Retrial to begin for former officer who blinded woman during arrest

The woman was pulled over on suspicion of DUI

RIVERSIDE - Pretrial motions and briefs were submitted today for the retrial of a former Beaumont police officer who blinded a woman when he fired a pepper spray pistol inches from her face while arresting her on suspicion of drunken driving.

   Enoch ``Jeremy'' Clark, 41, could face four years behind bars if convicted of assault by a peace officer causing injury, assault with a less-lethal weapon, battery causing serious injury and assault resulting in great bodily injury.

   Clark's case was assigned to Riverside County Superior Court Judge Michael Donner, who heard motions and received briefs from the prosecution and defense. He tentatively scheduled jury selection for Wednesday morning at the Riverside Hall of Justice.

   A Riverside jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of convicting Clark in May 2014, paving the way for a retrial on all counts. The defendant is free on a $50,000 bond.

   According to Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney, the defendant discharged a pepper gun into the eyes of then-32-year-old Monique Hernandez on the night of Feb. 21, 2012, after he became ``annoyed'' with her because she allegedly wouldn't comply with his commands to stop resisting arrest.

   The woman's corneas were shredded and her optic nerve irreparably damaged, according to trial testimony.

   Carney alleged that Clark was completely unjustified when he pulled the trigger on the JPX Jet Protector pepper spray gun, which discharges propellant at 400 miles per hour. The device was less than 10 inches from Hernandez's face, and the contents penetrated her eyes, dispersing into her skull, according to the prosecutor.

   He alleged the defendant lied to cover up his actions, telling investigators that he felt his life was threatened and he was ``slipping off balance'' while holding the gun, causing it to fire prematurely.

   Defense attorney Steve Sanchez blamed his client's superiors, inadequate training on the weapon's use, unclear instructions on how to use it and other factors for what transpired.

   Sanchez said the JPX manufacturer's warnings on the minimum safe distance to fire the pepper pistol were confusing. He pointed to errors in the instruction manual, including a misplaced comma that suggested the weapon could be fired from one meter -- three feet -- instead of the 1.5 meters actually required.

   The defense argued that the Beaumont Police Department never gave officers an opportunity to test-fire a JPX pistol before carrying one on patrol, even though a videotape recording played during Clark's trial showed him and other officers receiving instruction on the appropriate use of the device, which resembles a Star Trek phaser.

   Dash-cam video from Clark's patrol car on the night of the confrontation showed Hernandez with her hands behind her back, jostling as Clark tried to handcuff her.

   The lawman repeatedly tells the woman to ``stop resisting'' and ``get your hands behind your back,'' while Hernandez answers, ``I'm not resisting,'' demanding to know why she's being arrested and what she ``blew'' in her roadside breathalyzer test.

   The video clip shows Clark firing the device directly into Hernandez's face.

   The ex-cop, the city of Beaumont and several additional law enforcement officers were sued in federal court for civil rights violations. The suit was ultimately settled out of court, resulting in an $18.5 million payout to Hernandez and her family, according to U.S. District Court documents.

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