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Monico trial gets under way

Three attorneys offered opening statements Tuesday, Sept. 2, in a federal case brought by Diego Mata-Gonzales of Cornelius against the city of Cornelius and against Miguel Monico, now a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy serving Cornelius.

In a case where the two central figures are Latino men, the seven-member jury chosen by the attorneys includes four women, three men and no Latinos.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Mosman is presiding over the case, in which Monico and the city of Cornelius are accused of violating Mata-Gonzales’ constitutional rights.

According to John Devlin, one of Mata-Gonzales’ attorneys, Cornelius police were conducting a proper search at the Mata-Gonzales home in February 2010 — sparked by a shooting incident involving Mata-Gonzales’ son — when Monico seized two paper cups with white powder in them. Mata-Gonzales contends he explained the powder was cascarilla, made from eggshells, and was used by his wife when bathing.

But Monico wrote in his police report that Mata-Gonzales told him the substance was his and was cocaine.

As a result of that report, Mata-Gonzales was arrested and his two youngest children were removed from the home for three months, Devlin said, until state tests showed the powder was harmless.

Devlin described Mata-Gonzales as a husband, father and hard-working man who came legally to the U.S. from Mexico and became a citizen a few years ago. He has worked at the same manufacturing facility in Forest Grove for 20 years, Devlin said, adding he is “completely innocent” in this case.

“A police officer must tell the truth,” Devlin said. “If a police officer does not tell the truth, then that officer and his department are responsible for the harm caused.”

Monico’s attorney, Bob Wagner, said Monico’s parents were both born in Mexico and are Spanish speakers — and that Monico was raised in Southern California, where he learned how to recognize the drug culture among Latinos.

He said Monico did a field test on the white powder when he first seized it and the result was a presumptive-positive, meaning it was likely a controlled substance. Later, Monico repeated the test, Wagner said, and got another presumptive-positive result.

Wagner also claimed Mata-Gonzales told Monico the substance was cocaine.

Steve Kraemer, the attorney for the city of Cornelius, said the evidence would show the system works because even though the two tests conducted by Monico showed presumptive-positive results, the powder still went to the state crime lab for a third test and was ultimately found to be harmless.

The trial is expected to run through Friday.

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