The unrelenting prosecution of Cherise Rogers
April 6, 2007 is a day Cherise Rogers will never forget.
It was the beginning of an average Friday, or so she thought. Twenty-five-years-old and not long out of college, she was working as a clerk typist for the Los Angeles Police Department. She just finished her shift, which ended at one in the morning.
Driving to her grandparents home along Century Boulevard in Inglewood, she noticed a police
car behind her with its lights flashing. Rogers pulled over.
Soon she will be tackled by five officers, handcuffed, pepper-sprayed and sitting in the back of a patrol car. The next four years will be consumed by 65 court appearances, trying to clear her name and regain a once bright future.
The nightmare begins
According to her arresting officer, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Maurizi, Rogers was driving recklessly, which prompted him to pull her over. He wrote in his police report that she was swerving her car “into and out of traffic lanes,” driving “in excess of 50 mph in a posted 40 mph zone” and causing other motorists to slow down to avoid hitting her.
Once on the side of the road, he found a joint in Rogers’ car. Maurizi wrote in his report that Rogers resisted arrest, causing him to call for backup.
By all accounts, it looked like an open-and-shut case. But Rogers decided to fight the charges, and upon closer inspection, things were not as straightforward as they appeared.
Rogers says Maurizi’s “demeanor was off.” He was hostile, would not explain why she was pulled over or identify himself.
“The normal protocol from when I have been pulled over is: ‘Hi, ma’am. Do you know why I stopped you?’ or ‘Hi, ma’am. You were doing this …’ or ‘Ma’am, can I see your license and registration?’
“His was: ‘Turn off the car and step out of the vehicle.’ It was kind of odd, because it was 1:30 in the morning. He was by himself. I was by myself.”
To hopefully ease the tension and clarify the problem, Rogers mentioned she worked for the LAPD civilian corps. His reply, according to Rogers, was “I don’t give a fuck where you work. Get out of the car.”
She became concerned about her safety, she says. The area where she was pulled over was poorly illuminated due to several vacant lots at the time. It is also an area known for its prostitution.
Rogers’ job had a role to play in her trepidation, too. She explains that part of her occupation included typing police reports which led to her heightened concern. Reading incidents of crime all day, every day, left her with a bleak view of her environment. Images of cops working over hookers for favors and civilian men posing as police looking for female prey also ran through her mind.
“It was just us, and dark” she says. “And even he testified that it was a dark, high-crime area and that he was scared when he approached me because he didn’t know if I had a weapon.
“Well, if he was scared in this high-crime area and he didn’t know who he was pulling over, why wouldn’t I be fearful of this same person who is in this aggressive manner?”
According to Rogers, Deputy Maurizi then opened the car door, pulled her out and handcuffed her. She asked why she was being arrested and, with no answer forthcoming, screamed for help.
The deputy, in return, called for backup. Four more officers arrived.
Soon Rogers had five men pinning her to the ground, holding her arms and legs – two from the sheriff’s department and two others from the Inglewood Police Department. One officer, she says, choked her close to blacking out to get her to stop screaming. When she demanded to know who choked her, she was pepper-sprayed. Once she was in the patrol car, she was given another dose of it, she says.
Rogers was then sent to Centinela Hospital Medical Center to be treated for the spray. It wasn’t until hours later, she says, when she learned of what she was arrested for while being booked: reckless driving, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana.
When she was in the hospital, she asked for the name of her arresting officer. Not wanting to forget Deputy Maurizi’s name, Rogers used phonetics to create a play on words to help her.
“I was trying to think of how I was going to remember his name,” she says, “and I said, ‘Yeah, if he had been a little ‘more easy’ I wouldn’t be in this situation.’”
An ever changing testimony
As the case went to trial in June 2008, numerous inconsistencies in Maurizi’s police report and testimony began to appear.
Deputy Maurizi said he tailed Rogers for a mile and a half, even though, in the report, he described her as having a “wanton disregard for the safety of the motoring public,” with cars moving out of her way. Despite his patrol car being equipped with emergency lights and a siren, Maurizi’s excuse was that he couldn’t catch up to her because of traffic lights slowing his progress.
While Rogers was allegedly endangering the public, he also took time to run her plates and gauge her speed by tailing her.
Maurizi stated in court that he witnessed her speeding and driving recklessly on Century Boulevard when he was still several blocks away on Hawthorne Boulevard. In court the next day, he amended his testimony, saying he made a mistake.
“He changed [his story],” says Rogers. “That’s because he knew it didn’t make sense. He couldn’t say he was running my plates for no reason, so he had to make up the reckless driving charge.”
Nana Gyamfi, Rogers’ attorney, says when a police officer’s arrest report, declaration of probable cause and testimony differ, it is a sign that something is seriously amiss.
“He was seeing things he couldn’t have possibly have seen, because she had already turned the corner,” says Gyamfi. “It was obvious to the jury that he was lying, but he put that lie in there to explain why he ran the plates.”
Maurizi’s estimate of traffic volume on the day of arrest was amended when he was questioned in court.
“I testified that it was fairly heavy,” he said on the stand. “Today, I testified it was light to moderate. … I testified that it was fairly heavy two years ago and, today, I said light to moderate.”
The significance being, if traffic was light or moderate, then it would be feasible to have followed Rogers from several blocks away to gauge her speed.
Another change in Maurizi’s testimony occurred over which officer took Rogers to the hospital. In his arrest report, he stated he “escorted Rogers to the back seat of [his] patrol car” and “transported Rogers to Centinela Hospital.” When he testified before a LAPD hearing over Rogers employment, his story did not change.
But in his testimony, Maurizi said he did not remember which patrol car Rogers was placed in or who drove her to the hospital.
“Generally speaking, not if I’m the deputy that used force on her,” he said. “It’s generally going to be another deputy that transports that person.”
The explanations behind the joint found in Rogers’ car also revealed other inconsistencies. In his arrest report, Maurizi said he saw the joint when Rogers placed her hands on the steering wheel.
“As she did this, I could clearly see a brown cigarette with a green leafy substance resembling marijuana inside of it sitting next to her leg,” he reported.
But in his probable cause declaration, or PCD, he wrote, that Rogers stuffed the joint “between her seat and the center console.” In his defense, Maurizi told Gyamfi in court that differences between the PCD and arrest report are acceptable.
“The general content is supposed to be the same,” he said. “They are not supposed to be identical, a cut and paste, if you will, cutting something out of a PCD and pasting it into a report.”
Resisting the resisting arrest charges
Ultimately, Rogers was found not-guilty of reckless driving. She was found guilty of possession of marijuana, but does not quibble over the verdict.
“Possession is possession,” she says.
But the resisting arrest charges are another matter.
Police described her as having super-human strength. After getting a handcuff around one wrist, Maurizi said Rogers got free and attacked him.
“She clenched her right hand in a fist and she punched me,” he said in court. “Her punch landed on my right side of my chest where my name plate is.”
When deputy Regan Fitzgerald arrived on the scene with his partner, Maurizi was sitting on top of her, yet she was allegedly still trying to flee the scene, reported Fitzgerald.
Rogers says she weighs 110 pounds, which by observation is believable considering her ultra-thin frame. Standing at roughly 5-feet-5-inches, she is the very definition of petite.
“Unless you’ve never seen me before, you would think, ‘Oh, she must be some big, mombo-jombo woman,’” she says. “But anyone who knows me, knows that if I have a grown man sitting on my back, there is no way … How am I going to flee with a man sitting on my back?”
Maurizi said she was able to break free again, this time from two officers restraining her, and attack another officer.
“The defendant had somehow turned herself around, was facing Deputy Fitzgerald and I saw at least one or two kicks initially from the defendant kicking Deputy Fitzgerald in the groin,” he said in court.
But in his supplemental report written on the day of the arrest, Maurizi reported Rogers being inside the patrol car when she allegedly kicked Fitzgerald, not breaking free of their grips.
Rogers admits to kicking, but only so she could keep the car door open, she says. She had just been pepper-sprayed and felt she couldn’t breathe. The open door provided some relief.
Despite her reported strength and agility, including the alleged reckless driving, none of the officers thought to test her for drugs or alcohol.
“I never really had a suspicion that she was under the influence of anything,” said Maurizi during testimony.
The persistent long arm of the law
After 20 court appearances, the reckless driving and possession of pot charges were now behind Rogers. The possession conviction was only a $100 fine, but with fees, the total came to $411. She was assigned over 50 hours of community service.
But her saga was far from over.
Before she originally went to trial, the resisting arrest charges were dropped due to the DA failing to turn over certain documents relating to police protocol in a reasonable time, but the DA appealed. That took a year and another five appearances. In the end, the appeal was granted, thus reinstating the two counts of battery upon a police officer and one count of resisting.
“I feel everything should have been thrown out at that point,” said Rogers. “If the reason for the stop was found not guilty, then what was the purpose of me getting pulled over? What am I resisting arrest for if I wasn’t supposed to be stopped in the first place?”
But the DA wasn’t finished yet. Nearly three years after her arrest, on Jan. 15, 2010, the prosecution added a fourth count: “resisting, obstructing, or delaying a peace officer.” Rogers’ case, which started off with questionable events and a dubious officer, now seemed to give the color of a vendetta.
Rogers says her attorney was not allowed to discuss the fact she was acquitted of the reckless driving charge in the resisting arrest trial, yet the DA still described her to the jury as a reckless driver. The jury never got to hear of Maurizi’s suspicious testimony.
“It was almost like I was being charged again on the reckless driving charge,” she said. “They were making me sound guilty of something that I already been found not guilty of.”
The district attorney’s office says it believes that a case such as Rogers’ should be tried, regardless of the number of court appearances or the cost to taxpayers.
“Our job is to pursue criminal cases until there is some conclusion of the case,” says Matt Krasnowski, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “We appeal cases when we think justice will be served.”
On Jan. 27, the jury was deadlocked and a mistrial was declared. Things may have well ended here, but the DA pushed for a re-trial. By April 5, Rogers was in court again.
The defense suffered another blow when their court-appointed expert witness was not allowed to testify. Timothy Williams Jr. reviewed for the defense the procedures employed by Maurizi and the other officers to determine if they employed a proper use of force.
Williams’ report criticized Maurizi for not calling another officer when pulling over Rogers. He maintained that it would be impossible to see the joint from the driver’s side window. Further, Williams concluded that tackling Rogers to the ground was unnecessary, as a wrist lock would have sufficed.
He said that when the police officers were on top of Rogers, it amounted to over 530 pounds. Such pressure, he said, prompts a person to struggle so they can breathe. The use of pepper-spray while Rogers was handcuffed was excessive, in his opinion.
“[Maurizi] should have cited her for the speeding and the marijuana and not arrested her,” he said in his report.
Williams worked with the LAPD for 18 years. His experience in law enforcement goes back to 1974 and is summarized on several pages attached to his report. However, the DA raised questions about Williams’ status as an expert on the sheriff’s department protocols.
[FOR THE RECORD: Timothy Williams Jr. has 29 years of experience with the Los Angeles Police Department, not 18 as was originally reported.]
The judge agreed with the prosecution. Williams was not allowed to testify because he never “acquired expertise with respect to the sheriff’s department guidelines,” according to Judge Edward B. Moreton Jr.
Things start to get personal
Though a district attorney may be duty bound to doggedly pursue criminal cases, after an appeal and a re-trial over misdemeanor charges, the defense began to think there was more to the DA’s persistence than mere obligation.
Gyamfi feels the DA began targeting Rogers when she wouldn’t cut a deal and wanted to go to trial.
“Once you don’t plead when they think you are going to, then they figure you are going to sue,” she says regarding use-of-force cases.
She says this can cause DAs to vigorously pursue cases in the hopes of a conviction. Once a conviction is obtained, it is a lot harder to find a lawyer to take the lawsuit, as the chances of winning are much slimmer.
As Rogers’ case progressed, it was discovered that Christopher Maurizi was no average deputy. His mother, Janice Maurizi, is one of the top deputy district attorneys in LA County.
In 2000, she was appointed by District Attorney Steve Cooley as director of Branch and Area Operations, where she oversaw 400 deputy district attorneys in 20 courthouses, according to the Criminal Justice Institute’s website. Janice Maurizi is currently the director of the Bureau of Fraud and Corruption Prosecutions.
She has handled many high-profile cases for the county. In January 2010, Steve Cooley praised Janice Maurizi and others in his office, calling them “great lawyers” and jokingly referring to them as the “San Fernando Mafia,” according to the Metropolitan News Enterprise.
Gyamfi says there is a general tenacious attitude with prosecutors, but feels the family connection must have played a role in the attitude of the DA.
“I think a lot of this has to do with [Maurizi] not being allowed to go down for his misconduct,” she says. “I think that was a large part of it as well.”
If Rogers’ refusal to plead guilty or Maurizi’s familial connections are not the issue, then Rogers’ blog might very well have been. In 2009, against the wishes of her attorney, she began a blog, called “BatteredByPD,” where she began writing about her court case, the police and judicial system.
Rogers was open about her feelings, saying the police were not to be trusted and that the DA was trying to railroad her. She also proclaimed her defiance and willingness to fight what she thought was an injustice.
“Once you get in the system, your life is pretty much screwed,” reads an October 2010 post. “It doesn’t even matter if the cop is a liar, all the cop has to do is say it happened, and get his fellow comrades to corroborate the story, and then your life is forever screwed behind it.”
She referred to the police officers, the deputy district attorneys and judges by name. It is assumed, because their names were tagged in the blog, this is how the district attorney found out about it. The DA wanted the blog entered into court record to be used against her. The judge would not allow that on First Amendment grounds, and due to the fact the prosecution could not prove who penned the postings, as family and friends contributed to the website as well.
But Judge Moreton and the prosecution got the last laugh. Moreton had it entered into the court minutes that Rogers “perjured herself while under oath.” This issue never came up during the trial, it was simply Moreton’s opinion.
“I think the defendant lied on the stand [and] attempted to obstruct justice by doing so,” he said during sentencing without giving specifics.
The judge went further and entered into record that Rogers aggravated her case by characterizing herself as a victim, escalating the incident of her arrest and seeking preferential treatment by, as Muarizi accuses her, flashing him her LAPD ID badge.
Gyamfi says that in her 17 years of practicing law, she had never seen a judge do this before, calling it “particularly viscous” on the part of Moreton.
“I have never seen a situation where the judge puts in the court minutes all of his opinions he had of the defendant,” says Gyamfi. “He did that on purpose, because he wanted to make sure that anyone who went back to see what happened – in case she is applying for a job or anything – that they are going to see that.”
On Apr. 14, 2010, Rogers was found guilty of “resisting an executive officer” and “resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer.” The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the two counts of battery of an officer.
Judge Moreton’s opinions were also revealed during her sentencing hearing. Even though she was acquitted of reckless driving, the judge still considered her guilty of it.
“The police saw her driving erratically and they pull her over and she turned it into what became an ordeal,” he said.
Despite the jury being unable to decide if Rogers was guilty of the battery charges, Moreton maintained that Rogers was responsible for the physical violence against them. He also accused Rogers, via her testimony, of trying to ruin the reputation and careers of the police officers.
“Jail time is appropriate,” said Moreton. “This kind of behavior has to be deterred. Those police officers, when they were dealing with the defendant, could have been out there protecting other people and they weren’t.
“There also has to be a deterrence to people lying on the stand and trying to destroy people’s careers to help themselves.”
Rogers was placed on three years probation, provided she serves 60 days in jail and fines and fees totaling $1,366.
The difficulty with a case like Rogers’, says Gyamfi, is twofold. First, resisting arrest charges are “highly abused” by cops, she says.
“Resisting arrest is really contempt of cops, or you moving or screaming and being attacked,” she says. “You have the right to resist an unlawful arrest, but in her case, she was not even resisting.
“But if you have people sitting on top of you and your arm is underneath you, and they say, ‘Release your arm, release your arm,’ it’s like, how can you do that? The only way to do that is squirm and get your arm out, but they can throw that back at you and say you were resisting.”
Second, she says, in the eyes of jurors, a defendant’s testimony is not nearly as strong as a police officers’. Gyamfi believes the DA will continue to pursue a case, because once there is a conviction, jurors become biased.
“They know, generally speaking, people believe the police even when the police are lying,” she says. “Jurors will connect the dots and make excuses for the police. Jurors will say, ‘Oh, he wasn’t lying. He’s just mistaken’ or ‘He’s just making up the story because he has to do his job.’ Jurors will say that, and DAs know that.”
The worst part of this, says Gyamfi, is there is no accountability for “the misuse of the system.”
“Ten years from now, if her thing is overturned, what is going to happen?” she says. “Are they going to chase down Maurizi … or the DA?”
In situations where cases get overturned, if it was calculated how much the trials cost the taxpayer and the sum of that total was subtracted from the DA’s budget, “there would be a great reduction in pressing these types of cases,” she says.
“It’s the defendant who has to spend money if they get a private attorney and be stressed out,” she says.
To date, Rogers has had 65 court appearances, and, because she is appealing the decision, there will be more to come. By all accounts, she will be dealing with the outcome of her arrest for years.
[FOR THE RECORD: As of July 26, four days prior to publication, Cherise Rogers had her 66th court date.]
One of her greatest frustrations is in finding a job.
Internal Affairs visited Rogers the night of her arrest. Despite the reckless driving and possession charges, they never drug tested her. Later at hearings to get her job reinstated, a friend of Rogers testified the joint belonged to her, not Rogers.
The LAPD fired her on Jan. 15, 2008, five months before her first trial began, for “unbecoming conduct,” she says.
Rogers has a bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent development. It was her dream to work with inner-city youths, but now that she has been fired by the LAPD and has a criminal record, she can’t work with kids, she says.
She has a stack of denial letters from companies she’s applied to, she says. She can no longer get a government job – state, local or federal. She now gets occasional jobs in promotional modeling or handing out samples in grocery stores.
“They basically messed my whole life up,” she says. “Everything I have a passion to do, I can’t do.”
Rogers says she used to have a lot respect for the police and believed in the judicial system – she did work for the LAPD, after all. But since then, with eyes wide open, she became active in demonstrating against police misconduct.
Rogers’ blog, and particularly her Facebook page, is a barrage of news articles concerning police abuse and misconduct and the failings of the judicial system.
She would show up at meetings and for protests over the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, unarmed man, who was shot to death by then Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle.
She was also active in putting pressure on the sheriff’s department over the mysterious disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, who went missing after deputies released her from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in Calabasas. The sheriff’s department was widely criticized for its handling of the case. Richardson’s parents are suing the department.
Rogers is also dealing with the psychological effects of her experience. She is 29 now, and says, she’s tired. The arrest and trials have consumed four years of her life and she wants to move on.
On the BatteredByPD blog, a friend of Rogers writes, she is “always worried, always scared, but seldom letting on.” The description is suitable. Though she comes off as cheerful, it is subdued by an undercurrent of seriousness.
“I am not as happy as I used to be,” she says. “I used to be more carefree. I lost a lot of friends because I used to be more into the social scene.”
Like an Iraq War veteran who comes home to civilian life, still gripped by the fear of roadside bombs, there too is an element of shell shock with Rogers. She is seized by the sight of every patrol car that comes in her vision.
“Now people say I am paranoid,” she says. “When I’m out and I see police, I don’t like it. I’d rather stay in. Especially because I am out on bail right now pending my appeal – they can use anything against me.
“I live my life on eggshells. I never know what my life is going to be like tomorrow.”
Yet, despite the somber notes, Rogers continues to push on, hoping the morning of April 6, 2007 and all the events that followed will soon be behind her. Her tenacity has garnered her some praise, she says. A few have even called her their hero. She admits though she couldn’t have come this far if it wasn’t for the support of her family.
“I’ve cried through the majority of this thing,” she says, “but whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
[For a happy update on Cherise Rogers' case, click here.]