A Pennsylvania state trooper accused of stomping on the face of a handcuffed man was acquitted yesterday.
A jury found that 43-year-old Kelly Cruz did not use excessive force nor deprive 22-year-old Zachary Bare of his civil rights when he kicked the handcuffed man in the head, leading to two facial fractures, damaged teeth, and a broken nose.
Cruz never denied that he was the one who caused Bare’s injuries, striking him with such force that his teeth were driven into his gums. The question was whether such force had been called for.
The incident was the result of a drug raid gone wrong: Cruz was leading a group of West Whiteland police officers to ambush a suspected meth lab. As they approached, the men inside the ranch house saw them and one managed to flee.
One of the officers told jurors that he’d seen Bare running and followed him to his house, where he ordered to lie on the kitchen floor. Another officer handcuffed him and left him there.
Accounts begin to differ from there. A third officer, Glenn Cockerham, filed a report saying he witnessed Cruz yell at Bare and then stomp on his head. But the first two officers said they never saw Cockerham in the house.
"This case boils down to credibility," Christian Hoey, Cruz’s lawyer, said at the beginning of trial. "It all comes down to who the jury believes."
In the end, the court chose to believe Cruz and witnesses Hoey called to the stand who testified to the trooper’s nonviolent reputation.
The officer said during his testimony that he had entered the home that Bare shared with his disabled mother, searched it, and, finding no one, returned to the kitchen to find Bare. He claimed Bare was enraged, making threats and attempting to get up. So he “pushed” on Bare’s shoulder to restrain him.
“I reacted to his actions,” Cruz testified. “I was fixated on his rage, and I did not have the opportunity to do the scans I would do, with my training and expertise.
“I am taking care of me,” Cruz said. “I am afraid. At that moment I did not know he was handcuffed. I responded the way I was trained to respond. I reacted to what I saw. If I fail, I don’t come home to my family.”
During his closing arguments, prosecutor L.C. Wright argued that Bare shouldn’t have been subjected to an unwarranted, brutal assault.
“He might have been a drunken nuisance, but that does not matter, because he is still protected by the civil rights laws,” Wright argued.
“He didn’t pose a significant threat,” Wright said. “He did not pose any threat at all.”