VANGUARD COURT WATCH: Gangs: Is Yolo County Protecting Kids Or Throwing The Gang Card At Each Incident?

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gang-stock-picBy Antoinnette Borbon

On Wednesday in arraignment court came the short testimony of a woman, who testified to the character of a defendant in custody who is being linked to “gang activity.” Attorney Lawrence Cobb is defending the young man.

In a statement to Commissioner Janene Beronio, Mr. Cobb argued that the defendant is a good kid who has no criminal record and has people in his neighborhood who can attest to his character being reliable and responsible. He is a young defendant, already a father, as we learned today.

It is alleged he was standing near a car of known gang members who had a shotgun inside of it. Deputy DA Ryan Couzens read off a list of known gang members that he alleges are good friends of the defendants.

But Mr. Cobb addressed those allegations with firmness and animosity toward the county for the abuse of the term. He stated, “Prosecution has no evidence this kid is a known gang member, he is a responsible good kid.” He admitted his disgust with the county for always assuming it is a gang-related crime.

Mr. Couzens stated that the defendant has been known to hang out with these individuals and they carry weapons for protection from other gang rivals. He stated allowing the defendant to be released on O.R. could be dangerous to the public, not only for other innocent people but also for himself.

Even though Mr. Cobb pointed out elements of the young defendant’s character, and had a seemingly credible witness to give testimony to this, Commissioner Beronio declined Mr. Cobb’s request to allow him to be released.

It is becoming apparent that law enforcement and the DA’s office is inclined to believe several incidents are tied to gang activity. I am sure some of these cases are related, especially when you have defendants who openly admit it. But for the others who, from any association with “real” members, get thrown under the bus, what is to become of them? I have to assume that even being labeled as a “gang member” can be a dangerous thing, even if these young kids are not gang members.

It is scary to think that, if they are released, they can likely become a target for rivals and lose their lives at a young age because of the labeling. If they are indeed involved in the gangs, it must be proven by the prosecution.

Store Owner Faces Criminal Charges for Selling Tobacco to Minor

by Catherine Woodward

In Department 8 Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Karen Madderra, represented by Attorney Amy Caskey, was accused of selling tobacco to a minor. The incident in question occurred on September 22, 2012 at the Pilot Travel Center off of I-5 in Dunnigan.

In his opening argument, Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes urged the jury to “give teeth to the laws that protect our youth.” Therefore, they should hold Ms. Madderra accountable for her actions. Ms. Caskey argued that the store was very busy, and Ms. Madderra was rattled and didn’t realize that the young man was underage.

Jorge Rodriguez acted as a decoy for the Tobacco Enforcement Agency of Yolo County. A minor at the time, he was an integral part of the sting operations that the agency conducts on a monthly basis. Prior to the incident in question, Mr. Rodriguez had been a decoy in several other sting operations.

Investigator Dan Stroski is a licensed private investigator and 31-year law enforcement veteran. At the time of the incident, he worked under contract for the Yolo County Health Department, operating the “Tobacco Sting Program” for 5-6 years.

This program ensures that businesses that hold tobacco licenses are compliant with health codes and regulations. Minors are recruited from Woodland high schools to volunteer as decoys. These youths are instructed to always tell the truth, and if asked, they are to give their true date of birth/age or present their valid driver’s license.

On that day, the team had visited 2 or 3 businesses before Pilot Travel Center. Dressed in street clothes, Mr. Rodriguez entered the store followed by Investigator Stroski. The store was crowded, and lines were accumulating behind the four cash registers.

Mr. Rodriguez asked the cashier, Ms. Madderra, for a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. When the defendant asked how old he was, Mr. Rodriguez responded by giving his true date of birth. Ms. Madderra attempted to input this information into the computer, but a warning beep sounded because Mr. Rodriguez was 17.

At this point, Mr. Rodriguez offered to produce his ID, which the defendant declined to see. Ms. Madderra overrode the system, retrieved the cigarettes, and completed the transaction. Mr. Rodriguez paid for the cigarettes with the marked $10 bill that Investigator Stroski had given him for that purpose.

This entire time, Investigator Stroski was within earshot and observing from 3-4 feet away. Once Mr. Rodriguez received the cigarettes, receipt and change, he met the backup officer in the car. The officer then took the items and went back inside to assist Investigator Stroski.

Once Investigator Stroski identified himself as a peace officer, Ms. Madderra became upset and emotional. She explained that she was rattled because it was only her second day working as a cashier.

The store was busy, and her manager had just indicated that their priority was to keep the lines moving. Additionally, she was flustered because she had made numerous mistakes earlier in the day. When Mr. Rodriguez’s birth date was declined, Ms. Madderra was confused, so she overrode the system and authorized the transaction.

When she took the stand, Ms. Madderra testified that no one had trained her in how to operate the register; instead, she watched videos and took a test. When the transaction initially wouldn’t go through, she called for assistance, but the other cashiers were too busy to help her. She described a difficult day during which she made a lot of errors.

Since Mr. Rodriguez offered to show his ID, the defendant assumed he was over 18. In retrospect, Ms. Madderra acknowledges that she made a mistake and should have checked Mr. Rodriguez’s ID. The defendant indicated several times that she knows better than to sell tobacco products to minors.

Closing arguments will begin at 9am on Thursday, April 25 in Department 8.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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