Posted at: 11/22/2013 2:36 PM
Updated at: 11/23/2013 12:04 AM
A jury found Officer Richard Jouppi not guilty of fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct on Friday evening.
The jury deliberated for nearly three hours considering Jouppi's use of force against an intoxicated man in a wheelchair. Defense attorney Fred Bruno said the jury was faced with a complex decision.
“No jury is going to quickly convict a cop, nor is a jury going to quickly acquit a police officer where the alleged victim is a man in a wheelchair,” Bruno said.
Jouppi declined to comment after the verdict, and he drove away from the Pine County Courthouse with his wife.
The charges against Jouppi were a result of an altercation with Anthony Jackson at a detox facility in Duluth last September.
Jouppi and another officer brought Jackson to detox after being called by San Marco Apartments staff. Staff at the apartments told police Jackson was extremely intoxicated and participated in fights with two other residents that night.
Surveillance video from the facility shows Jackson hit Jouppi near the eye with an open hand. In response Jouppi swings five times at Jackson's head before pulling Jackson out of the wheelchair to handcuff him.
Two experts in police use of force testified on Jouppi's actions during the trial.
Duluth Police Sergeant Robert Shene was a witness for the prosecution on Thursday. Shene trained Jouppi in use of force for the Duluth Police Department.
Shene said the strike from Jackson deserved a response, but many of the factors in the situation remained constant.
“[Jackson] is still a guy in a wheelchair with one eye,” Shene said.
Shene went on to say Jouppi's first three punches were reasonable, but taking Jackson to the floor went too far.
“I don't think the takedown, the dumping over in his wheelchair, was reasonable,” Shene said.
However an expert witness for the defense disagreed with that analysis.
Joshua Lego is a commander with the St. Paul Police Department, and he took the stand for the defense on Friday.
He said the takedown was justified because restrictive people are always brought to the ground as a means of control. Lego also said Jouppi was doing what the law and his job required.
“[Jouppi] would have been derelict in his duty if he didn't respond in that manner,” Lego said.
But in closing arguments prosecuting attorney Shawn Reed argued that Jouppi's swings were unreasonable and any resistance was overcome with the first punch. Reed then asked the jury if a police officer can assault a civilian.
Bruno countered in his final statement for the defense. Bruno said Jackson became a suspect when he punched a police officer, and he emphasized how short the altercation was.
Bruno said the incident was only a two-second sliver of Jouppi's life, and Jackson's condition did not excuse his actions.
“No matter how sympathetic you are, or disabled you are or down on your luck you don't have the right to strike a cop in the eye,” Bruno said.
Bruno said Jouppi returning to duty is dependent on the outcome of a labor dispute with the Duluth Police Department.
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay responded to the verdict on facebook.
“While I respect the judicial process I am very disappointed by the verdict in the Richard Jouppi case. His actions on September 21, 2012 were not consistent with department training or policy, bringing discredit to our department and detracting from the excellent work our women and men do on a daily basis.
As I said previously, we will do everything we can legally to ensure he never works for our department again. “