Bystander Testimony in Robbery Case

by Edward Garcia

The jury trial for codefendants Ricky Gomez Hernandez and Joshua Armond Cadenaz-Lopez reconvened on October 11, 2017. These alleged gang members are facing charges including 2nd degree robbery, enhancements for use of a firearm, attempted assault with a firearm, and involvement with criminal street gang activity.

Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes resumed the proceedings by calling an innocent bystander to give testimony in relation to the Denny’s robbery on October 19, 2016, in West Sacramento.

Mr. Hasapes began by presenting the bystander with the Denny’s surveillance video, in which the witness readily identified herself and two other friends sitting at a table.

In accordance with the video, she testified to seeing three men coming in from the establishment’s front hall entrance. The witness could not recall clearly what the individuals were yelling, but believed they told her to put her hands up. One of the individuals went straight to her location, and pointed a gun at her.

She could not recall whether the individual had his finger on the trigger.

When asked about her emotions at that time, the bystander said she felt paralyzed with fear.

When questioned about the individual’s voice, she admitted to paying little attention to it because of the gun pointed at her. The witness did notice the tone of the individual by her table was
demanding at first, but shifted to understanding when she let the person know she had no money.

Furthermore, the witness identified the individual near her table as a male, and stated she could not tell exactly what the ethnicities of the individuals were but knew they were not white. “I could tell their skin tone was tanner than mine,” she said.

The defense attorney for Cadenaz-Lopez, Jem Martin, began the cross-examination by targeting the individual’s clothing, specifically whether the robber by the witness’ table had any fluorescent green gloves. The witness could not recall any such gloves, but she did state that the three individuals had covered their faces: one with a ski mask and the other two with red bandanas.

In regard to body shape, the witness saw few differentiating traits, except for perhaps a couple inches in height, between the three individuals.

Mr. Martin questioned whether any gang ties might have been noticed, such as clothing, tattoos or speech. The witness admitted knowing very little about gangs, but said she saw no such signs.

Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance, representing Hernandez, continued the cross-examination by focusing on the entrance and the location of the three men during the robbery. The bystander placed one individual by her table, another near the register, and the last in the back near the kitchen.

Mr. Hasapes’ brief redirect inquired whether it appeared the individuals were working together, to which the defense quickly objected. Objection being overturned, the witness stated they were all dressed in black, had covered faces, and had guns so it appeared they may have worked together. When asked if it looked like they knew each other, the witness said they “appeared to be on the same page.”

After Judge David Rosenberg excused the innocent bystander, Mr. Hasapes called upon Detective Kelly Elliot to testify for the court. Det. Elliot, under questioning from the People, identified that she worked for the Sacramento Police Department and was the detective assigned to the October 19, 2016, ampm robbery on Orchard Lane in Sacramento.

Detective Elliot began her investigation of the robbery by receiving the surveillance video, which she claims to have reviewed no less than 10 times. Furthermore, she received a synopsis of the scene and asked for follow up.

When asked about obtaining information from the West Sacramento Police Department, Det. Elliot stated she received a call log and, following an arrest a few days later, numerous photos.

The photos from this arrest were of three firearms, shoes, cellphone pictures, jeans, and green gloves.

After she ran the names of those arrested in her department’s system, Det. Elliot compared an individual found in the cell phone images to a verified source, and identified Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez as the one in the cell phone picture.

Mr. Hasapes then presented Det. Elliot with surveillance video of the robbery in which she identified the green gloves, shoes, and two handguns that resembled those from the pictures West Sacramento Police Department gave her.

When asked about her arrival onto the scene, Ms. Elliot quickly stated she did not go out to the scene, but ordered evidence for testing: firing of the gun and shoe gel comparisons.

Mr. Martin began the cross-examination by questioning why Det. Elliot did not take Mr. Cadenaz’s chest tattoo into more consideration, and specifically why she did not look at other surveillance videos such as from the ampm robbery on Florin Road.

Detective Elliot clarified that the robberies were separate investigations. Additionally, Det. Elliot said the surveillance video poses all sorts of barriers—resolution, angle, lighting—that make it difficult to examine for finite details such as tattoos. Therefore, requiring video enhancement for such a poor quality image did not seem necessary for the investigation.

Nonetheless, Mr. Martin proceeded to present Det. Elliot with a still frame of the Orchard Lane robbery, containing the individual alleged to be Mr. Cadenaz-Lopez, and enlarging the individual’s chest area.

“I don’t see a tattoo, I see skin,” the detective stated.

Just to remind the court, Det. Elliot stated that the tattoo may not be visible for a multitude of reasons.

Lacking evidence of a tattoo, Mr. Martin questioned how Detective Elliot can conclude that this is in fact the defendant, Cadenaz-Lopez, in the surveillance video. The detective explained her determination that the defendant is in the video comes from the totality of the evidence presented to her: gloves, car, guns, and codefendants.

Ms. Lance continued the cross-examination by questioning the uniqueness of the black semi-automatic handgun and silver revolver seen in the surveillance video. Det. Elliot admitted to the black semi-automatic handgun being relatively common, as well as the silver revolver.

The People returned with a redirect focused on the ejection port of the black handgun. Det. Elliot, having work experience with handguns, did not see anything uncommon about the ejection port on the black semi-automatic handgun—it typically is located on the side or top of the gun.

Before Detective Elliot was excused, a juror asked if she had ever seen at any point in her career a robber wear fluorescent green gardening gloves, to which the detective had a hard time recalling a specific case with similar gloves.

The next witness of the day was a 7-Eleven employee, who happened to be working at 1:30 a.m. during the October 19, 2016, 7-Eleven robbery on Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento.

His testimony summarized the occurrences of that early morning in which three individuals entered the establishment with their faces covered and guns in their hands. One of these individuals walked toward the witness, pointed a gun at him, and demanded he open the register.

According to the witness, the three individuals stole roughly $300 and numerous cartons of cigarettes.

The witness did remember talking with the police after the incident, but could recall very little of what he said that day. In addition, the employee had to call the owner of the 7-Eleven to translate for him because the police officers did not speak the employee’s native language.

Cross-examination by Ms. Lance and Mr. Martin placed emphasis on the conversation between the witness and police office. They highlighted the inconvenience of having to pass the telephone back and forth in order to have an understanding of what occurred.

The defense also attempted to inquire about specific details of the three individual—gloves, gang affiliation, body type—but the employee could not recall any specifics.

Mr. Hasapes attempted to elicit additional details of the robbers in his redirect, but the witness was adamant about not knowing much more than what was already stated.

The People persisted by displaying a surveillance video of a laundromat located next door to the 7-Eleven, and asked the employee to identify the three individuals walking by. After viewing some hesitance on the part of the witness, Judge Rosenberg made it clear to him that the court does not want any speculation.

“Do you recognize anyone from the video?” he asked.

“I can’t say,” the employee responded.

After fast-forwarding the video to when the individuals are seen running out of the 7-Eleven, the witness agreed that they look like the same people who robbed the establishment, but that he can’t recognize the faces.

After answering these final questions, the 7-Eleven employee was excused and the final witness of the evening was called to the stand.

Officer Michelle Mizzi took a seat and presented her testimony on two incidents that occurred on October 20, 2016.

She first reported to a call about an alleged hit and run that occurred on West Street in West Sacramento. At the scene, Officer Mizzi interviewed a bystander and someone she believed to be a victim, in addition to collecting a side view mirror, ID badge, and flashlight which she booked into evidence.

During her interview with the bystander, Officer Mizzi was told that the individual she believed to be a victim—the bystander identified him by pointing—walked out of the silver SUV, approached a gold Acura, and then returned. A blue vehicle then came up behind the alleged victim, struck him, and left along with the gold Acura eastbound.

According to the bystander, the occupants of the blue vehicle and the gold Acura appeared to know each other.

Later that same evening, Officer Mizzi was instructed to assist with a felony high-risk stop of a Chevy Colorado. She was the 2nd or 3rd officer to arrive at the scene, but did not approach the vehicle until all the individuals stepped out.

Mr. Hasapes questioned the individuals’ compliance, to which Officer Mizzi responded that she singled out those in the rear of the vehicle because of their inability to stay still.

Ultimately, when asked, Officer Mizzi was able to identify the two codefendants and their accomplices in the car, and in the courtroom.

Continuing with the proceedings of the stop, responsibilities required Officer Mizzi to photograph the vehicle and then search the interior for evidence or contraband. She clarified that any evidence or contraband found would be photographed as she first found it.

While the defense was reviewing documents from the scene, court was adjourned for the day.



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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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