By Lauren King
The preliminary hearing of Cameron Stiles was held on March 6, 2015, at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. The 22-year-old Oregon native was charged with possession of a zip gun, battery on a peace officer, and a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition. Mr. Stiles has been in police custody since his arrest on February 5, 2015. Before the hearing began, Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor filed a Motion for Sequestration, excluding all witnesses from the courtroom until their time to testify. This is done to ensure that a witness’s testimony is not influenced by prior testimony.
The prosecution’s first witness was Juan Ceja, a sworn peace officer and the first to make contact with the defendant on February 5. At approximately 10:05 in the morning, Officer Ceja noticed a man attending to the engine of an open-hooded vehicle at a Chevron gas station in Dunnigan, California. Upon closer observation, Officer Ceja saw that there were two women seated inside the vehicle as well. The officer decided to approach the occupants and he ascertained that the woman in the back seat was the owner of the vehicle. He then asked for her permission to search the vehicle, which she granted him.
Officer Ceja proceeded to search the vehicle. He first discovered a zip gun on the floorboard beneath the front passenger seat. A zip gun is a homemade firearm composed of various aftermarket firearm components and other miscellaneous materials. It is a felony to produce or possess one of these weapons. Officer Ceja inspected the gun and discovered a 9 millimeter round nestled snugly inside its makeshift barrel. The barrel was composed of rubber hose tubing and had a hunting scope attached to it with camouflage duct tape.
The officer continued to search the vehicle and discovered another zip gun on the floorboard behind the front passenger seat. This firearm was a shotgun without its original barrel. Both of these zip guns were capable of firing a bullet with a homemade spring board mechanism.
Officer Ceja then moved to the trunk of the vehicle where he came upon a black sleeping bag and a camouflage duffel bag. The officer found a third zip gun inside the sleeping bag. This one was fashioned out of various gun parts tightly joined by more camouflage duct tape. It was loaded with a shotgun round and had the buttstock of a shotgun as well. This firearm also appeared to be capable of firing a bullet. Each of the zip guns were identified by the witness in photos presented by DDA Zambor.
Inside the duffel bag, the officer discovered 9 millimeter rounds inside the pocket of a pair of men’s shorts. Officer Ceja found additional live ammunition in the pockets of several other pairs of pants. All of the items within the duffel bag appeared to belong to a male. The officer also came across a syringe that appeared to have a sharpened end on it.
Officer Ceja spoke with the vehicle’s owner again and asked her about the zip guns. She told the officer that the guns belonged to Mr. Stiles and that she had witnessed him make them. The woman also stated that she had seen Mr. Stiles with one of the guns the night before.
The officer then questioned the woman who had been sitting in the front passenger seat. At first, she claimed that she did not know Mr. Stiles very well; however, she soon confessed that they lived together romantically. She admitted that she saw Mr. Stiles putting the guns together, but said that she did not know that they were zip guns. Mr. Stiles inherited a shotgun from his grandfather and so the girlfriend thought that he was just making filters for it. She told the officer that she saw him wrapping something with duct tape, but that she never saw any form of ammunition.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles had been detained in the back of Detective Jeremy Hembree’s patrol car to ensure officer safety during the search. Sometime during the questioning of the two women, Mr. Stiles began to bang and kick the inside of the detective’s patrol car. Det. Hembree returned to his vehicle to try to calm Mr. Stiles, who then began to bang his head on the protective plexiglass barrier between the front and back seats of the patrol car. Officer Ceja interrupted his interview with the two women and came to Det. Hembree’s aid.
The two officers attempted to pull Mr. Stiles from the vehicle so that he would not inflict damage to himself or police property. Mr. Stiles thrashed and struggled violently and spat at Det. Hembree. Officer Ceja took over while Det. Hembree briefly left the patrol car to clean himself off.
Officer Ceja grabbed Mr. Stiles’ hands above the handcuffs and was almost kicked. The officer attempted to gain control of the situation by holding Mr. Stiles’ head down (while he was sitting upright inside the patrol car) and applied pressure behind one of the detainee’s ears with his left thumb. This was intended to calm Mr. Stiles through the manipulation of a pressure point. This attempt was not successful.
Finally, Officer Ceja was able to pull Mr. Stiles from the vehicle and onto the ground. Mr. Stiles was pinned to the ground on his stomach by the two officers. Officer Ceja had a knee pressed to his back and a hand pressed down on one of the detainee’s shoulders. Det. Hembree secured Mr. Stiles’ legs in a figure four position.
Throughout the struggle, Mr. Stiles continued to thrash and scream. He yelled things such as, “F—k the pigs, they’re going down,” and “This is why we are all going to die when the revolution happens!” At one point, Mr. Stiles twisted his hands in his handcuffs to trap Officer Ceja’s hand. The handcuffs crushed and dug into the officer’s fingers while Mr. Stiles tried to sink his fingernails into the officer’s gloves. Eventually, the officers gained control of Mr. Stiles and had him examined at the hospital before transporting him to the police station.
After a brief recess, Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt cross-examined the witness. DPD Van Zandt inquired about the specific mechanics and specifications that classify a firearm as a zip gun. Officer Ceja reiterated his previous explanation of zip guns. He did not fire the guns to test them, but it was clear from his specialized firearm training that these guns were fully operational and that they were indeed zip guns. DPD Van Zandt then challenged the officer’s understanding of zip guns and pointed out that the 12 gauge zip gun had a piece of tape over the end. Officer Ceja assured the public defender that he was aware of what a zip gun was and did not feel as though the small piece of tape on the end of one of the guns had any bearing on whether the gun was able or meant to be fired. “I don’t think zip guns are built for accuracy,” Officer Ceja commented in response to the implication that the tape may affect the gun’s ability to fire.
Mr. Van Zandt then asked follow up questions about the struggle with Mr. Stiles. The public defender asked why Officer Ceja had his hand pressed down on Mr. Stiles’ hands if he was already in handcuffs. Officer Ceja responded that only the detainee’s wrists were restrained and so Mr. Stiles could still potentially move his hands.
DPD Van Zandt proceeded his cross-examination by trying to frame the case as one of police brutality. “Last year this officer was sitting behind Robert Baron in Department 4…in July. The defendant had a verbal outburst during the jury trial. What did you do to him? I was there. What did you do to him—ˮ DDA Zambor objected to this line of questioning (relevance) and her objection was sustained; however, DPD Van Zandt attempted to get the officer to answer the question several more times (and through several additional objections) before he would comply with the court’s ruling.
The public defender moved on from the previous question and asked Officer Ceja how he was ultimately able to calm Mr. Stiles. The officer testified that he punched Mr. Stiles with a closed fist on the left side of his face. This was done to distract the detainee and is referred to as a “distraction strike.” Officer Ceja wanted to gain control of Mr. Stiles and stop him from further attempting to injure the officer’s hand. Mr. Stiles became compliant.
Both officers had the dashboard cameras on their patrol cars activated and Officer Ceja kept a microphone in his breast pocket. The microphone remained with the officer during the interviews as well as during the altercation with Mr. Stiles.
Officer Ceja testified that Mr. Stiles sustained a minor scratch on the right side of his face and a small scrape on his right ear. Both were likely inflicted while Mr. Stiles was pinned to the ground.
The DDA’s next witness was Det. Hembree. The detective testified that he was also at the Chevron gas station on February 5 and that he spoke with both women after the vehicle search. Both agreed that the guns belonged to Mr. Stiles, even though he was not the owner of the car. Det. Hembree also discovered that Mr. Stiles was a parolee at large from Oregon. He then noticed Mr. Stiles hitting and kicking the inside of his patrol car.
Det. Hembree returned to his patrol car and threatened Mr. Stiles with additional charges if he damaged police property. The detective heard Mr. Stiles say, “This is going to be fun,” and then he began hitting his head on the plexiglass. The detective was worried about the safety of the vehicle as well as Mr. Stiles. He grabbed the back of the detainee’s neck and held his head down. Mr. Stiles yelled, thrashed, and complained that the detective was hurting him.
Mr. Stiles then spat on Det. Hembree and so the detective left to retrieve a spit mask. During this time, he overheard Officer Ceja advise the detainee to stop spitting on the detective or he would be charged with assault. Mr. Stiles responded, “I will spit on your b—h a—s too! F—k a pig!”
Mr. Stiles was removed from the patrol car and Det. Hembree controlled the detainee’s legs. Mr. Stiles then said, “I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m trying to hurt myself…This is why we are all going to die when the revolution happens.” Despite this comment, he began twisting Officer Ceja’s hand and so Officer Ceja struck Mr. Stiles. The distraction blow and the arrival of additional law enforcement sedated the detainee. Then Mr. Stiles asked that the officers release some of the pressure on him. Officer Ceja said that he would once Mr. Stiles stopped resisting. The detainee complied and was pinned to the ground with less force. The scene finally became calm. This concluded the testimony of Det. Hembree.
The defendant’s response to law enforcement was extreme, but is likely not altogether surprising to those who are acquainted with him. Mr. Stiles is known to be very suspicious and vocal about law enforcement and the American government. According to the defendant’s Facebook page, he is a member of the public Facebook group, “FTP FILM THE POLICE PORTLAND.” Mr. Stiles also posted frequent articles about suspected police brutality and political corruption with captions such as, “F—k the pigs.”
The hearing neared an end and counsel had the option to present additional comments to the court. DPD Van Zandt argued that the defendant was only acting out of natural instinct when he attempted to fight off the officers. “You can’t hold the defendant liable for a natural instinct of someone being restrained.” Judge Paul Richardson countered, “Wouldn’t the natural instinct actually be the opposite?” The judge also responded by saying that Mr. Stiles never complained of excessive force or of painfully tight handcuffs. Judge Richardson added that the defendant had been convicted of intent of robbery in 2008 and therefore he is not allowed to have any kind of ammunition or firearm.
Judge Richardson ruled that Mr. Stiles would be held to answer on all five of the counts that DDA Zambor charged him with. His arraignment was scheduled for March 19, 2015.