A jury found a former Daly City police officer, accused of threatening to shoot a suspected car thief unless he provided information about the whereabouts of stolen cars, guilty of a single misdemeanor count on Tuesday.
Alfonso Esqueda III, 33, was convicted on Tuesday of one misdemeanor charge of brandishing a weapon against the suspected thief, but a San Mateo County jury cleared the officer of one felony count of assault under the color of authority.
The jury ultimately hung on two additional felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and one more count of assault under the color of authority.
Esqueda, who was facing up to 19 years in prison, now only faces a maximum of one year in jail.
However, he will not be able to serve as a police officer for at least a decade because, under California law, anyone convicted of brandishing a weapon cannot carry a firearm for 10 years.
The ruling “effectively ends his career in law enforcement,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said Tuesday.
Esqueda, who was out of custody in lieu of $100,000 bail, declined to comment on the conviction.
Esqueda, a five-year veteran of the Long Beach Police Department, hadonly been with the Daly City Police Department six months when he was conducting an auto theft investigation on July 29, 2006 that would change his life.
Esqueda and another Daly City officer, Sean Begley, followed the investigation to the home of Melecio Macawile, a suspect in the case.
What happened next, according to one juror, was a “classic case of ‘he said, she said.'”
Somehow, during the interrogation, Esqueda wound up grabbing the suspect by the neck and putting a gun to his head, then allegedly threatening him.
The prosecution argued during the 11/2-weeklong trial that Esqueda had used improper interrogation techniques to intimidate and threaten Macawile.
Meanwhile, the defense contended that Esqueda had resorted to self-defense during an uncertain situation.
Any force used was entirely reasonable under the circumstances, the defense argued.
Begley, the other officer at the scene, testified that he was so shocked by Esqueda’s behavior that he reported the incident at work the next day. Esqueda was “out of control,” he said.
But Begley was the officer who was out of control, according to the defense.
Begley created an unsafe situation for Esqueda by leaving the officer alone to deal with the suspect, said defense attorney Michael Rains.
According to the defense, Begley had also led Esqueda to believe that Macawile was a dangerous man — a military veteran and a recently convicted felon who was high on methamphetamine.
Esqueda was only defending himself when he grabbed Macawile by the neck, the defense argued.
He drew his gun and held the weapon to Macawile’s head because the suspect had clenched his fists, risen on the balls of his feet and appeared on the verge of “an imminent attack,” Rains said.
Esqueda had a “stellar record” during his five years of service with the Long Beach Police Department and never received a complaint during six months with the Daly City Police Department, said Rains.
However, Daly City Police Officer Scott Helper testified that Esqueda had used excessive force while investigating a domestic violence call, threatening to beat up a man who had allegedly attacked his wife.
In all, seven Daly City police officers testified for the prosecution. Esqueda, who later took the stand himself to defend his use of force, was also defended by a use-of-force specialist hired by the defense.
The jury ultimately did not convict on the most serious felonies because the defense “presented a logical and reasonable argument” that Esqueda used reasonable force, said juror Richard Harmon.
Esqueda resigned from the Daly City Police Department weeks after the incident occurred, said Rains.
The officer, who had been on probation, was informed that the department would no longer keep him on the force, he added.
Daly City Police Chief Gary McLane didn’t offer any comment on the verdict when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon but called the incident an “aberration,” explaining, “it’s just disappointing that the situation happened in the first place.”
“Unfortunately, people are going to read that this guy was convicted and that will be the last thing they remember about the Daly City Police Department. But I want to assure the community that we’ve got a lot of great officers here,” he said.
A Dec. 9 court date has been set for the prosecution if they decide to retry Esqueda on the two felony charges which left the jury hung.
The defense plans to use the date to file a motion challenging the misdemeanor conviction.