Man shot at by state police during 2017 incident acquitted of two of five felonies
POCATELLO — The man accused of aggravated battery with the intent to murder police officers was acquitted of the charge and another serious felony on Friday following his trial at the Bannock County Courthouse.
But the jury found Rocco J. Chacon Jr., 26, of Pocatello, guilty of three other crimes.
Chacon was initially charged with battery upon law enforcement officers with the intent to commit murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, grand theft by possession of stolen property, possession of methamphetamine and eluding police, all felonies. Chacon faced up to 62 years in prison and up to $55,000 in fines if the jury convicted him of all the charges.
A jury of 12, which included five men and seven women, returned not guilty verdicts on the battery upon law enforcement officers with the intent to commit murder and grand theft by possession of stolen property charges. The jury returned guilty verdicts on the unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of methamphetamine and eluding police charges.
Jurors deliberated for approximately eight hours on Friday after a trial that lasted five days and saw both Chacon and his girlfriend at the time of the alleged March 27, 2017, incident, Shaylee M. Williamson, 22, of Pocatello, both take the stand to testify in Chacon’s defense.
Several jurors were visibly emotional before the verdict was read and several members of Chacon’s family let out sighs of relief when the verdict was finally delivered late Friday afternoon. Chacon himself shed tears at the defense table.
Chacon was charged in relation to the March 27, 2017, incident that involved a vehicle pursuit on the city’s north side. The incident involved several Idaho State Police troopers firing upon the car Chacon was allegedly driving near the intersection of Golden Gate Street and Olympus Drive in Pocatello, seriously wounding his passenger Williamson, and ended when the vehicle reached a dead-end on a dirt road off of Pocatello Creek Road where Chacon stopped his car and was arrested.
A state trooper was not seriously injured when struck by Chacon’s car, Chacon was not wounded by the state police gunfire but Williamson suffered multiple gunshot wounds and nearly died.
The state police were trying to arrest Chacon on March 27, 2017, because he was wanted on multiple felony warrants for probation violations. Their plan was to box-in his vehicle with their unmarked police vehicles on Golden Gate near its intersection with Olympus.
The box-in maneuver resulted in a confused situation in which the plainclothes state troopers opened fire on Chacon’s car and he says he didn’t realize they were police and drove away from what he thought was a robbery attempt. The state police pursued him but didn’t turn on the flashing lights on their unmarked cars until the chase was almost halfway over.
The jury delivered its verdict to the presiding judge in the case Robert C. Naftz, who ordered Chacon be placed back into the custody of the Bannock County Jail.
Naftz set a sentencing date of March 25. Chacon is still facing up to 17 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines for the three crimes the jury found him guilty of committing. Beyond that, Chacon could still face additional prison time for the felony probation violations that caused state police to try and arrest him.
Closing arguments from Chacon’s Pocatello-based defense attorney John Scott Andrew and the Bannock County prosecutors handling the case, Ashley Graham and Ryan Godfrey, prefaced the jury’s verdict.
Godfrey doubled-down on his opening statement, in that Chacon went on a rampage the day of the incident, forcing every law enforcement agency in the area to not only get involved in the attempted apprehension of Chacon but to also assist in providing medical aid to Williamson once the pursuit was over.
“Mr. Chacon was determined not to get caught that day,” Godfrey said. “So determined that he was willing to run into (Idaho State Police) detective (Lee) Edgley. So determined that even after his passenger was shot, his tire was shot, and he thought he was shot he was still willing to drive through a fence, over a stop sign and seven miles up the canyon to get away.”
Godfrey also called into question various elements of Chacon’s testimony, including Chacon’s belief that Edgley jumped or lunged onto the hood of the white Honda Chacon was driving as opposed to the prosecution’s argument that Chacon intentionally struck Edgley with the car in an attempt to flee.
“Officers don’t do that. This isn’t ‘Die Hard,’” Godfrey said. “They don’t dive onto the hoods of vehicles. (Edgley) was struck and fell onto the hood of the vehicle. They aren’t going to sacrifice themselves and ride down the road hanging onto the hood. They know better than that.”
During his closing statement, Andrew asked jurors to consider perspective — not that of the law enforcement officers involved in the incident but the perspective of his client and the prosecution’s burden to prove Chacon was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Perspective ladies and gentleman is about reasonable doubt,” Andrew said. “But overreaching is why you are here. You have juries ladies and gentleman because the government can charge whatever it wants. (Government) can have whatever motives it wants. It can be civil liability, it can be whatever and they can charge someone and pursue it.”
Andrew’s mentioning of civil liabilities was in reference to both Chacon and Williamson filing tort claims announcing their plans to sue state police for the March 27, 2017, incident. The tort claims filed in state that Chacon and Williamson are seeking more than $1 million in damages from state police.
The actions of the plainclothes troopers on March 27, 2017, were ruled as justified in March 2018 by the Minidoka County authorities who were brought in to investigate the incident.
During his closing statement on Friday Andrew called the jury the most powerful body in the courtroom, in that the jurors “stand between an overbearing and overreaching government and a citizen.”
Andrew said, “(Chacon) may not be a model citizen, but he’s still a citizen.... You have to decide whether they have proven a case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Andrew’s words seemed to have an impact as evidenced by some of the jurors nodding their heads in agreement as he spoke.
And for Chacon and his family, a fair and impartial outcome was all they could have asked for.
Chacon’s mother, Carmen Chacon of Pocatello, said about him, “He has his whole future now to reflect on what he has done and his entire future ahead of him in order to change.”
Joe Chacon, Rocco’s brother, added, “I would say that the majority of the verdict reflected the evidence. There was nothing more that I could have asked for in Andrew. He represented my brother to the best of his ability and in the most fair and proper way he could have.”