Jurors began deliberating this afternoon on whether Delano Blayze Malang committed mayhem when he bit off half the thumb of Arcata police Sgt. Heidi Groszmann during an arrest on the Plaza in August 2021.

Malang, 22, already has a felony conviction for robbery. He could be sentenced to more than 20 years if convicted of all charges, including mayhem and assault likely to cause great bodily injury.

In closing arguments Deputy District Attorney Trent Timm reminded the jury Malang admitted the mayhem charge when he took the stand in his own defense. Malang, 22, said “yes” when asked whether he lunged toward Groszmann and bit her thumb, and “yes” when asked whether he did it to “really hurt” someone.

Malang’s attorney, Deputy Conflict Counsel R.J. Loehner, said Malang did not make a cognitive decision to bite off the thumb. Malang was a desperate man in a desperate situation, Loehner argued, and police did nothing to de-escalate the incident or “comfort his worries.”

Malang, 22, is from Oregon but had been homeless in Arcata for a few months. He ended up arrested on Aug. 1 when officers came to the Plaza to investigate a report that Timothy Cox, another frequent Plaza visitor, had been squirting people with a water gun during the Arcata Arts Festival.

Officers Joseph Rodes and Jamal Jones then learned Cox and Malang had been in a physical confrontation — the third in a week — earlier that day.

“The little fucker swung at me,” Cox alleged. Later he showed officers his arm, saying, “The little fucker bit me.”

Several people around the Plaza told police Malang was a meth user who was always causing problems.

So while Rodes and Jones were questioning Cox, Malang walked up and sat on a bench behind them and laughed. Prosecutor Timm says Malang was trying to aggravate Cox. Officer Jones asked Malang to leave “so we can do our job.” He asked five times. Malang ignored him until Jones walked toward him.

Ignoring an officer’s order to leave is a violation of the law, Timm said. Police had reasonable suspicion to detain Malang on the spot, but they chose not to. They also had reasonable suspicion that Malang assaulted Cox by swinging at him.

In the meantime, Groszmann had noticed Malang was acting strangely, seeming unable to control his body movements. While testifying, she stood up and showed the jury how he was moving by making spastic motions with her hands. She said Malang was also yelling to himself.

Jones and Rodes decided to detain Malang and began following him up the sidewalk. Jones ordered him to stop and he kept walking. Timm pointed out that was another violation of California Penal Code 148: resisting, obstructing or delaying an officer in the lawful performance of his or her duties.

Loehner said he is familiar with PC148.

“I’ve heard the old 148 line,” he told the jury. “You’re arrested for resisting arrest. That’s cop-speak for a member of the community who does not want to be brought in against their will.”

Anyway, Malang kept walking, right into Cafe Brio with the lunch crowd. He positioned himself behind a table while trying to avoid officers. They each grabbed him by an arm and took him outside, kicking and screaming.

“I didn’t do anything,” he hollered repeatedly.

Timm said Malang had been passively resisting, but now the resistance turned active and then violent. Malang kicked Jones so hard in the chest that his body-worn camera fell off.

Loehner argued that police, instead of grabbing Malang in the cafe, could have just asked him to talk or come outside.

While in the restaurant, Rodes told Malang “Hey my man, come here.”

Outside the restaurant, the officers put Malang on the ground and — with difficulty — got him handcuffed. They tried to put him in the back of a police cruiser and he wasn’t having it. He began banging his head on the side of the car, then on the pavement.

“He brought the APD to its knees,” Loehner said, rather proudly. Three officers were unable to get Malang, a very short and thin person, into the car. Loehner also said Malang wasn’t banging his head on anything before he was detained.

“Imagine the hopelessness, the helplessness he felt.”

Timm said the officers could have “used their muscle” and forced him in, but they didn’t. Instead they brought in HSU Sgt. John Packer, a talented negotiator, to speak with Malang. After 15 minutes Packer gave up, realizing “words wouldn’t work” with Malang. Packer then assisted with loading Malang into a police van.

That’s when Sgt. Groszmann, trying to keep Malang from knocking his head on the van floor, put her hand on his forehead.

“He bit off her thumb and spit it out like it was trash,” Timm said.

“Why aren’t officers trained to keep their hands away from somebody’s mouth?” Loehner said.

Loehner said that during the 15 minutes before a van was brought in, officers could have asked Malang his name, how long he had been in Arcata and other small talk. They didn’t question him at all.

Loehner stopped short of saying police used excessive force, which Timm said would be “absurd” as body camera footage shows they did the opposite.

If any mistake was made, Timm said, it was not using more force to end the incident quickly.

Loehner also stopped short of calling officers bullies. But he asked “Who gets bit? Bullies get bit.”

Not that Groszmann is a bully, he said, but Malang perceived it that way.

Essentially, Loehner questioned why officers arrested someone who didn’t want to be arrested.

As for Groszmann, she underwent two surgeries and had months of therapy. The top half of her thumb turned black and fell off. She returned to light duty (desk work) after three months and is now cleared for full duty. She said the pain level in her severed thumb is “a constant two.”

Loehner told the jury that when Groszmann “showed you her thumb — nails done — I bet mayhem wasn’t the first word that came to your mind.”

Speaking of Loehner, his behavior during trial was an issue on its own. He insulted officers, made sarcastic remarks. ignored Judge Gregory Elvine-Kriess’s admonitions to shape up.

Timm, speaking to the jury about issues they should not consider, said Loehner’s behavior was one of those issues. “HIs demeanor is not evidence,” Timm said.

He also said he had never before in his career had to bring up a lawyer’s behavior.

“There’s an old saying,” Timm said. “If the facts are not on your side, and the law is not on your side, pound the table.”

Loehner responded by saying he’d been “slandered, libeled, heard words I never read in the BiIble,” (Remember that song?) but he was happy to ruffle the feathers of those whose job is to ruffle feathers.

“I’ll wear the black hat,” he said.

Jurors were expected to continue deliberations Wednesday morning.