EPD assault case dismissed; DA's office: Motion based on new evidence

A Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed a misdemeanor assault case against a Eureka Police Department sergeant at the request of the District Attorney's Office on Friday after the prosecutor told the court he had received new evidence in recent weeks.

Sgt. Adam Laird has been on paid administrative leave from the department since Dec. 16, 2012, following allegations that he used excessive force during the arrest of a juvenile suspect earlier that month.

An attorney representing the juvenile who was arrested objected to the dismissal in court, saying her client was never notified as the alleged victim in the case. Judge Marilyn Miles repeated that the case was dismissed and directed her to speak with the District Attorney's Office.

"It's up to the prosecution to do that," Miles said.

Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees said after the brief hearing that the opinions of two out-of-town experts who reviewed a dashcam video taken from another EPD officer's car led to the office's decision.

"We felt we could not prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.

Laird's attorney Patrik Griego said five experts who reviewed the video concluded his client acted properly during the arrest, including an instructor at the College of the Redwoods Police Academy who trained Laird and found his actions were "reasonable, consistent with his training and appropriate."

Griego said he intends to provide the Eureka Police Department with the opinions from the District Attorney's Office experts "with the hope that they permit Sgt. Laird to return to work."

In motions filed earlier in the case, Griego argued that Laird was being targeted for prosecution based on his political and union activities, and his support of former Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen.

He said the city could face a potential wrongful termination case if Laird -- who was arrested April 16 and served with a notice of the EPD's intent to terminate his employment on Oct. 3 -- was not reinstated.

Laird declined to comment on his future with EPD.

"I'm very happy with the District Attorney's Office decision at this time," he said. "It's a relief to me and my family. I wish they had an expert review the tape before arresting me a few blocks from my daughter."

EPD Chief Andrew Mills said Laird's status with the department remained unchanged on Friday.

"We're still in the process of figuring out where that is going to go, but are still moving ahead with the intent to terminate," he said.

Laird filed a claim against the city in December -- the first step in bringing an unlimited civil lawsuit -- alleging that the city attorney's office and EPD violated his rights by turning over statements to the District Attorney's Office that he was compelled to make during EPD's internal affairs investigation into the December 2012 incident.

"This was done without my permission," Laird wrote in the claim. "This was private information from my personnel file. This action by the city has caused me to lose my right to privacy, created emotional distress and violated my constitutionally protected rights under the Fifth and 14th amendments."

Eureka city staff has recommended that the council reject Laird's claim for damages when the item comes before them on Tuesday's consent agenda.