James Nelson wanted three things as soon as he was released from Sacramento County main jail Friday night, his stepfather said: two hamburgers and to see his son.
Nelson, severely burned and disfigured after Citrus Heights police officers took him down and pinned him to hot summer blacktop following an incident at a KFC restaurant on June 23, was ordered released from Sacramento County custody pending an Oct. 6 hearing on a parole violation connected to the incident.
The felony charges that stemmed from the June incident that left him with second- and third-degree burns over his chest, face and buttocks were dropped last week by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.
In a statement to The Bee last week, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely cited the “unique facts and circumstances in this case” in stating that the penalties for a parole violation “are sufficient to assess accountability for Mr. Nelson’s conduct.”
Prosecutors allege Nelson committed battery on a person in the restaurant, attempted to steal the person’s wallet and resisted arrest, all in violation of parole, and faces a maximum of 180 days in county jail.
Nelson, speaking shortly after his release Friday evening, said the 11 days he spent in jail were difficult. He was in pain, because jail personnel refused to give him the medication he had brought with him, Nelson said.
Equally difficult was the uncertainty, “just waiting to she what was going to be the outcome,” he said.
Nelson and his family thanked his attorneys, the district attorney and the judge for “dropping the charges in the name of justice.”
But Barry Benigno, Nelson’s stepfather, greeted news of Nelson’s release with a mix of joy and relief.
“We’re overjoyed, we’re ecstatic,” Benigno said Friday afternoon from Stockton where he would soon leave for downtown Sacramento and the county jail. “We thanked the DA for concluding there was no basis to charge him with what they charged him with.” He also said Nelson’s recovery remains a slow, painful process.
Nelson said he faces additional surgery, but he is eager to get back to exercising and building up his body. “I was 220 pounds and now I’m 178,” he said. “I’m not used to it yet. After 27 years of keeping my body healthy, to see this,” Nelson said, referring to his scars. “It’s all new to me.”
Nelson said he was looking forward to picking up his son Friday evening and having a nice weekend with his family.
“I want to just put all this behind me,” he said.
Meantime, Benigno said family members continue to demand answers from Citrus Heights police. Police officials defended their actions, saying Nelson was dangerously violent and tried to run from officers when they approached him. Benigno and Nelson’s mother, Tarsha Benigno, have said their son was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic as a teenager and has had numerous run-ins with law enforcement connected to his outbursts.
“We’re not happy with Citrus Heights Police Department. We have a right to know whether they’re investigating this internally.”