COTATI, CA — A couple and their roommate were terrorized when police officers broke down their front door and tased a husband in response to a noise complaint. Despite the shocking video that captured the incident, the police were cleared for breaking into the home and assaulting the 3 occupants, and instead one of the victims was put on trial.
The incident took place on May 10th, 2013, when a neighbor called the police because of allegedly hearing “yelling and sobbing” coming from the residence next-door. Police were sent to investigate at 3:48 p.m.
The residents, James Wood, 33, and his wife Jennifer, 29, admittedly had a loud argument in the backyard, but did not become violent and did not know that a nosy neighbor had phoned the police. They reportedly argued about whether to spend their tax refund money on fixing their car or buying a new one.
The couple’s roommate, James Helton, 32, was inside putting the Woods’ 2-year-old daughter down for a nap when the Cotati Police arrived, with guns already drawn. Helton summoned his roommates and the three began talking to the police through a window.
“We had our hands up against the glass. We were more than happy to talk through the glass, or he can have dispatch call our cellphones,” Helton later explained. “(An officer) became agitated and said, ‘No you’re going to do what I tell you to do.’ ”
“We don’t live in a police state, sir.”
“I asked several times, ‘What am I being accused of?’” Wood told KPIX 5. “And when they didn’t answer, I asked, ‘do you have a search warrant?’ And they said, ‘No, we don’t need one.’ And I was like, ‘you’re not getting in here. I am not opening that door.’”
Attempts to cite the 4th Amendment and peacefully exercise their rights were met with threats. Fearing for their safety, a cell-phone camera was produced to document the situation. The police quickly re-holstered their handguns.
“There’s no domestic violence,” the three residents echoed in unison, explaining they would not open the door without a warrant.
“Why are you guys not coming out?” demanded Officer Andrew Lyssand, eying the family through the glass.
“Because we don’t live in a police state, sir,” Wood responded.
Intent on proving him wrong, the officers prepared to breach the door. The negotiation had ended as quickly as it began.
As the video continued recording, the door was kicked in and officers immediately entered with tasers drawn; the favorite pain and compliance tool of the police.
“You have no right to be in here!” Wood reacted.
Jennifer could be seen on video with her hands already in the air. “Do not touch her! You are assaulting her!” said her husband, as police grabbed her.
“Aaaahhhh! Help!! Help!!” cried Jennifer Wood, just before the camera shorted out from the electric current traveling through the cameraman. The video abruptly ends.
A total of 96 seconds elapsed from the time the camera turned on until it cut out due to the attacks by police. Watch:
Each of the three were cited for obstructing law enforcement. James Wood was tased 5 times because he allegedly resisted Officer Eric Bilcich.
“They could plainly see I was not in distress,” Jennifer Wood explained. “I honestly did not want them inside my home.”
“I was afraid we might get shot,” James Wood recalled. “The only thing I could think of is, ‘I need to document this right now.’ ”
Jennifer added: “The officer later tried to get me to say my husband abused me. But I told him, ‘the only one that hurt me was you.’”
A ‘Proud’ Moment For Cotati?
Cotati officials predictably defended the actions of the officers. A press release stated that forced entry and tasing of everyone was “justified.” Officers were “forced to kick the door open,” police stated, adding that not kicking down the door “would be a neglect of duty.”
Police Chief Michael Parish said this break-in and assault was exemplary police work. “My officers were very professional and very calm, and I’m proud of their performance,” he said to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Judge Peter Ottenweller backed the actions of the state, claiming that violent entry was justified to ensure safety of the occupants.
James Wood was eventually taken to trial. On January 28th, the jury hung in a 6-6 split. Despite the disturbing video evidence and the hindsight knowledge that nothing except loud voices had caused this violent situation, half the jury was content with imprisoning the defendant.
“The fact that a jury of American citizens could not agree that such a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment meant the entry into my client’s home was unlawful, shows how far this country has disintegrated,” noted defense attorney Benjaman Adams in an interview with Police State USA. “There is little hope for salvage.”
It is unclear whether Wood will be retried for “resisting” the aggressors.
What does it say about police when they are willing to escalate calm situations into violence so readily? What does it say about their superiors when they endorse this behavior? The police chief, the prosecutor, the judge, and even half the jury were OK with what they saw in the video. This systemic tolerance of government aggression and violation of rights demonstrates the depressing fact that a police state may come not from the denial of the will of the majority — but instead from its fulfillment.
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Call for the firing of these aggressive officers and the police chief who thinks this is how professionals behave.
City of Cotati, CA
Cotati Police Department
Phone: (707) 792-4611