Armed Robbery in Davis, But By Whom?

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It is late at night, 1:30 am on March 6, 2014, when a UC Davis student slowly walks back from Shields Library to his apartment on Cowell Blvd., off of Drew Ave. He is literally about to step onto the stairs to take him to his second-story apartment when he hears someone yell, “Hey, hey, hey!” and sees two people approach him.

At first he thought they needed assistance, but suddenly one of them pulls a gun out of his pocket with his right hand, points it at him, bringing it up so quickly it actually makes contact with the left side of his head.

“Give me everything you got or I’ll blow your f—ng brains open,” the individual says. He is not wearing a mask. The victim identifies him by name, identifying him as Jamal Williams.

The victim describes Jamal Williams as cold, calm, as though he had done this before. On the other hand, Eric Rodriguez, who searched through the victim’s pockets and found his wallet, was nervous.

The victim was able to identify them through their yearbook. He said he would never forget their faces. He described Jamal as wearing a darkish hoodie and jeans while Eric wore an all-black hoodie, jeans, a beanie, and was not well shaved.

They would steal his backpack and take off running. They ended up taking a Macbook, notebooks, a calculator, his wallet with $100 and his cards and IDs. And his Adderall which he used for his ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). He seemed most upset about the notebooks with weeks of notes ten days before his final exams.

The victim estimated they took $3500 worth of stuff, including a high end pair of headphones he had borrowed from a friend.

He said he handed the backpack to Jamal Williams. He described Eric, however, as trembling, as though he “didn’t want to be there.” He stopped and wanted to be very clear that Jamal rather then Eric was the person in control. He did not hear Eric say anything and described him as “scared.”

He said they ran off more into the apartment complex than toward the street. It took him 20 minutes to compose himself. He said, “I thought I was going to be murdered.”

The victim said he had taken the Adderall before the incident. He uses it to help him study. While it produces some euphoria, the drug, which is a type of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, doesn’t make him loopy. In fact, he likes to study with it since it sharpens his focus and helps him remember.

It also has tremendous street value.

The main investigating officer was Davis Police Detective Ronald Trn. He picked up the case after Detective Evans, through the use of yearbooks, identified students at River City High School in West Sacramento as the culprits.

Ultimately the court would learn that Detective Trn had gotten statements from four people identified as being at the scene. In addition to Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Williams, there were Tyree Williams and James Miller.

What evolved was something out of the movie Rashomon, where each of the several individuals told a different version of the events. In this case, each was trying to shift culpability away from themselves and toward others.

Jamal Williams told Detective Trn, for instance, that they had gone to Davis, and Tyree Williams and James Miller had gone to steal bikes. They approached an individual who tried to sell them Adderall pills. He said that Eric Rodriguez was with him in the car and not involved in the robbery.

The story kept changing, however, and at one point Detective Trn turned off the recorder and said that they needed to know the truth and they knew that story was not the truth. Time to tell the truth. However, Jamal Williams did not tell the truth, according to Det. Trn.

The detective then interviewed Eric Rodriguez, who told him originally that he had never been to Davis, he didn’t go anywhere that night and he denied knowledge of the robbery.

In the second statement, he acknowledged going to Davis, with Tyree as the driver, and said that he was approached by a guy in the apartment complex trying to sell Adderall.

In a third statement, he still denied the robbery and the gun, but said that Jamal had gone through the backpack and ended up throwing it from the car onto the freeway.

Next, Det. Trn talked to Tyree Williams, who went to Davis to find a party which they never found. He said that they borrowed his sister’s car, he drove and, after dropping everyone off, he found a calculator (which had the name of the victim engraved on the back) and thought it was his sister’s. He said he took it because he needed a calculator for school.

Detective Trn identified Tyree Williams as one of the defendants in this case. It turned out Jamal Williams was not in the room. He is a juvenile and is being tried separately.

James Miller, who appears to be the only one of the individuals not charged, told Det. Trn that Tyree picked them up and took them to a party in Davis. He said that Eric and Jamal left the car at one point and returned with the backpack.

Items came out of the backpack and Tyree Williams was the one who threw backpack behind the West Sacramento Target. He talked about selling the computer, the calculator and the Adderall, but denied knowing that there was a gun.

Det. Trn said that he attempted to get phone records from the defendants, but only managed to get into Eric’s phone, where he found text messages talking about how it was an easy $1400 and that they needed to go to Davis again because it was such an easy mark. They talked about selling the laptop, pills and headphones, and about shooting of the gun.

However, under cross-examination, Det. Trn acknowledged that a lot of those text messages were only received by Eric Rodriguez and that he was unable to determine from his notes who sent what message – which the defense attorneys tore into.

Don Masuda, representing Eric Rodriguez, argued that we need to take into account the motives in the accounts given in this case. He argued that Jamal Williams wants to save his skin. We do not know, from the officer’s admission, who went through the texts.

Masuda questioned the information claiming that Eric Rodriguez had gone through the victim’s pockets, as the victim never told this to the police.

He argued that Jamal Williams robbed this guy alone, and the others are guilty of being accessories after the fact.

Byron Roope, representing Tyree Williams, echoed the comments of Mr. Masuda. He argued that Jamal Williams was the perpetrator, as identified by the victim and investigating officer. Jamal Williams was the only one who implicated Tyree Williams as being involved in the robbery.

Judge Paul Richardson directed Deputy DA Amanda Zambor to focus her argument on Tyree Williams. She noted that he drove the vehicle, he may not have been present at the robbery itself, but in terms of the calculator, selling the property and discarding the backpack at Target, he clearly had enough involvement to be an accessory after the fact.

Judge Richardson ultimately would hold Mr. Rodriguez to answer for the robbery. He noted that he was clearly identified by the victim as being there. He acknowledged that, while he was not a major player, he was directed to take the wallet, and therefore his involvement was secondary but there was enough to hold him to answer to that charge, in addition to being an accessory after the fact.

For Tyree Williams, he knew what was going on with the calculator. On the other hand, while he didn’t point the gun, he did drive the car to Davis. The judge would rule that, while there may have been some evidence that they went to Davis to commit a crime, there was not enough to hold him on the second-degree robbery charge, as he may not have known about the robbery until after the fact.

However, there was enough to hold him as an accessory after the fact.

One of the unspoken factors that may play a role later in proceedings is the mis-identification that the witness made of Tyree Williams, mistaking him for Jamal Williams. No one made a point of this, but the victim clearly stated that he would always remember the faces of the perpetrators in pointing to Eric Rodriguez and Tyree Williams, whom he identified as Jamal Williams.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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27 thoughts on “Armed Robbery in Davis, But By Whom?”

  1. sisterhood

    Re: making a mistake when identifying someone: Approximately five years ago,  while doing a probation check in my home, a police officer saw a framed photo of my younger sister with President Obama and Vice President Biden and stated, “Oh, you’ve met the president?” I told her, “No, that’s my younger sister.” A moment later, another officer walked by the photo and said, “Oh, you know our president?”

    “No! That’s my younger sister. I’m very proud of her! She worked on the campaign.”

    Even law enforcement, who are trained at studying people’s faces, can make a mistake identifying someone. My sister is only 5 foot four inches tall, in heels. I am five foot eight inches tall, barefoot, and approximately forty pounds heavier than my sister. She is two years younger than I am.

  2. Topcat

    Det. Trn said that he attempted to get phone records from the defendants, but only managed to get into Eric’s phone, where he found text messages talking about how it was an easy $1400 and that they needed to go to Davis again because it was such an easy mark.

    I wonder why criminals think that Davis is an easy mark?

    I know that bike theft is a big problem.  That’s why I always keep my bikes locked in the garage and always keep them locked to the bike racks when I’m out and about.

    Are there things we can do to send the message to criminals that they should not come to Davis to commit robberies and burglaries?

    1. Anon

      Yes.  Many grown adults who should know better, as well as students who may not know better, leave their car doors and house doors unlocked.  I know it is hard to believe in this day and age, but it is true.  Also, students are often not careful to protect their belongings, leaving them out while going to the bathroom or talking to a friend.  Students also are apt to be out late at night, and/or in dark unlit places.  Students are particularly vulnerable if they are alone and/or inebriated.  College campuses often attract crime.  But I also believe that Davis has become a prime target because too many citizens are very complacent, think this is a safe town, so do not take proper precautions.  No community is safe anymore – the Amish could tell you that (two little girls were abducted recently, selling produce right in front of their home in Amish country).

      1. sisterhood

        It sounds like a “blame the victim mentality. “You should never have let Jaycee walk a few hundred yards by herself.” “You should never have left your car unlocked for 5 minutes when you ran into the restroom.” “You should not have worn that new dress to the club with those high heels. It was too sexy and you were just asking for trouble.” “You should never have had a few drinks and walked with that guy over by the train station at night.” “You should never have been nice to that drifter and offered him a job.”

        How about, “You should not assume a woman wants to have public sex with you in the Amtrak station”

        “You should not grope a woman in a club just because she is wearing a sexy outfit.”

        “Thou shalt not steal.”

        Thou shalt not abduct a child while she is walking to the school bus stop, or when you are working in the home of the good Samaritan who offered you a job.

        None of those things are the survivor’s fault. Blame should be placed firmly on the criminal.

        1. Anon

          This is not a question of blame the victim for heaven’s sake!  As a practical matter, if you leave your door unlocked on a regular basis, you will almost certainly draw criminals.  That is just a fact.  Criminals take the path of least resistance.  Good deterrents to crimes are locked doors and the presence of dogs.  Ask any police officer.  Sheesh!

        2. Davis Progressive

          i agree it’s not about blaming the victim, but i know a lot of people in davis who don’t lock their doors and have never had a problem so i don’t think it’s fair to say that if you leave your door unlocked you will almost certainly draw criminals, after all they have to go up to enter your home anyway.

  3. sisterhood

    “…one point Detective Trn turned off the recorder…”

    Was this for show only, since the video camera in the interrogation room was probably still running?

    “Det. Trn said that he attempted to get phone records from the defendants, but only managed to get into Eric’s phone, where he found text messages talking about how it was an easy $1400 and that they needed to go to Davis again because it was such an easy mark. They talked about selling the laptop, pills and headphones, and about shooting of the gun.”

    When is law enforcement allowed to tap our phones, cell phones, laptops, etc?

    Any cops out there, or retired cops?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      He explained that he thought the interview was done and that when he asked him if he had anything more to say, this was his last chance, he said some more. The other thing I would say is that while the story changed a bit, he still never admitted to fault.

      Law enforcement needs a warrant to tap phones. Law enforcement can access confiscated evidence and search it. My impression was that they were not technically able to in this case because it was password protected – which ought be a bit reassuring.

        1. Davis Progressive

          its very easy.  a judge has to sign off so what you do is at 2 or 3 in the morning you send a warrant to the judge that you expect to be most conducive to allowing the search.  i’ve never had a judge not sign one of my warrants.

  4. sisterhood

    So it sounds like you are in law enforcement or the D.A.’s office, since you have asked a judge for a search warrant. Thank you for answering my questions about this. 🙂

  5. sisterhood

    Re: search warrants and phone tapping: Fictional hypothetical for Davis Progressive:

    D.P. Are you writing, if I am in a dispute with my neighbor because their gardener is making too much noise with his leaf blower, I could make up a lie about my neighbor, cops could get a search warrant to search my neighbor’s cell phone records & their home. Cops could tap my neighbor’s phone as part of their “investigation”.

    Later, when I calmed down & told the cops I did all this in a fit of anger, because I kept missing my afternoon nap, due to that darned leaf blower, and I’m sorry, I’ll probably not be charged w/ making a false police report, because that would discourage people who felt guilty from coming forward and confessing. Is that correct?

    So, basically, an innocent person could have their home searched and their phone tapped, at any time, if they are in any kind of dispute with any unscrupulous person?

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      yes it *could* happen.  now you would have to not only have a neighbor that is vindictive but a police officer who is either in on it or careless and a judge that is complacent.  all of those things would have to line up but it’s possible, though i’d argue unlikely.

      1. sisterhood

        Re: carelessness, if the Dixon Police were involved I would not find that fictitious scenario unlikely at all, if it occurred a few years ago. (Have no idea what is going on with Northern CA’s Solano County law enforcement any longer, haven’t had to deal with them, thank God, in years.) If the police in Mill Valley or Laguna Beach or Ross were involved, I’d guess they probably would investigate the complaint a little further. Maybe it boils down to the budget of the police dept. in question.

        Re: complacent. Is that really very different from impatient?

  6. sisterhood

    A reader wrote: “Many grown adults who should know better, as well as students who may not know better, leave their car doors and house doors unlocked.”  

    “Also, students are often not careful to protect their belongings, leaving them out while going to the bathroom or talking to a friend.  Students also are apt to be out late at night, and/or in dark unlit places.  Students are particularly vulnerable if they are alone and/or inebriated.  College campuses often attract crime.”

    Then the same reader wrote: “This is not a question of blame the victim for heaven’s sake!”

    1. South of Davis

      sisterhood wrote:

      > This is not a question of blame the victim for heaven’s sake!”

      There is a difference between “blaming” and pointing out that something is a “bad idea”.

      If you park your unlocked car in South Sac with $100 bills sitting on the dash I am not going to “blame” you if the money is stolen, but I am going to tell you that it is a “bad idea” to do the same thing next time you park in South Sac.

      If you want to get drunk and stagger around Davis after dark with a purse full of cash feel free to do it.  I won’t “blame” you if you are robbed and I hope the guys that took your purse go to jail, but staggering around drunk with lots cash is still a “bad idea”…

      1. Barack Palin

        I agree SOD.  All Anon was pointing out is thieves see Davis as an easy mark so they seem to aggregate here.  It has nothing to do with blaming the victim.

  7. Tia Will

    While I agree that “pointing out the something is a bad idea” is not equivalent to “victim blaming”, it is one very small step from “pointing out” to “See, I told you so ” if someone is careless and then is the victim of a crime…….or in other words “victim blaming”.

    I think it might be more productive to look a little deeper into the roots of crime which I believe include :

    1. Inequality of opportunity in our society

    2. In equality in the distribution of wealth

    3. Our “every man for himself, who cares about others ” philosophy which permeates our entire society at all levels. We like to pretend that we are living in an autonomous, rugged individualist society, while choosing to take advantage of a collectivist physical situation which we call cities. The two frequently do not mesh well because we continue to be dishonest about the dependent model of living that we have created while continuing to exalt the myth of our autonomy.

     

    1. Topcat

      I think it might be more productive to look a little deeper into the roots of crime which I believe include

      The biggest root cause of criminality is how a person is raised within their family structure.  Here are the major factors:

      Parental inadequacy – parents don’t teach their children right and wrong. Lack of moral values.

      Parental conflict – If the parents can’t get along the child learns that conflict is normal

      Parental criminality – The child emulates the behavior he/she sees

      Lack of communication (both in quality and quantity)

      Lack of respect and responsibility – If a child is not taught to respect others and be responsible the result is a disrespectful, irresponsible adult.

      Abuse and neglect of children – This can be both physical and psychological.

      Family violence – Again, The child emulates the behavior he/she sees.

       

      1. Davis Progressive

        “The biggest root cause of criminality is how a person is raised within their family structure. ”

        except that the family structure is highly dependent on other variables so i think you’re oversimplifying things.

        1. Topcat

          except that the family structure is highly dependent on other variables so i think you’re oversimplifying things.

          Yes, of course.  Entire books could (and have) been written about family structure and the relationship to criminality. There are people who will spend their careers analyzing the relationship.

          And, of course there are many things that contribute to dysfunctional family structures. It’s a very complex problem that is not reducible to  convenient political sound bites.

  8. Topcat

    ….he found text messages talking about how it was an easy $1400 and that they needed to go to Davis again because it was such an easy mark.

    I think we citizens of Davis need to think about how we can send a message to potential criminals that if they come here to commit crimes they will get their cojones removed (figuratively speaking of course).

  9. Anon

    DP: “i agree it’s not about blaming the victim, but i know a lot of people in davis who don’t lock their doors and have never had a problem so i don’t think it’s fair to say that if you leave your door unlocked you will almost certainly draw criminals, after all they have to go up to enter your home anyway.”

    And if you stand in the middle of the road, you probably won’t get hit by a car/truck for a while – but you are certainly increasing your odds of getting hit, don’t you think.  Criminals take the path of least resistance.  If they get word a town is wide open w people who fail to lock doors and take proper precautions, that is where they will head for.  Ask any police officer.

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