Vanguard Court Watch Case Round Up

Yolo-Count-Court-Room-600This is our new periodic round up of updates on cases we are tracking.  Vanguard Court Watch will be following two trials this week.

Oscar Barrientos Second Trial Begins Today

Opening statements begin today in the case of Oscar Barrientos, accused of burglarizing a West Sacramento home.  Mr. Barrientos had originally faced trial back in late March and early April, but the trial was cut abruptly short when Detective Tate from the West Sacramento Police Department had to rush to Florida for a family emergency.

The Tuesday afternoon dismissal of the case followed a disastrous morning for the prosecution.  They had put Maria Cerna, the person whose home was burglarized, on the stand.

Speaking through an interpreter, she testified that it was in the morning on a school day when a young woman 14 to 16 years old knocked on the door asking for her 11-year-old daughter.   Outside she saw a red Blazer with a person in the passenger’s seat, a Latino male with a white shirt and red hat, slumping down.  He had a mustache.

In the evening, when she was called to return home, she found out that her 50-inch flat screen TV had been taken, along with jewelry, a car stereo and other valuables.

It was not until four months later that they found Mr. Barrientos.  The police came to Ms. Cerna with a single photo.  They did not have her pull the suspect out of a photo lineup or even a live lineup.  Instead, they brought her a single photo and told Ms. Cerna that this was the individual whose fingerprint they found on her window.

Even at the time that they showed her the photo, she was only 70 to 80 percent sure that was the person who she had seen in front her house.

As she explained, she was only 70 to 80 percent sure, “because I really didn’t see him that well.”

When asked in court if she saw the person in court whom she had seen on the day in question outside of her home, she responded flatly no.  She said that too much time has gone by and people change, as though trying to minimize the problem.

The key evidence in the case will be partial hand print on the window of Ms. Cerna’s home belonging to the defendant.

Defense Attorney Amber Poston will need to cast doubt on the veracity and strength of that evidence, along with demonstrating the fact that it was unlikely Mr. Barrientos was even in the area at the time.

Kalah, et al

Last week a four-defendant gang trial opened in Department 2 before Judge Fall.  It is a tricky trial, because it is supposed to go nine days but is not in the long cause trial room.  That means they would have to meet one week on, one week off.

Due to issues involving discovery, as well as the length of the need to “hardship” the jury (consider requests to be excused from jury service, due to hardships), the jury was not selected as of close of the court week on Friday.  That means that they will continue with jury selection on June 13.

This will be a tricky case because it is really several different but related individuals being brought into one trial, who are accused of doing very different things.

Four individuals, Det Kalah, Dom Kalah, Anthony Kalah and Saengphet Onsri face a series of drug charges, that the DA argues is a conspiracy to the benefit of the Asian Gangster Crips, along with enhancements for possession of a gun.

According to a brief filed by Deputy DA Ryan Couzens, the property on Walnut Street in West Sacramento, that he refers to as the compound, “has been a hotbed of Asian gangster activity over the years,” including a number of documented fights and drug deals.

On December 15, 2010, several defendants were arrested as the result of an ongoing investigation into suspected narcotics activity at certain Walnut Avenue addresses.  It was a culmination of a lengthy series of investigations by the West Sacramento Police Department.

Deputy DA Ryan Couzens himself was on the scene when the arrests were made and orchestrated much of this.

The defendants were held over to answer most of the charges.  During a [PC] 995 hearing to dismiss, Judge Richardson maintained Judge Fall’s original ruling.  This despite evidence offered by Lisa Lance that her client was simply guilty of being in proximity to where drugs were being sold.  She argued that knowledge that drug trafficking was occurring is not evidence of a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Jeff Raven argued that his client, Det Kalah, was simply the father of an out of control teen who had no criminal record, and yet is charged with maintaining a drug residence with a gang enhancement.

On the other hand, according to DDA Couzens, when the four defendants were arrested on the date in question, unknown to them, an audio recording device had been placed in the [interrogation] room.  During a conversation among the defendants, Dom Kalah allegedly stated that “somebody was probably snitching.”

Mr. Couzens added, “The remaining defendants, however, are active gang members and are furthering, assisting or promoting the drug trafficking so that they may be held liable for the Conspiracy. Even the content of the recorded conversation alone, in which the three remaining defendants discuss their predicament and theorize how to find ‘the snitch,’ such activity was furthering or assisting the criminal enterprise of the gang that would trigger conspiracy liability.”

However, as defense countered, “[Dom Kalah] did not indicate what this ‘somebody’ was supposedly snitching about.”  Despite Mr. Couzens’ claims to the contrary, the term snitching is not exclusive to gang terminology and is used quite widely in various subcultures, including drug dealing.

This will all be left to the jury to determine what actually happened and the level of culpability.  A tremendous task, made more difficult by the fact that this trial will be one week on, one week off, due in part to a decision to have only one long cause felony courtroom.

Ramirez Sentenced For Attack on Sikh Tax Driver

On Saturday we covered the Ramirez sentencing for the beating of a Sikh Taxi Driver.

At the time, we did not have access to the DA’s press release.  Here is the press release in full:

District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced that, on Friday, June 3, 2011, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Timothy Fall sentenced 42-year-old Pedro Ramirez of Natomas to thirteen years in state prison for his assault on a Sikh taxi driver on November 28, 2010. On March 7, 2011, Ramirez pled no contest to a felony assault charge and admitted that his attack on Mr. Singh was a hate crime. He also admitted that he caused great bodily injury to the victim. Johnny Morales, Jr., 33, of West Sacramento, who had a lesser role in the attack, pled no contest to a felony assault and was previously sentenced to felony probation.

This prosecution arose from the attack on Harbhajan Singh on November 28, 2010. Mr. Singh, a cab driver, drove the defendants and their wives to West Sacramento from Harlow’s Bar in Sacramento. Mr. Singh was wearing a traditional Sikh turban and beard. As Mr. Singh was dropping them off, the defendants demanded a fare lower than the fourteen dollars requested by Singh. Mr. Singh was momentarily reluctant, but then turned to give Morales the additional change he demanded. At that point, Ramirez shouted racial epithets, accused Mr. Singh of being Muslim, and punched Mr. Singh in the face approximately ten times while Morales punched him from behind. The attack caused Mr. Singh to suffer multiple lacerations, a fracture of the orbital bone in his face and a spinal fracture. Ramirez also attempted to pull Mr. Singh from the car but was prevented by Mr. Singh’s seatbelt. Ultimately, the wife of Ramirez stopped the beating by throwing her body between Mr. Singh and her husband. Morales and Ramirez then pulled Ramirez’s wife from the car, allowing Mr. Singh to escape in his cab.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig credited the detectives and crime scene investigators of the West Sacramento Police Department with bringing the two men to justice. Crime scene investigators found a fingerprint in the victim’s blood from the car, which the California Department of Justice identified as belonging to Ramirez. A series of interviews conducted by detectives established the roles of Ramirez and Morales in the attack.

During the sentencing hearing, a statement was read on behalf of the family by Aman Kaur, a family friend: “Today is not a happy day for us. We wish that none of this had happened. (Harbhajan) Singh wears the turban as an article of faith and this attack will not stop him from wearing it. He wants people to know that Sikhs are just like everyone else. He forgives his attackers and hopes that they find peace along with the rest of the community.”

“Mr. Singh did nothing to provoke this vicious attack,” commented District Attorney Reisig. “Attacking someone because of their race or religion is not only heinous, but against the ideals we hold as Americans and must not be tolerated.”

Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens prosecuted the case. Couzens stated, “Mr. Singh suffered horrific physical and emotional injuries. The victim advocate on this case was instrumental in helping the Singh family throughout this ordeal.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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