Ever since a disturbance outside Celebrities led to gunfire that resulted in the death of Andy Albarran, Beaumont police and the City of Beaumont have maintained Demario Jackson shot at Albarran early July 16, 2011.
The first press release, issued that day and titled "Officer Involved Shooting," included the statement:
As the officer approached the fight, he observed a male subject firing a weapon at another male subject.
Albarran died later that day at a hospital. The next press release, dated July 17 and titled "Officer Involved Shooting Update," included the statement:
. . . (A)n officer from the Beaumont Police Department was checking reports of a fight in the 500 block of Beaumont Avenue when he observed a male suspect shooting a male victim, identified as Andy Albarran, age 46 of Beaumont, multiple times.
The next press release, dated July 20 and titled "Suspect Arrested," repeated the statement and named Jackson:
. . . (A) Beaumont police officer was checking reports of a fight in the 500 block of Beaumont Avenue when he observed Jackson shooting a male victim, identified as Andy Albarran, age 46 of Beaumont. The officer ordered Jackson to drop the weapon and after he refused, the officer shot him believing he was going to continue shooting.
Last week, more than 15 months after the shooting and his arrest, Jackson, 26, of Banning, walked out of court a free man, acquitted by a jury in Riverside and found not guilty of murder.
The aim of this report is to examine statements and evidence presented by Jackson's defense, which jurors found outweighed statements and evidence presented by Beaumont police, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, and the District Attorney.
Jackson's defense attorney contacted Banning-Beaumont Patch within hours of the jury's verdict on Thursday Nov. 1, 2012.
"I think the record should be set straight because there is a huge misunderstanding," Susanne Cho of Palm Desert said. "The Albarran family deserves to know the truth too. I don't want them to hate my client or the jury."
Cho said sheriff's investigators rushed to judgment against Jackson, they refused to properly investigate Albarran's death, and the resulting prosecution was unfair to her client and to the Albarran family.
Cho said she worked with her own investigators to gather evidence and examine records created during the sheriff's and coroner's investigations, including the autopsy report, which showed Albarran was shot in the back and the shoulder.
'The Most Consistent Evidence in the Case'
At a preliminary hearing on Dec. 1, 2011, Cho stated:
"Generally, on a murder case . . . there has to be strong suspicion that Mr. Jackson, in fact, shot this decedent, Mr. Albarran.
"The best indication from the officer involved in the shooting is that these two people are engaged in some kind of physical confrontation. They're facing each other. They are about two feet apart. The officer shows up. And I know this is a traumatic experience for him, but he says he saw muzzle flash. He assumes my client is shooting the decedent, and he shoots towards those two individuals, two shots hitting Mr. Jackson.
"And my position, from his own testimony, is that we believe that the officer accidentally shot the decedent, in that the officer was facing the back of the decedent to his side. That's the most consistent evidence in this case."
Five weeks after the preliminary hearing, in January 2012, Beaumont police Officer Brent Conan was named the city's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2011 for his actions outside Celebrities.
Conan testified during trial that on July 16, 2011, he was working the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift and shortly after 1 a.m. he went to Celebrities to check on the crowd at a popular DJ show.
Conan said he parked by ATM machines at the Wells Fargo across the lot from Celebrities, to keep an eye on people leaving the club. One group came out and got in a vehicle, then got out and walked back over to Celebrities. Then another group of people came out, walking toward Conan.
"One of them - I believe it was a female - started waving her arms and then kind of pointing towards the back door of Celebrities," Conan testified. "I got the indication by her body language that something was obviously going on."
Conan said he drove close to the rear entrance of the club and found about 50 people outside, some who were "obviously arguing."
'A Group of People Physically Fighting'
Conan radioed some other night shift officers that there was an incident at Celebrities, and spoke to his sergeant as well, according to his testimony.
When he looked back at the area where he'd been parked by the Wells Fargo, he saw "a group of people physically fighting," Conan testified.
"It was approximately three, maybe five people when I first glanced when I was standing next to my patrol unit," Conan testified.
When he got closer, Conan said it looked like two males, one Hispanic and one black, were fighting and a third male looked like he was trying to separate the two.
He did not see a number of people beating up one person, or anybody jumping anyone else, Conan testified.
The officer said he started running toward the fight, grabbing his pepper spray.
"As I was running towards the men that were fighting, I heard a sound, and it was like a high-pitched pop similar to that of a firecracker," Conan testified.
Conan said he looked behind him, began putting his pepper spray away and drawing his firearm, because he was under the impression the sound could have been a gunshot. Then he saw a muzzle flash, and he saw the black male was holding a silver-looking semiautomatic handgun.
"And then after the first shot, I yelled to drop the gun," Conan testified. "I had my firearm in my hand at that time. And then almost the exact same time that I'm finishing saying 'gun' is when the second shot happened. . . . That is when I fired my gun at him."
Evidence presented at trial showed a total of seven shots were fired - two by Jackson and five by Conan.
'He Came Out of the Club with a Lady Friend'
Cho said she presented evidence that contradicted Conan's testimony.
First, she showed Jackson acted in self-defense when he drew a handgun in the parking lot outside Celebrities, she said.
"He came out of the club with a lady friend, he was walking to his car, and a few feet away from his car he was attacked by several individuals from behind," Cho said.
"When Mr. Jackson grabbed his gun he did so in order to protect himself and to ward off assailants," Cho said. "The jurors believed the first discharge from Mr. Jackson's gun was a panic discharge, an accidental panic discharge.
"It was obvious that both discharges were not intended to hit Mr. Albarran, and neither of them struck Mr. Albarran," Cho said. "However from his vantage point Officer Conan thought Mr. Jackson was shooting at Mr. Albarran and fired five shots. The officer shot from about 40 feet away in the dark."
When police searched Mr. Albarran's clothing they neglected to write down in any of their reports that there was a screwdriver in Albarran's Levi's jeans pocket, Cho said.
"Normally the police are supposed to document details like that, especially in a homicide investigation," Cho said. "There were no obvious markings on the screwdriver, but during trial it came out that Mr. Jackson had a puncture wound on his back with blood on his shirt that was unaccounted for."
There was no evidence that Albarran used the screwdriver or stabbed Jackson, Cho said.
"However the puncture wound on his back and the blood on his shirt supported Mr. Jackson's claim of self-defense," Cho said.
The jurors said after deliberations that even if Albarran did not stab Jackson, Jackson was entitled to defend himself because he was outnumbered, Cho said.
"The jurors focused on the evidence that showed he was assaulted, that he was acting in self defense and that he was with a female friend," Cho said. "So he couldn't just run away because he wasn't by himself."
Audio of the incident presented at trial includes the two gunshots from Jackson's gun but it does not include Conan saying or yelling "Drop the weapon," Cho said.
"We only heard him yell 'Get down!' after the shooting," Cho said. "He wanted to believe he said it and that my client refused to comply but that did not happen."
Sheriff's investigators recovered the two projectiles from Jackson's gun and casings to match on the same day of the shooting, Cho said. They also recovered five shell casings from Conan's gun, and one jacket of a bullet, but recovered none of the bullets themselves, Cho said.
In November 2011, she and her investigators recovered three of five hollow-point .45 caliber bullets fired by Conan outside Celebrities, she said.
"The police department and RSO refused to take the evidence when we offered it to them, until two weeks before trial," Cho said. "The Department of Justice confirmed they came from Officer Conan's gun, and the prosecution conceded as much.
"The Department of Justice found no tissue, no blood, no trace evidence that the bullets from my client struck Albarran," Cho said.
Using bullet trajectories based on evidence from the shooting scene, the defense team worked with a graphic artist to create three-dimensional animations of what occurred outside Celebrities. Two images from one of the animations are attached to this report.
The defense knew that Conan accidentally shot Albarran, Cho said.
"The prosecution and RSO refused to examine that possibility or evidence," she said. "Finally, on the first day of jury selection, the prosecutor told the judge that they will seek a murder conviction based on an alternative theory called 'provocative act murder' because the jury may believe Officer Conan shot Albarran."
Cho is a private attorney. She was hired by Jackson's family before police announced his arrest. The day of Jackson's arrest, she reached out on Banning-Beaumont Patch to potential witnesses and to a Patch user who uploaded a video that appeared to capture sights and sounds outside Celebrities the night of the shooting.
"His family retained my services but in the end they did not have enough money to cover the costs of trial," Cho said. "We did it without payment because we believed in the case, we believed in his innocence. There was a great injustice here. I couldn't walk away from it."