Motorist assault on CHP officer moves to closing arguments
The confrontation only took a matter of seconds but the testimony has filled two days. It all started last September as Larry Cotcher was traveling home from South Lake Tahoe to Cameron Park. According to him the trip was no different than any other except for construction delays and road work. A California Highway Patrol officer saw the situation differently and the night ended with Cotcher on his way to jail for reckless driving and resisting arrest.
Cotcher, a contractor based in El Dorado Hills, is facing two misdemeanors and an added felony charge of battery on an officer causing injury. It all boils down to two drastically different accounts of the same event.
According to CHP officer John Chenoweth, a 20-year veteran, he first saw Cotcher as he was traveling west on U.S. Highway 50 near Johnson Pass Road heading toward Echo Summit around 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 9, 1998. Chenoweth testified that he saw Cotcher’s pickup cross over the center line into the eastbound lane, tailgate another vehicle with his high-beam headlights on and drive in excess of 70 mph.
After following Cotcher from Johnson Pass road to Sierra-at-Tahoe’s entrance Chenoweth said he had decided to pull Cotcher over, believing he was possibly driving under the influence.
Cotcher took the decision out of his hands when he pulled onto the shoulder near Tamarack Pines Road. Chenoweth testified that Cotcher immediately got out of his vehicle and headed toward the patrol car in an aggressive manner. Fearing for his own safety, Chenoweth left his car and met Cotcher. Chenoweth told the court that he asked for Cotcher’s license, registration and proof of insurance and when Cotcher turned to go back to vehicle he pushed him in the shoulder. Chenoweth said at that point Cotcher was under arrest. The two men struggled briefly, eventually falling to the ground. Chenoweth said after the fall Cotcher stopped resisting and allowed himself to be handcuffed and placed in the patrol car.
The fall aggravated an old shoulder injury Chenoweth said, eventually bringing him to a point where he can no longer work. Chenoweth has filed for disability retirement from the CHP.
Cotcher, who has publicly complained about what he called “unfair” treatment from the CHP officer, took the stand Tuesday and denied all of Chenoweth’s allegations. He stated that even though there were no yellow lines on the road because of the construction, he doesn’t believe he ever crossed over into the other lane. And said he never exceeded the speed limit.
Cotcher said he thought Chenoweth was driving under the influence and pulled over to let the car go by. He said he did not exit his car until Chenoweth had left his vehicle. He also denied ever pushing the officer.
“I walked toward the officer with my hands up shrugging,” Cotcher told the court. “I asked, ‘Why are you stopping me and why were you tailgating my truck.'”
Cotcher said Chenoweth never answered his questions and continued to ask for his license and registration. Cotcher claims he walked past the officer to get the items without touching him and then Chenoweth drove him back against the embankment.
Cotcher’s stepbrother and wife also took the stand Tuesday to testify to his character. They described him as a quiet man, who avoids confrontation. A classification at odds with Cotcher’s own testimony that he left his vehicle voluntarily to approach the officer.
Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday.
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