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Frederick Jefferson, 39
San Diego, California
September 01, 2018

Last updated: 8 months ago

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The man who was sentenced Friday for punching a San Diego Police Department officer in the face during an altercation has died, NBC 7 has learned.

Frederick Jefferson, 39, was sentenced to seven years in prison for one count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and two counts of resisting an executive officer.

The Medical Examiner's Office confirmed to NBC 7 that Jefferson's body was in their possession but did not confirm how or when he died.

A jury convicted Jefferson in early August for the charges stemming from the dramatic altercation, which was recorded by another officer’s body-worn camera. 

Jefferson’s death concluded a seven-month ordeal that began Feb. 3 when he was confronted by SDPD officers for jaywalking across Logan Avenue at the moment police were escorting a group of white nationalists away from Chicano Park where they had staged a protest against the park and its murals. Police had sealed off the park with a chain of about 40 motorcycles and scores of officers. As the white nationalists were being led across Cesar Chavez Parkway along the east side of Logan Avenue, Jefferson was attempting to cross Logan on his way to a restaurant to meet a friend.

He was walking in the street near the sidewalk when officers Matthew Ruggiero and Justin Tennebaum passed by him in their police cruiser. Police body cameras and video taken by witnesses across the street recorded Ruggiero shouting, “Sidewalk, bro!” Jefferson replied, “There’s nowhere to go.”

Jefferson, who was wearing a red shirt and black shorts, said during the trial he was told Chicano Park was hosting a parade and he thought the street was closed off due to the barricade at intersection of Logan Avenue and Cesar Chavez Parkway. He kept walking south as the squad car passed him. Ruggiero and Tennebaum backed the car up and engaged Jefferson again. When he refused to leave the street, they exited the car and confronted Jefferson.

“No dude, walk in the sidewalk,” Tennebaum said. “There’s cars coming down here. You’re gonna get a ticket or go to jail.”

“Stop,” Ruggiero repeatedly said.

Jefferson lifted his arm motioning to the crowded sidewalk and asked the officers where he was supposed to go. He was walking away from the officers when they grabbed his arms from behind. Jefferson spun out of their grasp and backed away.

Ruggiero unsuccessfully tried to grab Jefferson again as Jefferson pushed his hands away and continued to back away. Ruggiero then pulled out his baton and swung at Jefferson’s waist. Jefferson counterpunched, grazing Ruggiero’s face. Ruggiero hit Jefferson again and Jefferson threw a punch that missed. Then Ruggiero swung for Jefferson’s head and a Jefferson counterpunch caught Ruggiero squarely in the jaw. Ruggiero said in court that his jaw was wired shut from the injury and he had metal plates surgically placed in his face.

Civilian video showed that Jefferson was seriously injured in the scuffle, though a SDPD spokesperson Lt. Scott Wahl told television reporters later that day that he was not injured. Jefferson did not receive medical attention from Bailey Detention Center personnel for nearly a month, according to his public defender Jimmy Rodriguez. Jefferson said he requested medical attention from Bailey personnel five times for injuries to his rib area and lacerations before Rodriguez intervened.

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As Jefferson waited trial, journalists from The Sun discovered anti-African American posts on Ruggiero’s Facebook account. Jefferson and his attorney Rodriguez were never allowed to show Ruggiero’s racist Facebook posts to the jury. Trial judge Leo Valentine Jr. excluded them from testimony, along with the statements of several witnesses to the scuffle. Rodriguez said the decision severely damaged Jefferson’s case and his chance to be acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

A Sheriff’s statement said Jefferson had committed suicide by hanging. It also said Jefferson was alone and there was no evidence of “foul play.”