Something snapped in Dean Gochenour's fragile mind before he hanged himself in a jail cell in Fullerton, California, nearly two years ago. Just hours later, the man who arrested him that night snapped, too, smashing the device that recorded one of Gochenour's last conversations.
As a result, former Fullerton Police Corporal Vincent Thomas Mater was sentenced to probation in November 2012 for destroying evidence, but was cleared of a potential manslaughter charge after an investigation into Gochenour's suicide.
At 9:45 p.m. on April 14, 2011, Mater pulled over Gochenour, 52, on suspicion of driving under the influence. Gochenour's speech, Mater said, was "slurred," his eyes "bloodshot," and he "emitted a moderate odor of alcohol," according to a report from the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).
After Gochenour refused field sobriety and breathalyzer tests, which Mater said was captured on his police-issued digital audio recorder (DAR), he was arrested and transported to the Fullerton County Jail (FCJ), where Mater deactivated his DAR. At the jail, Gochenour failed two breath tests, registering blood-alcohol content of .28 and .27.
As Gochenour sat inside a FCJ holding cell, cameras– apparently unmonitored–recorded him making comments to himself, such as, "I am a dead man walking," and "I am going to die." Following his fingerprinting and mugshot, Gochenour was taken to an individual cell on FCJ's second floor, wearing shorts, a button-down shirt and a pair of sandals.
Once inside the cell at about 11:25 p.m., a two-way intercom system, also unmonitored, recorded Gochenour praying to himself. Two minutes later, he was recorded saying, "I can hang this right here," and "It's where I am going to die." At 11:28 p.m., Gochenour said, "I am going to hang myself right now," and seconds later, "You people are stupid." Over the next four minutes, "rustling" sounds were recorded, followed by "noises similar to that of someone blowing out of their mouth," the OCDA reported.
At 11:32 p.m., all sounds stopped coming from Gochenour's cell. He was found a little over an hour later by the jail's booking officer and officially declared dead by paramedics at 12:55 a.m.
Mater, following Fullerton Police Department (FPD) policy, said he then attempted to download the DAR recordings to FPD's computer system at about 1:30 a.m. Frustrated, Mater "threw his DAR at a metal door and damaged it" to an extent that made retrieving the data impossible, according to the OCDA report. Mater later assured investigators that there was "nothing contained on that DAR" he wouldn't want others to hear.
"[T]he suspicious conduct of Corporal Mater in destroying his DAR is of grave concern," the OCDA report said. "There is, however, no affirmative evidence showing that Corporal Mater was aware of facts that would have caused a reasonable person to believe Gochenour intended to kill himself."
Additionally, OCDA found no evidence to prove that FPD personnel "breached" its "duty of care" to Gochenour, despite the recordings from his jail cell that should have been heard if anyone was monitoring the audio.
Mater resigned from FPD in 2012 before his conviction. It was unclear how long Mater will be on probation.
Sources: Orange County District Attorney, www.orangecountyda.com; www.cbsla.com
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