Beaver County Judge Harry Knafelc declared a mistrial today in the trial of James Edward Cicco, after jurors told the court they were hopelessly deadlocked and would not be able to reach a unanimous decision on the two misdemeanor charges in the case.
Beaver Patrolman Jeffery Wijnen-Riems had alleged that Cicco refused to pull over for a traffic stop, then resisted arrest, assaulted him, grabbed a hand drill, and taunted his K-9 partner during an encounter on August 18th of last year. Officer Wijnen-Riems alleged he found two bottles of prescription medications in Cicco’s car that the man did not have prescriptions for.
Most of the dozens of charges filed against James Cicco by Beaver Police were dismissed by judges during pretrial hearings in the case, who found no evidence to sustain 50 felony counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance (which the District Attorney’s Office advised the court had been filed as the result of a clerical error), a felony count of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer, DUI, felony fleeing and eluding, resisting arrest, and taunting a police dog. The Beaver County District Attorney’s Office withdrew another count of misdemeanor drug paraphernalia last Friday.
Jurors heard evidence this week on the remaining charges of fleeing or eluding and possession of a controlled substance. But after nearly 5 hours of deliberations today, the jury foreman informed Judge Knafelc they would not be able to reach a unanimous decision on either of the two counts.
The jury foreman spoke with the Beaver Countian following the proceedings for a lengthy discussion about his thoughts on the case. The man talked on condition he not be identified by name because he feared possible retaliation. He was the only juror who agreed to requests for an interview.
The foreman said the jury’s final polls showed they were split 11-1 in favor of conviction on the charge of fleeing a law enforcement officer, and 8-4 in favor of conviction on the charge of possession. Jurors are required to reach unanimous decisions in order to render a verdict in a case.
The foreman told the Beaver Countian that he was the lone holdout on the charge of fleeing and one of the four individuals who did not believe James Cicco was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of possessing a controlled substance.
He said he was stunned by how difficult the deliberations were.
“When we first got back there I thought this was going to be easy,” he told the Beaver Countian. “We all just watched this cop’s dog eat a guy. Like I said, I thought this would be easy.”
The foreman prefaced his next statements by saying he does not take for granted the job of law enforcement officers.
“I want to say that I have all of the respect in the world for policemen,” he said. “I used to be a fireman many years ago, and we would all sit around together in the station. They have a very difficult job. But I have never seen anything like this guy before, this is just a bad cop.”
The man said he ultimately voted not guilty on all of the charges because he did not believe the officer’s testimony could be trusted, and because he felt that James Cicco had been “horribly abused” during the encounter.
“Some of the other jurors, one man in particular who was related to a police officer [from outside of the area], insisted that we look just at the piece of paper that had the laws written on them,” said the foreman. “He was very well spoken and he and I were probably at loggerheads more than anyone else on the jury. He convinced several people to think his way, but I believed we needed to be looking at the big picture here. I felt his way lacked any humanity. This was a human being that had been treated this way by a bad cop and I believed we needed to take that into consideration too. This was a situation that called for the showing of mercy […] I knew the cop was going to get away with everything that I saw and I just felt that somebody had to send a message.”
The foreman said another juror agreed with him, but decided he was going to vote not guilty for just one of the two charges, “he really didn’t care which charge it was, he just felt he wanted the man found not guilty on one of them because he had to deal with this cop.”
The foreman said the vast majority of jurors had shown concern about Officer Wijnen-Riems’ behavior as seen on the police dash cam video, but most felt obligated to follow the letter of the law when examining the defendant’s own conduct, which led them to favor findings of guilt. The foreman disagreed with many of their assessments.
“Even if you just look at the charges and the evidence, there were big problems here,” said the man. “What I saw on that video wasn’t fleeing and eluding, when I think of that I think of OJ Simpson and his white Bronco, that’s not what we had here. He drove the speed limit a short distance to his home and even used the turn signal.”
The foreman also described other evidentiary aspects of the case that troubled him.
“The video did not show any drugs being removed from the vehicle at all, and we saw no pictures of the drugs in the car, and that was just suspicious,” said the man. “Then there was this business about the defendant pulling a drill on the cop. Why didn’t we see a picture of the damn thing, you would have thought they would have stuck the thing in a plastic bag and saved it for Christ’s sake. A drill? Come on.”
The foreman said the three other jurors who agreed with him on a finding of not guilty for the drug possession charge — a total of two women and two men — all shared similar concerns about a lack of evidence on where the drugs actually came from.
“There were a couple of men who thought the defendant got what he deserved, they were laughing about him getting attacked by the dog, they sounded just like the officer and the 911 dispatcher on the recording. Most of us were disgusted by it,” concluded the foreman. “I was glad to get out of the same room they were in. I was disappointed, my opinion of humanity is shrinking by this experience. I would never volunteer to serve on a jury again.”
It is not yet clear if James Cicco will be retried on the charges.