Steve Wood Recalls One of His First Cases

Steve Wood Owner and Investigator for S.P.I.S.

Hello my name is Steve Wood. Over 30 years ago I became a police officer for the City of Colorado Springs and a short time later became a Homicide Detective. Now I’m retired and own my own private investigations firm (Sound Private Investigations Specialists) located in Seattle Washington. With a career like mine I have come across  a variety of cases both civil and criminal. This article and others to follow reflect my background, my experience.

Let me start by recalling one of the first cases I had as a private investigator.  It was a case where the girlfriend of an Hispanic male, came to an attorney I was working for explaining that her boyfriend had been arrested for an assault.  She was frantic as she didn’t want him to go back to prison as he had just been released on parole from the state penitentiary where he had served several years for a serious assault.

The attorney requested I conduct the investigation in order to help determine whether this was going to be a winnable case or if the girlfriend would be wasting her money trying to defend a guy who was on parole for the very same crime he was now accused of.

During my investigation I learned that the assault in question had occurred on the very same day that the client was released from prison.  He and some friends had decided to celebrate his release by going to a bar where it happened that there was another celebration taking place, that being “Frontier Days” .  Frontier days tends to bring out a variety of people including a lot of biker types as well as rednecks, which is no surprise given that the bar in question is locally known as a redneck bar..

When our Hispanic client and his Hispanic friends went into that bar, they drew attention from the other groups of people present who were already drinking since the celebration of Frontier Days tends to start early in the day, around noon.  Our client and his friends showed up at around 9 p.m., and they decided to shoot some pool.  The bar contained two pool tables so in order to get a spot at the table our client had to put money on the table and challenge the winner of the game which was already in progress.

When our clients turn came to challenge the winner of the previous game, an argument began over who exactly was supposed to be next to play as several potential challengers had their money on the table edge.  Pretty soon the argument turned into some ethnic/racial slurs and a lot of challenges to settle this outside.  Eventually the inevitable fight broke out and as a result the police were called.  When all was said and done there were several people who had received some minor injuries and one person had to be transported to the hospital having been struck in the head with a beer bottle which split his skull and it was later determined to have caused some brain damage.

At the scene one person identified our client as being the person who had struck the victim with the beer bottle.  This happened to be the exact person with whom the original argument started over who was next to play pool.

The police subsequently arrested and charged our client with first degree assault, and because he had just been paroled, there was no bond set as a parole hold was placed on him.  Later a detective was assigned to help bolster the case for prosecution and when he contacted about 6 potential witnesses, as well as the victim, he showed them a photo line-up and each of the witnesses identified our client as the person they had seen strike the victim with the beer bottle.

It seemed like this case was a nonstarter from reading just the police reports.  When I attempted to contact the witnesses only on would speak to me and he told me he had told the police everything he knew.  When asked about the photo line-up, he clearly remembered which number photo he had identified in the series of photo’s he had seen.  The rest of the people declined to be interviewed telling me the police had their statements and that they were sure the police reports were accurate.

I then contacted the victim, who I was sure would refuse an interview.  I offered to buy him lunch and we agreed to meet at the same bar where the fight had taken place.

When we met we had some talk about his injury and how he is progressing.  He told me he was getting a little better but still had a ways to go. I asked if the injury had affected his memory.  He told me he could remember most of what happened during the incident. I asked him to tell me what he could and he related that he didn’t really know why the fight started.  He recalled that he had been shooting pool and the next thing he knew a fight had broken out.  He remembered that a person had tried to hit him with a pool cue at one point but he had blocked that the stick and he demonstrated how he blocked it by thrusting his right arm up in what appeared to be a martial arts blocking motion.  I asked him if he had some martial arts training.  He told me he did and it came in handy during the fight as he had to block some kicks and punches and then countered with punches of his own.  I complemented him as he went on about his blocking and punching, and I commented that he sounded like Bruce Lee as he went on about the fight.  He chuckled and indicated that it was like a Bruce Lee movie.

I then slowed the conversation down and told him how impressed I was that all of this was going on and that it must have been chaos.  He agreed.  I then told him that he had said he blocked the pool cue and asked if the guy who tried to hit him with that was standing to his front.  He told me that guy was to his side a little but still to his front.  I then asked him about the guy who tried to kick him.  He said that guy was standing to his front and tried to kick him in his privates.  I asked how he was able to block that and he described a low block, using his forearm.  I asked if either of those guys was the defendant in this case.  He said they weren’t.  I then went on about the blocks he had made when he was blocking punches and if any of those guys was the defendant in this case.  He said they weren’t.

I then asked if he recalled the detective coming to see him with a photo line-up.  He said he did.  I asked him if he recalled pointing out the defendant.  He said he did.  I asked him if he was sure about the photo he identified.  He said he was.

I then told him I was a little confused and explained that he had told me about the guy with the pool cue was not the defendant and the guys who had tried to punch and kick him had not been the defendant.  I then explained to him that he had blocked all of the things that had been thrown at him, the cue stick, the punches and the kicks, and asked him why he had not blocked the beer bottle.  He paused for a few moments and then said he didn’t see it coming.

I then asked him if he didn’t see that coming why not.  He told me that it must have been someone out of his line of sight that hit him.  I told him that made sense to me and then asked him how he could have identified the defendant from the photo line-up as being the person who hit him if he didn’t actually see the guy who hit him.  He paused again and appeared as though he might be done talking to me.  I told him that I understood that he had been badly hurt during this incident, and that my goal here was to make sure that if my client was at fault then he should be held responsible, however, if he was not I didn’t want to see him sent to jail or prison for something he didn’t do.  I asked if he agreed with me.  He said he did.  I asked him how he was able to pick out the defendant as the one who hit him.  He then told me that a friend of his had called him and told him that the detective was coming to contact witnesses and that the friend had called him and several other witnesses to tell them the number of the photo in the line-up to pick.  I asked him if the friend who had called him had said he had seen that person hit him.  He told me that the friend had said the defendant was the one who started the whole thing, but that he hadn’t actually seen that person hit him with the bottle.

As a result a trial was held and the victim testified that in fact he had no idea who had hit him.  He told the same story in court that he told me and discredited the testimony of all of the witnesses which as it happened were all friends.  Our client was found not guilty at trial and when we subsequently interviewed the jurors about the trial they requested that the individual who falsely testified, and who told all of the witnesses to pick the defendant in the photo, be brought up on charges related to interfering and obstructing an investigation.

The result was that a person who had just been paroled from prison was able to go on with his life after what appeared at first glance to be a case of a slam dunk conviction and a return to prison after one day of freedom.  Thankfully, the defendant in this case learned a valuable lesson and has gone on to lead a crime free life as an auto mechanic, with his girlfriend, now wife.

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