Courts & Crime

Prosecutors blast Fresno 'psycho cop' in trial

Saying no one is above the law, a prosecutor implored a jury Thursday to convict a former Fresno police officer of using excessive force on people attending a rowdy party for a Marine returning from Iraq.

Prosecutor Blake Gunderson said in closing arguments of the eight-week trial that partygoers described Marcus Tafoya as a "psycho-cop" who was out of control, hitting people with a police baton for no reason.

He said other police officers who responded to the March 5, 2005, disturbance in southeast Fresno testified that the unarmed partygoers were not resisting arrest or attacking Tafoya.

But attorney E. Marshall Hodgkins, who is representing Tafoya, said his client has a right to defend himself because he feared for his life. He said the officers who testified against his client arrived at the disturbance in the 4500 block of East Mono Avenue after Tafoya was attacked.

"Everything officer Tafoya did was not only justified, but also courageous," Hodgkins told the jury. "This is the type of individual we want protecting us."

Tafoya, 39, is charged with burglary and eight counts of using excessive force in connection with the Marine's homecoming party and three other incidents. He has pleaded not guilty.

Tafoya showed no expressions during the closing arguments, except when he closed his eyes during the playing of a 911 tape of the disturbance. He has been fired from the Fresno Police Department. Two dozen of his supporters -- including current and former Fresno officers -- packed one side of Judge John Vogt's courtroom. The other side was filled with people who attended the Marine's party and their supporters, as well as members of the Fresno County District Attorney's Office, which investigated the case against Tafoya.

If convicted, Tafoya faces up to 11 years and four months in prison.

After the closing arguments, a jury of seven women and five men started deliberations late Thursday afternoon. The panel will resume deliberations today.

Tafoya spent 10 years in the Fresno Police Department as a patrol officer, night detective and as a member of an elite squad that targeted gang members, drug dealers and other violent criminals. During that 10-year span, he fatally shot four suspects.

Gunderson said the jury must decide whether Tafoya was justified in using force and whether he was a credible witness.

During the trial, Tafoya testified partygoers punched and kicked him, cursed him, barked like Bulldog gang members and resisted arrest. Because the attackers came at him from all directions, Tafoya said he used a police baton.

He also testified that partygoers were attacking his partner, Sgt. Michael Manfredi, and trying to take the sergeant's gun. "I've never been scared like this before," he told the panel.

But while Manfredi was being attacked, Tafoya said partygoers forced him into the home where the party was held. Inside the home, Tafoya said several people attacked him and resisted arrest. He said he hit two men with a police baton several times in self-defense. One of them, however, was accidentally hit in the head because he ducked, Tafoya testified.

Hodgkins told the panel Thursday that the law allows police to use force in self-defense or to make a lawful arrest. "He was in imminent danger," Hodgkins said.

But Gunderson said Tafoya hit more than two people with the police baton, including a woman.

"When you carry a badge, you have a sacred responsibility not to tarnish that badge," Gunderson said.

Read the full story at the Fresno Bee.