Tag Archive for Asst. District Attorney Mary Stone

Evil on Trial: A day after look at the Mandeville Canyon case

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Patrick Watson and Christian Stoehr speak outside the courthouse following the conviction; at left is Josh Crosby. Photo courtesy of Jared Shier.

After a giddy few hours, reality is sinking in.

Monday afternoon, the jury in the Mandeville Canyon case returned a verdict far beyond the wildest hopes of most cyclists. Dr. Christopher Thompson was found guilty on all seven counts of the indictment.

According to a comment from Eric, it breaks down like this:

He was convicted of the following: 
2 counts of Assault with a Deadly Weapon (245a), 2 counts of Battery with Serious Bodily Injury (243d), reckless driving (23103a), Reckless driving causing specified injury (23105a), and Mayhem (203).

He was cuffed and taken into custody immediately. As quoted in the Times, Asst. District Attorney Mary Stone put it this way:

“There’s not a cyclist in Los Angeles who would feel comfortable with this defendant out on the road after this verdict,” Stone told the court.

Jared Shier notes that six of the seven counts were felonies, with the only misdemeanor involving the incident with Watson and Crosby. Now the Good Doctor faces up to 10 years in prison for the infamous Mandeville Canyon Brake Check.

Of course, the exact sentence depends on the judge. He could take Thompson’s lifetime of healing into account, along with the fact that it was his first conviction — though his third alleged offense — and decide to be lenient.

Or he could take the previous incidents and the seriousness of the crime into account, and levy the maximum penalty. We’ll find out in about a month, with sentencing scheduled for December 3rd.

Then the inevitable appeals will begin; how much time he actually ends up serving is anyone’s guess.

One thing that is a near certainty is that this will cost the Good Doctor his medical license. And that’s a tragedy, not just for him, but for all those people he could have helped — if only he could have kept his anger in check.

On the other hand, he could be the world’s greatest ER physician, but like Peterson and Stoehr, I wouldn’t want him to touch me, either.

Even though, for once, a handful of cyclists received the full support and protection of the legal system, this entire event was a tragedy. Two cyclists were severely injured, three others threatened. And an otherwise good man, by all accounts, let his frustration and anger boil over until he used his car as a weapon, sending two total strangers to the hospital. And tearing his own life and family to shreds.

And there’s a lesson in that for all of us, cyclists and drivers alike.

All of us in the local cycling community owe a big round of thanks to the LAPD and the District Attorney’s office — and especially to Mary Stone for what was, by all accounts, a powerful and effective prosecution.

And I personally want to give a huge thank you to DJwheels, without whom it would not have been possible to cover this case in such detail. Danny, I owe you one — big time. Best wishes to you and your fiancé on your upcoming wedding.

But this is just one case. As DJwheels notes, there are at least five other cases working their way through the system in which cyclists were the victims — including the Rod Armas and Joseph Novotny cases, in which cyclists on group rides were killed by hit-and-run drunk drivers.

Then there’s the case of DJwheels own fiancé, who was injured when a group of riders were threatened by an aggressive driver who fled the scene; thank God, she had a far better outcome. Which probably explains why he worked so hard keeping up with this case.

Finally, let’s just remember to be careful out there, especially for the next few days. And try to keep those words and gestures to a minimum.

As happy as we are over the verdict, there are those in the four wheel community who are just as angry about it, and they’re armed with 2,000 pound potential weapons.

And as the Good Doctor clearly illustrated, some people aren’t afraid to use them.

In light of the Mandeville Canyon case, the L.A. Times asks if we can all share the road, along with advice on how to ride safely — and for a change, looks at it from a safe driving perspective, as well. And Damien Newton looks at the Times series, and what they left out.

……..

Dr. Alex offers 12 principles for a more effective bike plan, while Stephen Box imagines what the city could be like if the mayor rode a bike. Joe Linton looks at the new Fletcher Drive undercross on the L.A. River bikeway. Do more bikes mean more — and more severe — injuries? San Francisco prepares to move forward with their bike plan. The San Jose Mercury News takes a look at the problem of right hooks — like the one that almost hit me yesterday. Floyd Landis suspects his Tour dreams are over. Following the Texas governor’s bone-headed veto of that state’s bike safety law, Austin passes their own three-foot passing law. Bob Mionske reminds riders about the need for lights and reflectors. Beirut goes Critical Mass. New Zealand suspects a local hit-and-run driver may be targeting cyclists, while some drivers are going “berko over bisychos.” Maybe the world’s standard for bike sharing isn’t working so well after all. Finally, from my old home town, a fascinating in-depth, 18-month examination of bike/car crashes throughout the city, mapping out where and how they occurred; this should be a model for every city — including ours.

Evil on Trial: Dr. Christopher Thomson’s fate in the hands of the jury

“Get the fuck off the road!”

— Dr. Christopher Thompson to cyclist Patrick Early, as told by Asst. D.A. Mary Stone

After two weeks of testimony, it all came down to this.

Two talented attorneys facing off before the jury, summing up days of impassioned first-hand testimony, complicated technical evidence and the insights of expert witnesses — in some case, highly paid experts — to direct them to a single inescapable verdict.

Guilty.

Or not.

And now the Good Doctor’s freedom, and his career, hangs in the balance.

“This coat can inspire trust”

According to cyclist/attorney DJwheels, the biking community’s eyes and ears in the courtroom, Assistant District Attorney Mary Stone offered an effective closing argument delivered through a series of well-chosen props.

She began by donning a white medical coat, and asked the jurors if they remembered questioning during jury selection about what it means to be a doctor, and if doctors can commit crimes. She then offered a series photos of showing well known TV physicians wearing a similar coat.

“I don’t want you to get confused,” she said. “Because this coat can inspire trust.”

She showed a photo of the Grand Canyon, explaining that there is a big, wide line that you just don’t cross, because “there’s a canyon in between.”

“You don’t use your car to hurt people.”

That was followed by a recap of the testimony offered by Patrick Early, the first cyclist Dr. Christopher Thompson is accused of threatening with his car, though he was not charged with that encounter.

According to Stone, the doctor offered a long list of dates when the incident could not have happened because of work or travel. Yet he left a number of days unaccounted for — days when he could have yelled at Early to get off the road, then slammed on his brakes directly in front of the rider’s bike, just as he is charged with doing twice more in the following months.

She noted that Early worked in the auto industry and had an in-depth knowledge of cars, and so was able to identify the color, make and model of the vehicle that nearly ran him off the road, as well as recalling Thompson’s personalized license plates months later.

“The cry of an honest man”

She moved on then the next incident, which occurred the following March.

Cyclists Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby were riding down Mandeville Canyon, at or near the posted 30 mph speed limit, when Thompson again slammed on his brakes, forcing Watson off the road.

Stone told the jurors that Christopher Thompson chose to break the law. He was already speeding when he encountered the cyclists, she said, and he chose to engage the cyclists even though he had other options. He could have left; he could have kept going.

She noted the beginnings of a pattern. “We now know what enrages him.”

Stone went on to say that the defense will tell you that Watson had a grudge against Thompson, and that the angry emails Watson sent to friends and other cyclists after the incident show he wanted to get even with the doctor.

She played Watson’s 911 call for the jury, pointing out that Watson stayed at the scene waiting for the police for over an hour and a half after the incident, and gave his name and phone number to the operator. If he was a rogue cyclist, as Thompson claimed, why would he identify himself to the police, she asked?

And she described the emails as “the cry of an honest man.”

“Have a good laugh at that”

As for the incident with Ron Peterson and Christian Stoehr, she reminded the jurors once again that he could have kept going. If you slam on your brakes in front of two cyclists, she explained, you have to expect that they could hit you. “That’s just common sense.”

“He wants you to believe that he just wanted to take a picture,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. When you get back into the jury room, have a good laugh at that.”

At that, defense attorney Peter Swarth objected — one of three times he defied judicial courtesy by objecting during another attorney’s closing arguments; like the other two times, he was overruled by the judge.

She continued by saying that even if he did want to take a picture of the riders, as he claimed, it was his choice to stop in front of them. He was also “disdainful” of the injuries the riders suffered as a result.

“What if you went to the emergency room and your loved one was bleeding from the face, and the doctor told you it wasn’t serious?”

Because of what had happened to his childhood friend, Stone added — reminding the jurors of Thompson’s earlier testimony about a friend who fell from his bike and was run over by a car — he should have had a heightened sense of the fragility of cyclists.

“He knows what can happen.”

She added that the doctor can’t escape the fact that he was driving recklessly. And reminded them about the testimony of LAPD Officer Rodriguez, who said Thompson’s admission that he slammed on his brakes to teach the cyclists a lesson was “burned into his brain.” Who is more believable, she asked, an experienced LAPD officer or the doctor who had just injured two cyclists?

Thompson knew exactly what was going to happen, Stone said. She finished by showing photos of the injuries suffered by Peterson and Stone, ticking off a list of the charges, and asking the jury to find the doctor guilty on all counts.

“No crime occurred”

DJwheels didn’t consider defense attorney Peter Swarth’s closing argument nearly as engaging or effective as Stone’s.

Swarth began by projecting a single word — “Accident” — onto the screen, explaining that this may have been an unfortunate event, but, he insisted, it was not a crime.

“The prosecution says my client is full of rage, but there’s no evidence of that,” he said, adding that only Patrick Early claimed to see an enraged Thompson behind the wheel — and he only saw Thompson through the car’s rear view mirror.

And that event never happened, according to the defense; no charges were ever filed “because no crime occurred.” The other riders never saw the doctor’s face until he exited the car, thanks to the tinted windows on his Lexus.

He also claimed that Early’s identification of Thompson was tainted. According to Swarth, the LAPD detective investigating the case showed Early an old DMV photo of the Good Doctor, part of a photo lineup designed to get the result the police wanted.

Early’s credibility was also strained, Swarth said, since he couldn’t even remember if the incident occurred in December 2007 or January 2008. And while Early testified that he didn’t know any of the other riders who testified in this case, he had worked at the Ground Zero advertising agency in 2001, at the same time Christian Stoehr was there.

“Their actions belie their testimony”

Watson and Crosby weren’t credible, Swarth claimed, noting that they testified they had moved over once they became aware of the car behind them.

“Why would my client tell them to ride single file if they were already riding single file?”

“They say ‘This guy tried to kill me.’ But why would they stand in front of the car of someone who had just tried to kill them?” He added that it just didn’t make sense to ask someone to get out of his car if he had just tried to kill you. They were mad, he said. “Their actions belie their testimony.”

And he insisted that the speeds recorded by Watson’s Garmin proved that he never left the roadway and bunny hopped onto the grass as Watson and Crosby had testified.

According to DJwheels, however, that argument didn’t seem to make any sense.

“How can a horn be angry?

Swarth then moved on to the incident with Watson and Stoehr, asking where the evidence was that proved the intent necessary to support the criminal charges.

He reminded the jury they had testified that Thompson honked his horn in an angry and aggressive manner. “How can a horn be angry? It’s just not true.” He also noted the gruesome photos of their injuries, asking the jury not to convict his client based on those photos alone.

He then attempted to discredit various aspects of the rider’s testimony.

Swarth said that Stoehr had testified that when Thompson slammed on his brakes, he clipped the back wheel of Peterson’s bike, hit the back of the car, flipped over it and landed in the street in front of the vehicle. “That just did not happen,” he said.

According to Swarth, what really happed was that Stoehr looked back after passing the car, saw what had happened to Peterson, then lost his balance and simply fell over.

He said that Thompson told the riders to get their bikes out of the street because emergency vehicles were on their way. And he asked what kind of cycling coach — referring to Peterson — teaches his student to respond in an angry manner, reminding them that Peterson had said “I’m going to fuck you up” immediately following the collision.

If Thompson was so enraged, as the riders claimed, why did he call 911 to get them help? Maybe he just used the wrong words in claiming that the injuries weren’t serious, Swarth suggested. “He was just trying to get the right help to arrive.”

“How can 30 years of trying to help people just disappear in a moment?”

He displayed a photo showing Thompson’s Lexus next to the curb. “Doesn’t it look like he was just trying to park his car?”

Then he turned his attention to the third rider on the road that day, asking why Chris Parker wasn’t injured. The answer, he claimed, was that Parker was simply more careful.

He finished by asking about Officer Rodriguez’s testimony, in which he said the Good Doctor admitted he did it intentionally. Rodriguez never asked the follow-up question, Swarth claimed.

“What do you mean you wanted to teach them a lesson?”

He added that maybe someone else in the crowd had said that, and Rodriguez mistakenly attributed it to Thompson.

It was all a tragic accident, Swarth concluded.

“Sometimes the thing that you seek to avoid becomes the thing you can’t avoid.”

“This is exactly what happens”

Stone then followed up with a powerful rebuttal, holding a baseball bat in front of the jury.

Let’s say you go into a grocery store, she suggested, and someone is blocking the aisle you need. So you threaten them with the bat, and say “Get the fuck out of my way.”

Then the next time you go in, it happens again. But this time, the people blocking your way say “Fuck you.” So you swing your bat at them. You miss, but they get out of the way. Then it happens a third time — and this time, you connect with the bat.

“That’s what happened here,” she said.

She paused to put on the white doctor’s coat she’d worn earlier, suggesting that the Good Doctor had wrapped himself in that afterwards to deflect responsibility.

Then she concluded by picking up Peterson’s shattered bike and holding it in front of the jury. “This”, she said, “is exactly what happens when you slam on the brakes in front of someone.”

According to DJwheels, one of the doctor’s supporters could clearly be heard responding in the gallery.

“Bullshit.”

Jury deliberations resume this morning at 9:30 am. DJwheels says he doesn’t expect a verdict until sometime Tuesday, or late today at the earliest. I’ll post it on here as soon as I’m able to get it online. VeloNews has a well-written summary of closing arguments, and the L.A. Times offers an overview of the trial, saying cyclists have a lot riding on the case.

I’ll post my usual links to articles later this afternoon.

Evil on Trial: Dr. Christopher Thomson denies all in the Mandeville Canyon case

“This case is just stupid. When people are blocking you, you get mad. This is because they said ‘Fuck you.’ It’s just male aggression. They’re both at fault.”

— Overheard during a break in the Mandeville Canyon trial

Thursday was an interesting day, to say the least.

In a courtroom packed with both cyclists and supporters of the Good Doctor — and yes, there are people who support Christopher Thompson, despite everything — the defendant took the stand in his own defense.

According to Dr. Thompson, it was all just an unfortunate accident. The cyclists were rude and riding dangerously. He pulled over, slowly and carefully taking his place along the curb. And he has no idea why those careless, reckless bikers smashed into the back of his car.

Well, one anyway.

According to his attorney, the other one just fell over on his own.

No, really.

“I’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Cyclist/attorney DJwheels, who attended the hearing, said testimony began with a recap of the Good Doctor’s career as an ER specialist, including his work as the head of emergency services at Beverly Hospital for the past three years prior to the incident he’s charged with.

According to Thompson, he’s treated over 100,000 patients in his career, including “hundreds” of injured cyclists.

Under questioning by his attorney, Peter Swarth, he explained his understanding of the medical definition of “serious” injuries, in an attempt to address the comment clearly heard on his 911 call, in which he said the cyclists injuries weren’t serious, “but they’ll tell you that.”

He said that by definition, a serious injury requires admission to the hospital in order to stabilize the patient, and can be determined by simple observation. A close examination of the patient isn’t necessary to evaluate them by ABC — Airways, Breathing and Circulation — while a simple neurological exam be performed by observing how the patient responds to questions.

He continued by describing how he moved into his home in Mandeville Canyon on October 1, 1987; memorable as the day of the Whittier Earthquake. And noted that Gov. Schwarzenegger and his family moved to the canyon about 5 years ago.

Swarth asked why Thompson doesn’t live there anymore, and why he no longer works at Beverly Hospital; however, both questions were disallowed as a result of previous rulings by the judge.

Thompson described the canyon in detail, including the length of the roadway, elevation gain and the exact number of speed bumps and stop signs. According to him, it wasn’t necessary to step on the gas to reach the bottom; coasting and braking was enough to maintain the 30 mph speed limit downhill.

Since 2001, however, the canyon has been progressively overrun by cyclists, he said.

“I don’t have a problem with cyclists,” Thompson said. “I just don’t like their behavior.” He even claimed to ride a bike himself, though he couldn’t describe it in any way — by brand, type, color or number of gears.

The Good Doctor explained that he doesn’t like to drive behind cyclists in the canyon because they run stop signs, ride side-by-side and in large groups, and won’t allow drivers to pass. But he doesn’t get mad, he claimed; just frustrated and concerned for their safety, due to their own reckless actions.

He nearly came to tears as he related the story of a childhood friend named Bobby who went for a bike ride, fell over and was run over by the car behind him. That’s why he believes bicycles are inherently unstable, he said.

Thompson went on to explain how he had spoken to other canyon residents, as well as the chairman of the local neighborhood association safety committee, about what could be done to rein in cyclists since they can’t be identified to the police. The conclusion was that the best option was to take pictures and videotape the riders.

“I wasn’t there.”

Thompson explained that he couldn’t have been the driver who had the earlier encounter with Patrick Early, for which he wasn’t charged.

He was too busy with work, he claimed, and frequently out of town on business. He never had such an incident at that time, doesn’t know Early and couldn’t identify him — despite the fact that Early had picked Thompson’s photo out of a lineup and recalled the Good Doctor’s personalized license plate months afterwards.

“Ride single file”

The incident with Patrick Watson and Josh Crosby, for which he is charged, wasn’t so easily explained.

According to DJwheels, Swarth lead him through his testimony, explaining that he came up behind two riders going downhill side-by-side, honking once as a polite warning. When the cyclists failed to respond, he attempted to pass, but was blocked by an oncoming car.

On his second attempt, he crossed over the yellow line and accelerated, passing about three feet from the cyclists. And as he did, he extended his arm and index finger out the passenger side window, saying “Ride single file.”

They responded by yelling “Fuck you asshole!” and “shot him the shaft,” as the doctor put it — explaining that was his preferred way of saying they flipped him off.

Thompson claimed he then came to a normal, controlled stop in order to get their names. By his account, the cyclists rode safely past on either side of the car — he denied that Watson ever left the road, despite the earlier testimony by both riders. When they started to approach the car, he became frightened because the cyclists “were acting crazy,” and so he accelerated in order to get away as quickly as possible.

He was surprised to receive a call from a police detective about two weeks later asking about the incident, after Watson had reported it to the police.

“Here we go again”

Last year’s 4th of July started out a good day, as far as Dr. Thompson was concerned. He was expecting a normal, if busy, day because of the holiday, and said he wasn’t angry or in a hurry.

That lasted until he encountered three cyclists riding side-by-side as he made his way down the canyon.

They were about 50 feet ahead when he tapped gently on the horn; the center rider looked back at him and dropped slightly behind the other riders. So he honked again, and the outside rider “shot him the shaft.”

“Here we go again,” he thought, briefly accelerating up to 45 mph and crossing the yellow line in an arc-like pass. He called out “Single file please,” and was met with “a hail of ‘fuck you, asshole!’”

Again, he claimed that he braked to a controlled stop, this time in order to take photos of the cyclists as he had discussed with other residents. By his account, he had time to come to a full stop, set the parking brake, take off his seat belt and open the door before he felt an impact at the rear of the car.

As he stepped out, he saw one of the cyclists removing himself from the glass of the rear windshield.

Thompson said he identified himself as a physician and offered to help. The response he got was “Fuck you, asshole.” So from a distance, he began assessing their condition, concluding that their injuries were not life-threatening, and therefore, not medically serious.

The third rider approached, telling him to turn off the engine.

“I didn’t slam on the brakes”

The Good Doctor continued, explaining that he then called 911 for assistance.

Swarth stopped him at that point to ask about the 911 recording in which he said he “slammed on the brakes.” Thompson answered that he braked, then increased his pressure on the brakes, but never “slammed” on the brakes.

Another person soon stopped and tried to control Peterson’s bleeding using his own shirt; Thompson said he offered medical advice before the other man identified himself as a physician. He tried to flag down a paramedic unit that was coming down the canyon with cyclist injured in a previous accident. After pausing to assess the situation, they decline to stop and help; Thompson explained that they would have stayed if they thought the situation was serious.

Once the police, fire and paramedics arrived, he tried to give his statement to the investigating officer. However, Officer Rodriguez seemed distracted, and simply walked away as he was finishing his statement.

Thompson said he never told the officer that he wanted to teach the cyclists a lesson. Yet shortly later, more police arrived and another officer patted him down and cuffed him.

Again he got emotional, saying he didn’t try to hurt anyone, and didn’t think he’d stopped in an unsafe manner. “I thought I had a reasonable plan, but obviously I didn’t execute it effectively.”

And now he wakes up every night upset about what happened. “I don’t hurt people,” he said, “I help people.”

“I didn’t think it through”

The prosecution then took over for cross examination.

Assistant District Attorney Mary Stone didn’t waste any time with her cross, finishing just 15 minutes after she started.

She began by confirming that the Good Doctor was the only driver of the car in question. And that he doesn’t know Patrick Early, owe him money or is owed money by him — clearly attempting to establish that Early had no reason to lie or get even with Thompson.

He then agreed that because of what had happened to his friend as a child, he is even more aware of cyclists on the road, and that he had treated many cyclists as an ER doctor. He also agreed with her that cyclists are fragile and, unlike drivers, have nothing around them to protect them.

“You know the speed limit,” she continued, “and know it’s not just a suggestion?”

“Yes,” Thompson responded.

“You could have kept going if you wanted to?”

“Yes.”

Thompson admitted that he was annoyed by the confrontation with the riders, but denied being angry. He also said he knew more or less where the cyclists were, even though he lost sight of them for a few moments when passing.

Stone then played the portion of the 911 tape where the doctor told the operator he’d “slammed on the brakes,” asking if he now denied that. “That’s correct,” he said, “I did not slam on the brakes.”

Her next question hit hard, even though the judge sustained the defense’s objection to it. “You got teary eyed when you talked about how you felt about this. Is that something you worked on with your attorney before you testified?”

She continued, “Do you have experience taking pictures of cyclists riding at 30 miles per hour using a cell phone?”

“I guess I didn’t think it through,” he answered.

She also asked if he seriously expected Watson and Crosby to give him their names after they “shot him the shaft.”

She then went through the testimony provided by LAPD Officer Rodriguez line by line; Thompson agreed he had said everything that Rodriguez reported about the incident with Peterson and Stoehr, with the single exception that he never said he wanted to teach them a lesson.

And she concluded by saying once again, “You could have kept going, but you didn’t.”

Read more about Thompson’s testimony in the L.A. Times and VeloNews.

Click here for a full report on Thursday’s closing arguments; click hereherehere, and here for previous reports on the trial.

The jury began deliberations late Thursday, and will resume on Monday morning; the courthouse was closed on Friday.

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