By Ruby Zapien
Despite conflicting testimony by arresting officers concerning the discovery of evidence at the scene, and the court tossing out other evidence because a defendant was not read his Miranda rights as required, a Woodland court here today ruled that charges could go to trial against two defendants for possession of a controlled substance and a loaded firearm after a high-risk traffic stop in West Sacramento.
The preliminary hearing was held in Yolo County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon.
The defendants in this case are Apondo Latrail White, Jr., represented by Attorney Jeffrey Fletcher, and Charmeya Petty, represented by Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira. Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays is the assigned prosecutor in this case, however, Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens stood in her place for this preliminary hearing.
With Judge Paul K. Richardson presiding, and all counsel and their clients present, the People called Officer Scott Farnsworth to the stand. Officer Farnsworth is a West Sacramento police officer who was on duty the night of June 16, 2016.
On this day, a security guard at an apartment complex at 777 5th Street in West Sacramento came across a missing Toyota Prius. While some officers were called to this scene, down the street another officer called in a high-risk traffic stop of a silver Honda Civic.
Two individuals had gotten into that car after walking away from the original scene at 777 5th Street. Officer Farnsworth arrived at the second scene on West Capitol Avenue, where three individuals were detained.
His sole purpose at the site was to provide security. Later that night he returned to the police station and was handed a bag of evidence. After some discussion as to what Mr. Couzens was allowed to ask Officer Farnsworth, Mr. Couzens was finally able to show Officer Farnsworth People’s Exhibit 1.
Officer Farnsworth described the exhibit to be images of a white powdery substance that later tested positive for cocaine, and a tar-like substance that later tested positive for heroin. The heroin was divided into 11 bags: 10 individual bags weighing .2 grams each were found in the glove compartment of the Honda Civic, and the last bag was found in the passenger door pocket.
Mr. Fletcher began to cross-examine Officer Farnsworth by questioning what it was he saw at the scene of the crime. Farnsworth claimed that the suspects were removed at gunpoint by more than five officers and he did not see any evidence being removed from the car.
“You can’t even say that the gun was even a part of the stop?” asked Mr. Fletcher.
Although Mr. Couzens objected to this question, Judge Richardson overruled the objection, and Officer Farnsworth answered, “No.” Additionally, Farnsworth claimed that the phones that were taken into evidence were never identified as belonging to anyone.
The next witness called was Officer Jerry Watson, a West Sacramento Police Officer who has worked in law enforcement for 12 years. Officer Watson identified the woman sitting next to Ms. Sequeira as Charmeya Petty, the driver of the silver Honda on June 16, 2016. Additionally, he identified the man sitting next to Mr. Fletcher as Apondo Latrail White, the passenger of the silver Honda.
Officer Watson also described the third suspect, sitting in the backseat on the passenger’s side of the silver Honda, to be a juvenile.
After the suspects had been removed from the vehicle, Officers Watson and Andrey Kinda searched the car and found a handgun hidden under the back of the passenger seat, a small “bindle” of what looked like heroin, and later many bags of what also looked like heroin along with a box of sandwich bags.
Officer Watson was asked about what another officer had found on Mr. White’s person. Officer Watson stated that $160.00 was found on Mr. White’s person, in denominations ranging from one dollar bills to twenty dollar bills.
Mr. Couzens had Officer Watson describe various photos taken at the scene of the crime by Officer Andrew Ha. These photos included images of the gun, images of the bags of narcotics, and various pictures of the car including images of the glove compartment.
Ms. Sequeira asked Officer Watson about the scene of the second location where the Honda Civic was stopped. He stated that all officers arrived within 20-40 minutes of the call. Ms. Sequeira also asked if Officer Watson already had some indication that there was a gun at the scene, which Officer Watson confirmed. Ms. Sequeira asked this to suggest that, upon arriving at the scene, he would already be vigilant and on high alert.
Regarding the gun, Officer Watson assured Ms. Sequeira that he wore gloves the entire time he handled the gun. Watson stated he did not recall pointing out the gun to Officer Kinda, who assisted in searching the vehicle. However, Ms. Sequiera declared that Officer Kinda’s report explicitly stated that Officer Watson pointed out the gun. The gun was described to be hidden under a piece of paper with the handle sticking out.
Mr. Fletcher asked about the two individuals walking away from the apartment complex. He asked Officer Watson if at any point Officer Gregory Lang, the officer who called in the incident, mentioned the individuals running or behaving suspiciously. Officer Watson answered no to both questions. Mr. Fletcher reminded Officer Watson that when Officer Lang told the suspects to place their hands on their head, the driver and passenger complied. It was only the individual in the backseat who appeared to be disobeying.
Mr. Fletcher asked if there was any evidence that connected the money on Mr. White’s person to the narcotics in the car. Officer Watson answered, “No the money was on him, and the narcotics were in the car.”
In Mr. Couzens’ redirect, he asked to clarify that the drugs were found in the glove compartment directly in front of Mr. White, along with the bindle in the passenger side door pocket. Moreover, he mentioned that the gun was directly under Mr. White’s seat.
A statement by dispatch was brought up by Ms. Sequeira saying “the individuals may not be the suspects.” Officer Watson claimed to have never heard that from dispatch.
Judge Richardson asked about the scene of the second incident on West Capitol Avenue. He was curious about the lighting of the location. Officer Watson assured Judge Richardson that, although it was not the best lighting, there was enough light to see.
The next witness called by the People was Officer Cody Coulter, a West Sacramento police officer who was part of the investigation in this case, dealing with the scene at 777 5th. For the purposes of this hearing, Officer Coulter took a statement from Officer Christopher Cobb who was currently in the hospital. Officer Cobb interviewed Ms. Petty at the police station. At this point, anything said between Officer Cobb and Ms. Petty was to be stricken, based on a Miranda rights violation.
The final witness called to the stand was Agent Gary Richter, a Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputy who is an expert on drug possessions and sales. Agent Richter was asked about his opinion regarding the ten bindles of heroin substance that were found in the vehicle.
“From the pictures, I can see these were possessed for sale,” stated Agent Richter. He based his opinion on the fact that each weighed .2 of a gram and each was tied extremely tight. Additionally, because of their weight, from his experience he knows these to be roughly one to two doses. Finally, the denominations of cash found on Mr. White were consistent with the price he believed each bindle would go for – $20.
Next, Mr. Couzens asked Agent Richter about his thoughts on the cocaine. Agent Richter focused on the quantity of the cocaine. The amount seized would add up to 86 single doses, and an average dose lasts from three to four hours. Therefore, he believed it was also possessed for sale.
In cross-examination, Ms. Sequeira directly asked Agent Richter, “When did you form your opinion?”
“This afternoon,” stated Richter.
Displeased with his answer, Ms. Sequeira implied that Agent Richter merely showed up because he knew the district attorney’s office needed someone to testify as an expert witness. She then asked how often he has ever been in a similar situation where he was subpoenaed at 1:30 p.m., was briefly given facts and asked to give an expert opinion, and disagreed with the charges. Agent Richter estimated about five to ten times. Altogether, Agent Richter has testified in similar cases over 500 times. Ms. Sequeira appeared taken aback by these numbers.
Ms. Sequeira submitted to the court for closing arguments.
Mr. Fletcher began his closing argument, “There must be some evidence in this case. We have an observation from an officer…” He went on to mention that the two defendants were the two individuals complying during the traffic stop. He claimed there is no argument as to who owns the gun. Additionally, since Mr. White had his hands on his head the entire time, there is no evidence he placed anything into or fiddled with the glove compartment.
The People stated that Officer Watson testified to things he heard over the radio. Perhaps the officer was too distracted with the person in the back seat to notice whether Mr. White was doing something else. As for Ms. Petty, Mr. Couzens claimed that the narcotics could not have been exclusively hers because she was too far from the passenger side door.
Ms. Sequeira objected and asked, if that is the case, why was her client in court? Why was she being charged?
Mr. Fletcher claimed that the prosecution was making the defense come up with evidence, when it is clearly not their burden.
The arraignment for both defendants is set for April 10, 2017, at 10:00 a.m. in Department 13. They will be held to answer on Counts 1 and 4, both for possession of a controlled substance while armed with a loaded, operable firearm.