By Raya Zahdeh
The court gathered with Judge Stephen Mock presiding on the afternoon of August 9, 2016, for the preliminary hearing of the People v. Alvarez and Lambirth. The attorneys present for the defense included Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson for Michael Robert Alvarez and Attorney Robert Spangler for Olivia McKenzie Lambirth, along with Michael Vroman for the prosecution.
The preliminary hearing began with witness testimony from Officer Kimberly Walker of the Davis Police Department. The incident in this case occurred on December 29, 2015, at around 6 AM in the city of Davis. Officer Walker stated that she had been dispatched to a Davis AMPM Convenience Store, where she interviewed the alleged victim, who was working as a Lyft (a business matching passengers with drivers through a smartphone application) driver on that day.
The alleged victim stated that he had picked up Alvarez and Lambirth from West Sacramento and had dropped them off at an apartment complex in Davis earlier that morning. Upon their exit from the vehicle, the alleged victim stated in his interview with Officer Walker that Alvarez pulled out what appeared to be a black handgun and took the gold iPhone that the alleged victim had on his dashboard as a navigation system for his ride service. Alvarez also proceeded to demand that the alleged victim give up his wallet and his second cell phone. The alleged victim handed Alvarez the other cell phone, but told Alvarez he did not have his wallet on him. Alvarez then fired the object that appeared to be a handgun three times, but no bullets came out.
Officer Walker stated that, according to the alleged victim, Ms. Lambirth was still sitting in the back seat of the Lyft vehicle during this encounter. Officer Walker also said that statements indicated that Lambirth did not speak to either the other defendant or the Lyft driver at the time, and was not present during the actual incident.
The next witness was Corporal Eric Labbe of the Davis Police Department. On the morning of December 29, Corporal Labbe was dispatched to the apartment complex in Davis where the alleged victim had dropped off the defendants.
Upon Labbe’s arrival at the apartment complex, he identified Alvarez and noticed that Alvarez was looking at different vehicles and trying to open the doors of some vehicles in the parking lot. Some time after that, Cpl. Labbe saw Alvarez speaking to another Davis police officer. Alvarez quickly started to run away and was chased by the officer who was speaking to him.
In the meantime, Labbe identified Ms. Lambirth in the same parking lot. The first time he asked her questions about the reported armed robbery of the Lyft driver, she answered as though she did not know anything about the incident. Afterward, she told Labbe that Alvarez and the alleged victim got into an argument over a wallet. She did not give many details past that.
Ms. Lambirth also told Cpl. Labbe that she lived at one of the apartments in that complex. Labbe then detained her and walked her over to her apartment. As they were approaching the apartment, Alvarez was spotted leaving the same apartment, at which point he was also detained.
Corporal Labbe then searched the apartment after receiving informed consent to do so from the defendants’ two friends, who lived there. In one of the bedrooms, Labbe found the blue jeans and black hooded sweatshirt that matched the description of what Alvarez was wearing during the incident with the Lyft driver. He also collected three cell phones that were located next to the clothing items. Cpl. Labbe gave the items to Officer Francisco Talavera, who was going to conduct a field showup (a field identification procedure, or lineup, in which only the suspect is displayed to the witness) after collecting all of the items.
The next witness to give his testimony was Officer Michael Yu, also of the Davis Police Department. He stated that he had not received a call about this incident until around 8 AM, about two hours after it had occurred. He was assigned to assist in the investigation of the robbery.
The investigation involved Officer Yu and a detective, who interviewed Alvarez after reading him his Miranda rights. During his interview, Mr. Alvarez stated that he had spent the night at Ms. Lambirth’s apartment. He then claimed that the following morning, he had gone outside to smoke a cigarette when he was tackled by police officers. Alvarez also denied having a firearm and claimed that he did not have a credit card or debit card, which are required in order to use Lyft ride services.
After finding out that Lambirth had eventually taken the blame for what happened, Alvarez agreed and seemed content with her claim. Officer Yu then took both Alvarez and Lambirth to jail. Officer Yu later reviewed the camera recording in his police vehicle, and heard parts of a private conversation in which Ms. Lambirth told Mr. Alvarez she took the blame for everything. Mr. Alvarez responded by telling Ms. Lambirth to “plead the fifth.”
After the witness testimonies, Mr. Vroman stated that, although he does not believe that Ms. Lambirth committed the robbery, she did assist Alvarez in the robbery and provided him with a place of safety after he committed the robbery.
Judge Mock concluded this part of the hearing by holding Alvarez to answer for first degree robbery. He then decided that there was not enough evidence to give Ms. Lambirth the same charge. He supported holding the order for that charge on Lambirth, but he did state that she violated Penal Code section 32 due to the fact that she witnessed Alvarez rob the victim and therefore aided him, as well as providing him a place to stay after the robbery. Mr. Alvarez is the only one of the two defendants who is currently in custody.
The case is scheduled for arraignment on August 24, 2016, and the preliminary hearing is scheduled to reconvene on August 23, 2016, at 9 AM in Department 7 of Yolo County Superior Court.