Testimony in Alleged West Sacramento Gang Case

Gangby Saghi Nojoomi and Patrick Shum

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin began the preliminary hearing for People vs. Hernandez, Hernandez and Moreno in Department 1 of the Yolo County Superior Court on Monday morning by calling upon five out of her nine planned witnesses.

Defendants Alexander Hernandez, Abraham Hernandez, and Joel Moreno were accompanied in court with defense attorneys James Granucci, Rodney Beede, and Christopher Parkhurst, respectively, as each defendant faced several charges for alleged involvements in several altercations on February 1, 2014.

When DDA Serafin called upon West Sacramento Police Lieutenant Nathan Steele as her first witness, the preliminary hearing involving the three defendants began. According to Lt. Steele, an 18-year sworn police officer who coordinated the investigation into the two altercations, a call had sent him to 954 Simon Terrace Street in West Sacramento, where an alleged altercation had occurred. Lt. Steele testified to only being present at the scene for about an hour before he was called to 725 Bryte Avenue in West Sacramento, where another altercation had occurred involving those involved in the prior altercation. The lieutenant claimed that there had been “lots of physical evidence present” at the previous location.

Under Ms. Serafin’s interrogation, the first witness testified that he did not physically witness the altercation on Bryte Avenue, yet he claimed that he arrived to a scene of chaos. In his description of the scene, Lt. Steele stated that several women identified defendant Joel Moreno as someone involved, while defendant Abraham Hernandez was covered in blood as he screamed at the alleged victims while being physically restrained. Among other things, Lt. Steele stated that he was under the impression that family members of the defendants were present at the scene.

According to the witness, defendants Abraham Hernandez and Joel Moreno were detained in the same vehicle that night which recorded the defendants mentioning gang-related statements involving the word, “Norteño.” Although the witness did not receive statements from the two detained defendants, he did claim to hear both voices mentioning the word, “Norteño,” on the audio recording.

In an effort to shift the focus, Ms. Serafin asked her first witness about defendant Joel Moreno’s 2000 white Ford Expedition. According to Lt. Steele, the car was found on 628 Solano Street with blood droplets on the exterior passenger side door. The lieutenant claimed that, as he impounded the vehicle, defendant Joel Moreno’s parents came to the location of the vehicle with the keys. The presence of the keys indicated that the parents of the defendant were in the process of moving the vehicle. According to Lt. Steele, “The male appeared agitated.”

Ms. Serafin continued her interrogation of her first witness by calling into question an alleged bicycle theft that transpired on the night of the altercation. According to Lt. Steele, when the victim of the bicycle theft noticed his bike missing, he was in his backyard and it was not until he went through the side gate that he witnessed three males and a female walking in the opposite direction with his bicycle. The victim claimed that, during this confrontation, the male members of the group lifted their shirts and displayed gang-related signs. Although he could not verify, the victim stated that a member of the group mentioned, “Norteño Rodrik don’t fix with us.” James Granucci, counsel for Alexander Hernandez, objected to the statements on grounds of hearsay as the victim could not directly identify the source of the statement. When asked if he could identify the direction of the statements, Lt. Steele stated that the victim explained that the statement had come from the direction of the three individuals.

During the confrontation, a present civilian witness involved himself as he spoke to the three male members of the group. According to Lt. Steele, the civilian witness identified Joel Moreno as “keeping the peace,” by holding back Abraham Hernandez. An agitated Abraham Hernandez allegedly attacked the civilian witness’s father by punching him 15 times before attacking the civilian witness who defended himself by attacking back.

According to Lt. Steele, the female present with the three males was the sister of Abraham Hernandez, who, according to the civilian witness, stated, “Put the knife away,” prior to the rushed fight. Defendant Alex Hernandez’s  attorney James Granucci objected to the statement, as it allowed for spontaneous speculation of the transpired events.

Cross-examination of the first witness began as Mr. Granucci interrogated Lt. Steele on the damage to the impounded vehicle. Lt. Steele stated that he briefly examined the vehicle since it was too dark to fully examine it. When Mr. Granucci asked whether the female present with the group walked back the bicycle to the victim and apologized, Lt. Steele claimed that he did not recall the apology. After glancing at his report, the witness claimed that the victim received his bicycle back before the civilian witness emerged into the confrontation. Mr. Granucci advanced his case as he led the witness to stating that, while the victim and the civilian witness did not display any injuries, defendant Abraham Hernandez did. According to the witness, defendant Abraham Hernandez was “bleeding profusely.”

Rodney Beede, defense attorney for Abraham Hernandez, continued cross-examination as he interrogated Lt. Steele about the audio recordings from the car. Lt. Steele claimed that he testified to only hearing the audios after they were recorded and that he was not standing near the vehicle of the two detained defendants listening. When asked by Mr. Beede about how he distinguished the two voices, the witness stated that it was “obvious.” Mr. Beede advanced his case as he asked the witness how the incident could be considered a robbery if the female of the group had walked the bicycle back to the victim. Lt. Steele stated that the victim “did not state.”

When Defense Attorney Christopher Parkhurst was called into the cross-examination, he led the witness to confirming that the victim was not attacked in any possible way, as defendant Joel Moreno was holding individuals back from fighting.

DDA Serafin called upon her second witness, after cross-examination of Lt. Steele ended. Ms. Serafin’s second witness had prepared the 6-pack line up that had been shown to the victims. The second witness correctly identified defendant Alexander Hernandez when asked to.

Ms. Serafin called upon West Sacramento Police Department Sergeant Jason Winger as her third witness in the case involving the three defendants. A sworn police officer for 20 years, Sgt. Winger had responded to a call asking him to arrive on Simon Terrace Street on the day of the incident, where he had met another victim involved in the case. When he had received the second call asking him to arrive on Bryte Avenue, Sergeant Winger accompanied the victim from Simon Terrace. Through the car, the victim identified defendant Abraham Hernandez, claiming that he had a knife.

During cross-examination of Sgt. Winger, Mr. Beede asked the witness about the identification of Abraham Hernandez. According to the sergeant, the victim had stated, “That’s one of them, he’s the one in the back he was the one who had the knife,” when he saw Abraham Hernandez. When asked if there had been any prior identification involving only the outfit worn by Abraham Hernandez on that night, the witness claimed that the victim had not spoken to him prior to the identification about the clothing of the defendant. This indicated that the identification might have been based on recognition of physical features.

Ms. Serafin’s fourth witness was West Sacramento Police Officer Matthew Boudinot, a six-year sworn officer who testified to the events that transpired at Simon Terrace Street. According to Officer Boudinot, Simon Terrace Street was crowded with individuals as they awaited his arrival. The victim from Simon Terrace, who had been transported to Bryte Avenue by the third witness, had waved Officer Boudinot over as he sat in his Honda Accord. According to Officer Boudinot, the victim had been sitting in his Honda Accord when a white SUV pulled next to his vehicle with defendant Joel Moreno in the vehicle. The victim claimed to have noticed three individuals in the white SUV, two of which he believed exited the vehicle and called out words such as “scrap” and “Norteño,” in an effort to start a fight. Although he claimed that the driver of the SUV rammed his vehicle into the victim’s Honda Accord, the victim was able to back out of the collision and drive away. According to Officer Boudinot, a passenger in the Honda Accord had managed to exit the vehicle and throw an empty beer bottle at the SUV. During that time, the victim claimed that Abraham Hernandez had managed to make a stabbing motion toward the victim in the car. Officer Boudinot claimed that the victim was able to identify all three defendants.

According to Ms. Serafin’s fifth witness, Officer Flatley, a Ford Expedition followed the victim in the Honda Accord. Officer Flatley testified that a witness at the scene of Simon Terrace had seen three males rush to the Honda Accord. During cross-examination of Officer Flatley, Defense Attorney Beede led the witness to stating that the passenger of the Honda Accord needed a translator and that an interpreter on scene was used to document the events that transpired. When asked by the defense if the interpreter had been a female or male, the witness could not say.

The preliminary hearing for the following case continues on Thursday, July 10, 2014.

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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1 Comment

  1. justice

    what ever happened to honorable justice, come on a life sentence based on hear say  .sending our youth to prison is not the answer. these boys aren’t apart of some notorious gang  .they go in young boys come out men and the only way of life they know is what our prisons have taught them .

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