In April 2015, Jesse Mora was arguing with his wife inside their SUV in Fresno’s Tower District when two police officers confronted them about a report of a domestic disturbance.
Within a few minutes, Mora took off in the SUV, dragging one of the officers down the street and injuring him.
Nearly two years later, Mora, 32, is on trial in Fresno County Superior Court, charged with the felony assault of Fresno police Officer Darren Nelson, who suffered cuts to the back of his head and on his left knee. Mora also faces charges of using force on Nelson and resisting arrest. Mora faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.
In opening statements of the trial on Tuesday, defense attorney Maribel Romo said Mora got scared when he saw Nelson and Officer April Marquez approaching his SUV because he had marijuana in his pocket. He then panicked and drove off and did not intend to hurt Nelson, Romo said.
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Romo also said Nelson has a habit of jumping into moving vehicles in order to arrest people. In addition, Romo said in court papers that officers have given conflicting accounts about the incident, including whether Nelson was dragged 50 feet or just 5 to 10 feet.
Defense attorney Maribel Romo said in court papers that officers have given conflicting accounts about the incident, including whether Officer Darren Nelson was dragged 50 feet or just 5 to 10 feet.
Prosecutor Andrew Janz said Mora knew his actions during the early evening of April 22, 2015, were dangerous to others.
Nelson started the prosecution’s case by testifying that he confronted Mora because his silver SUV, which was parked in a neighborhood near Palm and Olive Avenues, matched a description given by police dispatch.
He said Marquez asked the female passenger, identified in police reports as Mora’s wife, to exit the SUV and she complied.
Nelson said he asked for Mora’s identification, but he had none on him. Instead, Mora gave the officer his name and date of birth.
Nelson said he could not remember if he opened the driver’s door of if Mora did. But he recalled standing next to Mora as he spoke to him. By this time, other officers, including Sgt. Pete Boyer, had arrived at the scene.
Officers with help from a police helicopter and a police dog named Faris arrested Mora, who was hiding under a couch inside his home on Thorne Avenue.
Initially, Mora was calm and cooperative and denied being involved in a domestic disturbance, Nelson told the jury. Then Mora got nervous and started sweating, the officer said.
Nelson recalled Mora picking up a piece of pizza and taking a bite out of it. He said Mora then slowly grabbed his car keys off the center console and put them in the ignition.
Nelson testified that he ordered Mora to give him the keys, but Mora refused. He then grabbed Mora by the neck and arm in order to stop him.
Boyer also jumped into the fray from the passenger side. But once Mora started the SUV and spun its tires, Boyer jumped out of the SUV.
Nelson said he held on to Mora because he feared he would be run over by the SUV. He said the SUV reached speeds of up to 30 to 40 mph before he let go.
Because of his injuries, Nelson told the jury, he missed a week from work.
Janz told the jury that Mora drove to his home on the 1100 block of North Thorne Avenue. After Mora’s family left the home, officers with help from a police helicopter and a police dog named Faris entered the dwelling and arrested Mora, who was hiding under a couch. Next to him was a knife, Janz said.
A police report said Mora told an officer that “he made a dumb mistake by running from the police.”