SAN DIEGO — A man reacted violently and punched a San Diego police officer in the face after the officer and his partner ordered him to stop walking in the middle of the street near a rally in Chicano Park, a prosecutor said Wednesday, but a defense attorney said his client did what he had to do to defend himself against officers he didn’t trust.
Frederick Jefferson, 39, is charged with three counts of resisting an executive officer and one count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Michael Reilly said Jefferson “wanted to play by his own rules” when Officer Matthew Ruggiero and Officer Justin Tennebaum tried to get him to walk on the sidewalk on Logan Avenue the morning of Feb. 3, close to where two rival groups were rallying in the park.
“Get out of the street,” one of the officers said to Jefferson. “C’mon dude, stop! You’re gonna get a ticket, or go to jail!”
The prosecutor said Jefferson reacted suddenly and violently when the officers got out of their patrol car and tried to grab the defendant’s arms and move him out of the street.
“Don’t you put your hands on me,” Jefferson is heard saying on one of the officer’s body-worn cameras.
Reilly said Ruggiero pulled out his police baton but didn’t use it on Jefferson until the defendant started swinging at him.
Ruggiero was hit in the face and suffered serious facial fractures, the prosecutor said.
Jefferson struggled with at least five other officers before being taken to the ground and handcuffed.
Defense attorney Jimmy Rodriguez told the jury that Jefferson was walking in the street so as not to disturb people gathered at a church near the rally.
The attorney asked the jury to determine whether the police were doing their job and whether officers used excessive force against his client.
Rodriguez said Jefferson showed courage by defending himself and taking the case to trial.
Jefferson faces nine years and four months in prison if convicted.