Thursday, November 8, 2012

Prosecuting Attorney says police have obligation to preserve evidence in California DUI arrest resulting in hanging death of suspect - violation of trust for drunk driving cop to destroy digital audio recorder.

A year and a half ago, a Dean Gochenour was arrested for California DUI, lawyers are told.  Gochenour hanged himself in jail that night, say attorneys.

"It's a case involving a death, and in cases like that, police officers have an obligation to preserve evidence," Deputy Dist. Atty. Brock Zimmon maintained.
Prosecuting attorneys claim Fullerton DUI police officer Mater destroyed his digital audio recorder after he heard about the hanging.  All officers on that force are required to activate during all public contacts.   This California Drunk Driving officer crushed the recorder and removed the motherboard and circuit board.
Destruction of the recorder stopped investigators from DA's office from listening to audio regarding Gochenour's interactions with Mater.
Mater only pled guilty to misdemeanor counts of destruction of property and vandalism.  He was sentenced to only 3 years of informal probation and 60 days of community service .
Destruction of evidence in the DUI case potentially relating to an inmate's death was a violation of public trust, prosecuting lawyers argued.
Audio recordings provided a pivotal role in the case against 3 former Fullerton officers who have been charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man, Kelly Thomas.
District attorney's investigators reported there was "no affirmative evidence" Mater knew that Gochenour might harm himself, yet pointed out the California DUID officer's conduct in damaging the recording device "remains of grave concern."
Mater conveyed to investigators that after trying unsuccessfully to download his audio recording of the arrest to the department's computer system, he became frustrated and threw the recorder at a metal door.
He was placed on administrative leave shortly after the incident and resigned in August 2011 after the department initiated disciplinary proceedings.
According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecuting lawyers objected to this lenient California probation sentence and argued that Mater should have gone to jail.