by Danielle Eden C. Silva and Fabhia Zaman
Witness Testifies to Seeing Gun Fired from Vehicle
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
The trial for Jason Michael Lopez and Stephon Jerome Ramirez reconvened today in Department 9.
Prior to bringing in the jury, James Granucci, representing Mr. Lopez, noted he planned to bring in a gun expert. He also noted that they would have an investigating officer for the defense sitting in during the trial. In case Deputy DA Kyle Hasapes wanted the prosecution’s investigating officer to testify, their investigating officer may have different information on which to testify.
The day’s session commenced with a witness from Los Angeles. On May 8, 2016, he had come up to West Sacramento to visit his wife’s mother for Mother’s Day. Originally, the witness and his family planned to celebrate at the mother-in-law’s house but instead had gone to his brother-in-law’s house. After staying there for a period of time, the family came up with the idea of a barbecue, so the witness and two other men decided to go to the market for meat.
In driving out to the market, the witness and another man in their vehicle noticed another car. The witness had caught sight of the driver saying something but did not pay much mind. He looked away but the other man immediately shouted that the other vehicle had a gun. The witness looked back at the other car and saw another man in the passenger seat beside the driver with a gun.
Seeing the gun pointed at them, the witness immediately commanded his brother-in-law to drive out of there. They drove straight to the police station, which was closed. The group called 911 to report what had happened, with the police arriving for a search and then a statement.
The witness identified Mr. Lopez as the driver of the other vehicle and Mr. Ramirez as the one holding a gun.
Mr. Hasapes also decided to have this witness comment on a recording of the police call made by a previous witness. This previous witness had been in the car with him. The defense objected but the court allowed it. The defense also asked that the court reporter transcribe the police call – which was denied, but there would be a transcript prepared by the district attorney’s office – due to the major static in the recording. The witness verified that was the voice of the previous witness.
During cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, representing Mr. Ramirez, asked for clarification on the time periods the witness had related. She noted the witness said in this testimony that they had been at the house for 10 to 15 minutes before leaving. However, in a previous testimony, the witness had said 15 to 30 minutes. In addition, she asked if, while they were driving and then saw the other vehicle, the witness had the windows up. The witness stated one window was down because the car didn’t have air conditioning. He was not sure which window was rolled down or to what extent it was rolled down.
Yesterday in court, it was also noted the witness had been handed a book by an officer but he didn’t really read it. The court noted the book to be a transcript of the testimony, but the witness could not be sure as he did not read it at the time
To conclude her cross-examination, Ms. Sequeira noted the 911 caller had stated the passenger in the other car had a gun and asked the witness if he knew why. The current witness stated he didn’t.
Mr. Granucci took over cross-examination, asking who else the caller was talking to in the recording. The witness shared there was an officer driving by that the caller was trying to whistle over. If there was someone else the caller was talking to, the witness could not recall.
Mr. Granucci also pointed out differences in the testimonies, specifically in terms of distance perception. Originally, the witness had noted the other car had been 25 feet away but today he stated it was 15 feet away. Defense turned back to the incident that had caught the witness’ attention. The witness did remember that Mr. Ramirez was in the car and his hand was outside the window. The driver, Mr. Lopez, was shouting, “Pop it!” The defense asked if he may have been saying, “Stop it!” The witness did not believe so.
The witness also shared that the facial expressions on the defendants proved to him that they were not joking around. The driver appeared serious and mad, while the man holding the gun was jumping in his seat and appeared excited. The witness also shared he didn’t know what “pop it” meant until he looked it up, which clarified further they were not joking around.
Mr. Hasapes asked the witness to look at the transcript. The witness again stated he didn’t base his memory on that.
Ms. Sequeira shared that the caller had used the word “pop” during the phone call just shared in court. The witness again repeated he didn’t remember the details of the phone call.
This witness was excused and subject to recall.
Officer Cody Coulter of the West Sacramento Police Department appeared on the stand for the prosecution. He noted he had been doing a routine patrol when he pulled over a white Chevy. The car had braked but the brake lights did not turn on. He pulled the car over and examined the group of people in the car. Officer Coulter noted several of their attire included red clothing, red hats, or red shoes. Several had tattoos.
In cross-examination, Ms. Sequeira asked if he paid attention to their attire because of the field investigation card, and he agreed. She also noted one of them had a SF 49ers hat but he wasn’t sure if the other red hat he saw was a 49ers hat as well.
Mr. Granucci’s questioning clarified that, after being pulled over, these people were all allowed to leave and nothing illegal was found in the car. The officer also wasn’t sure if they were heading to a 49ers event.
The witness was excused and court broke for lunch.
Expert Witness Gives Testimony in Trial for Gang-Related Shooting
By Fabiha Zaman
The jury trial for defendants Stephon Jerome Ramirez and Jason Michael Lopez reconvened Thursday afternoon. The first witness was Officer Nvard Avagyan of the West Sacramento Police Department.
Officer Avagyan testified that on August 7, 2014, she made lawful contact with Stephon Ramirez at the intersection of Michigan Boulevard and Maple Street in West Sacramento. Before she could talk to him, he took off running.
She proceeded to notify others in her department and provided them with a physical description, including the fact that he was wearing a black shirt and blue jeans.
Ramirez was arrested later that night, and Officer Avagyan added that when he saw him again at pre-booking, he was wearing red shorts. Officer Avagyan then identified Ramirez at the defense counsel table.
During a brief cross from Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, representing Ramirez, Officer Avagyan clarified that the red shorts she saw were just peeking out from the jeans she saw Ramirez wearing at the police office.
The next People’s witness was senior criminalist Meagan Gallagher. She has worked at the Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services for four years. She explained that she specializes in gunshot residue analysis. She had completed the bureau’s formal training and competency and proficiency tests to qualify for her position.
After a long break during which counsel approached Judge Janene Beronio, Ms. Gallagher was excused and asked to come back the following morning at 10:30 a.m.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes, representing the People, called in Detective Michael Duggins as the next witness. Det. Duggins has been a sworn peace officer for 13 years and has been at the West Sacramento Police Department for four years.
Before working in West Sacramento, Det. Duggins was also in the Marine Corps for about 26 years, where he handled a wide variety of firearms, specifically semiautomatic handguns.
Det. Duggins explained his qualifications, including that he knew how to recognize malfunctions in semiautomatic handguns, how to fix malfunctions, how to clean those guns, how to take them apart, and how to put them back together.
At the Yerba Community College, Det. Duggins is on their staff where he teaches classes on law enforcement and helps maintain the gun range. He also trains new cadets by setting up training ranges.
After he finished explaining most of his experience and knowledge on handguns, he was admitted as an expert witness, specifically on semiautomatic handguns. He revealed that he had brought a handgun that is used for training purposes to help demonstrate the different types of malfunctions that occur in a gun.
The training gun is used particularly for training in active shooter situations, and is filled with dummy rounds, similar to paintball bullets. Det. Duggins then proceeded to point out the different parts of the gun, including the area where the magazine fits in, the frame slide, the ejection port, the firing pen, the recoil spring, the trigger, and the mechanism.
Det. Duggins also explained the basic functioning of the gun, saying that it was essentially the same for all semiautomatic handguns. He then went through the bullet and pointed out the projectile, casing, powder, and primer of the bullet.
After going through the different parts of the magazine, including the body, base plate, spring, and the spring follower, the court took the afternoon recess.
Following the recess, Mr. Hasapes continued his direct examination of Det. Huggins. The witness said that even if there is no magazine, a live round may still be left in the firearm and the firearm can fire it. This is called clearing the weapon, which Det. Duggins said was a tactic used on gun ranges to ensure that no live ammunition is left in the firearm after it is taken back and stored.
Next, Det. Duggins explained the main types of malfunctions. The first one was a double feed, which is when there are two rounds in the chamber. This typically happens when the weapon is dirty or old, or the rounds are old. He explained that the way to clear a double feed was to lock the slide in the rear position, hold it down, and shake until the bullets come out.
The failure to fire malfunction occurs when the firing pin is damaged, the primer is bad, or the ammunition is bad. And the failure to feed malfunction occurs when the magazine is not inserted properly. When it is not pushed all the way in, it can just hang, especially if the firearm is dirty.
Det. Duggins added that malfunctions are generally the same for all semiautomatics, but there are differences between a 9 mm handgun and a 25 mm handgun. The People then handed the witness a manila envelope with what the witness identified to be a .22 or .25 caliber round inside.
Mr. Hasapes then posed a hypothetical scenario to Det. Duggins based on the testimony from the civilian witness, and asked if it was possible that a malfunction could have occurred in that scenario. Det. Duggins answered yes, and added that the round found near the car associated with the defendants is consistent with the possibility of the malfunction.
During cross-examination, Det. Duggins confirmed that if the bullet found had been fired from the gun, there would most likely be ejection port marks or extractor marks, but no one besides defense counsel had asked him to conduct any tests that might help identify those marks on the bullet.
He also added that if the bullet was fired from the gun, then there would have been gunshot residue on the bullet but no one from the prosecution or his department pointed out if one could test for that.
Ms. Sequeira also made sure to point out that Det. Duggins worked for the West Sacramento Police Department, the same people responsible for the arrest of the defendants, and that he works alongside the officers involved in locating and arresting the defendants.
During further questioning, Det. Duggins revealed that all the hypotheticals assume that the gun was loaded or loaded improperly for there to be a malfunction.
Defense counsel asked about the civilian witness next, and whether he deserves some credibility for testifying multiple times saying the gun that was pointed at him was a 9mm or 45mm handgun, especially when he said he liked guns and attended many gun shows. The witness never gave a definite answer as there was new information being provided in the scenario.
Before defense attorney James Granucci, representing Lopez, began his questioning, the witness agreed with Ms. Sequeira when she asked if people can be scared and still be sure of what they saw.
During Mr. Granucci’s brief cross, the witness explained that in his opinion it is very difficult for a person to tell the size of a gun when it is directly pointed at them. He also added that bullets are made to put into guns and shoot.
Ms. Sequeira then conducted a re-cross, when she asked the witness about a penal code that explained using guns for intimidation. The witness said that would assume the gun was unloaded, but Ms. Sequeira pointed out that when the prosecution proposed hypotheticals, he had no problem assuming the gun was loaded.
Before the witness could respond, Judge Beronio adjourned court for the day and directed the jury to be back at 9 a.m. the next morning.