By Jenean Docter
The preliminary hearing for the case of Charles Edward Bragg took place on the afternoon of December 1, in Department 10.
Co-defendant Janet Bragg, wife of Mr. Bragg and represented by Jeffrey Raven, stepped out of the courtroom after the People, represented by Carolyn Palumbo, requested an exclusion of witnesses.
The People called “LP” to testify. She is the witness who had submitted a complaint against the Braggs, alleging threats and assault with intent to cause great bodily harm.
LP lived in the Country Villas Mobile Estates in Esparto with her teacup Chihuahua, “Pedro,” at the time of the incident. The middle-aged woman was a neighbor to Charles and Janet Bragg; she lived at trailer space #8, and the Braggs resided at #24. LP claimed to have known the couple for about a month and a half prior to the incident on August 2, saying she met them through her neighbor, “BB.” She noted that she mostly had contact with Ms. Bragg, and saw her almost daily. “I thought we were friends,” she shakily told the court.
She claimed that their interactions were limited to around the Braggs’ home. She claimed that they enlisted her help in cleaning out their trailer, since they were moving and intended to sell it. LP maintained that she spent three weeks cleaning out the Braggs’ trailer during July, mostly at night. She also noted that the Braggs were always present when she was there, and their interactions were social in nature—she would bring over her dog for “dog play dates” with the Braggs’ two dogs on some days, and bring over dinner on others.
LP alleged that on August 1, she took the Yolobus to Woodland Memorial Hospital because she was “very worried” about her daughter, who had been raped. She left her dog with water and food,
and claimed that the sliding door at the back of her trailer was closed.
The witness testified that when she returned from the hospital around 2:00 p.m. on August 2, her back door was open and her dog was missing. She noted that the slider could be pushed from the outside, and suggested that her dog must have pushed it open and escaped.
LP claimed that she set out looking for her dog around the periphery of Country Villas, noting that she went to various neighbors’ units, BB’s “…and eventually the Braggs’.” Upon arriving at the Braggs’ residence around 9:00 p.m, she alleged that the front door “flew open completely” when she knocked on it. She recognized that the Braggs did not invite her in, but claimed that she announced her intention to bring her dog home. LP stated that, as she leaned inside the doorway of the residence, her dog ran further inside the space, toward the kitchen.
The witness claimed that the Braggs were lying on the living room floor when she entered their home, but quickly “got up, yelling” and told her that she “couldn’t have her dog back.” She alleged that “Jan started hitting on me and Charles started choking me” as she attempted to flee out the back door with her dog. LP stated that Janet Bragg punched her with a closed fist, and also choked her with both hands even though she told her she “would not hit back.” She claimed that she “didn’t touch nobody…I was holding my dog and trying to protect him like (a) baby.”
LP recalled her terror during the incident, remembering that she had undergone neck surgery two years prior. She claimed that Charles threatened her, saying “I’ve killed more than twenty-six people, and I’ll kill you too,” while squeezing her neck tightly. The complaining witness stated that she escaped the trailer after Charles Bragg let go of her.
The altercation left LP with small scratches and redness around her neck, and bruising on her arms and legs. She did not have injuries on her body prior to approaching the Braggs’ on the 2nd of August.
LP noted that she has not seen Charles Bragg since the incident, but that at some point after August 1, Janet hid in her trailer because Charles “had been hitting her” and the cops were called.
Deputy Public Defender John Sage, representing Mr. Bragg, doubted the validity of LP’s testimony, as well as the lucidity of her mental state at the time of the incident. The witness admitted that her dog was covered in fleas, for which she shaved off his fur, leaving small nicks and cuts all over his body. She noted that before August 2, the Braggs “treated Pedro nicely…the dogs were our kids.” The defense noted that because both LP and the Braggs considered themselves “dog people,” the Braggs may have been concerned about Powell’s dog, and worried that he was being mistreated by Powell—hence their reluctance to return the dog to her.
Furthermore, the defense noted that the small scratches on LP’s neck may have been caused by her dog, who was likely very fearful at the time of the incident and was being carried by the witness. LP denied this possibility. She also was wearing a necklace during the incident, yet there existed no evidence of tightening or pulling around her neck during the alleged choking.
LP admitted that she was asked by the management at Country Villas to leave around two months ago, maintaining that it was because her foster son broke into the manager’s office. However, the defense noted that LP is on “more than one” antidepressant, and has been recently hospitalized for mental health concerns at Woodland Memorial Hospital. Mr. Sage continued to relate that LP also allegedly went inside another trailer with a key she found under its doormat, made herself a meal, and took a bath there.
Since the incident, LP said she has felt “afraid” and that she “does not go out anymore,” although she still lives at Country Villa Mobile Estates.
The People next called Deputy Steven Hickey to testify as a witness. Hickey was a deputy sheriff working in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at the time. He stated that around 10:30 p.m. on August 2, he was dispatched to the Country Villas Mobile Estates. There, Hickey allegedly made contact with LP insider her trailer in space #8. He noted that she seemed “like she is today…shaken and scared.”
Dep. Hickey characterized LP’s testimony as “pretty close” to the statement she made to him on the night of the incident. However, she had not told him that she fully entered the trailer, but that Charles Bragg choked her in the doorway and dragged her inside the space. She also did not originally claim that Janet Bragg also choked her.
On the night of August 2, Hickey noticed bruising on LP’s legs and arms, and redness and scratches on her neck. He also noted that her voice sounded raspy.
Hickey noted that only about one hundred yards lay between the two parties’ residences.
Hickey attempted to acquire a statement from the Braggs about a week later, but stated that no one answered the door. On August 9, he successfully contacted the Braggs. They maintained that LP walked into their home unannounced, angrily demanded her dog back, and began yelling. Charles Bragg claimed that he was not present when LP entered, but that he went to his living room to investigate when he heard yelling between LP and his wife. He denied choking LP, and maintained that he “only pushed them apart.” Charles Bragg claimed that LP knew he was on probation, and argued that “she would do anything to get me into trouble.”
Judge Daniel P. Maguire allowed the People’s request to move the photos of LP’s injuries into evidence, noting that it was “concerning” that the photos appeared consistent with the alleged victim’s testimony. Yet, he stated that he “cannot ignore that she went into their house, even if she announced herself.” To be met by an assault, however, was deemed by the court “a little excessive, in terms of the strangling to the point of blacking out.”
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. This isn’t felonious conduct,” the defense contended.
In regard to the contradictions between the claims made by the involved parties, the defense attorney noted, “I don’t know where this leaves us today.” He argued that the bruises on LP’s leg were oddly positioned, and not likely to have been caused by the sort of altercation described by her. In addition, he noted that he had “never seen bruises develop that quickly.”
The People offered a solution to the issue: to exchange a plea from Charles Bragg for simple battery for one year of summary probation, minimal fines, and a stay-away order banning contact with LP. The People also moved to dismiss any remaining charges or enhancements based on the testimony of witnesses and defendants.
The court approved the components of the compromise between the prosecution and the defense as “a just solution because it provides a stay away to help keep the peace,” since neither side was able to procure sufficient evidence to prove or deny any allegations. The court waived arraignment, and charged Charles Bragg with a misdemeanor, simple battery. Janet Bragg was charged with fighting, also a misdemeanor. Both Braggs pled “no contest,” and the court found them guilty.
Both Braggs intelligently signed plea forms, and Palumbo, Sage, Raven, and Judge Maguire agreed to the existence of a factual basis for their pleas. Both Braggs were ordered to pay $245 in fees and fines, divided into $25 per month increments.