Cop’s Surprise Witnesses Unnerve Houston Judge

     HOUSTON (CN) – Sparks flew Tuesday when a federal judge upbraided city attorneys for eleventh-hour maneuvers in the civil trial of a Houston policeman who fatally ran over a theft suspect.
     U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore accused city attorneys defending Houston police officer Jordan Greenhaw against a wrongful-death lawsuit of calling “surprise witnesses” after opposing counsel complained they had not disclosed they were going to call tow-truck driver Daniel Ulloa to the stand Tuesday.
     Ulloa testified that in the early morning hours of July 27, 2011, in northeast Houston he saw a man riding an all-terrain vehicle on a city street with its lights off, while a man on the back of the ATV held a boat and trailer. A homeowner had reported the men stole the boat and trailer from his front yard, several Houston police officers testified Tuesday.
     Ulloa said he saw a Houston police officer try to stop the ATV riders, who chucked the boat and trailer, sped up and turned onto a dirt road.
     Houston police Officer Ricky Rasca testified Tuesday that he was the officer chasing the ATV and that as he did so the passenger, Jason Trevino, who was holding the boat trailer, made obscene gestures at him.
     “The person facing me flipped me off and grabbed his crotch several times,” the baby-faced Rasca said, his silver badge dangling from his neck. Rasca said he decided not to pursue the ATV when its driver turned off onto the dirt road.
     A few hours later, Ulloa said, he saw the same ATV riders going the wrong way on a city street and another Houston policeman try to pull them over, prompting the ATV driver to swerve off the road into a power-line easement that cut through thick woods.
     Between the officers’ first and second sighting of the ATV, Trevino switched places with the driver, his friend Bernard Seetaram, officers testified.
     “They went into the dirt road, the cop went behind them and I followed right behind him,” Ulloa said. “The cop had his lights and sirens on. The suspects kept looking back and giving the finger to the officer.”
     Ulloa, bespectacled, chubby and scowling, testified that he saw one man fall off the ATV and saw the officer stop, exit his cruiser and run to the fallen suspect, Seetaram.
     Trevino wound up trapped under the cruiser with his legs sticking out from under its front bumper. Ulloa said officers enlisted him to lift the car off with his tow truck.
     Greenhaw maintains that Trevino tipped his ATV into the path of Greenhaw’s cruiser. Trevino’s parents and Seetaram claim Greenhaw caused the wreck by bumping the back of the ATV.
     Ulloa, two Houston police officers and a sergeant testified for the city Tuesday that after the cruiser was lifted up, Trevino was pulled out by officers or crawled out. Trevino complained that he could not breathe and kept trying to get up and walk around as a group of police officers who had raced to the scene urged him to sit and calm down.
     Trevino was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where he died a few hours later.
     His parents, Lloyd Trevino and Catherine Cortez, sued Greenhaw on wrongful death and civil rights charges in January 2013.
     The case was removed from Harris County Court to Federal Court. The parents also sued Houston and its police department for municipal liability, claiming they failed to train Greenhaw on how to pursue suspects on dirt roads.
     The city’s attorney Henry Carnaby called expert witness Dr. Paul Sadler, medical director for the Ventura County (Calif.) Department of Corrections, which brought more fireworks from Judge Gilmore.
     Carnaby said that the city had asked Sadler to resolve how Trevino was injured.
     Gilmore’s voice rose: “You asked him to testify just so you could find out if he got run over? All of us already know he got run over. We don’t need an expert for that.”
     The judge dismissed the jury and confronted Carnaby, who defended the city’s move: “The fact dispute is whether the injuries were caused by a rollover, or whether the injuries came from him being run over.”
     Carnaby said that Sadler might add some testimony that is not in his report, but Gilmore, a razor-sharp stickler to the rules of procedure, rebuked him for floating that idea.
     “I’m tired of the City of Houston thinking they can come up with surprise witnesses that they didn’t put on the witness disclosure form, and that they can add testimony that’s not in Sadler’s opinion,” the judge fumed.
     Gilmore ordered silence in the courtroom as she read Sadler’s statement. The cooling fan on a large projector near the bench filled the void.
     The silence did not soothe Gilmore. “This opinion says nothing. It says we can’t conclude how Trevino’s injuries occurred,” she snapped at Carnaby.
     “But he’s rendering an opinion about which was more likely, given his injuries,” Carnaby replied.
     “I’m not going to let him testify about how the accident happened,” Gilmore said.
     Sadler tried to interject and Gilmore shot him down: “Sir, I’m not talking to you. I don’t even know who you are.”
     After the dust settled Gilmore called the jurors back in. The obviously embarrassed Sadler said he reviewed Trevino’s medical records and found that Trevino had died from blood loss caused by a lung contusion.
     “The pulmonary contusion lowered his blood oxygen level to 80 percent and you need 90 percent to live,” Sadler said. “They gave him six units of blood. So they almost filled his body up, but they weren’t able to keep him up because his pulmonary contusion on his right side caused him to leak blood.”
     Sadler said he reviewed Trevino’s toxicology report, which found a trace amount of cocaine and marijuana in his blood.
     Gilmore said she hopes to wrap up the trial on Wednesday, its fourth day, because the jurors were told it would be three days.
     President Bill Clinton appointed Gilmore, a 59-year-old African-American, to the federal bench in 1994. When sworn in by the U.S. Senate that year she was the youngest federal judge in the United States at the time.
     She ordered the city’s counselors to produce on Wednesday the witness list they gave to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

%d bloggers like this: