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Tou Cha Pleads Guilty to Lesser Charges in St. Paul Assault Case - Pioneer Press

According to an article published in the Pioneer Press on 8/29/19:

By Sarah Horner, Pioneer Press

“The man at the center of an assault case that resulted in the firing of five St. Paul police officers has pleaded guilty.

Tou Cha pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree assault after his attorney and the state reached a plea deal he couldn’t refuse, according to his attorney, Jack Rice.

The deal calls for capping Cha’s sentence to a maximum of 120 days in jail, and dropping two more serious second-degree assault charges against the former St. Paul police officer.

FIVE OFFICERS FIRED

Rice said the controversy surrounding his client’s case likely motivated the prosecution to make a deal.

Tou Mo Cha

Five police officers were fired in June after it came to light via an internal affairs investigation that they failed to respond when they saw Cha assaulting an individual in the summer of 2018.

The case also called into question whether the Ramsey County attorney’s office had an obligation to disclose the status of the internal affairs investigation to Cha’s defense as his case proceeded through the court system.

“I think they are happy this goes away,” Rice said after Wednesday’s plea hearing. “Anything that continues to highlight misdeeds by the St. Paul Police Department isn’t something they are interested in continuing, it seems.”

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Robert Rait indicated during the hearing that the deal was similar to the one prosecutors offered Cha in April before the officers’ alleged behavior came to light more than a month later.

The difference was the first deal called for a minimum of 120 days in prison, while the new deal caps it at that amount and allows the defense to argue for less when Cha is sentenced in October.

FIGHT OUTSIDE EAST SIDE BAR

During his plea hearing, Cha admitted to hitting a man he described as his wife’s nephew in the head with a club outside Checker Board Pizza in St. Paul in June of 2018.

The assault took place after St. Paul police were called to the Arcade Street bar when a fight broke out among a group gathered outside, according to statements made in court.

Police told Cha to disperse the crowd, and Cha did, but three people came back shortly thereafter and proceeded to take a club out of the trunk of a vehicle and tried to make their way back inside the bar, Cha said Wednesday.

Cha attempted to stop them, and the men started hitting him with the club, he said. At some point, he was able to wrestle it away from them and started hitting his wife’s nephew with it.

He admitted that a dash-cam video captured on a police squad car showed him hitting the man in the head as he lay on the ground, acknowledging that the man was defenseless.

The man was hospitalized and needed 24 staples to close the gash in his head.

“You are pleading guilty today because you want to take advantage of (this plea deal) … but also because you did this. … Isn’t that right. … This is your fault,” Rice asked him during the hearing.

“Yes,” Cha responded.

Cha decided to enter the plea after the court allowed him and his attorney to review the internal affairs files on the now-terminated officers. The files included the dash-cam video, which clearly depicted Cha assaulting the individual, Rice said.

But the officers — Nicholas Grundei, Robert Luna, Christopher Rhoades, Nathan Smith and Jordan Wild — are accused of failing to intervene, and then lying about what happened.

They were fired for their conduct in June and are appealing the decision.

DEFENSE ASSERTIONS

After finding out about the terminations from media reports, Rice filed a motion with the court alleging that the Ramsey County attorney’s office should have known about the internal affairs investigation and disclosed the information to him.

The investigation could have affected the case because the defense could have used it to impeach the officers’ credibility if they were called to testify had Cha taken his case to trial.

Federal law — known as Brady Law — requires the state to turn over any information to the defense that might prove favorable to their side.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office maintains that it didn’t know about the allegations against the officers until they were terminated because its internal policy doesn’t require law enforcement to disclose information about complaints against officers until they are substantiated.

That can sometimes take years though, as officers have the right to appeal findings.

Cha is expected to be sentenced in October.

Rice said his client will be glad when this is all over.

“This has been hanging over this head (for a long time)” Rice said.

Cha resigned as a police officer 14 years ago after he was accused of lending his department-issued handgun. Someone then used the gun to shoot into a restaurant and a house.”