Jury finds ex-Basalt cop not guilty of assault
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – It took a Pitkin County jury less than 15 minutes to return a not guilty verdict Friday in the trial of former Basalt policewoman accused of third-degree assault after punching her husband in the eye and fleeing the scene of the incident.
Kasey McQueen, 27, took the stand and wept as she claimed self-defense in the dramatic break-up scene that occurred in their Snowmass Village home last July 28. She admitted to punching Ivan Popovic, 36 – a native of Serbia who married McQueen in October 2009 after dating her just a few months – but only because he slapped her, made threatening comments and caused her to fear for her safety, she said.
The fight occurred, McQueen said, because she confronted Popovic over a series of lies involving his immigration status. She told him that she rescinded his application for a green card and started moving his clothes and other personal belongings outside.
“He instantly turned into Mr. Hyde,” she said. “He said he would kill me. He grabbed me, shook me and called me a bitch.”
Popovic denies grabbing or slapping McQueen, saying he was using the phone to call a friend so that he would have a place to sleep that night when she unexpectedly punched him hard. He testified he then told her he was going to call police as she fled with a male friend with whom she had a relationship four years ago. She and the ex-boyfriend left Snowmass and parked their vehicle in a Buttermilk lot before catching a bus to Aspen, where she eventually phoned a Snowmass policeman whom she arranged to meet at the Pitkin courthouse for an interview.
The injury To Popovic’s eye was evident in police photographs passed around to jurors and required emergency-room treatment the night of the incident. Popovic, who has since moved to Miami Beach, said his retina was damaged and that doctors believe there also might be nerve damage – a reason why he still suffers from double vision when he looks at faraway objects.
According to courtroom testimony, their short marriage was fairly harmonious up until the summer of 2010, when financial difficulties escalated. Well before they met, in 2008, she worked a few months as a Basalt police officer, testifying Friday that she was fired from the force after losing her driver’s license due to several traffic tickets.
Both Popovic and McQueen offered their accounts of the events that led to her arrest for punching her husband on July 28. Popovic, who came to America in 2006 to seek new opportunities and learn a new culture, had an uncertain immigration status that was preventing him from finding a regular job. They both agreed to go Denver to speak with federal immigration officers and file his application for a green card.
They set out on July 26, and the trip may have gotten off to a shaky start, depending on whose account you believe. Popovic said he pulled into the parking lot of a Motel 6 and McQueen was livid of his plan to book a room there, calling it proof that he didn’t respect her. At some point during the argument over lodging facilities, McQueen punched him in the jaw, Popovic testified.
McQueen denies she was upset about the choice of lodging facilities, saying it was Popovic who wanted to go to another hotel because the Motel 6 was dirty. They ended up renting a room in another hotel, where McQueen gave him the cold shoulder, Popovic testified.
Pitkin County prosecutor Richard Nedlin asked Popovic if McQueen had a “bad temper.”
“I would say unpredictable, inappropriate in some situations,” Popovic replied. During the trial he admitted that his English-speaking skills were often subpar, and answered some questions with the help of an interpreter. On a few occasions the jurors asked Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely to require the soft-spoken Popovic to speak louder.
The next day, at the immigration hearing, McQueen met one-on-one with the federal officer assigned to Popovic’s case. McQueen said the officer told her that Popovic was using her and their marriage to avoid deportation and obtain a work visa. She also said the immigration officer showed her proof that Popovic had used a false social-security number to gain employment in Chicago a few years earlier.
“I wondered why he was asking [certain] questions,” McQueen said. “That’s when I realized Ivan was lying about a lot of things.”
On the drive back to Pitkin County, McQueen was silent, Popovic testified. McQueen said she was quiet because she felt devastated over what the immigration officer told her. She said she was told that Popovic came to America on a tourist visa, not a work visa, and had overstayed his visit to the United States by several years.
“[The immigration officer] showed me things that showed me I wasn’t married to the person I thought I was,” McQueen said, pausing at times to cry and dry her tears. “I was confused and hurt.”
The confrontation at their home occurred the next day. McQueen said she asked her ex-boyfriend – who was cordial with Popovic – to be present during the conversation because she didn’t know how her husband would react. Once her friend was there, McQueen told Popovic that she “rescinded” his application for a green card at the hearing a day earlier, asked him to leave their home and started to move his possessions outside.
That’s the point when Popovic became angry and threatening, she said, leading up to her punching him. But Nedlin argued that as a former policewoman, she could have left the house and called the police without resorting to force.
“I was terrified,” McQueen said. “I really thought he was going to try to kill me.”
Through his questioning, Nedlin sought to establish that McQueen lacked credibility. He noted that in her statement the night of her arrest, she made little mention that Popovic slapped her. Her courtroom testimony that Popovic followed her and the ex-boyfriend outside and hung onto the car door after he punched her also was not mentioned in the statement.
Nedlin also called Snowmass policeman Brady Jax as a witness. Jax said about 45 minutes or an hour passed from the time Popovic was punched to the point at which McQueen called him from Aspen. During the interview, he said McQueen’s face was flushed and her hands were red, but that he found inconsistencies in her and the ex-boyfriend’s statements.
“I didn’t feel there was truth in their stories,” Jax said.
Defense attorney Christopher Light asked Jax why he took photos of Popovic’s injuries but not McQueen’s. Jax said that he probably made a mistake by not photographing McQueen, but the husband’s injuries were apparent while McQueen was simply marked by “redness.”
Jax also said that while communication with Popovic was sometimes difficult, he “didn’t find him to be untruthful.”
Popovic and McQueen first met in early 2010 at a Chicago airport when McQueen was on her way to Serbia to visit a mutual friend.
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