by Tiffany Yeh and Gloria Ho
Opening Arguments in Trial of Evading a Peace Officer and Child Endangerment
by Tiffany Yeh
Defendant Frank Rudolph Estrada is charged with felony evading a peace officer, reckless driving and misdemeanor abusing/endangering the health of a child. Judge David W. Reed was presiding, with Deputy District Attorney Matt De Moura representing the prosecution and Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance representing Mr. Estrada.
According to Mr. De Moura, on August 22, 2016, Mr. Estrada picked up his daughter (“C”) from Cache Creek High School, in the town of Yolo northwest of Woodland, around 11:40am. Cadet advisor and Deputy Sheriff Erin Forster (off-duty at the time) received a call from Mr. Estrada’s daughter. She was concerned and contacted Deputy Sheriff Matthew Martin.
Deputy Martin was sometime later dispatched to find C. Around 11:45am, Mr. Martin located the brown van that had been reported. Two people were seated in the front seats of the van, and C was in the back area, which had no seats and no seat belts. Deputy Ryan Mez joined the chase, trying to pull over the van with C inside.
The chase went past the high school, onto I-5, and into Woodland. Sergeant Hector Bautista joined in the chase, and it went into the Woodland. Mr. De Moura emphasized how unsafe the chase was – it was during lunch time and people were around and the van went over the speed limit at times. The van made sudden turns and cut over corners and medians in parking lots.
The chase, which in its totality was about five or six minutes long, ended around the Wells Fargo building in Woodland. C was fine. However, many vehicle code violations were committed by Mr. Estrada, violations that Mr. De Moura argued did not have to happen. Mr. Estrada evaded the police and endangered his daughter (who did not have a seat belt on at the time).
Ms. Lance, representing Mr. Estrada, argued that the county sheriff’s deputies went to the high school and Mr. Estrada’s house, which are in Woodland Police Department’s districts. It was the first day of school at the high school and C’s grandmother wanted C to go to Cache Creek High School, while Mr. Estrada wanted his daughter to go to a different high school.
On August 22, 2016, Mr. Estrada obtained a hall pass, put it in his pocket, and went to pick up C from Cache Creek High School. Mr. Estrada has custody of C. He also picked up C’s cousin who lived down the street from the high school. Mr. Estrada was trying to go to the police department to discuss a matter regarding his daughter. He had decided that the best thing for his daughter was to go a different school, not Cache Creek. However, the sheriff’s deputies were interfering with Mr. Estrada’s plans.
Witnesses Testify for the Prosecution
The first witness of the day was Deputy Erin Forster, who works at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. She has been a deputy sheriff for three years, come January. She works patrol, does traffic stops, and investigates.
Deputy Forster is also a cadet advisor (meaning instructor and mentor) for 14 to 21-year-olds who want to be cadets. The cadets are interested in being in law enforcement. They go to competitions, learn how to behave in situations, and how to write traffic tickets. They meet twice a month and participate in events. Dep. Forster described interacting with the cadets about four to 12 hours a month.
Deputy Forster described being a mandated reporter – when off duty and hearing about possible child abuse, she needs to tell law enforcement in the appropriate jurisdiction about the information.
Mr. De Moura questioned Deputy Forster about the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s office and whether the County of Yolo was included within their domain, to which she answered in the affirmative, in certain situations.
On August 22, 2016, Deputy Forster was off duty and she described leaving court around 11:40am.
Not for the truth of the matter (as Judge Reed stipulated), but Deputy Forster stated knowing Mr. Estrada’s daughter, C, who was 17 years old. C called her, and was “upset,” “crying,” and “speaking quickly” to her, as Ms. Forster described.
Deputy Forster, again, not on duty at the moment, took the information and let the Yolo County dispatch know about the information. Dispatch sent deputies out to find Mr. Estrada’s daughter. Ms. Forster then talked to Deputy Matt Martin.
Ms. Lance cross-examined Ms. Forster. Ms. Forster stated that she suspected child endangerment by Mr. Estrada. When asked whether C called Ms. Forster with C’s phone or Mr. Estrada’s phone, Dep. Forster stated not knowing which phone C called her from. On previous dates, C had called Ms. Forster from several different numbers.
Deputy Forster recalled a time in April of 2016 when both she and Dep. Martin went to C’s school to obtain C’s grades and school attendance records and then went to C’s house. They were not able to get the doctor’s note when they arrived at Mr. Estrada’s house. Lieutenant Lance Faille had said that they school let Woodland Police Department handle C’s school attendance.
The cadet program requires that the cadets have a certain level of grades and school attendance in order to attend the program. C is one of the cadets. On a case by case basis, the cadet advisors would check school attendance. Not for the truth of the matter (as stated by Judge Reed), but Ms. Forster mentioned that C was not being allowed to attend school by her father.
Ms. Lance questioned Deputy Forster about whether she knew that C had an injury to her knee and surgery for it in the past. She replied that she knew about it.
Mr. De Moura’s questions led Deputy Forster to mention that the dispatch was not solely for the county sheriff’s office but also for Woodland and Winters.
The second witness of the day was Deputy Matthew Martin. He has been a peace officer for about nine years. Currently he is a resident deputy sheriff and has a patrol position that includes investigating child abuse. He stated that he is also a mandated reporter, required to report possible abuse or endangerment of vulnerable individuals such as children.
Normally, the dispatch gets a call about suspected child abuse or endangerment and the call is entered into a system and then assigned to a deputy. Deputy Martin described being required to investigate child abuse.
On August 22, 2016, around 11:40am, Deputy Martin was in his uniform, with badge, and duty belt, and in a marked patrol vehicle with sirens and light bar. Between Myrtle Lane (a frontage road along Hwy 113) and County Road 27, which is between Woodland and Davis, Dep. Martin received a cell phone call from Dep.Forster. He recommended that she call dispatch about finding C, so that dispatch would have record of the call.
The dispatch relayed the information to Deputy Martin and then he responded to the call and went to Yolo County to investigate child abuse.
Deputy Martin is also an advisor for cadets. He drove around looking for Mr. Estrada and C. He went to Cache Creek High School in Yolo County because he knew that C was enrolled in that school. Deputy Ryan Mez was in the area and joined in the search.
Deputy Martin parked on the street in front of the school and Deputy Mez drove up behind him. Dep. Martin was getting out of the vehicle when a brown vehicle went past, westbound. He was able to see a van with two seats in the front and the top of a head in the back. C was sitting on the floorboard of the van. Dep. Mez ran the license plate number.
Dep. Martin got into his car and tried to catch up to the vehicle. His patrol vehicle’s video began around 11:45am. He described instances where Mr. Estrada did not stop behind the limit line at stop signs. The video in his car was activated, just over a bridge, because Dep. Martin turned on the flashing lights on the vehicle.
He described having at least one of his forward red lights on on the vehicle and the siren on intermittently. While watching the video footage in court, Deputy Martin pointed out another time that he saw the van not stop at the stop sign.
Deputy Mezwas behind Deputy Martin and had his vehicle’s lights and siren on.
The van went onto I-5 and reached speeds of 65 mph (not excessive on I-5).
Deputy Martin described using his PA system during the chase, pleading with Mr. Estrada to stop. He recalled using the PA about two to four times during the chase. He recalled the front driver’s side window being halfway open during the chase.
The van exited to southbound West Street on County Rd. 99 and ran a stop sign (a moving violation).
Now a vehicle with Sgt. Bautista and Deputy Tamara Kittling joined the chase.
They almost hit a truck and the van didn’t stop for the red light.
They were now near Cache Creek High School on a school day, with the speed limit of 25mph in the school zone. Deputy Martin described the van going around 35mph when passing the school. They were then heading toward downtown Woodland, down a one-lane alley.
Sgt. Bautista and Dep. Kittling made a turn following the van and they then went down Court Street at around 25 mph.
Deputy Martin described C as appearing to be “scared,” “trying to put on a brave face,” and “rattled” by what happened, but not crying. No blood or broken bones resulted from the chase.
He counted around eight or nine vehicle code or moving violations, including failing to stop at the limit line, not stopping at the red light, unsafe turning movement, over 25 mph in a school zone, driving at an unsafe speed in an alley, and not yielding to vehicles in an alley.
At the highest, the radar speed sign in front of the school was 30 mph, Deputy Martin stated.
Ms. Lance questioned the witness on whether he listened to the audio for the chase, and whether he mentioned something about a right brake light on Mr. Estrada’s vehicle.
Ms. Lance also asked Deputy Martin whether he told Mr. Estrada that he would do everything in his power so he (Mr. Estrada) would not be able to see his daughter again. Mr. De Moura tried to spin it around by leading with a line of questions trying to get jurors to sympathize with the things deputy sheriffs see on the job, and asked Deputy Martin if he was emotional at Mr. Estrada’s way of putting C in danger during the chase.
Deputy Martin stated that C “wasn’t seriously injured, but she was injured” and that C is “one of our strongest cadets.”
An interesting part occurred during the trial when Deputy Martin was asked what he thought of his pursuing the van in Woodland, in the past and now.
He stated that now he wishes he had stopped pursuing the vehicle when it got to Woodland.
The third witness of the day was Sergeant Hector Bautista, of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, and has been a peace officer for about 13 years. On August 22, around 11:45am or 11:50am, he drove a patrol vehicle, with lights and siren and had his uniform and badge on. Not for the truth of the matter, Sgt. Bautista described going to Main and East Streets and hearing radio traffic about the high school and a call for service on a child abuse case. He attempted a traffic stop on the brown van, which failed to yield.
Once Sgt. Bautista turned on his overhead lights, the camera records footage from the vehicle. He had on the red forward lamp and sirens. The van went to East and Beamer Streets, went southbound on County Road 99, and into Woodland, where it turns into West Street He activated his Code 3 lights. He thought the van was going to stop but it did not. At this point, Sgt. Bautista estimated the van to be going 30-40 mph. The van made a left.
Sgt. Bautista tried to set up to the left of the van, but the van cut across his vehicle. They went into an alleyway (between Court and North Streets). The deputy made a stop but the van didn’t stop.
They cut through a parking lot onto Court Street, then Walnut Street, and then made a right (Sgt. Bautista estimated the van was going approximately 30-45 mph at that moment).
They went into Dead Cat Alley. The van did not make a complete stop at the red light but cut across parking blocks and hit the edge (metal storage area/attachment) of a parked truck. Sgt. Bautista describes unintentionally hitting the back of the van. The chase stopped a bit after that, and the officers drew their guns. Woodland Police Department officers were also present.
The sergeant estimated three moving or vehicle code violations: speeding in a school zone (going 40 mph in a 30 mph zone, not going to a complete stop before limit line at stop sign, and running over parking cement blocks behind the car dealership).
Ms. Lance asked Sgt. Bautista how he estimated how fast the van was going while the video footage from his patrol vehicle was being played in court. He described going back to his office the day of the chase and reviewing his video camera footage before writing a report that day. He mentioned a GPS recording of his own vehicle’s speed and also paying attention to the distance between his vehicle and Mr. Estrada’s vehicle.
Sgt. Bautista stated that Mr. Estrada was traveling around 30-40 mph, about a constant speed, during the chase. In his report, Sgt. Bautista did not mention any other speeds.
Defendant Faces Felony Evading and Reckless Driving, and Child Endangerment Charges
By Gloria Ho
On the afternoon of December 13, 2016, testimonies continued in the trial of the People v. Frank Rudolph Estrada at Yolo County Superior Court. Mr. Estrada was arrested and charged with evading a peace officer, with reckless driving and child endangerment on August 22, 2016.
Judge David W. Reed, who was presiding over the trial in Department 8, announced that the People’s witness, Yolo County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Hector Bautista, would continue to testify in the case.
The sergeant took the stand and began to testify about how he had followed Mr. Estrada’s van on West Street in Woodland with the lights and sirens activated. The defendant did not stop his vehicle to pull over, but instead rolled through two red lights and a few stop signs as well as speeding up in the school zone when he passed by Woodland High School. According to Sgt.Bautista, the defendant’s car went eastbound on Court Street, southbound on Walnut Street, taking a left eastbound into an alley, then got stuck in Wells Fargo’s parking lot.
The turn into the alley unexpectedly caused the police car to bump into Mr. Estrada’s van from behind, which caused the van to subsequently hit the truck in front of him with the van’s left front bumper.
The People showed Exhibit 2 to the jury, which consisted of a video of the car chase with the defendant’s van that begins at 12:27pm on August 22, 2016. The video was recorded by the police car’s dashboard camera. Sergeant Bautista stepped down from the stand after the video ended.
Deputy District Attorney Matt De Moura introduced the next witness, Woodland Police Department’s Deputy Matthew Martin.
“Deputy Martin, at the conclusion of the pursuit, did you speak to the defendant?” questioned Deputy DA De Moura.
“Yes, I did,” the officer responded. The People asked Deputy Martin if he read the defendant his rights when he cuffed him. The witness gave a positive response and mentioned that he read the defendant his Miranda rights from a card in his pocket that he always carries with him. Mr. De Moura proceeded to ask the deputy if he had the card and then asked him to read it out loud in courtroom.
After Deputy Martin read the Miranda warning to the jury, he testified that Mr. Estrada told him he was upset because he didn’t want her to go to Cache Creek High School. The People’s witness stated that the defendant told him that he was driving to Woodland Police Department, when asked why he didn’t stop the car when the Code 3 lights and sirens were activated.
“He admitted to hitting [his daughter] on the upper thigh with the back of his hand.” Deputy Martin testified.
“Did he say why he hit her?” Mr. De Moura questioned.
“Yes. For disobeying him.” responded the officer. He continued, “He didn’t want her to go to that school. Her going to that school is against his wishes.”
Deputy Public Defender Lisa Lance began the cross-examination of the People’s witness and asked him if he searched Mr. Estrada. In the search, the officer did not find any weapons but only a campus pass that excused the defendant’s 17-year-old daughter from school. There were no further questions from the defense and the witness stepped down from the stand.
Next, Mr. Estrada stood up from his seat next to Ms. Lance, collected his notes, and took the stand. The defendant began to answer questions about why he did not stop the car. Mr. Estrada stated that he knew that his car was “up to par” and didn’t think the police spontaneously stopped him for a light in the rear that was out, but that they were out to get him.
“Did you know why you were being pursued?” the defense asked.
“No, ma’am.” the defendant answered. He mentioned that he’s had a lot of issues with law enforcement in the past and was concerned for his safety, so he decided to drive to Woodland Police Department instead of stopping and pulling over while being pursued by the police cars.
Mr. Estrada continued to tell his story of how he thought his daughter was supposed to be at Pioneer High School in Woodland and had no idea where she was after he got into contact with the school and they told him she was not a registered student there. When he discovered that she was at Cache Creek High School outside Woodland, he was confused and upset and drove to pick her up from the school. Nobody had informed him that his daughter was attending the high school in Yolo.
He was traveling past the high school and going back to Woodland when the two officers picked him up. Mr. Estrada believed that the police were not going to stop no matter what, and he wanted to put the safety of his passengers first. A distant relative of his was also in the car at the time. The defendant said he was afraid of the police officers because of his past experiences with law enforcement.
The People began to cross-examine the defendant and questioned him about his encounters with law enforcement and whether officers have ever threatened him in the past. DDA De Moura asked if the officers made any verbal or physical threats to him, and the defendant said that they did not do it directly to him. The defendant told the jury that the police got into contact with his daughter and went to her school without his permission and also visited his house when it wasn’t any of their business to do so.
In addition, Mr. De Moura brought up the defendant’s criminal history from a decade before, when he was charged with attempted robbery, burglary, and petty theft of retail merchandise, and was accused of committing the crimes while released on bail or on his own recognizance.
“You knew that they were pursuing you for a purpose?” Mr. De Moura asked. The defendant gave an affirmative answer.
“I went to [Wells Fargo] because that’s where Fate stopped my car,” Mr. Estrada testified. No further questions were put forward.
The People and defense then both gave closing statements to the jury, as there were no further witnesses or evidence to be presented. The jurors were led out of the courtroom to begin their jury deliberation.
“The defendant needs to be at the courthouse at 9am,” Judge Reed said as he concluded the afternoon trial.
Mr. Estrada was to report to court the following day, December 14, 2016, in Department 8 while the jury continues its deliberation.