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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Venue Change Sought in SDPD Shooting Trial

SAN DIEGO (CN) - The family of a mentally ill man shot and killed by a San Diego police officer asked a federal judge Tuesday to move the trial, citing fears of a jury pool influenced by the district attorney's press conferences.

U.S. District Judge William Hayes heard from Nehad family attorney Skip Miller as to why the trial should be moved to the Central District of California or another district in the state. The family asserts there is both presumed and actual prejudice from publicity surrounding the case.

The family claims San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis embarked on a media campaign when she held two press conferences regarding the shooting of Fridoon Nehad in April 2015. Dumanis was publicly criticized when she released edited surveillance video of the shooting at a press conference two days before a protective order - which a handful of San Diego media outlets sued to be made available - was lifted by Hayes.

Miller told Hayes he has never brought a motion to change a venue before but that Dumanis' press conferences were over the top and included evidence that would be considered inadmissible in court, including Nehad's history of mental illness and his past encounters with other police officers.

The family asserted that the trial will determine only what was going through Officer Neal Browder's mind when he shot and killed Nehad, contrary to information released by Dumanis to justify the shooting.

Hayes made multiple interjections during Miller's address to note that not all San Diegans take to heart or believe what Dumanis and other elected officials say.

"Isn't it fair to say some accept what elected officials tell them and some do not?" Hayes asked. "Some take what they say with a great deal of skepticism."

Only do extreme situations rely on presumed prejudice - usually in criminal cases "that inflame the passions of the community," Hayes said.

Miller reiterated it is not the city that has campaigned against Nehad, but four-time elected Dumanis. He even suggested she is "completely out of control and has an agenda," and may be gearing up for another shot at the mayor's office.

City Attorney John Riley said just because potential jurors may have heard about the case through the media does not necessarily mean they can't be impartial. He defended Dumanis' actions, claiming the "changing climate" and public demands for transparency needed to be addressed.

"We have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The climate has changed and she opened transparency into the investigation," Riley said.

He argued that the "info age" means changing the venue won't prevent potential jurors from looking up information about the case online, and that any prejudice that could exist in a San Diego trial would also apply if the trial were held in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

"Saturation is only one part of the problem. There has to be absorption," Riley said.

Riley also cited a survey conducted by the city which found most media content on the case included articles that were neutral or favored Nehad.

But Miller noted the survey was conducted before the press conferences were held by Dumanis.

Hayes said he was not inclined to assume jurors would ignore court rules not to do research or consult the Internet while serving on the jury, adding that only questioning potential jurors during jury selection would uncover any actual prejudice.

The case will likely go to trial in spring or summer 2017 and will be decided by an eight-person jury at least two years after Nehad was killed, according to Hayes.

Hayes said he will issue a written order on the motion.

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