After hours of deliberation yesterday, a jury found Aichardo Mandez-Ramirez, 51, guilty of both second-degree assault, a felony, and resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.
The second day of the trial began at 10 a.m. yesterday. It was close to 6 p.m. before the jury reached a decision.
Heidi Troxell turned out to be correct in her closing argument in defense of Mandez-Ramirez when she said his case hinged on language.
“I want to talk about language,” the defense attorney started. “All of the discussion and focus has been on language.”
She was referring to the testimony given Wednesday by the arresting officers, Basalt police officers Jordan Hilkey and Aaron Munch, who has since been promoted to lieutenant from sergeant. Texas-born Mandez-Ramirez allegedly cursed in Spanish toward a passing Basalt police sergeant who was on bike patrol May 27, 2018.
However, language became a sticking point in the jury’s deliberations, too.
It seems simple: What is the legal definition of harm and injury? In order to determine guilt or innocence regarding assault, the jury felt it needed more instruction.
The problem, District Judge Chris Seldin found, was that no such legal definitions existed in case law. The Lex Law Dictionary provided no further clarity on the matter.
“If you look up the definition of injury … it tells you that it’s a harm,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham argued that, in the absence of legal definitions for common terms, it was up to the jury members to use their best judgments on the matter: mainly, do harm and injury apply only to physical impacts, or do they also apply to an alleged victim’s mental and emotional states, as well?
Troxell contended emphatically that the jury should not consider emotional harm in its decision to convict or not convict her client, but Seldin was not ultimately persuaded — and, in turn, neither was the jury. Almost an hour after the jury submitted its query, the judge instructed that members use their best judgment in applying the terms to the case they heard.
Wednesday’s testimonies detailed the events of the arrest, from Munch receiving authorization from dispatch to arrest Mandez-Ramirez — that turned out to be based on inaccurate information — to the defendant’s expletive-laced verbal aggression and Munch’s tactical takedown maneuver to make the arrest once Hilkey arrived as backup. Both Munch and Hilkey recounted how Mandez-Ramirez resisted going to the police vehicle and then, once inside the vehicle, spat on Hilkey — from which the assault charge came.
Mandez-Ramirez, who used the assistance of a language interpreter throughout the trial, did not testify. Outside the courtroom, however, he offered his perspective of what happened on that Memorial Weekend Sunday last year to the Aspen Daily News.
“The guy passed me, and I said, ‘Uh, oh. The police,’” he said of his initial encounter with Munch. “I never said [Spanish expletive].”
Mandez-Ramirez also maintained his innocence regarding both charges.
“Why these guys don’t close the door? If I’m supposed to be resisting arrest and s--- like that? Come on,” he said, referencing the fact that the back door of the police vehicle remained open in order for him to have spit at Hilkey, adding, “I never hurt a female.”
It was a point Troxell echoed in her closing statement yesterday morning.
“Think about his opportunity to injure or harm. He took none,” she said. “No actions were taken because Mr. Mandez had no intent to injure or harm.”
Instead, she continued, Mandez-Ramirez’s intentions were to express his anger — to insult.
“You may not like that,” she said to the jury. “Here in the United States, we have the freedom of speech.”
On that note, Nottingham agreed.
“He’s not on trial for being a jerk, because that’s not illegal,” he said of Mandez-Ramirez in his own opening statement. “But there are lines in our society. Spitting on a police officer is [illegal].”
At that, Mandez-Ramirez interrupted in an outburst from his seat in the courtroom.
“I never spit! Tell the truth!” he exclaimed. “Why you don’t tell the truth?”
Seldin then reminded the jury that Mandez-Ramirez’s interjections were not sworn testimony and not to be considered in deliberations.
It wasn’t the only time Mandez-Ramirez interjected yesterday, though the second time was when Seldin, Nottingham and Troxell were debating the finer nuances of harm and injury.
“And the damage to myself?” he asked in Spanish.
Outside the courtroom, Mandez-Ramirez, a father to a 3-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, said he was living a transient lifestyle since being arrested.
“I lost my apartment. I lost my job when they arrested me. And now, I’m homeless,” he said.
Mandez-Ramirez is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 7.