Trial starts for cop in body-slam video

May 19, 2009 1:09:20 PM PDT
Jurors at a policeman's civil rights trial watched a video Tuesday that appeared to show the officer lifting a woman by her waist and throwing her face-first onto a hard tile floor of a restaurant. But the jury also heard sharply conflicting descriptions of what the recording actually reveals.

Staring intently at monitors in the jury box, the jurors saw Yonkers Officer Wayne Simoes take down Irma Marquez, 44, on the soundless, dimly lit video from the restaurant's surveillance camera.

Simoes, 39, is accused of violating Marquez's constitutional protection from excessive police force. If convicted, he could face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. His wife and parents and several off-duty Yonkers officers were in the White Plains courtroom.

The first witness was a fellow officer who was among those who responded to a March 3, 2007, bar fight at the restaurant.

Officer John Liberatore testified that Marquez was drunk and concerned for her niece's safety but had not threatened anyone and had not been warned she would be arrested.

He said he saw Simoes reach around Marquez's waist from behind, lift her off the floor and throw her down, without losing his balance, slipping or falling. Liberatore said he turned to his partner and, using an expletive, asked "What the ... just happened here?"

His partner "just shrugged," Liberatore testified.

In opening statements earlier Tuesday, defense attorney Andrew Quinn told jurors that the video did not tell the whole story of what happened at the La Fonda restaurant after the bar fight, in which Marquez's niece had been knocked unconscious.

Quinn said the recording was a time-lapse video, with moments missing, and is not meant to be used to judge speed or force. He said it would show a different story when viewed frame by frame.

"We're going to break this down for you," Quinn said.

Noting that prosecutors are claiming Simoes "body-slammed" Marquez, Quinn told jurors that "the evidence is going to show you otherwise."

Quinn acknowledged that Marquez had been injured - she was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw. And Marquez is suing the police for $11 million. But Quinn said she was "stumbling drunk" and getting in the way of officers trying to aid her niece.

He said a medical technician working on the niece had asked that Marquez be moved away. He said Simoes approached her and tried to handcuff her, but she pulled away. After she bumped into another officer, he said, she and Simoes went to the floor, with Simoes holding her and trying to avoid both a pool table and the injured niece on the floor.

"His intent was to control the situation," Quinn said.

But Prosecutor Benjamin Torrance told jurors that Simoes "deliberately, intentionally and powerfully threw Ms. Marquez into that floor." He said that Marquez had done nothing to incur such force and that none of the other officers at the scene considered her a threat, allowing her to walk around freely as they investigated the brawl.

When she hit the floor, "the sound resounded throughout the room" and a pool of blood formed around her head, the prosecutor said.