Couple accused of dragging El Cajon officer from SUV while fleeing to stand trial

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A couple accused of seriously injuring an El Cajon police officer while fleeing last year will stand trial on charges that include assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer. (File)

EL CAJON (CNS) – A man and woman accused of seriously injuring an El Cajon police officer, who was dragged about 200 yards down a roadway while clinging to an SUV, were ordered Thursday to stand trial on charges that include assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer.

El Cajon Police Officer Nick Cirello (El Cajon Police Department)

David Pangilinan, 41, and Keani Flores, 28, are accused of trying to flee from police, dragging Officer Nick Cirello down West Washington Avenue in the process, on the morning of Dec. 14. Deputy District Attorney Clayton Carr said the SUV was traveling around 70 mph when Cirello fell from the vehicle, sustaining injuries that included major head trauma, a brain bleed and broken bones.

The 28-year-old officer was hospitalized for nearly a week, he testified Thursday.

The officer initially responded to the scene because the defendants were asleep in the SUV, which was parked in a resident’s driveway, according to preliminary hearing testimony.

Pangilinan, who was allegedly behind the wheel, is accused of speeding away while Cirello was speaking with the defendants. Flores is accused of removing Cirello’s hands from the SUV’s windowsill, causing him to fall from the vehicle.

The SUV, a rented Volkswagen Atlas, was found abandoned elsewhere in the city. According to testimony, the pair ditched the SUV near an El Cajon resident’s home, told the resident their car had broken down and asked him to call a cab for them.

Flores was arrested about a week later in the Madera County city of Oakhurst.

Pangilinan was at large for nearly a month until he was arrested at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles County.

Pangilinan’s attorney, Patrick Kline, argued his client’s conduct didn’t rise to the level of assault as he merely attempted to drive away from Cirello. Kline said Pangilinan did not try to strike or run over the officer with the vehicle, and argued Flores’ alleged decision to peel Cirello’s fingers off the window was a larger contributing factor to his injuries.

Flores’ attorney, Vikas Bajaj, denied his client tried to dislodge Cirello and largely “was a passenger who was literally along for the ride.”

Items used to make counterfeit credit cards were found inside the abandoned SUV, according to testimony. In addition to charges related to Cirello’s injuries, the pair are charged with felonies for allegedly producing fake credit cards and using another person’s identity.

Cirello started his law enforcement career as a police cadet in 2010 and was hired as a police officer in August 2018, according to the El Cajon Police Department.

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