The key witness in the case against Eric Lovett, West Sacramento Police Officer Anthony Herrera, repeatedly “provided false information in response to specific questioning” during the preliminary hearing in December, according to a Pitchess motion filed by Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira on February 22, 2016.
Mr. Lovett is facing trial for his role in a 2014 attempted murder and being an accessory to the shooting. He also faces an additional charge of dissuading a witness, based on observations by Officer Herrera and Deputy Gary Galvan at a February 2015 preliminary hearing.
Under California law, a Pitchess motion is a discovery request made by the defense to access personnel information about a law enforcement officer when the defense alleges that the officer either used excessive force or lied about information regarding the defendant’s arrest or investigation. The motion does not give the defense access to the personnel file, but directs the judge to inspect it in camera and provide relevant information about its contents regarding incidents of use of force, allegations of excessive force, citizen complaints, and information gathered during the officer’s pre-employment background investigation.
According to the motion, the defense alleges that Officer Herrera “proceeded in his testimony during cross examination to lie in response to specific questions. He not only lied during his testimony, he continually omitted material evidence in an effort to ‘protect’ (his explanation when caught in the lie) a witness.”
The defense continues, “Officer Herrera further testified that his Sergeant, Jason Winger, also knew of this information and also failed to provide the evidence and only ordered Officer Herrera to provide the evidence when requested to do so by the Defense.”
In a motion to exclude new statements and witnesses for the trial of Mr. Lovett, the defense submits a report where Officer Herrera interviewed Liberty Landowski, one of the co-defendants from the original trial, who was tried and convicted for her role in the shooting.
The purpose of the interview “was to discuss the terms and parameters of her gang registration imposed as a condition of her probation.” Officer Herrera contended that “the interview was not part of a criminal investigation because the criminal investigation was over.”
During the course of the interview the question arose as to whether Mr. Lovett had been in the car “when Ms. Landowski said that she had taken Reyes and Lovett to Bird’s house.” According to Officer Herrera, Ms. Landowski responded by saying “yes, he was sitting directly behind me.”
During the preliminary hearing on December 10, 2015, Officer Herrera testified that his “theory was that Mr. Lovett was in the car with Mr. Reyes” during the incident in which Ms. Landowski was driving the vehicle.
Officer Herrera was specifically asked: “But you don’t have any facts to support that, other than [the victim’s girlfriend’s] statements, as to how many people she thought was in the car?”
Officer Herrera answered that question by stating: “That and the fact that they were together the night before.” In his testimony he “affirmatively agrees that was his testimony at the preliminary hearing.”
The defense argues, “Despite his assertion under oath and under penalty of perjury that he had no other information supporting his belief that Mr. Lovett was in the car, Officer Herrera admits that he had the information from Liberty Landowski that Mr. Lovett was in the car at the time he testified at the preliminary hearing on December 14th or 15th, 2015.”
When caught in the misstatement, “Officer Herrera asserts that he did not forward the information to the DA’s office “for [Ms. Landowski’s] safety because he didn’t want to get her hurt.”
The defense alleges that Sergeant Winger and Officer Herrera “had conspired to keep secret material evidence and covered up the existence of such evidence.”
This is not a case where the officer simply forgot the information. He testified that “that he first communicated the information from Ms. Landowski to the DA’s office when he received a subpoena from Martha Sequeira asking for ‘any and all documents and information about Eric Lovett’s contacts and communications and anything about him.’”
He said he communicated with the DA’s office a week prior, acknowledging that he communicated to both Deputy DA Robin Johnson and Deputy DA Ryan Couzens about it.
Officer Herrera stated, “Just that – asked them the question about what do I do, like, with this information. That this is what happened at registration. She’s asking for this information.”
The defense writes, “Without being given any directions by the DA’s office about what to do with the information, Officer Herrera told them that he was going to write a report.” According to Officer Herrera, he was told by his sergeant that “because [he’d] already brought it up that he would have to write a report now because of the DA’s knowledge of it.”
The defense adds, “Despite having written the report four days prior, Officer Herrera claims that he didn’t give the report to Ms. Johnson until the morning of the hearing. “
—David M. Greenwald reporting