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Complete coverage of the Diego Mata-Gonzales/Miguel Monico trial

Miguel Monico sat in court all last week during the federal court case.The News-Times followed a federal trial in which the city of Cornelius and one of its police officers, Miguel Monico, were accused of violating the civil rights of Diego Mata-Gonzalez. Mata-Gonzalez was arrested on drug-related charges in 2010 after Monico (Cornelius's only Spanish-speaking patrol officer at the time) found two bags of white powder in Mata-Gonzalez's home and reported that Mata-Gonzalez (who spoke only Spanish) told him the powder was cocaine. Mata-Gonzalez has maintained consistently that the powder was made from crushed egg shells and that he told this to Monico. The trial began Tuesday, Sept. 2, and ran through Friday, Sept. 5, with a verdict Monday, Sept. 8. The jury unanimously agreed that Monico and the city of Cornelius did not maliciously prosecute Mata-Gonzalez, but that Monico did falsify evidence. They awarded Mata-Gonzalez the full $5,000 cost of his criminal defense, but only $25,000 of the $1 million he'd requested to compensate for pain and suffering. Unanimous verdicts were required for each claim.

For more details on the verdict, visit www.pamplinmedia.com/fgnt/36-news/232874-97284-jury-cornelius-officer-untruthful-but-not-malicious.

Tuesday, Sept. 2

Three attorneys offered opening statements Tuesday, Sept. 2, in a federal case brought by Diego Mata-Gonzalez of Cornelius against the city of Cornelius and against Miguel Monico, now a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy serving Cornelius.

In a case where the two central figures were Latino men, the seven-member jury chosen by the attorneys includes four women, three men and no Latinos.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Mosman presided over the case, in which Monico and the city of Cornelius were accused of violating Mata-Gonzalez’ constitutional rights.

According to John Devlin, one of Mata-Gonzalez’ attorneys, Cornelius police were conducting a proper search at the Mata-Gonzalez home in February 2010 — sparked by a shooting incident involving Mata-Gonzalez’ son — when Monico seized two paper cups with white powder in them. Mata-Gonzalez contended he explained the powder was cascarilla, made from eggshells, and was used by his wife when bathing.

But Monico wrote in his police report that Mata-Gonzalez told him the substance was his and was cocaine.

As a result of that report, Mata-Gonzalez was arrested and his two youngest children were removed from the home for three months, Devlin said, until state tests showed the powder was harmless.

Devlin described Mata-Gonzalez as a husband, father and hard-working man who came legally to the U.S. from Mexico and became a citizen a few years ago. He has worked at the same manufacturing facility in Forest Grove for 20 years, Devlin said, adding he is “completely innocent” in this case.

“A police officer must tell the truth,” Devlin said. “If a police officer does not tell the truth, then that officer and his department are responsible for the harm caused.”

Monico’s attorney, Bob Wagner, said Monico’s parents were both born in Mexico and are Spanish speakers — and that Monico was raised in Southern California, where he learned how to recognize the drug culture among Latinos.

He said Monico did a field test on the white powder when he first seized it and the result was a presumptive-positive, meaning it was likely a controlled substance. Later, Monico repeated the test, Wagner said, and got another presumptive-positive result.

Wagner also claimed Mata-Gonzalez told Monico the substance was cocaine.

Steve Kraemer, the attorney for the city of Cornelius, said the evidence would show the system works because even though the two tests conducted by Monico showed presumptive-positive results, the powder still went to the state crime lab for a third test and was ultimately found to be harmless.

First up for questioning by Plaintiff’s Attorney Michelle Burrows was Washington County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lumen, who testified by video that Monico had suggested charging Mata-Gonzalez with crimes related to possessing and selling cocaine, and endangering the welfare of a minor. Based on Monico’s report — and his claim that Mata-Gonzalez had “confessed” to possessing cocaine — Lumen moved forward with only the two drug-related charges.

In addition, Monico was the only witness presented to the grand jury that approved the drug charges, Lumen said.

In a video deposition, Mata-Gonzalez’ defense attorney, Paul M. Ferder, said Lumen offered to drop the delivery charge if Mata-Gonzalez pleaded guilty to possession. Ferder said he told Lumen he’d consider that if the powder was sent to the state crime lab and tested positive.

Ferder said Mata-Gonzalez insisted all along that the substance was ground egg shells and didn’t know Ferder was considering a plea bargain for him.

When questioned as to why he didn’t send the powder to the state crime lab for testing himself, Ferder said, “If there is urgency involved, the DA’s office can send it faster … and get it expedited.”

In addition, Ferder said his client told him police officers took only one of the two bags found and he brought the second bag to Ferder, who told the court “it was obvious that it was not meth or cocaine. It was not fine enough to be that.”

Several Department of Human Services (DHS) workers testified that they had recommended investigating the Mata-Gonzalez home and removing Mata-Gonzalez’ children due to Monico’s report. Former DHS employee Laurie Wuthrich said Monico told her they had probable cause to arrest Mata-Gonzalez on cocaine charges.

Wuthrich said she visited the home, where Mata-Gonzalez’ wife, Lilia Lopez-Guzman, answered the door and behaved appropriately, inviting in Wuthrich and a co-worker, until she noticed the accompanying police officers — including Monico — at which point she tried to slam the door.

When Lopez-Guzman refused to discuss possible safety plans for the children that may have included moving them in with relatives, Wuthrich decided to take the children into state custody.

At that point in the testimony, Mata-Gonzalez asked for a recess and left the courtroom with tissues held to his nose. One of Mata-Gonzalez’ attorneys, John Devlin, said his client is prone to panic attacks, which are often accompanied by nose bleeds.

Mata-Gonzalez was not permitted to see his children for nearly three months, until charges against him were dropped when the state lab tested the powder and found it harmless.

The plaintiff is seeking $5,000 in actual damages and $1 million dollars in damages for emotional and physical distress.

Wednesday, Sept. 3

Former Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein took the stand Wednesday morning and stated that he no longer believes what Monico says.

Rubenstein acknowledged he was put on administrative leave – and retired some months later — after Monico and three other police officers wrote a letter to the Cornelius mayor and city council accusing Rubenstein of illegal conduct, racial discrimination and corruption.

But Rubenstein pointed out that a state investigation cleared him of any criminal conduct.

Former Cornelius Police Lt. Joe Noffsinger — now a Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy — was slated to testify for the plaintiff but had indicated at the last minute that he planned to recant previous statements about not trusting Monico and would instead testify that he had no opinion on Monico’s character.

In the end, Noffsinger did not testify, but U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman accepted as evidence a document recording an exchange in which an internal-affairs investigator asks Noffsinger if he finds Monico to be credible.

“You know what? I don’t trust Miguel Monico for a second,” Noffsinger replies.

Later Wednesday, character witnesses for Diego Mata-Gonzalez all described him as a happy man who loved to sing. His supervisor at Woodfold Marco in Forest Grove said Mata-Gonzalez was always on time and always willing to work late if needed and also kept a guitar at work to play during the lunch hour with co-workers.

One of his sons described him as singing each morning before work and taking him to soccer practice.

Each character witness noted that since the arrest, Mata-Gonzalez has been somber, not caring to go out and fearful of the police, who follow him constantly according to his brother-in-law, who also testified. Most noted his loss of weight and sudden aging.

As Mata-Gonzaelz’ son described him, the boy pushed his glasses up and wiped tears. His father sobbed silently into tissues.

Luz Pamela Vega, stepdaughter of Mata-Gonzalez, testified it was she who took care of her siblings after the Department of Human Services removed them. She described the classes she had to attend in order to serve as their caregiver. She explained that she bought and now lives in the Mata-Gonzaelz home because the financial strain was causing her parents to fall behind in their payments.

Leila Lopez-Guzman, Mata-Gonzalez’ wife, also took the stand and described (in Spanish with interpretation) how officers searched her purse and car without her permission. She also related a conversation with her husband regarding the white powder:

“I asked my husband, ‘So you told them that this is polvo de cascarilla,’ [cascarilla powder.] He told them this is what it is, but the officer said that is not what it is, it is drugs. He said, ‘Because of this I could get deported.’

“I said, ‘That is not possible,’ because I knew it was not drugs. It was polvo de cascarilla. He wanted me to look for an attorney right then and there but I didn’t do it because I knew there was no problem.”

Judge Mosman asked what cascarilla powder is and Lopez-Guzman explained it is a powder like soap. It is sold in small paper cups, but she puts it in a plastic bag because when it spills it makes a big mess.

To highlight their financial stresses, Lopez-Guzman related that prior to the arrest, she was working two jobs, but lost one after police confiscated paperwork, during the search, that showed she was a legal immigrant. She said she has since become a citizen so she won’t have to worry about being deported.

“If I had lost my papers, been deported, nobody would ever know what I have lived through and what has happened.”

Mata-Gonzalez then took the stand. With the aid of an interpreter, he corroborated his wife’s version of events and said that following the initial search involving numerous law enforcement officers, Monico returned to the home with one other Cornelius officer, Dustin DeHaven, claiming to have left a notebook behind. Monico went into the living room with Mata-Gonzalez, while DeHaven went into the bedroom and then left the house, according to Mata-Gonzalez.

When they were alone, Mata-Gonzalez said, Monico told him he’d found cocaine and “that he had the authority to report me for what I had done.” Mata-Gonzalez insists he told Monico the powder was cascarilla, but Monico “told me it was cocaine, that he had already tested it.” Some marijuana was found with the white powder, which Mata-Gonzalez and his wife said they’d taken from the pants pockets of their oldest son, Diego Jr., whom they described as a difficult child they’d struggled to control.

When asked if the officers ever found the notebook they’d claimed to have forgotten, Mata-Gonzalez said no and blurted out, “That was a lie on their part.”

At the end of the day, Monico took the stand and agreed that prior to the search, he had no information that the plaintiff was involved in any criminal activity. The search was conducted, he said, because Mata-Gonzalez’ son, Diego Jr., was a suspect in a shooting.

Plaintiff’s Attorney John Devlin showed Monico pages from his duty notebook and pointed out that those notes contain nothing about a statement of guilt by Mata-Gonzalez. The supplemental report mentioning that alleged confession was written a week after the search. “You didn’t have him prepare and sign a written confession?” asked Devlin.

“No, sir,” said Monico, who also said he translated Mata-Gonzalez’ statements — including the alleged confession — for DeHaven, who does not speak Spanish.

Devlin provided a photocopy of instructions allegedly for the drug-testing kit Monico had used to test the white powder while still at the Mata-Gonzalez home. Monico said he didn’t recognize the instructions. According to the instructions, “A positive result is generated by blue or pink with blue speckles after breaking the first ampoule; a pink result after breaking the second ampoule and a pink layer over a blue layer after breaking the third ampoule.”

Monico had no photos of the results from that first test, although he said he had a camera with him at the home and doesn’t know why he didn’t take photos.

He did take photos of a second test of the powder, performed later at the Cornelius police station, but none of the photos matched the three-part results described in the instructions.

After the third ampoule, for example, Monico’s photo shows the layers were inverted from the necessary results for a positive cocaine reading.

Devlin also pointed out that most of the photographs of alleged drug paraphernalia included in the supplemental report were not of Mata-Gonzalez’ bedroom, but the bedroom of his oldest son, Diego, Jr.

Monico acknowledged there were no scales or baggies (common drug paraphernalia) in the Mata-Gonzalez home, other than the two containing the white powder. He also said the decision to charge Mata-Gonzalez came only after he and his supervisor realized they did not have enough evidence to charge Diego, Jr.

Yet Monico acknowledged he told Department of Human Services representatives there was enough evidence to charge Diego Jr. with attempted homicide and his father with possession and trafficking of cocaine, and that rival gang members might target one of Mata-Gonzalez’ other sons for revenge. He acknowledged he wanted his report sent to DHS and expected DHS to believe and act on it.

Thursday, Sept. 4

The first witness called by Robert Wagner, defense attorney for Miguel Monico, was Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Schmid, who supervised Monico while serving as a sergeant in the Cornelius Police Department before it merged with the sheriff’s office July 1.

Schmid explained that during the first search of the Mata-Gonzalez home there were no drug arrests because the attempted murder case “overruled the little felony crime of the possession.”

Mata-Gonzalez’ attorney, John Devlin, later questioned Schmid about his seemingly dismissive reference to the “’little’ felony crime” with which his client was charged.

Schmid replied, “Compared to the heinous attempted murder and terrorizing the community—”

“Are you aware his children were taken away for three months?”

“Yes.”

Schmid also insisted there was only one camera on site during the initial search and said the photographer was very busy throughout the house, which is why there was no photographic evidence of the drug test Monico performed at the site.

He seemed unaware that Monico had testified he, too, had a camera.

After the state crime lab pronounced the white powder harmless, Devlin asked, why didn’t Schmid investigate Monico for claiming that Mata-Gonzalez “confessed” to possessing cocaine when there was no cocaine.

“Investigate what?” responded Schmid, who insisted he still believes Monico’s account of the alleged confession.

Devlin also noted that the original list of evidence — referring simply to a “white powder” — was not included in the complete report on the home search. Instead, the report included a second, more detailed list, which specifically mentioned “cocaine.”

“In fact, Deputy Schmid, prior to today,” Devlin asked, “hadn’t you previously criticized Officer Monico, in writing, about submitting an evidence receipt that had more depth than the original?”

“That is correct,” Schmid responded.

Rebecca Venable, a Hillsboro Police Detective who helped with the search of Mata-Gonzalez’ home and originally found the white powder, testified that the collection of red shoes and clothing in Diego Jr.’s room, as well as a red wall and red shelves, could be indicative of gang involvement, relevant because gang culture and drug culture are often related.

She also stated the shrine to Santa Muerte found in the parents’ bedroom could indicate a drug and gang presence, although not everyone who has a shrine to Santa Muerte is involved in illegal activity.

Other officers testified the saint is known as the “patron saint of gang culture.”

Washington County Deputy Chris Bowman, who was with Venable during the search, agreed that the Santa Muerte shrine could be important, especially in light of the total picture. “By itself, it is not that important, but coupled with drugs and the color red, yes,” he said.

Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Jansen — formerly a Cornelius police officer — testified that over the years he had seen drugs in many different containers, including tin foil, syringes and film canisters. However, “I have never seized drugs in those kinds of paper cups before,” he said, describing the cups as the type in which you might put candy or pills.

Jansen said he was present and processing evidence from the search of the Mata-Gonzalez home when Monico tested the white powder a second time, at the Cornelius police station. He said he saw pink and blue colors, which he knew were the correct colors for a presumptive-positive result, although he didn’t know whether they correctly matched the color positioning and order as described in the instructions for the three-part test.

When Jansen testified he had never seen the drug-test instructions Devlin presented in court, Devlin noted Jansen's previous comment that “before doing one of these tests you should read the instructions."

Devlin appeared frustrated by his inability to enter the instructions into evidence, as no officer would verify having seen them before.

Jansen acknowledged that Mata-Gonzalez and his wife had contacted the Cornelius Police Department several times for help with Diego Jr., whom they described as stubborn, disrespectful and involved in gang activity.

In one instance, when Diego Jr. had taken the family car without permission, Mata-Gonzalez had signed that he would testify against his son.

Monico’s attorney, Robert Wagner, had initially indicated he would call Monico to the stand for questioning but ultimately chose not to. He also did not call any character witnesses on Monico’s behalf to testify that Monico was a credible, truthful person.

Friday, Sept. 5, morning

In his closing statement, John Devlin, the attorney for Diego Mata-Gonzalez, presented the seven-member federal jury with the central, mystifying question of his client’s lawsuit:

“Why would someone confess to having cocaine that is not cocaine? Why would a hardworking man with a good job and a family to support confess to possessing cocaine that was not cocaine?”

The answer, according to Devlin, is that he wouldn’t — and didn’t.

Instead, Devlin said, Cornelius Police Officer Miguel Monico lied on his report when he stated Mata-Gonzalez had admitted the white powder in his dresser drawer was cocaine and that it belonged to him. Devlin also claimed Monico lied about returning to the home to look for his lost notebook, using that as a ruse to regain access to the home — and to the white powder.

In addition, Devlin suggested the first drug test Monico claims to have done on the white powder while still at the Mata-Gonzalez home never happened. He noted that it wasn’t mentioned in any of the notes and was not listed on the evidence form that day. Nor was the person who collected the evidence and who would have witnessed the test called or questioned by Monico’s attorney.

Devlin reminded the jury to consider all evidence — including evidence they did not receive. Monico’s attorney, for example, had insisted they would hear from Monico and he would look them in the eye and tell them he did not go out of his way to cause harm to Mata-Gonzalez, but he had not testified as promised, Devlin said.

Monico had a chance to say he had made mistakes but was trying his best, but he did not, said Devlin, noting that “Officer Monico’s report is not under oath. He cannot be perjured on it. If he takes the witness stand and he walks you through the report, he would be under oath.”

No witnesses testified about Monico being an honest, truthful person. And no witnesses refuted Mata-Gonzalez’ claim that he told Monico the white powder was cascarilla, not cocaine.

Devlin told the jury that most of the possibly gang-related photos they’d seen during the trial had nothing to do with Diego Mata-Gonzalez, but rather with his son, Diego Jr., whom Mata-Gonzaelz and his wife have been struggling to control.

This case is about the problem with seeing a whole community of people as “they,” Devlin said. The word kept coming up during police testimony: “‘They’ like the color red. ‘They’ worship Santa Muerte. ‘They’ are in gangs, the Hispanic culture.’

“The clearest moment was when Sgt. (Brian) Schmid said he needed to protect the community and he was not concerned about Diego Mata-Gonzalez — a member of the community that he is supposed to be protecting.

“Diego Mata-Gonzalez is not ‘they.’ He is a man. He is a man with rights protected by our constitution,” said Devlin, who went on to talk about how the family had suffered and how upset they were recounting the events on the witness stand. A few members of the jury began to wipe tears away.

Then he held up a picture of Mata-Gonzalez that had been taken by Monico in the police station. In it, Mata-Gonzalez’ hands are handcuffed behind his back and his expression is shocked, with downcast eyes.

“I thought a lot about what must have been going through his head,” Devlin said. “He is sitting in custody, his children have been taken away from him and Monico wants to add one more indignity: grabbing a camera and taking a picture.”

Monico’s attorney, Robert Wagner, suggested the assertion that Monico made up Mata-Gonzalez’ alleged confession didn’t make sense. If police wanted to frame someone, Wagner said, they have cocaine in their custody that they could put into the evidence and send to the crime lab to be certain of a positive result.

Wagner also argued that in this case it was fair for the “sins of the son” to be attributed to the father. “When the father allows the son to live in his home,” he said, and “a significant part of the home is cloaked in Norteno gang colors and paraphernalia, yeah, some of the sins of the son can be attributed to the father.”

Wagner also noted that Mata-Gonzalez’ defense attorney attorney, Paul Ferder, said his client told him the white powder was crushed eggshells from a science report one of his sons did at school. “So when did it become cascarilla?” he said.

The allegations of officers lying were “nonsense,” Wagner said. “It’s the kind of allegations and charges, the kind of lawyer accusations, that you hear in cases like this.”

City of Cornelius attorney Steve Kraemer said if Monico were going to make something up about the white powder, he could have said it belonged to Diego Jr. Police were “looking and searching and waiting to arrest Diego Jr. for a gun fight that took place in broad daylight in the middle of Cornelius. People are getting out of vehicles and shooting the town up practically.”

Kraemer said he and Wagner “speak with one voice. When you get to the ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ the answer is ‘no’ on this verdict.”

In rebuttal, Devlin stated that cascarilla is made of eggshells, and if Mata-Gonzalez’ defense attorney — who admitted to being somewhat uncertain

— misspoke and said it was from a science project, that does not negate the fact that Mata-Gonzalez had always told everyone exactly what the substance was.

Devlin also expressed shock at defense statements that he paraphrased as: “Should the sins of the son be visited on the father? Yes! Are we engaging in guilt by association? Yes!”

Monico, the city of Cornelius and their attorneys have learned nothing from this incident, Devlin said. “They don’t think they did anything wrong and they have no intention to apologize to Mr. Mata-Gonzalez.”

Devlin speculated that Monico added the “drug delivery” charge so Mata-Gonzalez would plead guilty to the lesser “possession” charge and no one would look at the file again.

“Officer Monico knew he wouldn’t get in any trouble. He knew he wouldn’t be held accountable. That is exactly what happened until Diego Mata-Gonzalez filed this lawsuit. If the DA had accepted his plea offer, his file would have gone on the shelf and no one would have asked any questions,” Devlin said.

“Officer Monico knew if all else failed, he and his fellow officers could come into court, and based on their training and experience, tell you to ignore what you can see with your own eyes.

“They think it’s okay. You have to tell them it’s not okay.”

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