By Jagjit Bath and Sarah Senan
The trial of the People v. Darnell Dorsey resumed testimony in the afternoon session on October 26, 2016, with Mr. Dorsey testifying in his own defense. Darnell Dorsey is accused of assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old son, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014. Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin presented two letters as evidence, which Mr. Dorsey had sent to his girlfriend, “VR,” and to his mother, about which the prosecutor questioned Dorsey. Ms. Serafin then requested to watch the video of Mr. Dorsey’s interview from the Davis Police Department after Dorsey was arrested.
During the interview Mr. Dorsey was asked questions by a police officer about the night of the incident, January 22, 2014. In the interview Mr. Dorsey said that his girlfriend was not home when everything happened, but was at the gym.
On channel 00 of the video, the officer asked Mr. Dorsey, “What did you guys do when VR came home from work and before going to the gym?” Mr. Dorsey responded by saying that they did the usual things – they had dinner as soon as VR got home, then Dorsey watched over the kids while she left for the gym with her cousin. He stated that the kids were still eating so he left them alone in their room with TV and food, and he went to his own room.
Ms. Serafin stopped the video and asked Mr. Dorsey if he was actually watching over the kids after VR left for the gym.
Mr. Dorsey said no but he could hear them playing and stuff. He mentioned that when he went to check on the kids after 30 minutes had passed, he noticed they had not finished their food – instead, they were playing with their toys. So he took the toys away from both of them, Cameron and “J,” and told them to finish their food. J is the older half-brother to Cameron and is Dorsey’s biological son. A few minutes later, Mr. Dorsey moved Cameron to the living room because they would not eat their food.
Ms. Serafin stopped the video again and asked Mr. Dorsey if he was lying to the officer regarding his statement that Cameron was eating some of his food.
After Dorsey moved Cameron to the living room, he went back to his room. When he went back later, he noticed Cameron just lying on the floor. Mr. Dorsey noticed that he had not finished his food, and was lying on the floor next to the sofa. Dorsey yelled his name, “Cameron, what are you doing? Finish your food!” Then Dorsey realized that Cameron didn’t respond, which freaked Dorsey out because he thought Cameron might have choked on the food or something. Mr. Dorsey said that in panic he lifted Cameron and started shaking him and even slapped him because he wasn’t responding. Mr. Dorsey also mentioned that he put Cameron under water in the sink after Cameron didn’t respond when Mr. Dorsey splashed water on his face. Dorsey said that, after he got Cameron under water from the faucet, the child gasped. Dorsey was still freaked out, so he ran across the street to get help from VR’s parents but nobody answered the door.
Ms. Serafin stopped the video again and asked, “Why did your voice change during the interview?”
Dorsey responded, “Because it was an emotional moment.”
In video channel 01 of his statement to police, Mr. Dorsey continued explaining. While he had been standing in the doorway of the home, he saw VR’s cousin pull into the driveway. Mr. Dorsey ran to VR and told her that there was something wrong with Cameron, that he was not responding or anything. VR also freaked out but took Cameron in her arms and left for the hospital with her cousin right away. Dorsey went back to the house and dropped off VR’s stuff, picked up J, and followed VR. Mr. Dorsey mentioned that he didn’t have a phone to be able to make calls for help, but used VR’s phone after she had arrived, while she used her cousin’s. VR told Dorsey that she found paramedics down the street from their home. Then, after checking with the paramedics and VR, Dorsey went back to the VR’s parents’ home. By the time he got there, VR had called them and told them what had happened. Dorsey said he went to get their help because he didn’t have gas money or anything. Shortly after picking up VR’s parents and getting gas, Mr. Dorsey arrived at Sutter Davis hospital.
In the video, as the officer asked about the injuries, he asked Dorsey if he had accidentally dropped Cameron or something, in his panic. First, Mr. Dorsey was not sure, but after a few minutes Dorsey said he probably had dropped Cameron at the door, but he was not sure. Dorsey also stated in the video that he did not purposely hurt Cameron or anything, and mentioned that Cameron could have gotten injured before, when he fell down the stairs about two weeks beforehand, or his biological father probably didn’t take good care of him when the child was in his custody.
Ms. Serafin stopped the video again to ask Mr. Dorsey if he was crying in the video. She asked if he noticed that his voice had also changed.
Mr. Dorsey responded, “No, I was sobbing but not crying. My voice changed because I got emotional.”
In the video, Mr. Dorsey told the police officer in his statement that he never yelled or got mad at his kids, when the officer asked if he had ever raised his hand or voice on the kids. He continued explaining to the officer that he was just shocked and panicked. He did not know what to do because he had never seen anything like that ever before, and he would never hurt Cameron because he considered him his own son just like J, even though Cameron was only effectively his stepson He said he would never hurt him or anything. Dorsey started crying while he was explaining.
Ms. Serafin stopped the video again to ask if he was crying at that moment in the video.
Mr. Dorsey responded, “ Yes, I was crying and I am crying right now too because” he felt the “same level of emotions.”
The video resumed, and Mr. Dorsey continued explaining to the officer the events from the night.
Testimony of Dorsey Resumes
by Sarah Senan
After the break, the prosecution continued playing People’s Exhibit 267, the video recording of Mr. Dorsey’s two-hour interview pertaining to this case. Channel 1-01 was presented, and the officer questioning Mr. Dorsey explained that Cameron had previously existing, as well as new, injuries. The officer made it apparent that there were some retinal hemorrhages in the eyes, which is caused from shaking a baby. In addition, Cameron also had a case of hematoma – caused from a strong impact on the head, which may have been due to Dorsey tenaciously shaking Cameron.
Channel 1-02, People’s Exhibit 267, was then played by the People. In the video, Mr. Dorsey learned that Cameron had many broken ribs, both new and old. Mr. Dorsey defended himself to the officer and stated: “I have grown a bond with that child.” He explained that he would never hurt Cameron. The officer continued to say that the blood vessels behind Cameron’s eyes were broken, and that there was damage done to Cameron’s spleen. Mr. Dorsey responded, “He’s f***ed up is what you’re telling me.”
At this point in the video, Mr. Dorsey tried to explain how Cameron could have gotten hurt. Mr. Dorsey asked the officers if his son, J, could have caused injuries to Cameron. Mr. Dorsey told the officer repeatedly that he did not hit Cameron and that everything he did was in an attempt to help him. Mr. Dorsey then claimed that some of Cameron’s injuries could have been done by his biological father. However, Cameron had been with his father two months prior, and the officer doubted that any of the current injuries could have been caused from that time period. The timeframe in which the injuries occurred are relevant. There was medical evidence of a lacerated spleen, broken ribs, hematoma, and retinal hemorrhages.
At this point, Deputy DA Serafin paused the video to question Mr. Dorsey. She asked Dorsey if the officer ever asked for a possible explanation of why he shook Cameron. Mr. Dorsey stated that he remembered the officer asking if Cameron was being “fussy.” However, Dorsey defended himself and testified that he was never angry at Cameron that night.
Ms. Serafin then asked Mr. Dorsey about the credibility of his statements to the officer. Dorsey never told the officer that Cameron was not eating. Mr. Dorsey replied that he cannot answer if his statement was truthful or not because it needed to be articulated. Dorsey claimed that Cameron was eating when he fed him, but he was not eating prior to that.
The playing of Channel 1-02 resumed and the officer stated that the only logical explanation for Cameron’s injuries is excessive discipline caused by Mr. Dorsey. The officer asked, “Did you drop him by accident?”
Mr. Dorsey responded, “Yeah, I think so.” Mr. Dorsey went on to explain that everything happened so fast and that, because he was in a state of panic, he could not remember clearly. “He (Cameron) could’ve slipped, I don’t know.”
The officer, trying to work with Mr. Dorsey, said that he needed explanations for the injuries and that Mr. Dorsey responding “I don’t know” does not help his case. Mr. Dorsey then asked what if the ribs had re-broken when Cameron fell.
At this point, the officer talked through the incident again. First, Mr. Dorsey found Cameron unresponsive on the floor and he called out Cameron’s name. Cameron did not respond and remained lying down flat on the floor, in the living room. However, Mr. Dorsey does not remember if the child’s eyes were open or closed. Next, Mr. Dorsey called out Cameron’s name again, and held him by the outside of his arms, and shook him. He stated that he first slapped him, and then shook him, and that Cameron could have possibly hit the floor. Dorsey then picked Cameron up and ran water on his face. Mr. Dorsey stated that, after he put water on his face, Cameron took a breath of air and gasped. Mr. Dorsey emotionally explained that he had been in his room, and when he came in the living room Cameron “was f***ed up.”
The sequence of events appeared to be off, and the officer encouraged Mr. Dorsey to admit that he got carried away and panicked. There was no medical justification as to why Cameron was passed out. In an attempt to help Mr. Dorsey, the officer explained that Dorsey would likely be in trouble based on the evidence presented, and that he understood the incidents that led to Cameron’s death could have been an accident.
The problem, the officer said, was that there was no medical reason for the child to be unconscious. Mr. Dorsey admitted that he probably should have let Cameron lie there, and not try to help him in the way he did. He expressed his love for Cameron and stated, “I do everything I can for him.”
The recording ended and Ms. Serafin continued with cross-examination. She quoted a conversation that Mr. Dorsey had with his mother: “I didn’t know what to say, I think I said too much.” Ms. Serafin asked if that was in response to the police interview that the court just watched. Mr. Dorsey said that he does not know.
Toward the end of cross-examination, Ms. Serafin asked Mr. Dorsey, “You stated yesterday that the prosecutor created the person (referring to Dorsey) that doesn’t exist?” Mr. Dorsey responded in the positive. Ms. Serafin then asked why Mr. Dorsey said he was one person before, but is a smarter person now. Mr. Dorsey responded that he does not recall. The People then showed transcripts of one of the phone calls with VR from a previous session to recall his memory about his statement. After Dorsey reviewed the transcript, Ms. Serafin asked, “Does that refresh your memory? Dorsey answered in the positive. Ms. Serafin inquired, “You also talk to [VR] about ‘the elephant in the room’?” Dorsey answered yes and that the elephant in the room was Cameron.
Lastly, Ms. Serafin asked Mr. Dorsey about letters he wrote to VR on January 25, 2014.
Ms. Serafin asked if Mr. Dorsey said the following: “This time I f***ed up and it cuts deep thinking I don’t have you….I hurt you more than anything.” When shown the letter, Mr. Dorsey stated that he does not recognize his writing, but it is his letter with his signature on it. He testified that his penmanship has improved. Ms. Serafin then questioned Mr. Dorsey on whether or not his sentences were referring to what he did with Cameron. Mr. Dorsey responded yes.
The People had no further questions.
Previously, there have been witnesses brought by the prosecution regarding the relationship between Mr. Dorsey’s and his ex-girlfriend, “BA.” BA even testified herself earlier in the trial. BA claimed that Mr. Dorsey was the father of her child, and it was later revealed that he was not. The fire department responded to BA’s premature labor and found opiates in her system.
The defense brought in a witness: Firefighter Jesse Hodorowski. Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke asked Firefighter Hodorowski if he was employed on August 8, 2011. Hodorowski responded in the positive. Mr. Gocke asked why there was a report made regarding BA and her premature delivery, when she also appeared to have areas of injection marks on her body. Firefighter Hodorowski stated that he was not the captain that day and does not have information as to why the report was made. Hodorowski admitted to not having an independent recollection of the incident, but he did read the report. Firefighter Hodorowski was dismissed, as the People had no further questions.
The final witness of the day was Detective Ariel Pineda. Detective Pineda was working with the Davis Police Department on August 8, 2011, and recalled the report made regarding BA’s premature delivery. Detective Pineda spoke with BA and testified that BA indicated that the child was Mr. Dorsey’s. Det. Pineda also spoke with BA’s mother and she told him that she was aware of a sexual relationship with Mr. Dorsey. There was no statement made by the mother whether she supported the relationship.
At the time, BA was under the age of 18. Detective Pineda spoke with both her and Mr. Dorsey. Mr. Gocke asked how their demeanor was in regard to their speech, tone, and interaction. Det. Pineda said that BA was “calm and responsive.” Mr. Gocke questioned why the investigation report stated that BA was “mad, loud, profane, and abusive.” Det. Pineda explained that the profiles of individuals are updated through an automated reporting system and that different factors can be input and changed at any time. When asked about Mr. Dorsey’s demeanor, Detective Pineda testified that Mr. Dorsey reflected clear speech.
During cross-examination, Ms. Serafin asked Detective Pineda if he ever asked BA who the father of the child was. Det. Pineda responded, saying that BA “indicated” that Mr. Dorsey was the father of the child due to their sexual relationship. Ms. Serafin questioned if there was ever a mention of other possible fathers. Detective Pineda responded in the negative. Ms. Serafin had no further questions.
During re-direct, Mr. Gocke inquired if BA ever reported domestic violence and the detective testified that BA did not.