by Sarah Senan and Carla Arango
The morning of October 6, 2016, brought the resumption of the case of the People v. Darnell Dorsey, Judge Paul Richardson presiding. Pursuant to Cal. Penal Code sections 273a and 273ab, Mr. Dorsey is being charged with assaulting and causing fatal injury to his girlfriend’s 20-month-old child, Cameron Morrison, in January of 2014. Deputy Public Defenders Martha Sequeira and Joseph Gocke represent Darnell Dorsey, while Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin represents the prosecution.
The People called to the stand Ryan Crow. Mr. Crow is currently employed as a firefighter with the city of San Francisco. He has been a firefighter for 11 years and has received medical and fire-related training. Each training varies in length, however, most trainings at an academy last for a semester. Before serving in San Francisco, he worked as a firefighter in the city of Davis from 2006-2014.
Mr. Crow was on duty the night of January 22, 2014, at around 11:30/11:45 pm. Mr. Crow explained that a dispatcher called the fire station in Davis. Three officers were on duty that night. They arrived on the scene, parked the first truck, and rushed to the ambulance parked in the Dutch Bros.’ parking lot on Olive Drive. Mr. Crow explained that when he and the other firefighters arrived, CPR was already being performed by a paramedic. Mr. Crow explained that, since paramedics are usually more experienced with other duties that need to be done in such emergencies, he was aware that he would be taking over the CPR on Cameron Morrison.
As Deputy DDA Serafin continued to question Firefighter Crow, she asked him to explain his specific task that night. Mr. Crow explained that, during any medical emergency, the fire department is called. Mr. Crow’s task that night was to perform CPR on the child. He did this using a BVM (bag valve mask), which he states helps provide ventilation and oxygen. While doing this, he watched Cameron’s chest and squeezed the oxygen bag while tracking the chest movement to indicate the entrance of the oxygen. He explained that he is familiar with the CPR procedure and has had training on the proper way to perform CPR on both adults and children.
When Ms. Serafin asked Mr. Crow if he had ever broken any ribs while performing CPR, Crow explained that he had, but on older patients. Ms. Serafin continued to ask how Mr. Crow knew that the ribs were broken. Crow indicated that a broken rib can be heard or felt.
Next, Ms. Sequeira began the cross-examination of Firefighter Crow. Ms. Sequeira began by asking Mr. Crow about what the standard compression depth is, to which he answered 1 ½ to 2 inches for an adult. Ms. Sequeira then continued to ask Crow about his experience with performing CPR on someone with broken ribs. Crow explained that he would know if the ribs were previously broken, depending on the location of the ribs. However, it would depend on the rib fractures’ placement.
Ms. Sequeira then asked Mr. Crow about his experience with CPR on children. Crow explained that he had never done CPR on a child before that night, but he had had training. Crow explained that the ambulance is equipped with proper equipment and different sized BVM bags. He continued to explain that Cameron had no reflexes and was unresponsive.
After Ms. Sequeira’s questioning, the witness was re-directed to the prosecution.
Ms. Serafin asked Mr. Crow to explain the position of the baby. He responded by saying that the baby was lying on the gurney. Then, Ms. Serafin asked Crow if he believed the paramedics to be performing CPR correctly, to which he responded yes. Mr. Crow explained that he never saw anything wrong and that everything aligned properly with his training.
The second witness of the morning was Mr. Adam Price. Mr. Price is also a firefighter and has been since 2003. Firefighter Price is currently employed with the city of Davis. His tasks include taking blood pressure, measuring pulse, administering oxygen, and performing CPR. He has training with both children and adults. He explained it is mandatory that every two years there is a mandatory re-training to update the CPR certification. When asked, Price explained that CPR is indeed different for adults and children.
Firefighter Price explained details of the night in January. Ryan Crow was driving the fire engine and Bob Weist was the captain. It took them a few minutes to arrive at the scene. They were to continue CPR, as they became aware that the paramedics had already started the resuscitation efforts. He observed the paramedic performing the same CPR that aligns with his training. Price explained that he has done CPR at least 100 times on adults.
When asked about broken ribs, Mr. Price explained that ribs can break while doing CPR. He stated that you can feel the broken ribs, depending on where they are. If a rib breaks, however, one is to continue performing CPR until the average heartbeat is reached.
Firefighter Price recalled Cameron’s heart barely beating, at 20 beats per minute.
The defense then began cross-examination, with Ms. Sequeira asking Mr. Price more questions regarding Cameron’s heart rate. Price explained that Cameron’s heart rate was still around 20 bpm when CPR was paused. He explained that, normally, the average heartbeat for a child of 19 to 20 months is 100 to 120 bpm. Price stated that the ride to Sutter Hospital took roughly 5 minutes and CPR was being done the entire time.
The third witness of the morning was Corporal Eric Labbe. Cpl. Labbe is a city of Davis supervisor police officer. He has been employed since 2002. His assignments vary, but he is mostly on patrol. Labbe’s shifts are 9pm-7am and he was on call the night of January 22, 2014. As an officer, he usually has trainees alongside him. When he went to the scene, he was headed to Dutch Bros., however he got a call that Cameron was being transferred to Sutter Davis Hospital. Therefore, he went straight to the emergency room, where he spoke with both Darnell Dorsey and Cameron’s mother.
The prosecution then asked the witness about Cameron’s mother’s demeanor. Mr. Labbe explained that she was upset, screaming, “My baby,” and crying. When asked about Mr. Dorsey, Labbe described him in this way: “stoic, calm, said little.” Cpl. Labbe also explained that Dorsey argued with the baby’s grandmother. Dorsey was described as someone who showed “lack of emotion and chuckled when described something violent.”
Labbe spent approximately one hour at the hospital and remained in close proximity to Dorsey and Cameron’s family members.
Davis Police Officers Testify about the Scene at the Hospital and Causes that Led to Mr. Dorsey’s Arrest
by Carla Arango
The court reconvened in the afternoon of October 6, 2016, for the trial of the People v. Darnell Dorsey. Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, on behalf of the defense, continued her cross-examination of Corporal Eric Labbe, who works for the Davis Police Department.
Ms. Sequeira questioned Cpl. Labbe about his conversation with the victim’s mother, “VR,” and Mr. Dorsey.
According to Cpl. Labbe, he asked Mr. Dorsey if he would mind stepping outside of the emergency room to answer some questions about what had happened. Labbe agreed that he directed Mr. Dorsey’s movements by determining the location where he would speak with him.
Ms. Sequeira established that Dorsey did not want to leave Cameron and step outside the ER, but he did so at the officer’s request. “He didn’t want to leave Cameron and you didn’t give him a choice,” Sequeira said.
Cpl. Labbe stated that he didn’t recall Mr. Dorsey asking to stay inside or not cooperating with him.
Labbe said the reason he wanted to step outside of the emergency room was because the scene was chaotic – there were doctors and nurses working on Cameron, the mother, VR, was screaming and crying, and he thought it was appropriate to talk to Mr. Dorsey away from the activity.
Cpl. Labbe’s purpose in speaking with Mr. Dorsey was to gain understanding about the incident and to conduct his preliminary investigation.
Ms. Sequeira had no further questions and DDA Michelle Serafin began her redirect examination of Cpl. Labbe.
Ms. Serafin asked if VR was in the same room and asked what she was doing. Labbe stated that VR was indeed there, and she was sitting down crying. Labbe also confirmed that Mr. Dorsey was with her.
Cpl. Labbe said he questioned VR and Mr. Dorsey as part of his investigation, in order to find out anything that could help the child and to make sense of the situation.
During his conversation with VR, she said Cameron had been sick with flu-like symptoms, had a 100-degree fever, but nothing too crazy. VR said Cameron’s fever would go down with Tylenol, and had been going on for about three days.
On the evening of January 22, 2016, VR had gone to the gym with her aunt. According to Cpl. Labbe, VR told him that, when she got home, Mr. Dorsey (who was watching the child) said Cameron was not breathing. She grabbed Cameron immediately, got back into her aunt’s car and they drove toward the hospital.
Labbe said that during his conversation with VR he asked her if she had performed CPR, and she replied, “Yeah.” Cpl. Labbe said she told him she blew some air into his mouth and that, at this point (in the aunt’s car on the way to the hospital), Cameron still had a heartbeat.
“VR, while in route to the hospital, realized he had a heartbeat, but was not breathing,” said Officer Labbe after looking at his report.
Approximately five minutes later, Cpl. Labbe spoke to Mr. Dorsey. He said he wanted to know what led to the incident, to see if there was any negligence on the side of the parents. Labbe confirmed he recorded conversations and other portions of his time at the hospital.
Ms. Serafin then presented People’s Exhibit 141, a recording of Cpl. Labbe’s conversation with Mr. Dorsey. The jury was provided with transcripts of the conversation, but Judge Richardson instructed them that the transcripts were not considered to be evidence, and were only meant to assist them.
The recording was approximately eight minutes long. Different voices were heard, as well as beeping sounds from medical equipment. In the recording, Mr. Dorsey told Labbe he was in the room putting his son “J” to bed and when he returned to the living room he saw Cameron lying flat on the floor. Mr. Dorsey admitted he yelled at Cameron, but he didn’t receive a response.
In the recording, Mr. Dorsey explained that, moments later VR showed up and he told her there was something wrong with Cameron.
When Cpl. Labbe asked Mr. Dorsey for his phone number, Dorsey revealed he didn’t have a phone. Labbe then asked what the children were doing before Cameron became unresponsive.
Mr. Dorsey said they were eating and that, at one point, he thought Cameron could have been choking. During the recorded conversation, Cpl. Labbe asked Dorsey if he checked Cameron’s mouth to see if there was any food he could have been choking on.
Mr. Dorsey replied with, “I was scared, I shook the shit out of him, I’m not going to lie.”
When the recording was over, Ms. Serafin asked Cpl. Labbe to demonstrate how Mr. Dorsey said he shook Cameron. Labbe raised his arms at shoulder-length and said Mr. Dorsey had clenched his fists and did a shaking motion about four or five times.
Labbe said, “[Mr. Dorsey] appeared angry, more angry than concerned.”
Ms. Sequeira began her re-cross examination and asked Cpl. Labbe what his foundations were for saying that Mr. Dorsey appeared angry.
Labbe said he observed a change in Dorsey’s facial expressions and that Dorsey clenched his teeth when he demonstrated the way in which he shook Cameron. Ms Sequeira asked Cpl. Labbe how Mr. Dorsey was able to clench his teeth and still manage to speak to him without a change in his tone of voice, which was heard in the recording.
Ms. Sequeira accused Cpl. Labbe of making assumptions about Mr. Dorsey’s emotions and facial expressions, despite having known him for less than one hour.
“How did you know he wasn’t scared?,” Sequeira asked Labbe.
Ms. Sequeira asked Labbe if Mr. Dorsey seemed like someone who was trying to prevent him from conducting his investigation. She pointed out that Mr. Dorsey responded to his questions pretty quickly, and that he would not have had time to fabricate a false story.
Sequeira suggested that perhaps “Mr. Dorsey was trying to be calm for Cameron’s mom, who was dying watching her son die.”
About 30 minutes after his conversations with the mother and the defendant, Mr. Dorsey was arrested while he was at the hospital. Ms. Sequeira made it clear that Mr. Dorsey had been arrested before detectives spoke to anybody else who had the baby on the day of the incident, and Cpl. Labbe confirmed her statements.
Labbe said authorities had probable cause to believe Mr. Dorsey was responsible for Cameron’s injuries. According to Cpl. Labbe, Cameron’s bleeding brain and the fact that Mr. Dorsey admitted to shaking him violently were enough to arrest him.
Ms. Sequeira finished re-cross and Ms. Serafin began the her final redirect examination of Cpl. Labbe.
John Evans, another corporal from the Davis Police Department, was then called to testify. Cpl. Evans has worked with the department for almost 12 years. He served as a detective for four years and has completed a 40-hour child abuse course as part of his ongoing training.
Cpl. Evans described the scene at Sutter Davis Hospital as chaotic when he first arrived. Before he arrived, he had spoken to Corporal Scott Allen who informed him about some of Cameron’s injuries.
Cpl. Evans described VR as being hysterical, and said Mr. Dorsey seemed angry and loud. He attempted to speak with VR outside of the emergency room, but she was sobbing uncontrollably and didn’t want to leave.
Evans stated his preference to speak with Mr. Dorsey at the police department, but Mr. Dorsey was not willing to go. Cpl. Evans said he felt his hands were tied a little bit.
“It wasn’t my intent to arrest him at that moment in time,” Evans said about Mr. Dorsey’s arrest. “If I didn’t arrest him, my concern was that if he knew he was a suspect in a serious crime, he would flee or go back to the scene and destroy evidence,” Evans said.
Cpl. Evans explained that the basis for the arrest was the fact that Mr. Dorsey had been alone with the children, the types of injuries apparently inflicted on Cameron are common in shaken-baby cases, and Mr. Dorsey had admitted to Cpl. Labbe that he shook and slapped Cameron.
Judge Richardson ordered the trial to resume the next morning, and Corporal Evan’s testimony will continue.