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Cops cleared - verdict reached in trial

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - Acquittal.  That literally was the early Christmas present for ten defendants at the District Court this morning as the jury handed down verdicts of not guilty in the controversial case of police officers accused of crossing the line.

"I don't know what to say...so much emotion," expressed Guam Police Department Office Joe Duenas.  The nightmare ended this morning for he and his nine co-defendants, as the jury handed down verdicts of not guilty on all charges of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and declared a mistrial on four lesser charges of assault.

Stephanie Flores, one of the attorneys for the defense, echoed the sentiments of her colleagues and the defendants, saying, "We're just really happy the verdict came back the way it did and the jury did their job.  It's been four long months and the defendants now have their lives back."

Eight police officers and two civilian ridealongs were accused of involvement in a conspiracy to commit aggravated assault after arrestee Owen Moni accused several police officers of beating him at the Dededo Precinct more than a year ago.  Moni alleged he was beaten so severely that his spleen ruptured and nearly cost him his life.

However, a medic testified that Moni told him that injury was the result of a fight at Ypao Park earlier in the day and Defense attorney Curtis Van de Veld argued that Moni's story didn't match up with the medical examiner's testimony, either.  "The medical examiner had indicated that the injuries had to have occurred before midnight, that the time the victim claimed he was injured wasn't until an hour after that. That it simply wasn't true that he had been injured by police officers," he said.

James Quenga was one of the officers accused of beating Moni after he and several others were brought into the Dededo precinct for making threats at the Cruz residence in Yigo last November. When Moni became agitated in his cell, Quenga and three other officers say they used reasonable force to restrain him, preventing him from escaping and assaulting anyone else.  For Quenga, the trial's outcome was a victory not just for him, but for the entire police department.

He stated, "It was very important not to let these criminals intimidate anybody, and I just want everybody on Guam to know that we, here at the police department - we're here to help people not hurt people."

Despite the outcome of the trial, attorney for the defense Clyde Lemons says he still believes in the American justice system: "The jury took their time. They reached a decision and the system works. I'm proud to be a part of the system even though I was on the short end of the stick and we have no qualms with the jury's verdict".

Dozens of Guam's men in blue came out this morning to show their support, including Police Chief Paul Suba, who said he'll waste no time in reinstating the exonerated police officers.  "Upon receiving official documentation of the judge's instructions to return them back to regular duty and return their equipment to them we can put them back to duty immediately," he said.

While the case isn't completely over - the four assault charges can be brought back into court if the government decides to take action - the defendants will no doubt have a happy holidays.

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