Insult to injury

Ernesto Galvan got his skull caved in by West Sac batons. He might get jail time for the privilege.

Ernesto Galvan after he allegedly attacked a West Sacramento police officer.

Ernesto Galvan after he allegedly attacked a West Sacramento police officer.

Photo By Fermin Galvan

The Galvan brothers say that they weren’t doing anything wrong the night West Sacramento police Officer Donald Schlie confronted them. It was after 3 a.m. on June 14, 2005, near the river levee in the neighborhood of Bryte. The younger of the two brothers, Fermin, says he was trying to convince his older brother, Ernesto, to show up for work the next morning.

That’s when Schlie approached and began questioning them about what they were doing on the street at that hour. Schlie’s partner, was not far from there in his own car.

All sides agree that the encounter escalated quickly. In its aftermath, Ernesto Galvan would be in a coma that lasted more than a month. Two years later, he’s facing jail time for resisting arrest and battery on a police officer. The jury is expected to return its verdict this week.

Ernesto Galvan appeared to be sweaty and high on something, according to Schlie’s testimony. The officer claimed that when he tried to turn Galvan around for a search, the suspect spun, punched him in the chin and then kept punching.

Schlie said he used the Taser on Galvan twice, but it had no effect, and Galvan kept coming at him. By this time, Schlie’s partner had joined the melee, and the officers used their batons to subdue the raging Galvan.

The fight lasted nearly four minutes, an extraordinarily long struggle, according to the police. The officers testified that the blows were directed at Galvan’s arms, legs and side. But the injuries to Galvan’s arms and hands were minor compared to the head wounds. Galvan suffered only one fracture each to his wrist and a finger. But he had seven skull fractures and, according to defense testimony, a “blown pupil” and “herniated brain” in addition to lapsing into the month-long coma. The injuries, which left Galvan a patchwork of scars on his skull and lasting brain damage, were so severe that he could not stand trial until two years later, according to the defense. Galvan’s brother, Fermin, who is only being charged with resisting arrest, also said he took a baton blow to the face, though the officers say he fell.

During the trial, Schlie said that Ernesto Galvan showed extraordinary strength, perhaps because he was on drugs. But there’s no evidence of Galvan’s intoxication, Schlie said, because the officers never had a chance to test Galvan for drugs. The Galvans have sued the city of West Sacramento for excessive force, charging that the use of police batons against Galvan’s head was unacceptable under the circumstances. But first they have to await the outcome of their own criminal trial. At the request of the Yolo County district attorney, the judge in the case issued a gag order, and neither side is allowed to talk to the press until the verdict is reached.

One of the stranger twists to emerge from the case concerns two tattoos that were once inked onto Officer Schlie’s middle fingers. According to court documents, the defense suspects that Schlie had racist tattoos on his two middle fingers, in the form of a swastika and the double lightning bolts of the Nazi SS.

So far, the defense has been unable to produce an eyewitness who can accurately describe the tattoos. Court files indicate that Officer Schlie described the skin art as a “youthful indiscretion,” inked on his two middle fingers when he was age 12. He described the designs as a “Maltese Falcon Cross,” which he thought was “cool looking,” and a single lightening bolt “S” for his own last name, “similar to the way the rock band KISS uses it.”

According to a report in the court files, the West Sacramento Police Department had Schlie remove the tattoos “as they might be misconstrued.”

Defense witness James Hernandez, a Sacramento State criminal-justice professor, says that taken together, the cross and the lightening bolt could be evidence of racism, according to a defense motion.

Since the beating, Officer Schlie has received a promotion. He is now Detective Schlie.

Liz Cazares contributed to this report.