Duluth police officer Jouppi found not guilty of assault
Richard Jouppi sat almost motionless in his chair as Judge John DeSanto announced verdicts of not guilty on the two criminal charges he faced. Meanwhile, his attorney, Fred Bruno, could barely contain himself, leaning back in his chair and throwing his arms upward in celebration.
PINE CITY — Richard Jouppi sat almost motionless in his chair as Judge John DeSanto announced verdicts of not guilty on the two criminal charges he faced. Meanwhile, his attorney, Fred Bruno, could barely contain himself, leaning back in his chair and throwing his arms upward in celebration.
Bruno attributes that to Jouppi’s training as a police officer.
“I thought he’d be more excited, but he’s trained to keep calm,” he said. “I was a lot more animated that him.”
It took a jury about three hours to return a verdict in the case of Jouppi, a former active-duty Duluth police officer who faced the charges after allegedly assaulting 50-year-old Anthony Jon Jackson in September 2012 at the Duluth Detoxification Center. Widely circulated surveillance camera footage of the incident shows Jouppi throwing five punches at Jackson before pulling him down to the ground backward in Jackson’s wheelchair after the man struck him in the face with an open-hand slap.
The weeklong trial, a St. Louis County case being held in Pine County because of substantial media coverage in Duluth, wrapped up Friday evening after several days of testimony and a courthouse security scare that threatened to push the trial into next week. After about two hours of deliberation, the jury returned to the courtroom, asking to see the video one more time.
About an hour later, the three men and three women reached their decision, delivering the verdict at 7:30 p.m.
Outside the courtroom, an exhausted-looking Jouppi declined to discuss the case.
“We just want to go home,” Jouppi said. “It’s been a long five days. I miss my family.”
Shawn Reed, who served as special prosecutor in the case, declined to comment, deferring to the city. After the verdict, Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he was disappointed.
“While I respect the judicial process, I am very disappointed by the verdict in the Richard Jouppi case,” Ramsay said in a statement. “His actions on September 21, 2012 were not consistent with department training or policy, bringing discredit to our department and detracting from the excellent work our women and men do on a daily basis. As I said previously, we will do everything we can legally to ensure he never works for our department again.”
Bruno said he’s not quite sure what’s next for his client, but said he hopes he can return to active duty in Duluth soon. That decision, however, is pending the outcome of a grievance process with the city.
“We definitely feel vindicated,” Bruno said of the verdict. “I think it was clearly the right decision by the jurors.”
Duluth police administration has been vocal in its criticism of Jouppi’s actions, and Ramsay vowed that Jouppi would never work for the department again. Ramsay recently confirmed to the News Tribune that Jouppi is no longer on the payroll, but said he can’t discuss specific actions the department took until final disposition of discipline.
Jouppi faced the loss of his police officer license if convicted of assault. Both charges were misdemeanors and were not punishable with jail time.
Bruno told jurors in his closing argument Friday afternoon that his client is a good cop, and said there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. He called the charges against his client “one of the worst cases of Monday morning quarterbacking that I’ve ever seen.” He said the entire trial has been based on the 20/20 hindsight of the Duluth Police Department.
“You’ll have to judge this man based on a two-second sliver of his entire life,” Bruno told the jury. “This case must be judged from the reasonable perspective of the officer on the scene.”
Jouppi was an officer who was doing the right thing when he volunteered to help transport Jackson to detox that night, Bruno said.
“Officer Jouppi volunteered to walk into what turned out to be a bad situation,” Bruno said. “As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished, and Mr. Jouppi paid for that good deed.”
Reed said in his argument that the case is a tale of two Richard Jouppis.
There’s the angry one that assaulted a man in a wheelchair last September, he said, and there’s the calm one who sat on the witness stand for much of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
“That mask slipped a little bit yesterday,” Reed told the jury, referring to a profane outburst by Jouppi on the stand. “He got angry when he was talking about the charges. And we know he got angry the night of this incident, too.”
Reed also recalled the question he first asked jurors at the beginning of opening statements: “Can a police officer assault a civilian?” He said it has been proven through the trial that Jouppi did just that.
“Police officers are paid to protect us,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re above the law.”
Bruno, however, was critical of Jouppi’s partner on the call, Amber Peterson, who he said stood around and did not attempt to help Jouppi restrain Jackson. And he blamed detox employee Rebecca Wells, who he said instigated the situation with Jackson.
Most of all, Bruno said, it was important to subdue Jackson before the situation could take a turn for the worse.
“If it’s supposed to be an equal fight, society would deteriorate,” he said. “Police are the thin blue line that separates society from anarchy.”