By Ruby Zapien
Trevor Wright in early March, upon being approached in his vehicle by police officers, fled the scene with his friend and passenger Matthew Gonzales, who had seven felony warrants for his arrest. The pursuit, which reached 80 mph on city streets in Woodland, would end in disaster.
Just a few weeks later, the preliminary hearing began.
At the beginning of the hearing, the court was shocked to hear that Deputy District Attorney Larry Eichele subpoenaed 19 officers for this preliminary hearing. In total, nine officers testified on March 20, 2017, and seven are expected to testify Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
Trevor Wright faces charges of murder, evading a peace officer causing death, evading a peace officer, hit and run causing death or injury, prohibited firearm possession and six enhancements for criminal street gang activity. Mr. Wright is represented by Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke.
The first of the testimonies was given by Detective Dana Simpson, a Yolo County Sheriff’s Department detective who has worked with the Yolo County Gang Task Force for about six years.
In March of this year, Det. Simpson had a briefing with about eight or ten officers. Their target subject was Matthew Gonzales, 16 years old, who at the time had seven outstanding felony warrants.
After the briefing, Det. Simpson, along with other officers in a total of four vehicles (two marked and two unmarked), waited on Wisconsin Street where the subject resided with his mother and grandmother. At 3:10 p.m. Det. Simpson spotted a white Mitsubishi vehicle that caught her attention. “I’ve seen it in the past in Woodland and seen it in front of the defendant’s house.”
The white Mitsubishi pulled up to Mr. Gonzales’ home, and two individuals entered the vehicle, Mr. Gonzales and 17-year-old “IM.” Det. Simpson claimed she recognized both individuals through previous contacts. When the two entered the vehicle, Det. Simpson radioed the other officers that two subjects had gotten into the vehicle, and she asked the other officers to approach in the marked police vehicles.
Det. Simpson established that they used a marked car for a warrant to ensure an understanding of who was asking the subjects to stop.
Officers Tim Keeney and Pablo Gonzales were behind Det. Simpson and attempted to block the road in their marked vehicle, but the Mitsubishi decided to drive around it.
Cross-examination of Det. Simpson began with Mr. Gocke asking Det. Simpson to sketch out the street where the incident occurred. In describing the locations of all four vehicles, Det. Simpson claimed that they would rather have the subject come out of the house than to go inside.
The next witness called was Officer Zachary Ryno. Officer Ryno is a Woodland police officer and has almost nine years experience as a sworn officer.
On March 2, 2017, Officer Ryno was in the vehicle immediately pursuing the white Mitsubishi. He claimed that the vehicle had expired registration tags and, by the time it had gotten to the end of the street, it was going well over the 25 miles per hour speed limit. The vehicle took a turn and crossed a busy intersection at a speed fast enough to have the car leaning and leaving behind a trail of skid marks,
Officer Ryno described himself thinking of calling off the pursuit because the vehicle was increasingly pulling away from the marked police vehicle and his concern was for the safety of the public. However, about two blocks away, Officer Ryno saw the vehicle “go airborne” and decided to continue pursuit. He described the area as residential near two schools and a park, and he remembered seeing a child at the corner of an intersection while approaching the 1000 block of Woodland Avenue where the pursuit ended. Officer Ryno found the car had crashed, and as he approached he found IM and Mr. Gonzales in the vehicle. He tried to secure them and made sure he could see their hands before calling for medical aid. A member of the neighborhood who had been on the lawn of the accident stated he saw the driver, an individual wearing dark clothing, run off. Officer Ryno relayed this information to the other officers and remained on the scene.
“I was telling him to stay awake,” said Officer Ryno as he described his interactions with Mr. Gonzales before emergency medical staff arrived. He claimed Mr. Gonzales was going in and out of consciousness, and he said, “Fire and medical immediately started doing CPR” as soon as they arrived. Office Ryno explained that IM was awake and taken way in a gurney with a lot of blood coming from his face, and Mr. Gonzales had a little bit of blood coming out of his nose and mouth.
In cross-examination, Mr. Gocke asked Officer Ryno if the vehicle he was in had a PA system that would allow him to announce who he was. Officer Rhino affirmed, however, he denied having used it in this case. Officer Ryno also stated that he did not need a picture of the subject to be able to identify him because he had known all three individuals for about three years.
Mr. Gocke asked Officer Ryno if he made a call to AMR (American Medical Response) or the fire department when he saw the car “go airborne” or whether or not there was ever a discussion about calling for medical aid before arriving at the scene of the crash. Officer Ryno testified that there was no time for that. Moreover, he denied that they could hear anything from the accident because “we had our windows up and sirens going.”
The call was finally made within a short time of arriving at the scene. Officer Ryno ensured that there were no weapons in the subjects’ hands because they needed some sort of “scene safety.” Then he placed Mr. Gonzales in handcuffs with his hands in front of him. He testified to not having to move Gonzales because his hands were already in front of him. “I didn’t think he had any [injuries] that were super significant at this point.”
Officer Ryno was the first officer to interview the driver of the vehicle once he was arrested. The interview was recorded and lasted about 45 minutes.
“You never asked if he intended to [commit] murder?” asked Mr. Gocke. To which Officer Ryno answered, “No.”
Mr. Gocke followed, “Because as far as you were concerned, this wasn’t a murder investigation?”
“Correct,” answered Officer Ryno.
The People redirected, asking why Officer Ryno would consider calling off the pursuit. Officer Ryno stated that the street was narrowing and the speed they were traveling at was not safe.
The People called Det. Simpson back to the stand to identify People’s Exhibit 1. She described the document to be a County of Sacramento Death Certificate for Matthew James Gonzales.
Det. Gonzales testified to have made a call to UC Davis Medical and spoke to the physician caring for Mr. Gonzales. The doctor stated that he had life-threatening injuries to the pelvis, rib fractures, pneumothorax in the lungs (a collection of air causing lung collapse), and his liver was bruised.
Before breaking off for lunch, Ms. Yesenia Gonzales, the mother of the victim, approached the court to make a statement. Ms. Gonzales struggled to speak as she was very emotional. “I feel like I’m losing two sons.” She continued to state that the defendant is like family to her and she acknowledged that he made a “bad call.” However, she claims to know that he did not intend to kill her son.
“It matters to me what happened to him too. There are things you can’t take back, and I know that,” stated Ms. Gonzales.
The court was full of tears – from Ms. Gonzales, from the defendant and from the defendant’s girlfriend who was also sitting in the courtroom. Ms. Gonzales said, “He didn’t get to attend my son’s viewing. Which I know should be hard on him.”
Another officer was the first of many officers to testify in the afternoon portion of the preliminary hearing. He stated he received calls from neighbors in the area of the car accident, who claimed to have seen an individual hopping fences. When the defendant was taken into custody and searched, they found $790 in cash and a lighter on his person.
The officer stated that he conducted the second portion of the interview piggybacking off of Officer Ryno. His primary concern was Mr. Wright’s gang affiliation. He asked the defendant if he were still an active member, to which said Mr. Wright answered, “No.” He also asked Wright if IM or Mr. Gonzales were still active members, and he said that Mr. Wright stated that they were not.
The officer was asked about Mr. Wright’s response to Mr. Gonzales’ death.
“Very very upset. Visibly upset,” said the officer.
The officer was then asked of Mr. Wright was upset with him.
He replied, “I didn’t get the feeling he was upset at me. He asked me if it was his fault. He was crying and hit his head on the table.”
The officer testified that when he asked Mr. Wright why he did not stop, his response was that he did not like the police, Mr. Gonzales was telling him, “Gass it! I got a warrant!” and IM was also urging him to drive faster.
In cross-examination, Mr. Gocke asked about Mr. Wright’s demeanor during the interview. The officer stated that he did not have an issue conversing with him, up until the defendant was informed of Mr. Gonzales’ death. At that point, the officer said he was more concerned for Wright’s physical and mental well-being.
The officer was then asked about the gun found in a bush near the scene of the accident. The officer had learned that it had been thrown out of the passenger seat window. Additionally, he recovered evidence around the car, including Mr. Gonzales’ jeans that had been ripped off by medical staff. In his jeans the officer found $130 in cash, 14 2mg Xanax bars and little baggies inside a case containing cocaine.
The second testimony of the afternoon came from Woodland Detective Pablo Gonzales, who previously found several gang indicia on Mr. Gonzales’ Facebook page.
On March 9, 2014, Det. Gonzales made contact with IM, Mr. Gonzales, and Mr. Wright, who had been drinking in public and attempting to sell alcohol to others. At that time, Mr. Wright was seen wearing two pairs of shorts, the inner pair being red. Det. Gonzales claimed this to be consistent with gang apparel. Moreover, he claimed to have found weapons on the individuals.
The next testimony came from Officer Sergio Pimentel, a Yolo County probation officer with ten years as a sworn officer. He was asked to describe an incident on July 22, 2015, when he worked for the Yolo County Gang Task Force. He claimed to have made contact with Mr. Gonzales during a probation search of his home. During the search, he found hats with a “B” or “W” – commonly associated with Woodland gang members – along with other known gang indicia.
In cross-examination, Officer Pimentel was asked about the number of contacts made with Mr. Gonzales. The officer stated that at least two out of three contacts were probation searches.
Following Officer Pimentel was Officer Richard Wright, a Woodland police officer and sworn police officer of 17 years who also previously made contact with Mr. Gonzales. During that contact, he took a photograph. In cross-examination, Mr. Gocke asked if Mr. Gonzales was smiling in the picture. Officer Wright confirmed. Mr. Gocke also asked if Mr. Gonzales had been wearing a San Francisco Giants hat, and whether or not that was the photo was taken after the Giants had won the World Series. Officer Pimentel answered, “Yes.”
The next witness was Probation Officer Eli Weddel. Officer Weddel was once assigned to the Yolo County Gang Task Force, and was the probation officer for Mr. Wright for about eight to 12 months from the end of 2014 to the beginning of 2015.
Officer Ryan Bellamy was then called to the stand. Officer Bellamy stated he conducted a vehicle traffic stop for two vehicle code violations. Once the vehicle was stopped, he found IM, along with three other individuals and a 9mm round of ammunition.
After Officer Bellamy, Officer Mark Gojkovich was questioned. He testified to making contact with IM on February 5, 2016, after receiving a call about juveniles loitering in the area. IM was wearing a red plaid shirt.
Officer Sergio Pimentel was recalled and asked about a cell phone extraction that occurred in May of 2015 of Mr. Wright’s phone. Some of the images in the phone were entered as exhibits, and Officer Pimentel was asked to describe them. Among these pictures were photos of Mr. Wright making the letter “N” and/or symboling the number “4” with his hands, alongside known gang members; an image of the letter “B” used by VBN (Varrio Bosque Norte, a northern California neighborhood gang); and three of the XIV (14) “Bonds” (rules and regulations set out by the Nuestra Familia gang).
When Mr. Eichele attempted to ask about Mr. Wright’s gun ownership, Mr. Gocke immediately objected, stating Mr. Eichele would need a juvenile judge’s authorization in order to bring this information forward. Mr. Eichele reported that these petitions were pending, and may be able to be rectified during the next day of the preliminary hearing.
The final testimony was done by Det. Simpson after a phone call to “ER,” a woman who witnessed the gun being thrown out of the vehicle during the pursuit. She claimed she was side by side with the vehicle when she saw the passenger of the car “whipping something out of the window.” A black object then flew over her car, and she made a U-turn to investigate. The gun turned out to be a Glock 22, .42 caliber.
The hearing will resume March 21, 2017, in Department 9 at 9:30 a.m.