Officer vs. officer testimony rocks the courtroom
Cornelius police officers testify against one of their own in a misdemeanor trial
Jurors handed down a guilty verdict in a fairly routine misdemeanor case in Washington County Circuit Court last Thursday.
But the trial in Judge Donald Letourneaus courtroom was anything but routine, featuring what court-watchers say is unprecedented testimony that could have far-reaching implications for the Cornelius Police Department.
During the trial, Cornelius Police Officer Doug Schuetz and Sgt. Shawn Watts took the stand against one of their fellow officers, Dustin DeHaven, in a move that the defense lawyer hoped would raise doubts about DeHavens credibility and reputation.
After two hours of deliberation, jurors seemed to buy DeHavens version of events anyway, finding 49-year-old Tamera Mayta of Cornelius guilty of interfering with a peace officer in the performance of his duties, a Class C misdemeanor.
Mayta received a sentence of one day in jail with credit for time served and no fines. The consequences for Cornelius police could be more significant.
It was a bad day for the Cornelius Police Department, said Police Chief Ken Summers.
The question of the day was not so much whether Mayta would be declared guilty or not guilty, but whether a jury would consider DeHavens testimony credible after two of his fellow officers questioned his character.
DeHaven was at the center of a Cornelius Police Department dust-up last fall when four colleagues, including Watts and Scheutz, accused him of untruthfulness.
When asked about DeHavens character in Letourneaus courtroom, Schuetz stated bluntly, He lacks credibility.
Watts, who has been a supervisor in the department since 2007, gave similar testimony. Unfortunately, in my opinion, [DeHaven] is not truthful, he said.
The pair, along with Officers Miguel Monico and Mark Jansen, penned a letter to the Cornelius City Council in October 2012 that outlined a series of lies allegedly told by DeHaven and allegedly ignored or covered up by then-Assistant Chief Joe Noffsinger and then-Police Chief Paul Rubenstein.
The feelings expressed in court were not a surprise. They were expressed in the letter last year, said Summers, who because of pending litigation hasnt been able to talk with Schuetz and Watts about whether their opinions about DeHaven changed in the last year.
An investigation by Oregon State Police cleared DeHaven, Rubenstein and Noffsinger of official misconduct. But a cloud of internal tension has remained over the department, and Stacy Du Clos, who represents clients for Metropolitan Public Defender, decided to use the concerns voiced by Watts and Schuetz to try to undermine DeHavens credibility by calling the two officers to the stand.
While the tactic did not get the desired verdict for her client, its possible that Watts and Schuetz will be called into court the next time DeHaven is involved in a contested case.
I dont think this is over yet, Summers said. I think well see this come up for the next few years.
In court last week, DeHaven testified that he was dispatched to a domestic disturbance call at 8:09 a.m. June 3 at 307 S. 12th Ave. in Cornelius. Arriving at the home, he was informed by dispatch that the disturbance had turned from verbal to physical, he said. He could hear male and female voices arguing as he came closer to the house and decided to enter the home without waiting for the backup hed requested.
DeHaven stated that he opened the front door and walked inside and that Tamera Mayta and her 79-year-old mother, Petra Lopez, were in the kitchen. Maytas brother, Leonardo Lopez, was in the living room.
DeHaven said, Tamera was cursing toward Leonardo and said she was going to leave. At that point, DeHaven said, I told everyone to take a seat.
Who took one? asked the prosecutor.
Nobody, said DeHaven.
DeHaven then testified that after issuing repeated instructions to sit down, he slightly grabbed [Maytas] shoulder and she raised her hand up at me. He was, he said, concerned that she was going to hit him, so he grabbed Mayta by her upper arms and directed her toward a chair.
During the ensuing scuffle, DeHaven said, Mayta attempted to kick him and at one point spat upon her brother and mother. Her legs were flailing around and she was trying to free herself, he said.
Those actions resulted in the misdemeanor charge against her.
Noffsinger, now a lieutenant, took the stand to corroborate DeHavens testimony about the situation following Noffsingers arrival as backup.
In her testimony, Mayta insisted that she was merely trying to achieve physical separation between herself and her brother, who she said is a diagnosed schizophrenic. He had become agitated that morning because he believed she had stolen his marijuana, she said.
Asked why she refused to sit in the chair, Mayta replied that DeHaven was trying to get me towards my brother and that she had been afraid of him that day.
To punctuate Leonardo Lopezs mental state, the defense later called the 6-foot-2 man to the stand. Appearing disheveled and incoherent, he was unable to spell his name when asked. He repeated I dont know and I cant now in response to most questions.
Du Clos used the testimonies of Schuetz and Watts to raise doubts about DeHavens version of events.
Officer DeHaven made a bad choice that day, Du Clos said in her closing argument. [Mayta Lopez] knew this was wrong. DeHaven knew it was wrong and that is why he lied to you, she told jurors.
Du Clos also leaned on a choices of evil defense, which provides that an individual may refuse a peace officers order if obeying would put them in serious danger.
Outside the courtroom, Cornelius Police Lt. Bruce Schmid grated against Du Clos strategy, saying DeHaven had been investigated and found to be trustworthy. The department was healing, he said, adding that the trial was an attempt to drive a wedge between officers.
I have no doubt in Officer DeHavens honesty and integrity, Schmid said. Other members of the department, he insisted, have all been getting along and everyone has let the past go.
Summers said other witnesses were prepared to offer an opinion different from Schuetz and Watts, but the district attorney chose not to call them to vouch for DeHavens veracity.
Summers said last weeks trial wont affect DeHavens effectiveness as a patrol officer. Its going to take some time for him to repair his reputation, but I think he can do it.
The bottom line for his department, Summers said, is that Cornelius Police will have to meet the highest standards of quality in their investigations.
We will have to dig harder to prove our cases with corroborating statements and audio and video confessions, he said. No evidence can be overlooked. As in the Mayta case, we must strive to never present a case to the district attorney that hinges on the testimony of only one Officer, but must provide corroborating evidence in almost all instances.
Rather than being a burden to us, this scrutiny should force us to be more thorough investigators than we have ever been.
Reporter Stephanie Haugen contributed to this story.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT