By Gloria Ho
On September 1, 2016, three males and one female were arrested on multiple charges following a car chase that started in the early morning at 8:50am in Dunnigan. After initiating a felony car stop, the officers with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office pulled the driver, Joe Manuel Michel, Jr., passenger Tasha Ann-Renee Byrd, and two other males in the back seat out of the vehicle to search the car.
Captain Dale Johnson conducted the search and found a .38 caliber pistol with four live rounds in a safe box in the trunk of the car, after retrieving the safe combination from the female passenger, Ms. Byrd. Also found in the car was controlled substance paraphernalia.
Ms. Byrd is being charged with multiple counts in two different cases. From the first case in September 1, 2016, they are count 1: Health and Safety Code section 11364.1, possession of controlled substance paraphernalia; and count 2: Penal Code section 30305(a)(1), possession of ammunition by a person prohibited from doing so. In the most recent case from November 14, 2016, they are count 1: Health and Safety Code section 11364.1, possession of controlled substance paraphernalia; and count 2: Health and Safety Code section 11378, possession of methamphetamine for sale. Ms. Byrd admitted to count 2 of the September 1, 2016 case and count 2 of the November 14, 2016 case.
“The People move to dismiss the remaining counts on case 4926,” said Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson in reference to the September 1, 2016, case after the defendant admitted a plea of no contest to the two counts.
Judge Daniel Maguire, who was presiding over the case in Department 10, stated that the trial was to be vacated since all remaining counts were dismissed, thus one other male defendant, David Aaron Brown, was dismissed on all counts against him.
However, Mr. Michel is still being charged with two different counts. Count 1: Penal Code section 1203.2, violation of probation; and count 2: Vehicle Code section 2800.2, attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer in violation of section 2800.1.
The preliminary hearing resumed as the People’s first witness, Captain Dale Johnson, took the stand. Captain Johnson has been with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years and was formerly married to Deputy DA Robin Johnson. Captain Johnson also explained that he worked patrol and was assigned an unmarked black 2015 Ford Explorer with Code 3 (Code 3, Inc., the maker of the emergency equipment) lights, siren, and radio for assigned patrol units.
The People began to question Captain Johnson about how he came to be at the scene.
According to Captain Johnson, he saw a Honda with an expired registration and radioed dispatch to confirm this information. After confirmation was given that the registration was indeed expired, he contacted the vehicle from 15-20 yards away behind the vehicle. The driver, Joe Manuel Michel, Jr., then looked out the driver’s side door and looked at the officer before he slowed, heading northbound on County Road 99W. He saw that there were four people inside the car. Capt. Johnson then activated Code 3 lights and siren as he saw the driver drop an item onto the pavement on Co. Road 99W. The driver did not pull over after throwing the item out of the driver’s window but instead sped up, and also began to straddle the north and southbound lanes. Two oncoming cars had to pull over due to the reckless driving of the driver.
The People questioned, “How long did you follow the vehicle after they dropped the item?”
Capt. Johnson responded, “About a quarter of a mile.”
He gave chase to the 4-wheel-drive vehicle, driving recklessly, from County Road 2 to County Road 86’s gravel road to County Road 6 in Dunnigan as he radioed dispatch for a unit in route after he saw the driver again throw something out of the driver’s window.
Captain Johnson estimated that, from when the Code 3 lights and siren were initiated to the final stop, the chase was approximately 7.3 miles. The Honda did not pull over until another deputy’s vehicle arrived on the scene.
Mr. Michel’s attorney, Ava D. Landers, began cross-examination of the witness. The defense questioned Capt. Johnson about his patrol routes and what his mode of travel was for these patrols. He stated that the assigned unmarked police vehicle with the lights, siren, and radio was the car he uses to patrol.
Ms. Landers commented, “Other than the siren and lights, there’s no other (information) that indicate that it’s a police car?”
Captain Johnson went on to explain that the car is equipped with a Code 3 package and that it has light bars from inside the top windshield and parallel to it, from the driver’s to the passenger’s side. Also, the car has a siren coming on at the same time as the lights, a blinker system of turn signals, and there are headlamps in the rear.
Ms. Landers went on to state that “the car is not distinctly marked” and that the defendant was confused so he didn’t pull over until another police vehicle with a marked Yolo County sign arrive on the scene. She said that Mr. Michel pulled over within a mile of spotting the marked police car.
After Ms. Landers was done cross-examining Captain Johnson, Judge Maguire inquired of the witness about the details of the Code 3 package that the car is equipped with. Capt. Johnson responded again, describing the Code 3 lights and sirens, as well as the radio inside the car. Judge Maguire stated that the car should have the red lamp, siren, and at least one other thing that makes the car distinguishable to be deemed as a police vehicle.
Ms. Landers then requested that the felony conduct be moved to a misdemeanor conduct because Mr. Michel claims he did not know that Captain Johnson’s SUV was a police car pursuing him. The defense also stated that Mr. Michel did not hurt anyone and did not damage Capt. Johnson’s car in the process.
Deputy DA Johnson, however, responded by saying that the defendant knowingly fled, which led to police pursuit, and in addition he drove into a rural area and threw things out of the car, as well as putting people in danger with the reckless driving, therefore the People request that it should remain felony conduct.
Judge Maguire agreed with the People that Mr. Michel did cause two vehicles to pull over, and commented that the driving pattern was “fairly egregious.”
The judge remarked, “The real question here is whether the car is distinctly marked.”
The case will resume on January 12, 2017, in Department 14 with Judge David Rosenberg for an arraignment.