The jury of seven women and five men cleared French of four counts of assaulting a peace officer and three counts of resisting arrest. Jurors deliberated for about 3½ hours.
“I’m just glad to be free,” said French moments after the verdict was read Monday morning.
Incarcerated for 297 days, French added, “I just want to go home and be with my family.”
Prior to his release, District Court Judge Todd Plewe instructed Montezuma County deputies to remove an ankle monitor.
“Mr. French, you have been acquitted,” said Plewe. “The case is dismissed.”
The defendant’s mother, Patty French, sobbed uncontrollably as the verdict was read.
“I’m just relieved it’s over,” she said after hugging her son.
Although the criminal case was resolved, Patty French indicated the family may opt to file civil action against the Cortez Police Department.
“I hope something is done with these officers,” she said. “I can’t believe they are still on the force after what they did.”
Prosecutors and public defenders both declined to comment after the verdict.
The injury to officer Casey Eubanks was a small, less than a quarter-inch, nick on the left side of his stomach. Eubanks told jurors last week that he never saw the weapon prior to being stabbed, and there was no blood found on the knives in question, a six-inch fillet knife and a smaller paring knife.
“I felt a sharp burning on my left side,” Eubanks testified.
On the witness stand for nearly two hours, the patrol officer said on direct examination that the injury resulted as he grabbed the suspect in a “bear hug,” “picked him up off his feet” and “threw him face down” onto the ground. He added the suspect was screaming and flailing in an attempt to escape the grasp of officers.
Before the start of their deliberations late Friday afternoon, jurors were given 38 instructions, or rules of law, to apply to the evidence in reaching a verdict. Hammered out by the attorneys, the court’s directives included consideration of the evidence only, not sympathy or bias; a distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence; weighing the credibility of witnesses; the elements of each charge; the definition of a peace officer, deadly weapon, bodily injury and crime; the defense theory of the case; an explanation of the state’s Make My Day law; and the elements of self-defense, emergency circumstance and consent.
During their deliberations, jurors were not permitted to posses cell phones or consult a dictionary.
In a 32-minute closing statement that utilized a PowerPoint presentation with photographs, public defender Amy R. Smith said last week that her client was “beaten,” “tortured” and “insulted” by six “amped up” police officers. She said Eubanks’ vulgar remarks, including a statement that he should have shot the defendant, also shows that officers didn’t place any value on the defendant’s life.
“Mr. French is being blamed for it all,” Smith told jurors. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Smith further argued that her client’s actions were justified under Colorado’s Make My Day law – that French had the right to protect himself, his at-risk relatives and his home with deadly force – after the officers’ unlawful and unreasonable response to the 911 call. “He’s not guilty,” said Smith.
Smith also reminded jurors that only two of the six officers involved were called to testify for the prosecution and that both presented conflicting accounts on the stand and included “new details” they failed to document in their initial reports.
“The officers started this altercation,” said Smith. “They didn’t de-escalate the situation.”
In a 29-minute closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Matt Margeson said police responded to a known disturbance as reported via a 911 emergency call, and upon their arrival at the North Texas Street residence the defendant charged the officer and then attacked him with a deadly weapon.
“When is it OK to run at a police officer and stab him?” Margeson posed to jurors. “It’s your decision. The instructions tell you, ‘You make the call.’”
Margeson also said that Eubanks was intentionally met with deadly force as soon as he encountered the defendant, adding it was a “miracle” the officer didn’t suffer more serious injury. Margeson reminded jurors the officer’s radio took the blunt of the blow.
“The defendant never acted reasonably,” said Margeson.
Arrested on Feb. 14, French refused a plea deal offered by prosecutors that would have resulted in a 12-year prison sentence. He also opted not to testify at trial.
On cross-examination, Eubanks said he initially declined to seek medical attention for the “small laceration” on his left “love handle.” He later drove himself to the emergency room after being advised by a superior officer. The wound was treated with a Band-Aid, Eubanks said from the stand with a grin.
Eubanks also said under oath that the suspect didn’t verbally threaten to harm or kill or ever brandish the knives. Eubanks confirmed that officers were the ones who made verbal threats and physically abused the suspect.
Also testifying at trial last week, Cortez police officer Boyd Neagle admitted under oath that he violated the department’s stun gun policy when arresting French.
The city’s stun gun policy, in part, requires officers to announce the use of the stun gun before its deployed, document if the compliance-inducing technology was used without a required warning and include a separate two-page stun gun device form with any arrest or crime report. Neagle admitted that he violated all three conditions.
“I’ve never seen that (device) form,” Neagle testified.
Electrocuting the defendant seven times with a total of 350,000 watts of electricity, Neagle said he gave a verbal warning only once. Records show the defendant was stunned twice within 11 seconds as officers attempted to place him in handcuffs.
“He was not complying,” said Neagle.
Records show that Neagle stunned French five additional times within 2½ minutes after French was in custody while officers patted him down for weapons and contraband.