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Fresno cops acquitted in brutality case

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- A federal jury has acquitted three former Fresno police officers and a police sergeant of brutality charges stemming from a 2005 domestic violence call.

Jurors deliberated for 10 hours before finding Sgt. Michael Manfredi and former officers Paul Van Dalen, Chris Coleman and Sean Plymale not guilty on Wednesday of seven of eight counts of using excessive force and obstruction of justice, The Fresno Bee reports (http://bit.ly/1lKqqQg ). The charges carried maximum prison terms of 20 years.

The jury, which heard four weeks of testimony, was the second to consider the case. The officers' first trial a year resulted in a deadlocked jury that voted 9-3 to acquit them on civil rights violations and obstruction-of-justice charges. The Bee said.

Van Dalen and Coleman were accused of kicking the suspect, Rolando Celdon, and shooting him with a bean-bag gun unnecessarily while arresting him in October 2005. Prosecutors say they also planted evidence to make it look like Celdon was armed with a bottle and a rock and filed false police reports.

Manfredi and Plymale were accused of concealing the excessive force.

The defense said Celdon posed a serious threat, and the police reports the officers filed were drafts.

The only charge for which the jury did not return a verdict this time around was one of the obstruction of justice against Coleman. It voted 11-1 to acquit him.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Fresno said it hasn't decided whether to retry him on that single charge.

Jury foreman Kenneth Bennett told The Bee he thinks it would be a waste of time.

“The defense didn't even need to put on a case because prosecutors couldn't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Bennett, 55, of California City in eastern Kern County.

The federal charges resulted from an FBI investigation invited by Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who eventually fired the four officers. An arbitrator and a civil service review board ruled that Manfredi and Plymate should be reinstated. The other two officers left police work.

Manfredi said he doesn't bear any ill-will toward the chief or the three fellow officers who testified for the prosecution.

“The chief was given a bad set of facts,” he said. “And I made peace a long time ago with my brothers. They felt they had to do what they had to do. I hold no hard feelings or grudges.”

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Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com

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