Dyer straits

No footage available of disputed confrontation between Auburn police and inebriated man who requested a ride home

Dalton Dyer, 28, stands outside the Auburn Police Department, whose officers arrested him Oct. 12, 2018.

Dalton Dyer, 28, stands outside the Auburn Police Department, whose officers arrested him Oct. 12, 2018.

Photo by Graham Womack

On paper, the odds don’t look great for Dalton Dyer. The 28-year-old Auburn man faces a criminal trial for three felony counts and two strikes related to allegedly punching Auburn police Officer Matthew Nichols during an Oct. 12, 2018 arrest.

Dyer’s voluminous case file includes Nichols’ medical records and dozens of pages of testimony at Dyer’s preliminary hearing in June from another officer, Joshua Eagan.

Perhaps worst of all for Dyer’s defense, evidence that he says could exonerate him is nowhere to be found.

In recent years, potential police misconduct has come under significantly greater public scrutiny, with the proliferation of body-worn and dashboard cameras. But Dyer’s case shows how much the law still favors police officers when such footage isn’t available.

It began with an attempted apology. Dyer had had three Coors Light beers when he called his cousin Martin Gonzalez-Valenzuela to drive him home. Unbeknownst to Dyer, his cousin had also been drinking and was pulled over by Eagan for DUI around 2:30 a.m.

Upset that his cousin would be going to jail, Dyer asked Eagan if he could apologize to Gonzalez-Valenzuela. Eagan agreed and Dyer approached the vehicle.

“It was just me telling him, ’I’m sorry,’” Dyer told SN&R. “It was like, ’Hey bro, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. Like, what do you want me to do?’”

Sitting in the back of the police car with the door shut, Gonzalez-Valenzuela attempted to ease Dyer’s concerns, he told SN&R.

“He’s like, ’I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Gonzalez-Valenzuela said. “I’m like, ’Don’t worry about it.’”

Neither Nichols, who is in the process of retiring, nor Eagan, responded to interview requests, though each offered accounts that are included in Dyer’s case file.

Eagan testified at the preliminary hearing that when Dyer was outside of the police car, “It started off as calm and then escalated to where he was getting upset. … He started to make statements towards us that he wanted us to take him to jail instead. And both my suspect and Mr. Dyer were getting amped up and excited about the situation.”

Meanwhile, Nichols spotted a bag of marijuana in Dyer’s pocket. Having elected to arrest Dyer for public intoxication, he went to grab the marijuana and Dyer’s wallet without announcing he was making a search.

“Once I grabbed the wallet and started pulling it out, Dyer spun around with his fists [clenched] and he struck my hand away with his left fist and said ’Get the fuck out of my pockets bitch,’” Nichols wrote in a report following the incident.

Nichols said in his report that after Dyer continued to resist arrest, Eagan tased him. Shortly thereafter, Nichols felt a punch, Eagan testified.

Eagan later admitted under cross examination that he hadn’t seen Dyer strike Nichols. Gonzalez-Valenzuela didn’t see Dyer strike Nichols either.

“When they took him down, all I heard was, ’I’m not doing nothing, I’m not doing nothing,’” Gonzalez-Valenzuela said. “Then, not even like five seconds into it, they tased him.”

Dyer’s attorney couldn’t cross-examine Nichols at the preliminary hearing, because Nichols testified via email, which is allowable under Proposition 115. Preliminary hearings are held to determine if sufficient evidence exists to merit a criminal trial. Constitutionally, Dyer has the right to cross-examine Nichols at his upcoming trial.

Nichols joined Auburn PD in May 2018 with some baggage from a 19-year career with the Sacramento Police Department, firing two shots in the 2014 death of Paul Westbrook and four shots during the 2017 arrest of Fernando Sanchez, who rammed his truck through the gate of a police substation. The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office concluded Nichols was justified in each shooting.

Evidence that could sort out what exactly transpired has been difficult for Dyer’s team to come by. They haven’t been able to obtain dashboard camera footage, although the incident happened near two police vehicles.

Eagan and Nichols had each been issued LE4 Mini Cameras, Auburn police Sgt. Tucker Huey noted in a June report. But Eagan claimed in a May 20 email to Anna Duffy of the Placer County District Attorney’s Office that neither officer had “body cameras on during the whole incident, or events following it.”

Huey’s report noted that the department had been experiencing different issues with its cameras and had returned seven of the 12 cameras it purchased in 2017. The shortage came despite a rash of incidents for local law enforcement, including prisoner abuse by Placer County Jail employees that culminated in a $1.44 million settlement this spring, according to media reports.

Dyer said he declined a plea deal, with a Nov. 18 hearing looming to set his trial date.

“I just want accountability,” Dyer told SN&R. “I just want their film and audio so they can show me where I went wrong and then I’ll take it. Otherwise, it’s like, I don’t want to be accused of something I didn’t do.”