By Ruby Zapien
On March 9, 2017, Judge Ramona J. Garrett presided over the preliminary hearing of the People v. Amajed Diaallah Khan and Alirshad Yusufali. Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McHugh represented the People. On the defense side, Mr. Khan was represented by Defense Attorney J. Robert Spangler and Mr. Yusufali by Deputy Public Defender John Sage. Mr. Khan is currently out of custody, while Mr. Yusufali remains in custody. Both defendants are charged with violations of Penal Code §520, extortion by force or threat, and Penal Code §183(a)(1), conspiracy to commit a crime.
Dep. DA McHugh called Officer Michelle Mizzi to the stand as her first witness. Officer Mizzi has worked for the West Sacramento Police Department for the past nine months and is certified to testify under Proposition 115 (Crime Victims Justice Reform Act of 1990) which, among many things, allowed hearsay evidence depending on the circumstances.
Officer Mizzi described that on November 11, 2016, she had been dispatched to take a phone report and then later an in-person report of “EM.” EM had been approached earlier in the day at the parking lot of his employment by a man. The man handed him a manila envelope and told to open it in private. Inside the envelope, EM found a set of instructions along with intimate images of himself and a woman he identified as his wife.
EM described the man to officer Mizzi as a Hispanic male with dark clothing and dark facial hair. He had believed his hair was also dark. However, the man was wearing a baseball cap, and EM could not confirm his hair color. EM was, however, able to describe the car as a silver two-door BMW or Mercedes-Benz, and the driver as a black male with a clean, shaven head.
“Where did the photos come from originally?” asked Dep. DA McHugh.
Officer Mizzi stated that EM’s house had been burglarized in January of 2016 and in that incident a flash drive had gone missing.
Ms. McHugh showed Officer Mizzi People’s Exhibit 1. Officer Mizzi described this document to be a copy of the instructions in the envelope handed to EM. She read the instructions aloud. There appeared to be many grammatical errors, but the letter stated that if EM did not give up $50,000, the pictures would be made public. The letter also said “don’t do anything dumb, this could all go away like a bad dream.”
Mr. McHugh had no further questions for Officer Mizzi, and therefore the court moved on to cross-examination from Mr. Sage.
Mr. Sage asked Officer Mizzi about whether or not she personally knows the wife of EM and how she was able to identify the woman in the images as his wife. Officer Mizzi stated that EM had identified her as his wife. However, she did affirm that she did not personally know the wife.
Mr. Sage then asked if Officer Mizzi was aware that Mr. Khan’s fingerprints were found on the note in the envelope, but not Mr. Yusufali’s. Officer Mizzi stated that she was not aware of this.
The following witness called by Ms. McHugh was Officer Louis Cameron. Officer Cameron works for the West Sacramento Police Department as an officer in the Special Investigations Unit. He has been a police officer for 16 years.
Officer Cameron described the incident of November 11, 2016, similarly to Officer Mizzi. However, Officer Cameron added testimony of a later incident where EM had found a ziplock bag with a letter inside his mailbox outside his residence. This letter was reminding EM that he did not want the images getting out. After speaking to EM, Officer Cameron made an arrangement for EM to call the suspects to arrange a meeting. He did not get to hear the exchange live, however, the call was recorded and he was able to listen to it at a later time. He described the call as a bargaining agreement of where and when to meet. EM and the suspect also discussed the amount of money, which dropped from $50,000 to $20,000 to $10,000.
A surveillance team of three unmarked cars was set up around the employment of EM. Once EM informed the suspect that he had the money, the suspect told EM to “walk down the street.” As EM walked down the street, a dark sedan that the team had deemed suspicious started to drive toward EM. At this point, the surveillance team sent over two marked police vehicles and the dark sedan made a U-turn.
Ms. McHugh asked Officer Cameron to describe what he believed to be suspicious activity for a vehicle.
Officer Cameron stated that the vehicle was parked at a nearby grocery store and was facing EM’s business with what appeared to be a single male in the driver’s seat. However, when the car drove by one of the unmarked cars, an officer stated there was an individual hunched down in the passenger seat. This vehicle drove around the block in a figure-8 style and drove right back to its original location.
The car was stopped a few blocks away, and EM was able to identify the driver as Mr. Yusufali and the passenger as Mr. Khan.
Ms. McHugh asked Officer Cameron to state what EM had told him at that moment. Officer Cameron said that EM told him Mr. Kahn was the man who handed him the envelope in November and Mr. Yusufali was the driver that same day.
Officer Cameron had found three phones, Mr. Yusufali’s, Mr. Khan’s and a “burner phone” on the passenger side of the dark sedan. Both Mr. Yusufali’s and Mr. Khan’s phone contained internet searches for EM’s business and his name. The burner phone was found to be the one with which EM had arranged the meeting.
Cross-examination began with Mr. Spangler asking Officer Cameron whether or not he had permission to look through Mr. Yusufali’s phone. Officer Cameron stated that he did. Additionally, he provided the passcode to unlock the phone.
Mr. Spangler asked Officer Cameron if Mr. Yusufali had told him that Mr. Khan had asked him for a ride, that Mr. Yusufali was only running errands, and that when he drove in a figure 8 he was going to get gas. Officer Cameron confirmed.
“Is there any evidence that Mr. Yusufali sent the note to [EM]?” asked Mr. Sage.
Officer Cameron answered, “No.”
Mr. Sage conducted the following cross-examination. He asked Officer Cameron if he had any evidence that Mr. Yusufali was involved. Officer Cameron simply replied about the Google searches on the defendant’s phone, along with Yusufali driving Mr. Khan to the scene of the incident.
Mr. Sage wanted to point out how helpful his client, Mr. Yusufali, had been to police throughout the entire process. Not only did Mr. Yusufali comply in handing over his phone and passcode, but, he also told the police where to find Mr. Khan’s silver BMW.
Closing arguments began with Mr. Sage. His argument rested on the basis that his client did nothing more than give his friend, Mr. Khan, a ride. He gave police his passcode, and led the police to the silver BMW because “he had nothing to hide.”
The People countered by stating, “It defies logic to say he had no idea what he was doing.” Ms. HcHugh stated that Mr. Yusufali repeatedly lied to the police, made a U-turn as soon as he saw the police, was present during the first extortion and had internet searches of EM’s business.
Mr. Sage asked the court to consider releasing his client on his own recognizance.
The People stated that Mr. Yusufali has a prior strike, gave several different names to the police, during investigations his computer showed evidence of fabricating identification cards and passports, and the woman he told the bailsman he was married to hardly knows him.
Mr. Sage returned by stating that his client is of Muslim faith and has previously encountered a bad situation when giving his Muslim name. Moreover, he claimed the prior conviction Ms. McHugh spoke of was a mere bar fight several years ago and he is not being charged with fabrication of identifications. “The person that appears to be more culpable is out of custody,” claimed Mr. Sage.
“Mr. Khan is out of custody because he posted bail,” stated Ms. McHugh.
Both Mr. Khan and Mr. Yusufali were held to answer on both counts. Their arraignment will be held on March 24, 2017, in Department 11.