A Parker courtroom was occupied with high school students one afternoon last week as the students sat in on a real jury trial to learn about the legal system.
The trial of Rick Bower centered around a Quartzsite, AZ incident with police. Bower is accused of trying to run from cops, fighting with them and, ultimately, aggravated assault on the officers.
Almost 40 students were in the courtroom, including the recently-crowned Miss La Paz County, their teacher and principal. Judge Samuel Vederman presided as two of the officers involved were questioned by the prosecutor and defense counsel about what happened on May 10th, 2014.
Quartzsite Police Officer Villafana said he was in his patrol car on Main Street in Quartzsite around 8 p.m. when he came across a vehicle parked in an unusual location for that time of day. He described how the occupants “bee-lined” from the car as he approached to make contact, and entered a local business. Villafana then related that he was told, “Your partner needs help”, and entered the business to see Bower in a physical altercation with a fellow law enforcement officer. He described trying to deploy his taser which didn’t fire, and then using the ‘drive stun’ mode instead.
There followed a chase by car and on foot according to Villafana, who also says he saw meth pipes and a marijuana pipe in the suspects’ car. There was a little mix-up with the exhibits in the courtroom as to which pipe was which, resolved to the satisfaction of both sides before the trial proceeded.
The other officer questioned on the stand before the students had to leave was Sheriff’s Deputy Rudd, who testified that Bower wrestled him, grabbed his genitalia and pulled, and bit his thigh in the altercation that night. Rudd says he punched Bower repeatedly to get him to release, and that his finger was broken in the scuffle.
The officers contended that Bower caused the whole incident, which led to 11 charges against him including five variations of aggravated assault, attempted use of a remote stun gun, resisting arrest, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. But defense counsel cast doubt on the need for police action in the first place, with no obvious crime being committed before police contact with Bower (the drug-related felonies were added afterwards). Bower’s attorney suggested that the officers used excessive and unnecessary force that went against QPD’s own policies.
Bower’s trial led to a hung jury Monday, with the jurors unable to reach a verdict in his case.
Parker High School senior English teacher Kathy Baker said her class has been learning about analyzing argument, and that she had recently been on jury duty herself. She then came up with the idea to bring her class to court and started talking with the Superior Court about giving the students a chance to see a real trial in progress.
Parker High School Principal Paul Olsen said he was excited that Baker was taking the time to give the seniors the experience.