By Catherine McKnight
The court heard opening statements on Wednesday morning in the case of the state against (a defendant), where the main counts include felony evading a police officer, and battery and assault on a police officer.
In his opening, Deputy DA Robert Gorman asked the jury to “please participate” when officers and psychologists are testifying, and explained that this is a case of excessive force used by the defendant, (a defendant).
In Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson’s opening statement, he signified the importance of his client’s state of mind during this pursuit – how he honestly believed there was a person or persons after him who wanted to “kill him.” (a defendant) believed that was what was happening, because he suffers from delusions.
Mr. Hutchinson also noted that he did not have specific intent to evade the officer, which is necessary to be convicted of a felony charge in this case. (a defendant) actually thanked the officers when they stopped him, and defense argued that he was never physically aggressive but kept speaking about these delusions he was suffering from.
Mr. Hutchinson ended his opening by saying that (a defendant) was not in control of the situation and that the officers had escalated the situation, tackled him and tased him. The felony charges, he continued, should not stand because they do not fit the crime.
The state began presenting their case with Officer Steven Bratcher, a California Highway Patrol Officer who was working the night of March 2, 2009, in Solano County. He became aware of a high-speed pursuit that began in Yolo County and ended in Solano County where he was on duty. He caught up to the Yolo County CHP unit and pursued the vehicle, a white Ford pickup truck, seconds before the vehicle came to a stop.
Mr. Bratcher performed a felony stop procedure by keeping his rifle aimed at the driver’s door for precaution. He testified that (a defendant) complied and he had no issues with him whatsoever.
On cross-examination, Mr. Hutchinson asked whether or not he had written a report pertaining to his involvement with this case. He said he had not because Officer Anderson from Yolo County was the arresting officer. He also noted how unusual it was that this “high-speed pursuit” ended as soon as he put his lights on behind the vehicle.
Officer Charles Anderson, the arresting officer, took the stand and said that he was working in the Woodland area on the night of March 2, 2009. He was headed southbound on I-5 toward I-505 when he noticed a truck going faster than the speed limit at about 11:15 p.m. He proceeded to pace the truck, staying about 100 yards behind.
After about four miles of his pacing the truck at about 90 miles per hour, Officer Anderson activated his rear lights and front red lights. He said that the truck continued at the same speed in a normal manner. After about a minute, he said he activated more noticeable headlights but there was still no change. After another minute, he activated the “roundy-round lights” and, by this point, all of his police lights were activated and he had been behind (a defendant) for about five minutes. After this, he said the Ford sped up to about 100 miles per hour, straddling the center of the freeway, in between lanes. He remained behind the truck in this manner for about 21 miles. Officer Anderson noted that there was also a heavy stretch of a rainstorm and his windshield wipers could not clear the water fast enough, explaining how fast this alleged pursuit was.
After the truck pulled over, the defendant was eventually placed into handcuffs by Officer Anderson and he said that the defendant was very courteous and polite, repeating, “Thank you for stopping me.”
Officer Anderson and (a defendant) drove back to the Woodland CHP office, where (a defendant)’s behavior allegedly changed. He asked the defendant why he hadn’t pulled over at first, and (a defendant) said that he had chosen him to stop him, and once he knew other officers were present, he felt safe. (a defendant) continued to say to him that he was being chased and that when he was at home in Sonoma, people broke into his house, beat him, and he then ran across the field naked.
Officer Anderson said that the defendant made many unusual voluntary statements. He also noticed objective signs of drug use such as the way he would get agitated, that he was sweating and his eyes were dilated.
He said (a defendant) was never left alone and, after about 45 minutes at the CHP office, they headed to the Woodland Memorial Hospital for a blood draw.
After the sample was taken, (a defendant) did not comply when Officer Anderson tried to put handcuffs back onto him. He raised both hands and exclaimed, “No, you’re not putting handcuffs back on me!” (a defendant) then allegedly charged at the RN, Mr. Turner. Officer Cornell tried to separate them, but they all ended up on the floor.
This struggle lasted about two to three minutes, and this is when Officer Anderson decided to try using his Taser on the defendant, which he claimed was not very effective. He used his Taser four to five times and at some point got a bruise on his right side.
On the way from the hospital to jail, Officer Anderson sat in the back seat of the patrol car with (a defendant). The defendant threw himself at him, putting his foot up as if he were going to kick him. Officer Anderson tased him before being kicked but this only restrained him for seconds. At some point, Officer Cornel stopped the car.
Officer Anderson had to get on top of the defendant in the patrol car and he tased his clavicle. The struggling stopped and (a defendant) responded, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t do that again.” At some point during the struggle, Officer Anderson said his lower back was injured.
On cross-examination, Mr. Hutchinson noted how most cases do not take four years to go to trial. He questioned him about whether or not the conversation was recorded between him and the defendant at the CHP Woodland office. He said he attempted to record it but the recorder shut off. The notes he took were also destroyed because it was already on a report he filled out on March 3, 2009.
Defense also said that, while he was pacing the truck originally, it would have appeared to just be another pair of headlights on the freeway behind him.
Next, defense presented an out-of-order witness, Dr. Juliana Rohrer. She is a clinical psychologist and received her PhD in June of 2000. She has worked in the Department of Mental Health in the prison system in Vacaville for 14 years.
Mr. Hutchinson asked her to define what a delusion is. She said that there are many different types, but in general it is “a belief held by somebody, but it is not reality based.”
Dr. Rohrer was admitted as an expert of psychology – specifically for substance-induced psychotic disorders. In Spring of 2012 she performed a psychological evaluation of (a defendant). She said she did an in-person evaluation at the public defender’s office. She was with him for several hours, just the two of them, talking about the night of March 2, 2009.
In her professional opinion, she believes that (a defendant) was suffering from a psychotic disorder and she diagnosed him with a substance-induced psychotic disorder, due to amphetamines.
Dr. Rohrer based her opinion on the clinical interview, and his presentation, history, records and test results. Her opinion as to whether or not he still suffers from delusions is that he does still express delusional beliefs, but he was not under the influence of any amphetamine the time she did her clinical interview. Because of that fact, his delusions are not as “fantastic” as they would have been back in March of 2009.
When people suffer from meth psychosis, it does not necessarily go away, she testified. There are about five to fifteen percent of patients that simply do not get better or ever really recover.
She told the court that (a defendant)had told her a different story than what was told to the officers in 2009. He told her that it was raining and he wanted to get away, so he went to McDonalds. He was scared that a man was following him not only to McDonalds but after he left, onto the freeway. He claimed that when he saw that there were officers also on the freeway, he pulled over because he felt relieved.
Dr. Rohrer said that the defendant did not malinger. In fact, he did the opposite and tried to convince her that nothing was wrong with him. In the Rey-Osterrieth complex figure test performed, she said his results indicated that his immediate and delayed copies of the image were fine but very pieced together, which supported his psychotic difficulty theory.
In another test, she said (a defendant)tried to present himself in a positive light. (a defendant)’s IQ, she claimed, is average at 92. Mr. Hutchinson had her reiterate the fact that he does indeed suffer from this disorder and that it is truthful. There have been times that she has performed tests on clients with certain results that would technically hurt the public defender’s case rather than help, but this is not one of those times.
On cross-examination, DDA Gorman had her repeat the definition of delusion for the jury. She said that (a defendant) suffers from persecutory delusions – the fear that somebody is following one or out to get one.
Mr. Gorman brought up the inconsistencies between the police report and what he said to her during their interview. On one hand, he wanted to get away. On the other, he was being beaten up at home. She told the court that it could have been damaging if she confronted him about what was said in the police report.
She testified that he has stabilized over time. (a defendant) relayed to her that he had not seen the patrol vehicles prior to the seconds before his pulling over. Mr. Gorman asked her why she did not ask him why he did not look in his rear view mirrors, and she said it was not relevant to her testing methods and diagnosis.
Mr. Gorman asked, “How can test results in 2012 be conclusive of something that happened in 2009?” She said that her diagnosis of meth-induced delusions is sound, given all of the various tests performed on (a defendant) .
Mr. Gorman then argued that (a defendant) knew he was speeding down the highway and he knew that he was driving his truck that night.
Dr. Rohrer’s testimony will continue on Thursday morning in Judge Stephen Mock’s courtroom.