By Jackie Snyder, Lauren King, and Mahanaz Ebadi
The trial of Christopher Jones, Sr., began February 10, 2015. Jones, a resident of Davis, was charged last year with six counts surrounding the theft of a vehicle, as well as possession of an assault weapon.
During opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays briefly stated what she expected the evidence would illustrate and why she believed a guilty verdict should be entered by the jury. Opening statements were then concluded by Defense Attorney Christopher Henderson, who insisted his client should be found not guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, due to the fact his client (the defendant) had purchased the alleged stolen vehicle in good faith, via craigslist.
Henderson then claimed the evidence would show that the Davis Police Department essentially used the alleged stolen vehicle as a pretext to search the defendant’s home, whereupon an assault weapon and ammunition, were discovered.
The first witness called to testify was Ryan Bellamy, a detective employed through the City of Davis’ Special Assignment Focus Enforcement (SAFE) team. Detective Bellamy claimed that SAFE typically takes a pro-active approach to law enforcement, “building cases from the ground up.” The idea behind SAFE is to stop crimes before they are set in motion.
Det. Bellamy testified that he first took notice of the defendant on August 5, 2014, while dining at a local restaurant with other members of the SAFE team. The defendant was on a Kawasaki motorcycle, which Bellamy said caught his attention only because he liked that particular type of motorcycle. The defendant was dressed in a black and blue motorcycle jacket and a full face helmet. When the defendant removed his helmet, a colleague of Bellamy stated he recognized the man as one Christopher Jones.
Bellamy stated that, as the SAFE team exited the restaurant, he took note of the license plate. His reasoning behind this was he wanted to confirm that the defendant was licensed to drive a motorcycle. Several hours later, after Bellamy had run the license plate, he was notified the license plate matched a different type of vehicle. Bellamy stated that often vehicle license plates will be swapped out in an effort to evade police detection of a stolen vehicle.
After a brief investigation, the alleged stolen vehicle was located at a Davis apartment complex, parked in plain view. The VIN number was retrieved, and dispatch informed the detective(s) that the vehicle had been stolen approximately four years prior, in San Francisco, California.
Bellamy stated surveillance was set up on the reportedly stolen vehicle and, upon rolling the vehicle into his garage, the defendant was arrested. A search warrant was drawn up and executed in an effort to collect items such as the motorcycle jacket and helmet worn by the defendant, as well as the vehicle bill of sale. The search warrant consequently turned up other items in the defendant’s home, including a 9mm assault rifle and high capacity magazines, located in a black toiletry bag in the defendant’s nightstand.
Judge McAdams then dismissed the jury for lunch. Court was set to reconvene at 1:30 PM in Department 8.
First Half of Afternoon Session
After the lunch break on February 10, 2015, the trial of Christopher Jones resumed before Judge Samuel T. McAdam at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. Before DDA Hays called her next witness, she informed Judge McAdam that all members of the Jones family had been involved in multiple arrests. Ms. Hays mentioned this information to the judge before the jury returned to the courtroom to contest the incorrect assumption that Mr. Jones came from a law-abiding family.
Ms. Hays then called Detective Ryan Bellamy to the witness stand for a redirect examination. Again, Det. Bellamy is an investigator for the Davis Police Department within the Special Assignment and Focused Enforcement (SAFE) team. The unit was formed on February 3, 2013, to address emerging crime trends and problem areas within Davis. One sergeant and three investigators are assigned to the SAFE team unit.
Det. Bellamy and other members of the SAFE team unit were out to lunch at a taqueria when the detective saw Mr. Jones riding a motorcycle. Det. Bellamy identified the defendant as the motorcyclist he had seen at the taqueria.
Det. Bellamy testified that he saw Mr. Jones riding the motorcycle around in a parking lot. The officers left the restaurant ten to fifteen minutes after Mr. Jones arrived.
The detective informed the court that he has testified in 10 to 25 jury trials and that being in the court setting has made him a better officer. He credits previous defense attorneys with improving his job performance by pointing out his mistakes. Det. Bellamy used these experiences to help him during the investigation of this case.
Det. Bellamy testified that he believes that these types of cases are often difficult. Many such cases end up being a civil matter. It may turn out that the item is not really stolen, but that there is a dispute between people who both believe that they own it. It may also be the case that someone did not know that they had a stolen item.
According to the detective, the best time to collect evidence is at the time that an arrest is made. At this time, the initial investigation is complete and the defendant is unable to get rid of evidence. It is common for a DA to ask an investigator for follow-up information after an arrest is made.
The motorcycle in question was reported stolen several years ago. To determine whether an item was actually stolen, a search warrant is necessary. Det. Bellamy testified that it was possible that Mr. Jones was unaware that the motorcycle had been stolen.
The next witness called to testify by Ms. Hays was the owner of a motorcycle. The witness stated that she owned a Kymco People scooter motorcycle in 2013. She purchased the motorcycle in 2006 and stopped riding it in 2008. The motorcycle had been parked in her reserved parking spot at her apartment complex since 2008. The witness had registered the motorcycle with the DMV as not in use.
In the middle of August of 2013, the witness noticed that the motorcycle’s license plate was missing. She told the court that she reported the missing plate in October of the same year when she needed to register the motorcycle with the DMV. She recalled that the license plate number was 17U0776.
Ms. Hays presented the witness with a photograph of a license plate. The witness identified it as her motorcycle’s missing plate. However, the plate had a 2015 registration sticker on it, which she had not seen before. The witness testified that she had stopped registering the motorcycle in 2008.
Defense attorney Christopher Henderson then cross-examined the witness. Mr. Henderson asked the witness if she knew Mr. Jones. The witness reported that she did know him and that he lived in her apartment complex. She had previously seen Mr. Jones riding a motorcycle around the complex. She believed that the motorcycle had been bigger than her own.
The witness stated that she only paid attention to her motorcycle in 2013 because the apartment complex was repaving the parking lot, which required her to move her motorcycle out of the way.
Mr. Henderson only asked the witness two questions or so before he stated that he had nothing further and the witness was excused. Throughout the afternoon, Mr. Henderson asked few questions of the witnesses. However, during direct examinations, he made a substantially large number of objections, almost all of which were overruled. These objections were often mumbled and Judge McAdam called counsel to approach the bench for a sidebar on numerous occasions during the afternoon’s proceedings.
Ms. Hays then called Sergeant Mike Munoz to testify. Sgt. Munoz works for the Davis Police Department and is the sergeant for the department’s SAFE team unit. He is the supervisor of the unit as well as an active investigator.
Sgt. Munoz was having lunch with his team at the taqueria when he saw someone get off a motorcycle, park it, and begin walking north. At this time, the motorcyclist had a helmet on. When the team was leaving the taqueria, Sgt. Munoz saw the motorcyclist walking south. This time, the person was not wearing a helmet and the sergeant recognized Mr. Jones.
Sgt. Munoz was sitting in the car when he heard one of his teammates say, “Hey, let’s write down the license plate.” Soon after, Det. Bellamy informed him that he had run the plate through the department’s system and it had come up as stolen.
Det. Bellamy, along with Detective Justin Raymond, went to look for the motorcycle at Mr. Jones’ last known address. They were able to locate the motorcycle and proceeded to set up surveillance.
Sgt. Munoz heard that Mr. Jones had returned to the motorcycle and Mr. Jones was already in police custody when the sergeant arrived at the apartment complex. Mr. Jones gave Sgt. Munoz permission to take the motorcycle out of his garage. Mr. Jones’ wife was present and was very upset. The wife slammed the garage door shut in front of the officers after the motorcycle had been retrieved.
The sergeant interviewed Mr. Jones, on the scene, in the back of a patrol car. Mr. Jones told Sgt. Munoz that he had a bill of sale for the motorcycle, but was not sure where it was located. He also informed the sergeant that he purchased the motorcycle off craigslist two years prior, and that he had never attempted to register it with the DMV.
Sgt. Munoz testified that he was concerned that the motorcycle’s license plate had a 2015 registration sticker on it, because Mr. Jones said that he had never had the motorcycle registered. The sergeant was concerned that the sticker had been stolen from another license plate to draw attention away from the motorcycle’s license plate.
Sgt. Munoz told Det. Bellamy that a search warrant was needed to find a bill of sale at Mr. Jones’ residence. This piece of evidence, if found, would have led to Mr. Jones’ release from police custody. The search warrant was not discussed until after the interview with Mr. Jones.
Sgt. Munoz and Det. Raymond went to “freeze” Mr. Jones’ apartment. This means that they stand outside the residence and do not allow anyone to enter. The sergeant did allow Mr. Jones’ wife to enter the apartment to retrieve a few personal items. The sergeant accompanied her to make sure that no evidence or officer safety was compromised. The only place he did not follow her was into the bathroom. No one else was present inside the apartment and the back window of the apartment was watched to make sure that no one was able to sneak inside.
In 2004, Sgt. Munoz and other officers had recovered several guns at the same address with a search warrant. The search warrant was written to look for evidence associated with identity theft and a stolen cellular phone. Two sawed-off shotguns were found under Mr. Jones’ mattress and a pistol was found in a nightstand by the bed.
The target of the search warrant was not the weapons. Officers are supposed to stop searching once the target(s) are located, and they can search anywhere that the target(s) might be found, based on their size. The guns were found while the officers were searching for the actual target(s).
Mr. Henderson then cross-examined the witness. Before asking any questions, Mr. Henderson asked to approach the bench. Sgt. Munoz testified that he was the supervisor on the 2014 case. The sergeant was the first to bring up Mr. Jones at the taqueria and he was surprised that Mr. Jones was the motorcyclist.
Sgt. Munoz had numerous contacts with Mr. Jones since he began working for the Davis Police Department in 2002, and he had never seen Mr. Jones on a motorcycle. The sergeant testified that Mr. Jones was a resident of Davis, but he was not always there because he was in police custody off and on throughout the years.
The 2004 case was an identity theft investigation. In 2002, a woman had her purse stolen in Davis and in 2004 she began receiving collection notices from AT&T for phones that she did not purchase. She filed an identity theft report and it was determined that Mr. Jones’ name was on the phone bill.
During the search of Mr. Jones’ apartment in 2004, officers found the cellular phone, the guns, and maybe a few other things that the sergeant no longer recalls. Mr. Jones was prosecuted in this case, but the sergeant did not remember what the outcome was.
Sgt. Munoz was not overly concerned about the risk of entering Mr. Jones’ apartment in 2014 because Mr. Jones was already in custody and the apartment had been frozen. The sergeant said that the warrant was necessary to confirm Mr. Jones’ story about the bill of sale.
Ms. Hays then called Detective Sean Bellamy to testify. Detective S. Bellamy is the younger brother of Detective Ryan Bellamy and is also an investigator for the Davis Police Department’s SAFE team unit. Det. S. Bellamy was not present at the taqueria, but was notified of what the other officers observed.
Det. S. Bellamy set up surveillance on the apartment complex garage where he knew the motorcycle had been parked. The detective dressed in plain clothes and watched the garage from his car. Det. S. Bellamy saw Mr. Jones get off the motorcycle and park it in the garage.
Det. S. Bellamy did not physically transport Mr. Jones to the police station, but he observed Mr. Jones once he was in custody. The detective checked on Mr. Jones every half hour to make sure that everything was okay.
During one of the detective’s 30-minute checks, Mr. Jones asked if he could call his wife. Det. S. Bellamy allowed the phone call and was physically present during its entirety. The phone call lasted around twenty minutes.
After initial greetings took place, Det. S. Bellamy noted several strange statements that Mr. Jones made to his wife. Mr. Jones reportedly asked his wife, “Right now?” The question and its tone struck the detective as strange. Mr. Jones was also heard saying, “It’s in the drawer? You need to take care of that…Well, someone needs to get in and take care of that.”
Det. S. Bellamy advised Det. Raymond of the remarks that Mr. Jones made during the phone call. At this time, Sgt. Munoz was freezing the apartment and Det. R. Bellamy was writing a search warrant.
Mr. Henderson then began a short cross-examination. The detective testified that he believed that Mr. Jones was truly talking to his wife during the phone call and he assumed that Det. Raymond told the sergeant about the troubling remarks that were made. Det. S. Bellamy later responded to the apartment to assist the team with search equipment.
Mr. Henderson then asked the detective when the SAFE team was formed and about his relationship with his brother. He asked Det. S. Bellamy if he and his brother were close and he responded that they were. It was unclear how this line of questioning related to the case. The detective was excused and the trial was suspended for an afternoon recess.
Second Part of the Afternoon
After the recess the court was once again in session. The prosecuting attorney began to question Mia Harris. Harris is a representative working at Progressive Insurance. Harris has worked at Progressive for 18 years and is currently a supervisor in the fire and theft department.
Not only does her job entail investigating fire and theft, but also giving authority for claims, as well as maintaining a claim and its file. Thus, she keeps the files locked in the database or a cabinet. She claimed that the item with the VIN number (JKAKLEE118DA03960) was the item that was stolen.
When asked to explain further, Harris explained that the original owner was unable to continue funding for the item, thus Progressive Insurance took ownership of the item.
Due to the fact that the item was still under the ownership of Progressive Insurance, anyone in possession of that motorcycle would be penalized because no one had a right to it. Progressive Insurance paid the prior owner for the vehicle.
The defense attorney now began his cross-examination of Harris. When cross-examined, Harris informed the court that the majority of the files, including this one, are kept electronically, and this way it allows for individual to find out when the file was issued and drafted.
The police report was filed in San Francisco and the motorcycle is currently legally in the possession of Progressive Insurance. The cross-examination of Harris was complete, and there was no re-direct from the prosecution. This led to the next witness to be called up to the stand.
Sergeant Daniel Powell was called to the witness stand to testify, and the prosecution wasted no time. Powell works with the Davis Police Department, specifically with the patrol and bomb squad. The Davis PD has employed him for 10 years.
He informed the court about his credentials and expertise in this particular field. He holds many certificates when it comes to guns, pistols etc. He is also highly trained in the recognition of an assault weapon.
The prosecution entered the Peoples’ exhibit, the gun, and Powell educated the court about the model and type of weapon. He continued to go over the types of magazines, and how they differ from one another.
Cross-examination of Powell was quick and short, with the defense merely asking him to restate his credentials and expertise. After that, the prosecution recalled officer Munoz to the stand. The court closed with Munoz’s cross-examination. The trial is set to continue tomorrow.