Just before 1pm last Dec. 13, Nicolas Aquino was enjoying what I like to think of as the constitutionally protected right to sit around his own home wearing comfy clothes on a Saturday afternoon. His wife was out and Aquino was kicking back with their two little dogs, plotting nothing more than Christmas shopping.
And then the dogs started barking that kind of relentless bark that happens when someone is creeping around outside.
Aquino, a U.S. Air Force captain and Naval Postgraduate School student, took his hoodie-wearing self to the door, peered out the window and saw a guy wearing a uniform. Aquino stepped outside, closed the door behind him and asked, “Excuse me, can I help you?”
Monterey Sheriff’s Deputy Ivan Rodriguez responded he was investigating a report of suspicious activity in the area – specifically, as Rodriguez’s written report would later describe, “an adult Hispanic male wearing a hoodie” walking around and into a Carmel Woods’ residence. It seems one of the neighbors told Rodriguez “he was suspicious of the male at 24591 Portola Ave. and that ‘I should keep my eye on him.’” Aquino had lived in the home for about 10 months at that point. He was walking around outside looking for a UPS package that had been delivered.
Rodriguez, according to his written report, asked for Aquino’s ID. Aquino asked him if he was being detained. And that’s where things went straight to hell. Aquino says he reached slowly into his pocket, got his wallet, took out his military ID card and held it up for the deputy to see. Rodriguez says Aquino refused to hand that ID over, while Aquino says the deputy told him a military ID didn’t prove he lived there. Aquino said he was going inside to retrieve some bills that could prove it, and says that’s when Rodriguez tackled him.
“He doesn’t say anything. He grabs my wrist, puts me in a front guillotine, spins me around and I land on all fours,” Aquino tells me. A construction worker from a project across the street ran over and helped pile on.
A second deputy arrived and Aquino was handcuffed and placed in a patrol car. “I told them, ‘I don’t consent to a search,’” Aquino says. “They went to my door and it appears they went into my house.”
About 20 minutes later, Aquino was released. The deputies let him get his bills and prove he lived there.
Aquino claims the deputy took him aside and told him he could have avoided the confrontation by knowing his neighbors. And then, according to Aquino, the deputy said, “You started this by not giving me your ID.”
Aquino thought that was the end of the story. But six weeks later, on Jan. 31, the District Attorney’s office charged Aquino with resisting or delaying a police officer. He had moved from the Carmel Woods home – he and his wife were too upset to continue living there – and the paperwork never reached him, although he continued checking his mail because his lease wasn’t up. Aquino found out about the charge when the highest ranking Air Force officer at NPS called and told him, “Don’t come to NPS or any other base, there’s a warrant out for your arrest.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz, a former Army officer, realizes the charge could mean the end of Aquino’s career. Spitz believes the military is already investigating, in fact, because Aquino refused to hand his ID to a legitimate law enforcement officer.
“It’s always unfortunate when someone is generally a good citizen and law abiding and ends up in a mess like this,” Spitz says.
I ask Spitz about the reality that Aquino was in his own home, minding his own business, when the mess occurred.
“A minute of cooperation,” he says, “and this conversation would not be taking place.”
Aquino goes to court on April 16. He’s retained defense attorney Steve Liner to represent him, but he’s also hired litigator Nina Patane. Sometime in the next few weeks, Patane will file a claim against the sheriff’s office as a precursor to a possible lawsuit.
“I’ve been shot at before,” says Aquino, a Washington, D.C. native and eight-year veteran of the Air Force. “But I’ve never been more scared than I was that day in Carmel.”