A judge declared a hung-jury mistrial Tuesday in the case of a former southern California police officer who blinded a woman when he fired a blast of pepper spray into her face.
Prosecutors said 38-year-old Enoch “Jeremy” Clark became “annoyed” when 32-year-old Monique Hernandez resisted his attempts Feb. 21, 2012, to place her in handcuffs.
Clark fired a JPX gunpowder-propelled gun, which discharges chemical irritant at 400 mph, just 10 inches away from the woman’s face while arresting her for misdemeanor driving under the influence, authorities said.
A dashboard camera recording, which has not been made available to the public, shows Hernandez with her hands behind her back, moving around as Clark tries to place her in handcuffs.
The officer repeatedly tells her to stop resisting, but Hernandez insists she’s not resisting and demands to know why she’s being taken into custody.
Clark repeatedly threatens to “JPX” her if she does not stop struggling, and the video shows the officer remove the pepper spray gun from his belt and fire a blast into her face.
The blast of pepper spray gel sliced the woman’s right eyeball in half, fractured her right orbital bone, and severed the optic nerve in her left eye.
“Every single day, she goes to bed at night, dreaming of a time when she used to be able to see,” said Deputy District Attorney Michael Carney. “When Monique Hernandez wakes up, the world is still dark because her sight was violently taken from here. Her eyeballs were literally blown into pieces, and the person who did this was a police officer.”
The woman’s family released cell phone video recorded shortly after the incident that shows Hernandez in excruciating pain as she was taken for treatment.
“I don’t know what he did, mom,” Hernandez tells her mother. “All I know is, I felt something touch my temple, (and) all I seen was little stars.”
The woman has sued Clark and the city of Beaumont in federal court, alleging civil rights violations that led to permanent injury.
Prosecutors characterized Clark’s statements about the confrontation as “bullsh-t,” saying there was no imminent threat to his life or loss of balance that caused him to misfire the pepper spray gun.
“Any option was better than what he did,” Carney said. “He goes from a little bit of effort to inflicting a brutal injury. Yes, she’s mouthy and drunk, but there is no way to justify his response.”
Defense attorney Steve Sanchez said Clark was inadequately trained to use the non-lethal weapon, arguing that the manufacturer’s warnings were confusing.
He pointed to errors in the instruction manual, including a misplaced comma that suggested the JPX could be safely fired from one meter – or three feet – away, instead of 1.5 meters.
Sanchez said Clark’s decision to fire the pepper spray gun was “made in a split second, and you can’t second-guess the officer.”
Jurors began deliberating the case last Wednesday morning, but they have sent signals that they could be unable to reach a verdict.
The panel asked Riverside County Superior Court Judge Mac Fisher before they went home Monday to define legal necessity, and they had previously asked the judge to clarify other matters of law.
Clark faced more than 20 years in prison for assault by a peace officer causing injury, assault with a less lethal weapon, battery causing serious injury, and assault resulting in great bodily injury.
Jurors voted 10-2 for conviction. Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek a retrial.
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