In a way, the first day of what figures to be a lengthy preliminary hearing for the five Picnic Day co-defendants was anti-climatic. There were no startling new revelations and the video shown was the familiar dashcam, and a fairly limited handheld shot from the red SUV that followed the van through the intersection on that fateful day of April 22, 2017.
We saw the first two of ten prosecution witnesses in a preliminary hearing that will briefly resume Friday afternoon from 2 to 4 pm, and then not until August 29 through 31. The defense announced its plans to put on its own case – highly unusual for a preliminary hearing.
Jeff Raven, representing Izsir Price, drew first blood with a fiery objection to admitting Antwoine Perry’s backpack into evidence, arguing that it and its contents – which included a dozen rounds of 9 mm bullets – were prejudicial and that the prosecution’s case hinges on the far-fetched theory that Mr. Perry made a threatening gesture which caused Sergeant Stephen Ramos to exit the van and initiate the fisticuffs.
Mr. Raven’s objection was joined by the rest of the defense attorneys, but Judge David Rosenberg reserved his ruling until the end of the proceedings.
Detective Walker noted in her testimony that Elijah Williams was not a student at Davis and was also not familiar with the city, as he described the party as being at a frat house on E Street where a big commotion occurred.
He told her he saw a fight in the roadway, and ended up getting into a fight where he swung at but did not make contact, according to him, with an individual who turned out to be Detective Ryan Bellamy of the Davis Police.
The man he correctly identified as wearing a light blue collared shirt. He noted that he saw a military-style necklace, which looked like a dog tag from the military, but he failed to recognize that it was a police badge.
According to what he told the officer, he fell on top of Det. Bellamy, then Ryan Bellamy yelled, “Stop stop it’s the cops.” Mr. Williams said, “What are you talking about bro?” Mr. Bellamy then yelled, “Stop resisting!”
At this point, Det. Bellamy had Mr. Williams in a headlock, so he pushed Det. Bellamy off him and fled the scene.
Detective Walker testified that Mr. Williams seemed confused by the claim that Detective Bellamy was a police officer.
He acknowledged having had two beers, but denied using drugs.
Detective Walker made a big deal out of what she called a collapsed ring finger on his right hand. She said from her experience that indicated that he had been in lots of fights. Under several rounds of examination she acknowledged not having medical experience with this, nor knowing potential other causes.
She testified that there was no sign of fresh wounds on his hand or any other trauma. She also testified that he explained his finger injury as being from playing rugby over the years.
Detective Walker indicated that Mr. Williams first offered that his explanation for being in the fight was that someone swung at him. He later changed or modified his story, saying he saw an African American being punched by a white cop in the streets, though he denied knowing they were cops at the time. He asked her, what would you do?
He also told her he had not previously been in a fight, but that if he punched someone “he would be done.”
Under cross-examination, Detective Walker acknowledged not asking if he knew they were real cops. She did testify that he explained fleeing, stating that “he didn’t want to get Tased or something.”
She described him as polite and cooperative, though at one point she warned him, “Don’t lie to me.”
Following the lunch break, Detective Walker described her interview with Alexander Craver who told her, prior to being Mirandized, “I know why I’m here, it’s because he was an undercover.”
But, like Elijah Williams, he said that he did not know Sgt. Ramos was a cop when he started engaging with him – instead, he found out during the course of their altercation.
He acknowledged smoking a blunt for which he had a medical marijuana card and having three 12-oz beers, along with something called a “buzzball.”
He was there with a number of friends, including Iszir Price and Angelica Reyes.
Mr. Craver described a party that got out of hand. He said he got involved when he saw Angelica get hit twice, but he initially didn’t see the police ID.
He described wrestling with Sgt. Ramos, pulling him down, and he put his arms around him as if putting him into a chokehold, though he said it wasn’t his intent to choke him out.
At this point Sgt. Ramos told him that he was a cop, at which point he said that he gave up and Sgt. Ramos apprehended him. He denied knowing Ramos was an undercover cop prior to the claim by Sgt. Ramos, at which point he also saw the badge around his neck.
Mr. Craver acknowledged that he was incensed to see the officer hitting a female. Detective Walker testified that at one point Sgt. Ramos did grab Ms. Reyes, put her in a chokehold and throw her to the ground. Under redirect, she testified that this was not the beginning of the altercation and that Ms. Reyes had punched the sergeant and later kicked him in the face.
Mr. Craver denied punching the officer, and Det. Walker said that she could not be sure he wasn’t one of the people punching Sgt. Ramos at the outset.
Under cross-examination she testified that Mr. Craver did not appear drunk and described him as likable.
He told her, “I didn’t know he was an undercover cop.”
Detective Walker told Deputy DA Ryan Couzens that she didn’t think he was telling the whole story. She did not have access to the video at the time of their interview, but, according to her, the video was inconsistent with Mr. Craver’s claims.
However, under further cross, she acknowledged that she could not see Mr. Craver as one of the individuals throwing punches on Sgt. Ramos and, while fists were flying at Ramos, he was throwing his own as well.
She testified at one point that she is not a video expert and that it was hard to tell what was happening. She said that some things are more clear than others in the video.
Deputy DA Couzens then presented two videos. One was from an individual in the red SUV who told Detective Walker he saw the u-turn and thought that the crowd was preventing the van from being able to complete the u-turn and surrounded the van.
He told her that he could hear an exchange of profanities in the crowd and that he knew that these were police officers because he saw the badge around the driver’s neck.
He described a honk as being 1 second to 1.5 seconds. He described it as the “honk sounded like a move out of the way honk.”
The second video comes from the dashcam that has been publicly released. The woman who turned it in was agitated because she was visiting a dying friend at the hospital and the crowd was impeding their progress.
She described the scene as a van making a u-turn and stopping because the group was blocking the street.
Her key insight was she saw Antwoine Perry, whom she later identified as wearing a bright orange shirt, moving rapidly toward the van and making an alarming motion with his hand toward his pocket that she thought was either a weapon or a cell phone.
The video shot from the SUV mainly shows the fight between Sgt. Ramos and Mr. Craver. Here, Detective Walker showed where Mr. Craver is on the ground and has his legs wrapped around Sgt. Ramos, and then a few seconds later he appears to surrender and Sgt. Ramos takes him into custody. She testified that contradicts Mr. Craver’s contention that he immediately surrendered upon learning he was a cop.
However defense attorney Eric Hintz noted there is a clear point where Mr. Craver appears to give up and relax and the badge does become visible.
Under cross from Mr. Raven, Detective Walker acknowledged that nowhere can you hear the officers identify themselves as police.
There will be at least two witnesses on Friday, with the preliminary hearing taking the next two weeks off before resuming on the 29th.
—David M. Greenwald reporting