My View: Overzealous Prosecution Tries to Protect a Bad Cop

Yolo County Courthouse - New

Yolo County Courthouse - New

The Vanguard Court Watch has been operating since the beginning of 2010, and over that time we have observed hundreds of cases and the most frequent complaint I would have is that there times when the District Attorney’s office takes an incident, a crime that has occurred, and over blows it.

That is certainly the case in the People versus Elijah Jackson. Mr. Jackson made really two mistakes. First, he failed to check in to probation as he was required to do and, second, he ran from authorities when they attempted to apprehend him at the Dunnigan rest stop on August 28, 2015.

A simple misdemeanor Penal Code section 148 was in order, and had that been the charge, Mr. Jackson likely would have plead to it, and been on his way.

The reason the case went to trial is that, in addition to mistakes that Mr. Jackson made that day, Sheriff’s Deputy Robin Gonzalez also made mistakes. But instead of the District Attorney’s office holding Deputy Gonzalez accountable for her mistakes, they doubled down and attempted to charge Mr. Jackson with felony resisting with force (Penal Code section 69) as well as Assault with Great Bodily Injury – Ms. Gonzalez’s broken finger.

However, the jury didn’t buy into it. Ten jurors were ready to acquit, but one hold out juror was simply not going to buy into it and the jury ended up hanging. Deputy DA Michael Vroman recognized pretty quickly he was probably never going to get a conviction on those charges in this case, and he accepted a plea to a misdemeanor PC 148 – which, again, is how the case should have been charged in the first place, and Mr. Jackson received time served.

Unfortunately, while rarer than other complaints against the DA’s office, this represents an ongoing complaint as well. One the first cases we covered was the case of the Galvan brothers, Ernesto and Fermin. They were brutally beaten by West Sacramento police officers to the point where one of the brothers has permanent disfigurement and brain damage.

However, they were charged with the fairly minor charge of felony resisting arrest. The first trial hung with a single hold out juror (11-1 for guilt). The second trial that we caught had the same result. They brought them back a third time, and this time, one of the brothers was acquitted on a charge, and the jury was split on the other charges, more in favor of acquittal than before.

When the DA was contemplating bringing the trial back for a fourth time, as Attorney Anthony Palik tells it, Judge Tim Fall, meeting in his chambers, asked Deputy DA Carolyn Palumbo “why are we here” and she mentioned that the brothers had a suit against the city of West Sacramento. Judge Fall turned to her and asked her if the DA’s office represents the People or the city of West Sacramento. Shortly thereafter, the DA’s office finally dismissed the case.

Deputy Robin Gonzalez in July of 2013 filed a lawsuit against her boss, Sheriff Ed Prieto. However, in May of this year, US District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning the plaintiff cannot bring the suit back. Judge Mueller in her ruling determined, “Even when construed in the light most favorable to Gonzalez, these accounts describe no objectively sexual color in Prieto’s behavior.”

Defense Attorney Dan Hutchinson, during both his questioning of the deputy as well as his closing, attempted to link the failed suit to her conduct and cover-up in this case.

Mr. Hutchinson argued that Deputy Gonzalez lied on the stand to protect herself from her superiors, and did not want more problems with her bosses as the result of this case.

“Why are we here, Ladies and Gentlemen?” Mr. Hutchinson asked. “We’re here because of a law enforcement officer more concerned about protecting herself, not her fellow officers and not the defendant as she claimed, and you can see that in the video, she made a stupid decision to do the leg lock and it caused her injury which resulted in charges.”

Whether one had anything to do with the other is hard to assess. What we can assess is that the DA’s case did not align with the facts that seemed to present themselves.

During the arrest, Deputy Gonzalez sustained a broken finger and has been taken off patrol duty due to her injury. According to Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman, “that injury meets the element of serious bodily injury,”

The prosecution contends that “the defendant acted willfully, he knew what he was doing as he kicked, pushed and yelled obscenities at officers, he ran because he didn’t want to go to jail. He could have stopped his actions but he didn’t, he was in control.”

From our view, and probably the view of most of the jurors, what happened was Mr. Jackson made a bad decision in running from the police. He quickly was winded when he got across the highway and, even if he wasn’t winded, he probably recognized that there was nowhere to go.

CHP Sergeant Brent Shultz testified in an honest manner on Tuesday morning. He acknowledged that Mr. Jackson had submitted to the arrest, that they had handcuffed him improperly, he demonstrated on the defense attorney the proper way to handcuff, and he acknowledged that handcuffing of the subject in the middle of the arm was likely to be very painful.

He said that, once they had Mr. Jackson down, he was kicking and flailing as they tried to adjust the cuffs. Sgt. Shultz also testified that as soon as they had the cuffs on properly, Mr. Jackson stopped kicking and screaming.

That would seem to be strong evidence that Mr. Jackson wasn’t willfully kicking and flailing, but reacting out of pain.

It was Deputy Gonzalez’s actions which escalated matters and resulted in her injury. Sgt. Shultz testified that he never asked for assistance from Dep. Gonzalez. At the same time, he said that there are times when he has needed assistance but has not asked for it.

Nevertheless, she inserted herself in and attempted to place Mr. Jackson in a figure-four leg lock to prevent him from kicking. It was in the process of intervening where she ended up breaking a finger.

Mr. Hutchinson argued that Dep. Gonzalez’s injury was not the result of Jackson’s willful resistance. Instead, Mr. Hutchinson argued that Dep. Gonzalez was the cause of her own injury, jamming her own finger while “doing a maneuver she had no business doing,” while Mr. Jackson was already detained and writhing in pain.

Mr. Hutchinson argued that, when asked if the figure-four leg lock was common practice by law enforcement, CHP Officer John Kitamura said it was not common practice and he had, in fact, never heard of it.

Moreover, there is the police report that stated that Mr. Jackson was taken into custody without incident. And, of course, Deputy Gonzalez was hoping to pop her finger back into place – thinking it was dislocated rather than broken and hoping to make the situation go away.

Furthermore, Deputy Gonzalez testified that she never heard Mr. Jackson shout that he was in pain, but she changed her testimony when confronted with video evidence.

That video evidence was dash-cam footage with audio. This case clearly would have benefited from body-worn cameras that would have been able to show the jury and prosecutors much more clearly Mr. Jackson’s actions, as well as those of Dep. Gonzalez.

In the end, the jury was not convinced that Mr. Jackson’s conduct warranted felony charges of resisting and assault with great bodily injury. The eventual misdemeanor conviction seems about right for the level of conduct that Mr. Jackson did that day.

However, we remain concerned about the integrity of Deputy Gonzalez in this. We question her judgment both in filing suit against her boss, as well as her decision to intervene with the leg lock and her questionable testimony.

We hope that the Sheriff’s Department will investigate her actions more closely and determine whether Deputy Gonzalez represents a threat to the public. Given the obvious conflict of interest, it should be an outside agency that performs this investigation.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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31 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    My View: Overzealous Prosecution Tries to Protect a Bad Cop

    Don’t you think you’re going over the top here calling her a “bad cop” based on a couple of questionable incidents?

    1. David Greenwald

      I actually thought I was holding back here. I mean she perjured herself, she tried to cover up misconduct, and filed a frivolous lawsuit against her boss.

      1. zaqzaq

        How many lawsuites have we had against Ed Prieto by employees for inappropriate conduct?  That was not the only one.  At least two of his children work for him in that office.  Why don’t you do a nice article on all of Prieto’s issues.

        1. Barack Palin

          Believe me, he has.  That’s one of the reasons I see David’s accusation of a frivolous lawsuit against her boss as being quite subjective and highly unprovable.  Either way “bad cop” is way over the top IMO.

        2. David Greenwald

          I have done a number of articles on Prieto, but the problem you have is that you have to argue a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire argument” when none of those lawsuit have produced even a settlement and all have been dismissed.

      2. hpierce

        wow… what is the statute of limitations for connecting two apparently unrelated events into a single ‘condemnation’ of an individual?

        If substantiated, in the recent case, perjury and/or poor judgment might well be grounds for discipline, possibly including termination.

        Prosecution for perjury?  Perhaps… as a misdemeanor.  Loss of benefits?  Sounds more like persecution rather than prosecution.  Unless you’re hunting for a “witch”.  Which is what the tone of parts of the article, and subsequent comment(s) troubles me.

        1. hpierce

          The case, on the lawsuit, originated July 2013 BY YOUR OWN ACCOUNT!  So, unrelated events, over two years apart.  Fine, keep ‘hunting the witch’.  But your response was “snotty”, as is mine, now

          1. David Greenwald

            Again, the key action was the dismissal of the lawsuit which happened just three months prior to this incident.

  2. Tia Will

    I mean she perjured herself, she tried to cover up misconduct, and filed a frivolous lawsuit against her boss.”

    Dismissal with loss of benefits and prosecution to the full extent of the law is called for.”

    Hold on here guys. What ever happened to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”? Should it not apply equally to police officers as to citizens ?

    we remained concern about the integrity of Deputy Gonzalez in this. We question her judgment both in filing suit against her boss as well as her decision to intervene with the leg lock and her questionable testimony.

    We hope that the Sheriff’s Department will investigate her actions more closely and determine whether Deputy Gonzalez represents a threat to the public. Given the obvious conflict of interest, it should be an outside agency that performs this investigation.”

    While I am in complete agreement with an independent investigation of Deputy Gonzalez pattern of behavior, including all of her previous evaluations to determine what her overall performance has been ( was this a single lapse of judgement versus an ongoing pattern of behavior ), I do believe that we all should be applying the same judicial standard to her as we frequently advocate for private citizens. And I believe that we should be making the judgement based on substantial facts, not the spin put on what she “must have been intending” used by the defense in this case.

     

      1. Biddlin

        Tia’s just heaping on that famous Davis gemütlichkeit.

        ” I do believe that we all should be applying the same judicial standard to her as we frequently advocate for private citizens. And I believe that we should be making the judgement based on substantial facts,”

        I am.

         

        1. Tia Will

          biddlin

          gemütlichkeit.” ???????

          I’ll make you a deal. You speak English, and when I am writing on medical issues, I will do my best to write in terms readily understandable to the non gynecologist. Sound reasonable ?

        2. Tia Will

          biddlin

          Ok, I was curious enough to know what I was “heaping on” that I looked it up. I have been accused of much worse. ( Smile).

          However, that is not what I was doing. I do not believe that one has to be a denizen of Davis ( comfort or not) to not believe in pre-determination of guilt or innocence without a trial…..not just any trial….but an actual trial of the accused. Again, I think that I have been very consistent in my beliefs on this issue.

      2. Tia Will

        David

        That’s why I called for an investigation – although you do realize that this evidence did come out in a court of law?”

        Two points.

        1. I felt that your title was over the top, even with the “My View” preface. I really do not like any suspect being labelled prior to being convicted and I believe that I have been consisted in this position over time and I do see “bad cop” as a prejudicial label.

        2. Yes, the evidence did come out in a court of law. And, I have frequently commented on my lack of appreciation for the tactic of telling  the jury what was occurring in the head of any individual party to the case which seems to have been the case here.

        We simply do not know the contents of the minds of others. I believe that our courts of law should deal with the facts of the case and not how strong a tale one side or the other can spin about the thought processes of any individual which obviously cannot be monitored nor verified. This is why I continue to believe that all evidence should be presented by a neutral party rather than an adversarial approach which necessarily bases the presentation on the “spin” of both sides, each hoping to “win” rather than arrive as close as possible to the truth.

         

         

  3. Tia Will

    Biddlin

    You win for the first posting smile of the morning !
    From the post medical school degeneration of my appropriate use of the English language….one might conclude that I never had to learn that either.

  4. Biddlin

    ” “bad cop” as a prejudicial label.”

    That is just cultural indoctrination. An objective assessment of the facts should alleviate any such misgivings and eventually allow you to admit it’s the whole barrel that’s rotten..

  5. Tia Will

    Biddlin

    t’s the whole barrel that’s rotten..”

    Even in a “roten barrel” there may be a few fruits left untouched. Serpirco ?

    I will stand my ground that each individual must be judged individually on its own merits.

     

  6. Tia Will

    Miwok

    Except when you are writing as a gun control expert.”

    I really do not know what I have ever said that has made you perceive that I have ever written anything posing as “a gun control expert”. I would appreciate you citing even one post in which I have claimed any special knowledge on gun control or safety. I have often stated my lack of expertise in this area. I have stated my interest in decreasing gun related injuries many times. I have asked questions many times. And I have called for research, many, many times. Please explain to me how asking questions, citing interest, and calling for research equates in your mind to writing as an expert.  Alternatively, please stop making this completely baseless comment.

  7. Biddlin

    Close to home:”I’ve got an unresponsive female and a male refusing to get out”

    You’ll see why.

    The Paradise police officer who investigators say accidentally shot a suspected DUI driver in the neck last month will not face criminal charges, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced Thursday.

    Warning the video featured above is extremely graphic.

    http://www.actionnewsnow.com/news/da-plays-dash-cam-video-in-accidental-shooting-no-charges-will-be-filed/

  8. sisterhood

    Re: your use of the term “bad cop”:
    I wonder how often cops have to see a therapist and how often they have to have any kind of mental health check up. Routine, or only when there is a problem?  Is sleep hygiene discussed as part of any required medical check up?

  9. sisterhood

    Is your  use of the term “bad cop” a tiny bit tongue in cheek because previous posts seem to divide your community into “good guys” and the “bad guys”?

  10. Biddlin

    The stench of the Paradise attempted homicide by cop gets worse. Here’s body-cam audio from the two cops who arrived on the crime scene, one of whom takes over it’s charge.

    “Dashboard camera video of Paradise police officer Patrick Feaster shooting driver Andrew Thomas on Nov. 25, 2015, in Paradise, California, has been updated with body cam audio from responding officers (beginning at 1:55)….”
    Feaster comes clean, only after OIC tells him to hold the scene, because he’s taking another officer back to the bar to find a shooter. OIC sums it up at the end,”Oh my F’n G-d!” (12:37-12:57)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=15&v=tZkGx8ZVy4k

  11. sisterhood

    Biddlin, this makes me so sad that my stomach hurts and I’m going outside for a while for a mental health break. I hope you have a good day and hopefully together there are solutions out there, just not sure what they are, besides affordable good quality mental health care for every person in the world.

  12. Biddlin

    How about fire any of them that has a single confirmed excessive force complaint. How about six months restricted duty for any officer that fires his weapon-return contingent on favorable shooting report and psych eval, and mandatory debrief and possible counseling by psychiatrist for drawing a gun? Perhaps automatic six month suspension w/ loss of rank and pay up to and including dismissal, loss of benefits and prosecution for making a false report?

  13. Frankly

    So now maybe some people understand the use of pain compliance to get a suspect under control so the cop isn’t injured working to take into custody.

    A few whacks with a baton might have made this go much smoother.

    But then of course that would end up on video for the cop-haters to feed on.

    1. Biddlin

      https://scontent-sjc2-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpf1/t31.0-8/12371069_461056310745950_3281838240604464588_o.jpg

      At the instant he fires, About 1:06–1:10 in the video. Feaster is flat-footed, in a Weaver stance, looking down the barrel at the suspect/victim, who’s just raised himself out of the SUV. He calmly holsters his weapon and looks down, into the cabin of the SUV, unafraid. He calls dispatch

      “I’ve got an unresponsive female and a male refusing to get out
      I think I know why.
      “Get out of the car, sir. You’re not shot, sir.”
      (polite, but either delusional thinking or outright deception)
      The shooter cop didn’t tell anyone he shot the suspect for 11+ minutes. If you or I did that, we’d be facing a couple of decades in jail. The officer that takes charge sums it up nicely at the end, when Feaster finally mentions he fired his weapon, to stop the OIC from going back to the bar:”Oh my f*****’ G-d!”

      This, along with the audio from the body cams of the two responding cops, especially 12:37-12:57, leads to very troubling questions and conclusions. But you have to watch and be intellectually honest, not your forte, to be sure..

       

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