By Crescenzo Vellucci and Jamier Sale
Yolo County Superior Court Judge Paul Richardson Monday split the proverbial baby in half, ruling University of California, Davis, honors student Noah Benham must stand trial – a win for the prosecution – for his arrest last January 13 at a protest opposing the aborted Milo Yiannopoulos UCD appearance.
But the judge tossed out both felonies facing Benham – a win for the defense.
After a nearly two-hour preliminary hearing, Richardson agreed there was enough evidence to go to trial and allow a jury to decide if Benham – who is a comparative literature honors graduate student – is guilty of resisting arrest and battery on a UCD police officer.
The four charges – two assault and two resisting – are all now misdemeanors.
However, there was much in dispute – including the somewhat startling fact that arresting UCD officer Lt. William Beermann – who’s been at UCD eight years after spending 30 years as a Sacramento City police officer – could not identify Benham.
Beermann also admitted on the stand that he failed to turn on his body camera, as required by UCD Police policy, calling it a “lapse in judgment.”
And although Beermann said his left hand had a scratch, he said he did not seek medical treatment. He said he didn’t know if Benham did cause his injury, a scratch on his left hand noticed by other officers later.
“We don’t even know if the officer had to put a bandage the scratch,” asserted Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso, who maintained that for the charges
to be leveled, the injury requires “professional medical treatment.”
Beermann said the scene at the UCD Sciences Lecture Hall was loud, with hundreds of protestors tearing down police barricades outside, and other protestors chained together inside the lecture hall. Chants of “Trump is not my President,” “No cops, no KKK,” and “American was never great,” among others, were heard.
Beermann, the incident commander, also said a Yolo County explosive ordinance disposal team swept the area, and that there were 55 officers and 25 Aggie Hosts at the protest.
“I remember hearing the term fascists being used…at police officers,” said Beermann, who said he saw Benham in the lecture hall and said, “Stop, I need to talk to you” with his hand up.
“I just needed to find out why he was in the building. I don’t recall if he had that intent to hurt me,” Beermann said, observing that Benham didn’t stop and “bumped me.” Beermann, who said he weighs 240 pounds, insisted Benham, at about 160 pounds, “lowered his shoulder” twice and ran into him.
Mr. Borruso described the encounter as more of a “consensual” contact, and argued that the arrest was unlawful. He also noted there were no signs warning people to stop, and the doors to the lecture hall were not locked.
Borruso focused on the failure of Beermann to activate the body camera.
“Are you familiar (with) why body cams are used? Isn’t it because they are clearer than memory,” snapped Borruso at Beermann, who said he’s “never” used a body camera, although it’s been a policy at UCD for about three years. Beermann said he wrote his report, without benefit of any footage, “three to four days later.”
Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens insisted all the elements of the charged crimes, including the original felonies, were proven at the preliminary hearing – even though Benham could not be identified by the arresting officer. Couzens insisted Beermann’s injury was significant enough to warrant the charges.
“He (Benham) shoulder-checked the officer….the fact that he gets good grades, and has no record doesn’t mean he should get a freebie for assaulting an officer. That’s the epitome of injustice,” said Couzens.
“It’s a trend. People assault police officers. He (Benham) is taking zero responsibility,” added Couzens before Borruso objected, repeating again that the elements of the crimes were not proven and that it was wrong to charge Benham with felonies, “to put a stamp on a young man…to brand him for the rest of his life for six to 10 seconds for (what) at most was a mistake.”
Cheryl Ross, a UCD comparative literature senior lecturer and advisor, earlier testified that Benham was one of the top students she had, calling him “extremely serious, deliberate and a quiet guy,” pursuing a honors thesis that most students don’t even attempt.
In the end, Judge Richardson agreed that the felonies should be dismissed. He did say the injuries were “not insignificant,” but took into account Benham’s student record and his college “experience.”
The trial setting conference is Jan. 3 at 10 a.m. in Dept. 13.