Jury finds N.M. man didn't harass police

By The Associated Press
07.21.06

FARMINGTON, N.M. — A district court jury has acquitted a Farmington man of stalking and harassing a police officer after he videotaped the officer and picketed the police department.

"I knew the truth would prevail," Juan Mata said.

Jurors deliberated about two hours before ruling July 18 in favor of Mata, 33, whose case came to prominence after he originally was accused of criminal libel. A judge later ruled that charge was unconstitutional.

Officer Mike Briseno said he was disappointed, and that jurors were not allowed to hear the whole case.

The charges centered on whether Mata had a constitutional right to circulate a petition asking the department to investigate Briseno and picket the department with signs calling Briseno a liar.

The charges were filed two months after Mata's family filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city in November 2004 alleging police brutality. The family settled the lawsuit for $75,000 in November 2005; the city did not admit any wrongdoing.

Briseno acknowledged on the stand that he passed in front of Mata's home hundreds of times, but said it was part of the department's regular patrols because of neighborhood gang activity.

Under cross-examination by Mata's attorney, Briseno said he'd never seen Mata drive by his house.

Briseno said his concerns grew as Mata petitioned and picketed him in front of the police station on Oct. 28, 2004.

Briseno said he feared Mata would harm his family. He said his family became afraid to go out, and that he kept lights on outside his home at night.

Mata said he'd protested outside the station, but otherwise never did anything more than sign a petition calling for an investigation into allegations of illegal searches by Briseno. Mata said he signed the petition and picketed because he felt nothing was being done.

Special prosecutor William Cooke contended a Sept. 9, 2004, letter by a former attorney for Mata, Ron Adamson, was evidence of harassment of the officer. The letter alleged felonies by the officer.

However, Brandon Cummings, a contract legal assistant to Adamson, testified he never talked to Mata. He said he wrote the letter based on a videotape by Mata, who claimed Briseno was following him.

The case went to district court after Mata appealed his convictions last year in magistrate court on charges of criminal libel, harassment and stalking.

District Judge William Birdsall dismissed the criminal libel charge in April, ruling it was "unconstitutional on its face."

"In a time when fundamental rights are increasingly under siege, it is incumbent upon the courts to safeguard the liberties provided for in our state and federal constitutions," Birdsall wrote.