two counts for allegedly assaulting both men, while Nahan was charged with one count for allegedly assaulting the elder Martinez.
The father and son were arrested after the deputies responded to a domestic violence call, in which Martinez Jr’s girlfriend told a dispatcher that he’d punched her and refused to let her out of their apartment.
A 22-second video shot by a bystander appeared to show the deputies shoving Martinez Sr. into a wooden fence while his son was pinned on a concrete sidewalk and repeatedly struck in the head.
Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh told jurors the footage, which garnered widespread public attention, showed the deputies displaying an “unreasonable and unnecessary” amount of force.
The prosecutor said Morgan and another deputy were the first on scene and tackled Martinez Jr. to the ground and punched him. Martinez Sr., who was walking his dog nearby, saw that his son was hurt, approached the deputies, and was pushed away, according to the prosecutor. Martinez Sr. then began walking away, but Morgan took him to the ground and threw him into some bushes, Trinh said.
The prosecutor said the deputies ordered both men, who were each laying face-down, to put their arms behind their backs. However, neither man was able to do so, Trinh argued, because the deputies were on top of them, pinning their arms beneath their bodies. The prosecutor said that despite their inability to follow those commands, Morgan struck each man using his fists and knees. Martinez Jr. was also Tased for not following the commands, Trinh said.
At some point, Nahan and several other deputies arrived.
The widely circulated video recorded by the neighbor caught the moments that occurred next, in which Trinh argued there was no justification for Nahan shoving Martinez Sr. into the fence or Morgan delivering multiple “palm strikes” to the back of Martinez Jr.’s head.
Defense attorney Michael Begovich told the jury that the deputies were involved in a “chaotic, dangerous situation with two subjects actively resisting.”
Begovich played a series of clips from the 911 call Martinez’s girlfriend made, in which he can be overheard saying several times that he was “not going to jail over this.”
“Had (Martinez Jr.) cooperated with law enforcement, had he followed the commands, we wouldn’t be here today, folks,” Begovich said in his opening statement. “This was the man who moments earlier beat a woman, earned a felony conviction for it and said `I’m not going to jail.”‘
The attorney alleged that both men resisted deputies trying to subdue them, prompting the lawmen to do what was necessary to keep the situation from escalating.
“An ongoing domestic violence call with escalating violence is the most serious call that law enforcement responds to,” Begovich said. “That’s where people get hurt. That’s where people die.”
Begovich said that after being handcuffed, Martinez Sr. moved away from the two deputies who were escorting him, causing one of them to lose his grip, and leading Nahan to shove him into the fence.
The attorney said law enforcement training dictates that when” taking a subject who is combative and resisting like that, you turn and put them into a hard object, which can be a wall, which can be a fence.”
Begovich said Martinez Jr. tensed and tried to get up when he heard his father impact the fence. Begovich called the strikes Morgan gave to Martinez Jr. “open hand distraction blows,” which he said is a reasonable use of force designed to control a resisting subject.
Last May, the District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Martinez Sr. before he could be arraigned, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A resisting-arrest charge was dismissed against Martinez Jr., who pleaded guilty last July to a domestic violence-related charge and was sentenced to four years of probation.