LELDF | “Fresno Four” Officers Facing Federal Indictment

Early in the morning hours of October 10, 2005, the four Fresno policemen, long time friends, responded separately to a call from a young, single mom who reported that an angry former boyfriend was trying to break into to her home through a window. His name was Rolando Celdon and this was his second angry and violent visit of the day.

He announced that he was there to kill them.

When it was clear he wouldn’t be able to get in and that police were on the way, Mr. Celdon fled. In response to the young mom’s desperate plea, the dispatcher issued a high priority call for help.

The first to see Celdon was Officer Sean Plymale. He released his K-9 companion, Tymo, to chase him down. But the strong and drug-induced suspect was barely slowed. Even as Tymo had a firm grip on Mr. Celdon he was able to climb a fence with the dog unrelenting in its grip.

Once across the fence, Officer Coleman –who was now on the scene – observed that Celdon had injured Tymo and was now again free.

As Celdon refused the order to surrender and the suspect appeared ready to draw a weapon, Coleman applied a taser.

But even that didn’t seem to work.

By this time, Officer Van Dalen had arrived and at the request of his fellow officers, drew out his squad car’s non-lethal “bean bag” shotgun. (A “bean bag” gun inflicts temporary pain to subdue a suspect but generally leaves no permanent injury.) After being given the “bean bag” gun, Coleman, speaking in both English and Spanish, once again ordered Celdon (also an illegal alien) to raise his hands. Not only did he refuse to comply, but his hands were positioned as if ready to retrieve a knife or gun. Given that only minutes earlier the suspect had threatened to kill his former girlfriend and her children, Coleman discharged the non-lethal weapon striking Celdon and
driving him to the ground where the arrest was finally made.

Last on the scene was Sergeant Manfredi who inspected the scene and noted that in addition to the dog being injured, Officer Plymale had injured his hand and the suspect had minimal dog bite wounds and bruises.

A standard departmental review of the incident revealed that in the rush to complete paperwork, Sergeant Manfredi hadn’t completed all of the documentation accurately, but that in general, the men had used the proper level of force for dealing with a presumably drug-crazed and violent suspect. Although Coleman, Plymale and Manfredi were originally fired for their actions, a subsequent full examination of the facts resulted in reinstatement and collection of back pay.

Remember, all of this started in October, 2005. Why did it take four years before federal authorities even took action?

In October, 2010, the Justice Department brought Federal Charges against these men for the violation of the civil rights of a convicted drug offender and illegal alien. Once again, politically motivated prosecutors saw a chance to score a victory. Victory at the cost of four officers that each face a decade in prison. Frankly, there is no other reason for the prosecution.

Were the police right to use a non-lethal “bean bag” gun in an effort to arrest a suspect high on drugs, potentially armed and facing charges of domestic violence? Rolando Celdon had already exhibited incredible strength in pulling the dog, Tymo, over the fence and injuring him in the process.

Celdon had threatened to kill a frightened woman and her terrified children. Celdon had fled the scene and repeatedly refused to surrender. Celdon’s injuries were minimal and not permanent.

All of these actions took place in just a few short minutes. The four Fresno policemen had to make split-second decisions. They risked their own lives and safety by restricting their own use of force to non-lethal means.

Now, they face hard time in federal prison.

What message does this case send to the law enforcement officials in your community? The next time they are in this situation, will they stay back and “pull punches?” Will the suspect escape to terrorize and hurt or kill innocent people? Remember, the lengthy and detailed California-based review of this case cleared the good names of Officers Plymale, Coleman, and Van Dalen and Sergeant Manfredi.

Now they face federal prosecution. We’ll never know exactly what the motivation was, but we do know the result.

The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund is assisting the Fresno Four officers in this case and ask for your generous assistance.