After a man he arrested hanged himself in his jail cell last year, Fullerton police officer Vincent Thomas Mater ripped the department-issued recorder off his uniform and crushed it, making it impossible to retrieve the audio recording of the conversation he had with the man prior to his death.
On Tuesday, Mater was charged with one count of destruction of evidence in a death investigation and one count of vandalism. He faces up to 18 months in jail for the two misdemeanors.
He will most likely not spend a single day in jail.
As it is now, many are wondering if his two former fellow officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, will serve time for the beating death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless schizophrenic man. Their pretrial is scheduled for March 28.
Ramos and Cicinelli were charged after video from surveillance cameras and possibly confiscated citizen cameras showed them to be the main culprits in the beating last year. That footage has yet to be released.
Mater told investigators that he did not purposely destroy the evidence, but simply became enraged after being unable to download the audio onto his computer, flinging it across the room against a metal door where it shattered.
That version wouldn’t be too hard to believe knowing how quick-tempered cops can be.
But investigators still had their doubts.
A few hours after Mater arrested Dean Francis Gochenour on April 14 last year, the drunk-driving suspect hung himself in a Fullerton jail cell. On the night in question, Mater, a corporal working uniform patrol, crushed the digital audio recorder after learning of Gochenour’s death, prosecutors allege.
Prosecutors say the audio recorder would have captured vital conversations with Gochenour. Mater stopped Gouchenour’s car about 9:45 p.m after noticing the motorist was driving without his lights on.
He arrested Gochenour after determining that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. Mater then drove Gochenour in his patrol car to the Fullerton City Jail and turned him over to jailers to be booked upon arrival. Prosecutor say Mater was wearing his department-issued digital audio recording device through the trip and would have audio-recorded any statements.
Gochenour committed suicide about 11:30 p.m. in his jail cell. In the hours after Mater learned of Gochenour’s death, the officer allegedly destroyed his recorder by crushing it and then “removing the mother board and circuit board.” The actions, according to prosecutors, made it impossible to recover the captured audio relevant to the Orange County district attorney’s custodial death investigation.
The incident took place in April 2011 and Mater spent two months on paid administrative leave until the department initiated disciplinary proceedings aganist him. He resigned a week later.
This is the first time I’ve heard of a cop charged with destruction of evidence even though I’ve written plenty of stories about police destroying footage from cameras, including my own.