Duluth police officer accused of assault testifies it was self-defense
Richard Jouppi told a Pine County jury Thursday that he was thinking of his wife and kids at home when he delivered several closed-fist punches to the head of a man in a wheelchair in September 2012.
PINE CITY — Richard Jouppi told a Pine County jury Thursday that he was thinking of his wife and kids at home when he delivered several closed-fist punches to the head of a man in a wheelchair in September 2012.
The former active-duty Duluth police officer, taking the stand in his own defense, testified that he acted in self-defense after receiving an open-hand slap to the face from 50-year-old Anthony Jon Jackson at the Duluth Detoxification Center.
“I was experiencing a wide range of emotions — a lot of it being fear, obviously,” Jouppi said. “I don’t know if he wants to take my gun and shoot me. All I know is that he has attacked me. It’s a tough position to be in as a police officer because I have to go home. I have my wife and kids at home.”
Jouppi, 36, faces fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct charges after throwing five punches at Jackson and pulling him to the ground over the back of his wheelchair.
The fact that authorities later dropped a fourth-degree assault charge against Jackson clearly doesn’t sit well with Jouppi. Prodded by defense attorney Fred Bruno to speak his mind, Jouppi didn’t hold back.
“It’s bulls———!” Jouppi said, raising his mostly calm voice. “That’s my honest opinion.”
Jouppi was still being cross-examined on the witness stand by prosecutor Shawn Reed when the court adjourned for the day just after 6 p.m. Much of the afternoon was spent with attorneys breaking down surveillance camera footage of the incident with Jouppi.
Judge John DeSanto told jurors that the court would do everything possible to ensure the case is wrapped up by today. However, he asked jurors to pack an overnight bag and warned them that they would be sequestered if they could not reach a decision. The defense still has more witnesses to call after Jouppi.
The case, which was expected to run three or four days, has been running behind due to a poison threat that caused the evacuation of the courthouse earlier this week.
The prosecution rested its case earlier in the day, calling Duluth police Sgt. Robert Shene, a use of force expert. Shene, who provided use of force training to Jouppi, testified that he reviewed the footage of the alleged assault and concluded that Jouppi used excessive force in repeatedly striking Jackson and taking him down to the ground.
Shene said he concluded that Jouppi’s first punch landed square in the face of Jackson, and a second and third punch could be excused, he said, because it takes time for the officer to re-examine the scene and determine if he has gained control of the situation. However, Jouppi took a full step after the third punch in order to throw two more punches, only one of which landed, and recklessly throw Jackson to the ground, Shene said.
“It appears to me that after the first punch, there is no more resistance on the part of Jackson,” Shene testified. “We have to stop and ask, ‘Is what I’m doing overcoming that resistance?’ And if it is, we stop.”
Shene also contended that Jouppi’s takedown of Jackson was not according to protocol. Pulling him down straight from behind put Jackson’s head and already-injured back in danger, he said.
“His head hits hard on the ground, and that’s a dangerous thing,” Shene said as the video was being displayed to jurors. “There are all sorts of other options.”
During his testimony, Jouppi contended that only two of the five punches he threw landed on target — Jackson’s face — making the others ineffective. Jouppi said he continued to throw punches because he saw Jackson’s arms moving in what he perceived to be an offensive position.
“I believed Jackson was completely a threat to me after he assaulted me,” Jouppi testified. “He has already committed a felony on me.”
As for the takedown, Jouppi said he attempted to pull Jackson down and twist him onto his stomach — the standard position for handcuffing a suspect. He said he believes Jackson landed on his shoulder and not his back or head.
Jouppi also blamed his partner, police officer Amber Peterson, who he said backed up from the scene and did not attempt to assist in subduing Jackson.
Before Jouppi took the stand, DeSanto denied a request by Bruno to issue a judgment of acquittal for his client. Bruno argued that prosecution witnesses gave inconsistent testimony and the prosecution of Jouppi relies on his perspective at the time of the incident. Reed argued against the motion, saying his witnesses have relied solely upon information that was available at the time, not 20/20 hindsight.
While not directly commenting on the arguments, DeSanto denied the motion, ruling that there was enough evidence for the jury to consider.