Crime

Tafoya won't be retried in assault case

A former Fresno police officer will not be retried on an excessive-force charge stemming from a 2004 Hmong New Year party, Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan said Thursday.

Marcus Tafoya, 39, was found not guilty last month on eight counts of excessive force in connection with a March 2005 celebration in southeast Fresno for a Marine returning from the Iraq war. Jurors deadlocked on the assault charge from the 2004 incident. The vote was 9-3 to convict him; the jurors had to be unanimous.

"This office must balance available evidence, cooperation of witnesses and likelihood of a conviction in determining whether to go forward with a retrial," Egan said in a statement. "We continue to pursue any abuse of the public trust, no matter who the alleged offender is or their standing in our community."

Earlier Thursday, prosecutor Blake Gunderson made a motion to dismiss the charges in front of Fresno County Superior Court Judge John Vogt. And with that, Tafoya was a free man.

"My family and I are very happy with the outcome of this case," Tafoya said outside the courtroom after the short hearing.

But, he added: "I have new knowledge of how politics plays a role in each case that is filed." He declined to elaborate and his attorney, E. Marshall Hodgkins, refused to comment.

A Fresno County Superior Court jury of seven women and five men acquitted Tafoya on Jan. 25 of five counts of felony assault by a public officer and a burglary charge related to the party.

The jury also cleared him of felony assault by a public officer involving two other incidents in 2005.

In her statement, Egan also said: "I commend the courage of the victims, witnesses and officers who came forward to report and testify."

Tafoya was fired in 2007 after the District Attorney's Office targeted him for prosecution. Police Chief Jerry Dyer said after the Jan. 25 verdict that he fired Tafoya based on a police internal investigation -- not the district attorney's investigation.

Though the criminal case is out of the way, Tafoya remains a defendant in an upcoming federal civil rights trial involving some of the same people he clashed with at the March 2005 party.

Experts say the legal standard for a civil conviction is much lower, and jurors in the federal case likely will hear evidence of prior excessive-force complaints against Tafoya that weren't allowed in his criminal trial. The city already has settled with two of the partygoers for $1.6 million.

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