Gang Activity at KetMoRee Leads to 10 Years in State Prison


YoloCourt-22by Sarah Gregory

The hearing of Joseph James Underwood began its last day on July 5, 2016.  The case involves an incident at KetMoRee Thai Restaurant & Bar in Davis, where the defendant was present while members of the Brown Street Locos gang stabbed an individual to death.  The incident occurred in the early morning hours of September 19, 2015.

The defendant was charged with violating his probation, from previously having been involved in gang activity in Solano County years before. As a consequence of his probation, the defendant was not allowed to associate in any capacity with gang members.

The defendant had been released from serving time for a previous probation violation on April 15, 2015, only six months before the incident at KetMoRee. In those six months, the defendant was working regularly and meeting with his probation officer once a month.  After the incident, the defendant moved to Yolo County with his disabled father and grandmother, while starting work for a health and safety company.

The prosecutor recalled a Davis police officer to testify. The main piece of evidence in the case was a video taken from another witness’ phone while authorities investigated the incident at KetMoRee.  The officer testified to the integrity of the video.

Next, Mr. Underwood testified for the defense.  He stated his occupation as a member of traffic control for a company called Sitesafe. The defense attorney asked the defendant the particulars of his current job and how they affected his daily life, in an attempt to illustrate the reformation of the defendant.  The defendant indicated that he receives pay of up to $27 per hour and works anywhere from 50-60 hours a week. The defendant also remarked that this leaves him with very little free time, which is “probably a good thing.”

A short time later, the discussion about the September incident commenced. The defendant had been invited by some high school friends from Vacaville to a birthday party at KetMoRee. The defendant was a witness to the stabbing incident. The defense asked when the defendant first became involved in gang activity and how long he had known another witness (“VD”) from the incident.  The defendant stated that he became a gang member around 14 years of age and met VD about a year later.

VD was suspected by the DA’s office of being a member of a gang due to gang-related clothing and alleged gang signs shown in photos from the birthday party. VD has previously denied this suggestion.

When the incident began, the defendant was leaving the restroom and noticed several individuals attacking a single victim.  The defendant described the scene as chaos.  He stated that not long after he got to the birthday party, after he defended himself against an attacker, he left by himself.

The judge recognized that the alleged gang signs which VD displayed in photos with the defendant from the birthday party are in fact actual gang signs.

Next, the defense began a statement arguing that the defendant’s interaction with gang members at the birthday party was incidental conduct. The only reason the defendant socialized with gang members is due to the fact that he was previously associated with gangs during high school and thus met most of his friends, the people at the birthday party, through previous gang-related activity.

The defense stated that the defendant had no gang-affiliated intention when deciding to attend the birthday party, and proposed that his presence could simply be due to bad judgment.

He also made a point to remind the court that VD had gotten his act together since the incident and is consequently a reformed individual. The defense used the same argument for the defendant and asked the court to grant the defendant reinstatement into probation.

The judge discussed the defendant’s previous participation in gang-related activity in Vacaville.  The clause forbidding the defendant from associating with gang members is vague and only states that the defendant is unable to interact with “members of a disruptive group.”  However, the judge clarified that this should be taken as meaning to include gang members.

The judge suggested that there was no possible way the defendant was unaware of VD’s Norteño street gang symbol in various photos from the incident, since he had had ample gang-related experience.

Next, the prosecutor gave a statement which focused on a few issues.  During the hour the defendant attended the birthday party, from 12:30 am to 1:30 am, he was primarily conversing with a group of gang members.  He even smoked with Zackary Sandeno, one of the members of the Brown Street Locos gang which was charged with murder and criminal street gang activity in the incident. The defendant only went to talk to another group of girls for about a minute. This led to the conclusion that the defendant’s presence at the birthday party was not incidental.

The prosecutor also believes that the defendant actually waited for the gang members to finish stabbing the victim and walked out of the restaurant with them.

She argued that the defendant should not be reinstated into probation. The defendant is made aware of his scheduled meetings with his probation officer and routine drug tests. This gives the defendant an advantage to work the system and clean up his act once a month to meet his probation officer.

The current charge against the defendant will be the defendant’s fifth probation violation.  The prosecutor stated the defendant has never taken probation seriously.  She suggested that the court utilize previous suspended prison sentences from former convictions, which would amount to 10 years in state prison.

After a short break, the judge reconvened the court and went over the facts of the case and concluded that the defendant had knowingly interacted with gang members at the restaurant where the incident occurred. The defendant knew he would be violating his probation and chose to ignore the possible consequences. The term of probation was violated and a penalty must be determined.

First, the defense argued that the prosecutor’s suggestion that the defendant left the restaurant with the gang members is not valid.  He also stated that the defendant did violate his probation, but did so without criminal conduct.

Next, the prosecutor stated that she was shocked that multiple probation violations had not deterred the defendant from criminal activities, and concluded that the only way to make him aware of the seriousness of the consequences was to send him to prison.

The defense reminded the court that the defendant was working prior to the incident. He also made a point that the defendant was out on bail and had made all court appearances. The defense asked the judge to allow the defendant to remain on bail if he was being sentenced to prison, so he could make arrangements for his father and grandmother, both of whom he was currently taking care of. This favor was denied.

The judge sentenced the defendant to 10 years in state prison, with additional fines amounting to thousands of dollars.


About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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26 thoughts on “Gang Activity at KetMoRee Leads to 10 Years in State Prison”

  1. The Pugilist

    Ten years seems a long time to teach someone a lesson, but multiple probation violations definitely mean the need for some sort of additional punishment.  Interesting the connection to the KetMo case.

    1. Tia Will

      The Pugilist

       but multiple probation violations definitely mean the need for some sort of additional punishment.”

      I fail to see how “punishment” especially by imprisonment is useful in this setting. If you want to extend the time duration of monitored house arrest or the like, I am on board. But as a society we seem convinced the “punishment” achieves something other than further distancing and alienating the individual from society. In this, I believe that we are wrong.

  2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    The defense stated that the defendant had no gang-affiliated intention when deciding to attend the birthday party, and proposed that his presence could simply be due to bad judgment. … The judge sentenced the defendant to 10 years in state prison, with additional fines amounting to thousands of dollars.

    I don’t know how society or this defendant, Joseph James Underwood, is better off by this outcome. He goes from being a working, and therefore productive member of society to an inmate who will cost the taxpayers roughly $500,000 to house in a prison for the next 10 years. And then when he gets out, he will likely be a worse human being and probably unemployable.

    That said, the mistake was clearly the choice of Mr. Underwood. He was obviously an idiot for associating with people he knew he was not allowed to associate with. Stupid carries a really high price.

    Were the sentencing up to me, I would not want to imprison him for this mistake. I think a more reasonable punishment would be to sentence him to 2 years worth of weekends in county jail with half of those suspended and a fine to cover the cost of his incarceration. That way, he could continue working 5 days a week; and as long as he served a year’s worth of weekends in jail and paid his fines, his second year would be waived.

    I think that would get the message across to him and would not end the portion of his life where he was a contributing member of society. My guess, unfortunately, is by putting him in state prison for the next 10 years, he will never again be a productive citizen. That portion of his life is forever over.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      For one, we got a career gang banger off the streets. I’m also unclear as to what his status is in being charged in this case … I thought when you hang with a criminal, when they commit a crime you’re also guilty… though possibly to a lesser extent. I don’t believe his testimony at all, and his lawyers are also lying for him.

      Violating his probation five times shows how the system can become a mockery. My guess is most of the judges were liberal, but this murder case forced their hand.

      I’m open to a modified sentence, but why not county jail or confinement at night? I also don’t believe someone else attacked him, unless we have that many hoods visiting our bars at night.

      Do we know what his previous convictions were for?

      Reduce the number of posse members and you reduce some of the crime / violence / posing. These cowards rarely attack alone.

  3. Misanthrop

    He will likely get out in five and maybe get moved to a low risk facility or county jail if he keeps out of trouble in the joint.

    He repeatedly violated the terms of his probation and ended up at a scene where somebody was murdered with trials pending against his friends. The death ups the stakes. The question you must ask is not if this is the best thing for Underwood. The question is was justice served?

      1. Misanthrop

        I don’t know what is justice in this situation. It may be a non-criminal probation violation but he ends up with his friends who he is not supposed to be with and there is a murder. He is lucky he didn’t get more time. Its not exactly like a situation where somebody gets killed in a robbery that went sideways and the accomplice gets a long sentence but its close enough to get him ten years. Maybe its too long we don’t know all the facts. Maybe it will get reduced on appeal. I’m just not as sympathetic as I might be if he violated his probation in a situation where nobody got killed.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      “He will likely get out in five …”

      I think California law requires all felons serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence behind bars.

      1. The Pugilist

        It’s more complicated than that.  For violent felonies, inmates must serve 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, but in general it’s two-thirds, and if they spend time in local custody it could be as low as 50%.  It has to do with “good time credit” and whether they can get day for day credit or only partial credit.

  4. Tia Will


    Maybe it will get reduced on appeal. I’m just not as sympathetic as I might be if he violated his probation in a situation where nobody got killed.”

    I am not particularly sympathetic to him at all. However, I do believe that our laws systematically ignore the other set of victims in our justice system. If it is true that he is responsible for the care of his family members they will be deprived of his help through no fault of their own. I would favor the utilization of house arrest in these circumstances with some allowance for work as suggested by Rich who correctly notes that imprisonment effectively prevents the defendant from contributing in an positive fashion to the society.

  5. WesC

    If both of his grandparents end up in a nursing home because they now have no one to take care of them, the minimum cost to taxpayers will be $80,000/yr in today’s dollars. Add this to the $50,000/yr incarceration cost and the tab to the taxpayer will be a minimum of $650,000 for a 5 yr stay and $1.3 million for a 10 yr stint in prison in today’s dollars.

    This is a pretty high price tag for the taxpayer to pay to keep us safe from some one whose precipitating behavior for the parole violation was that he went to a birthday  party at a bar  where his old associates were  present when he was not supposed to be around them.  The murder is irrelevant because if he had in any way been involved the DA would have charged him with it.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      The murder is irrelevant because if he had in any way been involved the DA would have charged him with it.

      I think the murder should have been irrelevant to this particular situation. But I think Underwood’s misconduct (that is, being there) was only discovered as a consequence of the murder investigation. And thus in that respect the murder was ipso facto relevant to his outcome.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        And how about his own fight in the bar? … I’m sure he was innocent there, right, in the corner sipping 7Up and playing PacMan?

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          And how about his own fight in the bar?

          Underwood had no fight in the bar. He was not a part of any of the fighting that night, and certainly was not a part of the stabbing and murder. According to what Sarah Gregory reports here, someone in the bar videotaped the fight inside KetMoRee, and Mr. Underwood was seen in the background of that video, and during the investigation, officers noticed him in the background. If he had been fighting or doing anything but sitting there, he would have been charged with murder or aiding and abetting. In that he was only charged with a probation violation — for associating — it’s pretty obvious he was not involved in the melee.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    I went to the Solano County website, he had 4-5 felonies that have all been scrubbed on the online sight so it is difficult to find out what his crimes were.

    A newspaper article from the Vacaville area says he violated probation by consorting with gang members.

    1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

      TBD: he had 4-5 felonies that have all been scrubbed on the online sight so it is difficult to find out what his crimes were.

      From The Davis Enterprise:  “Underwood has prior convictions for carrying a concealed weapon, committing a felony while on bail, transportation of drugs for sale and criminal street gang activity in Solano County.”

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          They covered this story. And their report was easier to understand. For example, they gave the name of the judge, which this one does not, and they explained Mr. Underwood’s priors and background, which this one does not.

  7. WesC

    I think the community would have been better served if he would have received weekend lockup  when not working for a year or or more or something similar.

    Our incarceration rate in this country is 1.5 times higher than the next highest country which is Russia. We have 4.4% of the world’s population, but 22% of the world’s inmate population.  A senator (Kane?) Once said that this data indicates that either we have the greatest concentration of evil in the world in this country or we are doing something terribly wrong on our approach to criminal justice.  I guess when you think the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.



  8. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    A senator (Kane?) once said

    That was former US Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia). He ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2015, but dropped out before any votes were cast.

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