Defendant in Attack on West Sac Cab Driver Attempts to Withdraw His Plea

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hate-crimePedro Ramirez and Johnny Morales were scheduled to be sentenced on Friday in Woodland, after pleading no contest to an attack on a Sikh tax driver and making racial slurs during the attack.

However, Mr. Ramirez attempted to withdraw his plea, citing ineffectual counsel, and Attorney Robert Spangler was appointed to investigate whether there was a legal basis for this claim.

Mr. Ramirez had accepted, at the last hearing, a plea agreement that would put him in prison for 13 years.  Judge Fall ,in vivid detail, described the facts of the case.  He told the court that Mr. Ramirez, “beat the daylights out of the victim.”

Yolo County Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven issued a statement expressing surprise by the decision by Mr. Ramirez to withdraw his plea, calling it “buyer’s remorse,” but also stated that it was not uncommon for a defendant to seek to back out of an agreement.

The victim’s attorney, Amar Shergill, was more strident, suggesting that Mr. Ramirez should take the plea agreement offered.

“He should be careful what he wishes for,” Mr. Shergill said.  “He could wind up in front of a jury and do worse than the 13-year sentence he agreed to.”

The key question is whether Mr. Ramirez uttered racial slurs during the attack.  Mr. Ramirez’s wife, who was present, told Fox 40 News in Sacramento that alcohol, rather than racism, had clouded his judgment.

“My husband made a huge mistake, but race was not involved and there were no racial slurs,” she told the TV station.

According to the DA’s press release in March, “During the cab drive, Ramirez shouted racial epithets and accused Mr. Singh of being Muslim. Ramirez punched Mr. Singh in the face approximately ten times while Morales punched him from behind.”

As the Vanguard reported on March 8, according to Mr. Singh’s testimoney, as Mr. Ramirez punched Mr. Singh, he shouted profanity strung together with racial epithets, at one point calling the victim Osama Bin Laden and at another point calling him an Iranian.

Mr. Singh, who was wearing a turban at the time of the assault, responded by saying, “I’m from India.  I’m not a Muslim.”

However, according to Officer Bowers’ reports, there is no indication that Mr. Singh ever mentioned to Officer Bowers that any comments regarding ethnicity or race were made to him during the assault.

As Public Defender Tracie Olson, who represented the co-defendant Mr. Morales, argued in a [Penal Code] 995 motion to dismiss following the preliminary examination, “Even if it is assumed that Mr. Ramirez made the inflammatory statements to Mr. Singh – namely, “F- you, Osama Bin Laden” and “F- you, Iranian” – all witnesses agree that the statements were made contemporaneously with the assault and after the issue or disagreement regarding the money occurred.”

Penal Code 995 allows for moving to dismiss if the preliminary exam produces insufficient evidence to be held to answer for the alleged crimes.

As she argued, “The law does not criminalize intolerant or bigoted language.”

Instead, “The law criminalizes actions that are motivated by intolerance or bigotry.”

“While Mr. Ramirez’s statements are circumstantial evidence of his motivation, this is the only evidence of a biased motivation that exists,” she continued. 

Fox 40 confirms part of this view, as they note, “A copy of the police report obtained by FOX 40 shows Singh said nothing about any racist comments until two days after the attack.  Singh also originally told West Sacramento Police that two men had tried to rob him, but later told officers no attempted robbery took place.”

Mrs. Ramirez told Fox 40 that her husband normally “…is not the kind of man to go around attacking people,” but that he was very drunk.  She said they would “…like to go to trial and leave it up to a jury.”

However, in our view that would be an unwise move for Mr. Ramirez.   

It is true that he probably did not commit a hate crime.

Moreover, having observed the hearings, I would understand how Mr. Ramirez, whose attorney was repeatedly denigrated by Mr. Fall, would believe his attorney failed to provide adequate representation.  That is something that Judge Fall, who is known for his temper and criticism of attorneys, may wish to think about.

At the same time, there is no doubt that Mr. Ramirez was involved in a senseless and particularly vicious act.  There is very little doubt that Mr. Ramirez, even if he beat the hate crime charge, could well face charges for attempted murder and be convicted of those and therefore potentially face much more time than that he was to have been sentenced to.

The co-defendant in this case is another story, and based on the evidence available, is likely innocent of all charges.  He pled to PC 245, assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.  The court imposed 300 days in jail and Mr. Morales has currently 238 days credit for time served (including good behavior).

In a statement to the probation department, “Mr. Morales has always maintained the he did not assault Mr. Singh, nor did he aid Mr Ramirez’s assault of Mr. Singh.”

He had the corroboration of several witnesses.

Ultimately, he took the plea deal because he was “aware that if a jury found otherwise and he was convicted of attempted murder and the alleged hate crime enhancement that he could have been sentenced from 7 to 13 years in state prison.”

With a wife and four children, and their primary source of financial support, he simply “accepted this plea offer because he wants to ensure a life with his family, not because of his culpability in the crime.”

His counsel further offered, “Mr. Morales is sorry for what happened to Mr. Singh; he plays the images of what he saw back in his mind and is disgusted by the memories.”

Mr. Morales felt the need to plead to charges that he did not feel he committed.  He watched while Judge Fall held him to answer for the charges in the complaint.  He then had to watch the DA add the attempted murder charge after the fact. 

As his attorney Tracie Olson said, “He never had the chance to address that charge head on at the preliminary hearing.”

By accepting the plea, Mr. Morales sought to avoid the risk a jury trial entailed.  It is of course easy to sit back from the sidelines and criticize a decision when you are not the one taking the risk and having to pay the consequences.

Unfortunately, our system sets it up that an innocent person has to plead to something that he did not do as the best course of action.

Mr. Ramirez would be wise to take the plea agreement that he has been offered.  What he did was horrific and he deserves proper punishment for it. 

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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7 thoughts on “Defendant in Attack on West Sac Cab Driver Attempts to Withdraw His Plea”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Unfortunately, our system sets it up that an innocent person has to plead to something that he did not do as the best course of action.”

    First, this defendent did not “have to” plead to anything. He did have a choice to plead innocent. Second, if this man were as “innocent” as he claims, what did he do to stop the crime? Did he immediately notify police and tell them what had happened? Just how “innocent” were his actions? It makes a difference. If he did everything possible to stop the crime and report it to the police, then he could have pled innocent and taken his chances w the jury. If, on the other hand, he really didn’t do much to stop the crime, or failed to notify the police as to what his partner did, then he would be much more likely to feel the need to take the plea.

    Additionally, it is not suprising to me the victim may not have thought about the hate crime aspect until a couple of days later. The victim may not have even known that hate crime law exists. It is entirely possible the victim learned of that possiblity from police officers during the investigation. Did bystanders hear the words? Personally, I don’t really care if the words were stated contemporaneously or right before the incident – to me that is a distinction w/o a difference. It would appear there was circumstantial evidence of a hate crime, for which the DA could ask for an enhancement – giving the DA the leverage necessary to work a plea deal.

    The one thug definitely got what he deserved. The second one probably got a reasonable sentence, if he failed to stop the crime or call the police. But I don’t know the specific details as to his degree of participation in the crime…

  2. hpierce

    [quote]it is not suprising to me the victim may not have thought about the hate crime aspect until…[/quote]True story… as a victim of a “hate” assault, all I could think about in the moment was, I was hurt and I needed the attack to stop, and wondering why is this happening. The next day I figured out: day after MLK was shot and killed; black attacker, skinny white boy recipient. Duh.

  3. bachha

    “it is not suprising to me the victim may not have thought about the hate crime aspect until a couple of days later. The victim may not have even known that hate crime law exists. It is entirely possible the victim learned of that possiblity from police officers during the investigation”

    Elaine, your statement above tells me that you just want to be a devil’s advocate. You have got to be kidding. Every Sikh is aware of the fact that hate crime has existed for few years against them. Quite a few Sikh have been killed just because some idiots think that they are Osama followers. The Sikh community is very tight. Trust me that they are all aware that this can happen at any time. So don’t make excuses for the police or DA. Especially given, that this pertains to a taxi driver. HE is not someone that just came into this country yesterday. And even then, he would have known about the hate crime that exists in this country towards his people. You just don’t seem to know anything about Punjabi Culture.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    He didn’t have to plead to anything, but his choice was taking an agreement where he got pretty close to time served (with a huge restitution of like $65K) or face 13 years in prison. BTW, as I understand he did it against the advice of his attorney who believed he would be found not guilty in a trial. It is easy to Monday Morning QB a decision like that when you aren’t the one facing the exposure.

    From the description, Morales was in the back of the cab on the right side, Ramirez was outside punching the cab driver, Mrs. Sanchez (Ramirez’s wife) put herself between the cab driver and her husband and stopped the fight. It also appears from her testimony that Morales pulled Ramirez off the cab driver.

    “Laura Sanchez would state the following:

    After Mrs. Sanchez’s husband, Mr. Ramirez, began to punch Mr. Singh, Mrs. Sanchez leaned over Mr. Singh in an effort to protect him and yelled at her husband to stop. She screamed for Mr. Morales to come back to the cab and help her get her husband off of the cab driver. After she screamed for Mr. Morales to come help, Mr. Morales came running back to the cab from wherever he was. Mr. Morales pulled Mr. Ramirez off of Mr. Singh. Mrs. Sanchez never saw Mr. Morales hit Mr. Singh.”

    Bridgette Gomez would state the following: “Bridgette Gomez received a phone call from her sister-in-law, Laura Sanchez, at about 2:00 a.m.. Laura was crying and stating that Mr. Ramirez had just beat up a cab driver. Mrs. Gomez drove to pick up Mrs. Sanchez. During the car ride home, Laura Sanchez relayed that after the cab had arrived in front of Mr. Morales’ house, Mr. Morales had paid the cab driver and he and Tonika had exited the cab. After Mr. Ramirez started to hit the cab driver, Mrs. Sanchez screamed and threw her body over the cab driver in an effort to protect him. Mr. Morales ran to the cab and pulled Mr. Ramirez away from the cab driver.”

    I don’t know if he called the police, but that’s at least two witnesses that saw him pull Ramirez away from the cab driver, which by the way, probably saved the cab driver’s life.

    Did he do everything possible to stop the crime? I think that’s a much higher standard than not being culpable for the crime. They were all intoxicated. And they were all stunned that Ramirez was attacking the cab driver. But it appears both Mrs. Sanchez and Mr. Morales attempted to stop the attack.

    “Did bystanders hear the words?”

    None of the witnesses heard the words.

    As I read the report again, it appears that Morales had taken Mrs. Aguire, his wife into his house first, because she was sick (probably from drinking too much).

    “Mrs. Sanchez screamed for Mr. Morales to come back to the cab and help her get her husband off of the cab driver. Mrs. Sanchez said that after she screamed for Mr. Morales to come help, Mr. Morales came running back to the cab from wherever he was.”

    That was testified at the prelim. So according to Mrs. Sanchez, Mr. Morales was not even at the cab at the start of the confrontation.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    bachha: “Elaine, your statement above tells me that you just want to be a devil’s advocate. You have got to be kidding. Every Sikh is aware of the fact that hate crime has existed for few years against them.”

    Assuming you are correct, it does not necessarily mean you are going to think of that at the time of the attack. It might not occur to you that there will be extra enhancements to the crime for the defendant until the police start their investigation. At the time of such an horrific crime, I suspect the only thing you are thinking about is surviving the attack/healing.

    To dmg: Thanks for the added context. But you essentially proved my point. He was advised to plead not guilty rather than plead out. It was his choice to take the plea bargain. Secondly, it does not appear he ever called the police. If he had, he might never have been charged…

  6. David M. Greenwald

    “He was advised to plead not guilty rather than plead out. “

    Huh? He was not advised to plead guilty. He chose to take the plea deal over the advise of counsel.

    “Secondly, it does not appear he ever called the police. If he had, he might never have been charged.”

    I don’t think that had anything to do with it. The cab driver said that he had hit him from the back of the cab. No one else saw him do that. In the world of preliminary hearings that is sufficient evidence to hold one over.

    He chose to take essentially a probation/ time served deal rather than role the dice.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Huh? He was not advised to plead guilty. He chose to take the plea deal over the advise of counsel.”

    That was my point (didn’t word it as well as I could have) – the defendant chose to take the plea deal, yet his counsel advised him to plead not guilty and would have defended him vigorously. I doubt defendant’s counsel would have advised him not to take the plea deal unless counsel was certain the defendant had a good chance of being found innocent. But the defendant chose not to listen to counsel – the defendant’s choice…

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