Witnesses Testify in Storage Unit Burglary Case

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burglarBy Saghi Nojoomi

Immediately following jury selection, defendant Brian Freeland’s trial began as witnesses were called to testify in People vs. Freeland.

Brian Freeland is accused of violating section 459 of the California Penal Code from March 30 to April 9 of 2013 and is charged with the burglary of a Woodland storage unit. The defendant allegedly entered storage unit 1139 through an opening in his 1138 storage unit, attempted to commit theft, and left with a pill bottle from the 1139 unit. Freeland pleads not guilty.

In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes claimed that “this case is about an unsophisticated criminal committing a sophisticated crime.” According to Hasapes, the defendant had managed to enter the storage unit next to his by climbing through an opening in the wall. Once inside the defendant rummaged through the belongings and eventually piled the items near the opening in the wall. The DDA was quick to indicate that the defendant could use the items to easily maneuver to and from the opening. In an effort to clarify the security of the storage units, the prosecution argued that cameras always take photos of those that enter and codes are needed to access the units. He claimed that sensors are positioned on all doors that indicate when and how long they are opened. Hasapes then continued to explain that on February 28, 2013, the defendant and his wife rented the 1138 storage unit and that the storage unit was accessed a total of six times from March 30 to April 9. The defendant remained in the unit for over 15 minutes each time. Before concluding his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes claimed that, although the victim kept her belongings in unit 1139, her aunt, the primary renter, was the only one who had full access. It was not until Detective Ford discovered a pill bottle in unit 1138, bearing the name of the primary renter of unit 1139, that the defendant was accused of the theft.

In response to the People’s opening statement, Defense Attorney J. Toney questioned the notion that the defendant was the only one involved. According to Toney, three people had access to the 1138 unit and those three could have been responsible for the missing items and disarrayed unit. The defendant’s wife, someone who frequently visited the defendant, and the defendant himself, all had access to the 1138 storage unit. Although he had access, Toney claimed that often times the defendant was not alone in the storage unit. Before closing his opening statement, Mr. Toney explained that the defendant once spoke to the manager of the storage units about the possibility of a breach from a half-inch opening in the wall separating the two units. Toney questioned why anyone would inquire about a detailed criminal act if they planned on committing it themselves. Thus, the defense concluded that someone else could have committed the crime, to which the prosecution objected.

Following opening statements, the prosecution called upon their first witness. The witness began her testimony by stating that the primary renter of the 1139 storage unit is her aunt and that she frequently used the unit to store her expensive designer purses, Mary Kay makeup, and PlayStation 3. Although she used the storage, the witness claims that she did not have sole access to it and she had only used it once, about a year prior to the incident. When asked to estimate the value of the items that she stored, the witness stated that her purses could often reach $400 and her tote bags full of Mary Kay makeup total up to $1000. The witness claims that her purses, Kindle, and Mary Kay makeup were among the things missing.

Regarding her aunt’s demeanor, the witness stated that Ashworth “was freaking out” when she realized that the unit had been breached. When asked if she saw anything particularly noticeable, the witness stated that it “looked like someone rifled through things,” but that she didn’t notice anything specific. To keep things relatively organized, the witness claimed that items were usually placed in tote bags of various colors. According to the witness, the tote bags with their lids were found in the storage unit but items were gone.

During cross-examination, Mr. Toney questioned whether all purses were in one particular tote bag. According to the witness, all purses were in a “16 gallon” heavy tote bag that she could lift. Everything the witness recognized as missing was present in two tote bags and a cardboard box. Cross-examination ended as the witness claimed that the items missing were never returned to her.

Immediately following the first witness’s testimony, the primary renter of unit 1139 was called by the prosecution to testify. According to the witness, the top notch security of Pioneer Self Storage convinced her to rent storage in 2010 after her retirement. The “double lock gate and cameras” had an added sense of security and the witness admits that that was the sole reason she chose that particular establishment to store her tax and retirement papers, medications, banking information, checks, designer bags, and coffee maker. The witness claimed that she outgrew the original unit she had rented and decided to move to the larger unit 1139 so she could store her niece’s materials as well. Although her niece used the storage unit, the witness was quick to point out that only she had full access and that her niece only had access if she was present. No one seems to know the code or have the key to the unit except for the witness.

Although she could not remember the last time prior to April 9, 2013, that she had been in her storage unit, the witness claimed that it would be possible that she had been there a month prior to the incident. When she first entered the unit on April 9, the witness stated that she felt so uneasy and frightened that she locked the door again before reopening it to make sure it was secure. After immediately calling the front office, the witness also contacted her niece. When DDA Hasapes asked the witness if she ever noticed how items were specifically stacked to one side of the unit, the witness stated that items appeared to be stacked toward the left side wall and that the mantle looked cut and bent. The cut appeared large enough to allow someone through. Mr. Toney objected when the prosecution asked the witness if she would have noticed the cut and bent mantle prior to April 9. According to the witness, a coach bag with checks, a Versace bag with perfume, retirement and birth certificates, and Mary Kay makeup where among the items missing from unit 1139.

During cross-examination, Mr. Toney led the witness to claim that the tote bags were not present in the unit when she entered on April 9. In an effort to present the jury a full perspective on the opening in the wall, Mr. Toney presented the court with five People’s exhibits. He questioned the witness on whether a person could possibly pass through the opening. The witness stated that she was unsure.

When asked by the prosecution on her attention to detail in regard to the lock of the unit, the witness stated that she is “almost OCD, sir.” The witness claimed that she locks the door of the unit and double checks. Often times she leaves the premise only to return in an effort to check the locked door.

Following her testimony, the prosecution called upon their third witness, the manager of Pioneer Self Storage. According to the third witness, there are nearly 16 cameras positioned throughout the storage facility. When presented with People’s exhibit 42, the witness correctly exclaimed, “That’s the property,” before even being asked by the prosecution on the contents of the photograph. When asked by the prosecution about the computer system of the facility, the witness claimed that there is a time stamp every time a camera records a photograph and someone enters. According to the witness, the computer records every time and she does not know of any time that it would not record.

When asked to identify Brian Freeland, the witness correctly pointed to the defendant.

The witness claimed that, while the defendant had access to the storage unit, it was his wife who was named as the primary renter of unit 1138. Both she and her husband had full access to the unit. According to the witness, the keys to the units cannot be copied and therefore each unit has two keys for renters. Should a lock need to be cut, the witness states that she must use a “disk buster” to drill out the coded 6 pin disk lock.

When asked by the prosecution to describe the functions of the facility, the witness claimed that, from her office, she is notified through a color coded computer system whenever someone enters a unit. The witness claimed that when she was notified about the breach in unit 1139, she accompanied the victim back to the unit. According to the witness, the opening in the wall between the two units was about 18 inches, enough to allow someone through. After glancing in the unit, the witness stated that she went to unit 1138 and discovered the door “half opened,” a clear violation of a security rule. When she asked Brian Freeland, who was inside his storage unit, to close the door he appeared “agitated.” The witness stated that the defendant spoke to her about a possible breach from the half-inch tear in the wall. Apparently the defendant had asked the witness if he would be allowed to place barbed wire to prevent a possible breach, to which the witness stated that “as long as it doesn’t disturb the unit,” the wires could be placed.

During cross-examination, Mr. Toney cast doubt on the security of the facility when he asked the witness if the facility would know if someone were in the trunk or back seat of a vehicle on its way to the unit. According to the witness, the cameras cannot capture details of those in the back seats and it could be possible that others could enter the units undetected. Mr. Toney then inquired about the code system. Apparently, anyone with a code and key has access to the storage units undetected.

Before concluding his cross-examination, Mr. Toney asked the witness about People’s exhibit 22, a photograph of the defendant’s car driving toward the unit. When the witness stated that she did not know and could not find out whose hands where on the wheel of the vehicle, Mr.Toney claimed that other people would very well have access to the storage units.

The trial is set to continue tomorrow morning.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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