By Luis Gael Jimenez
The third day of the preliminary hearing for the Picnic Day Five came and went and there is still no conclusion as to whether or not Judge David Rosenberg will allow the multiple felony charges levied against the group to carry forward into an actual trial.
The day began with defense attorney Paul Pereira announcing that his client Antwoine Perry had dismissed him as counsel and that he would be unable to continue representing him.
Rosenberg allowed Pereira to withdraw from the defense counsel and excused Perry from the joint preliminary hearing.
Perry will now have his own preliminary hearing, separate from the other four defendants. It’s important to note that the five defendants might still be tried together at the same time if the case goes to trial.
Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens began by reintroducing People’s witness Detective Josh Helton to the stand.
Couzens and Helton walked through the statement that Helton took from Perry on April 22.
Perry told Helton that he believed the fight had been his doing. Perry was the first person to approach the unmarked police cruiser at the intersection of Russell Boulevard and College Park where the brawl took place.
According to his testimony, Perry told Helton that he initially said something like “f— you, what’s up,” to the plainclothes officers before he began “trying to get big,” which Helton mimed as someone throwing their shoulders up in the air and raising their arms in a suggestive manner.
It was then that Officer Sean Bellamy, who was seated in the front passenger seat of the minivan, interpreted one of Perry’s movements as hostile or threatening and opened the door to the van.
The force with which he opened the door and whether or not he hit Perry with the door were disputed by the defense and Officer Helton, with the defense saying that the impact from the door sent Perry flailing backwards and Helton saying the video didn’t show sufficient evidence of impact.
Helton also argued that Perry’s movements, when he was trying to “get big,” looked like those of someone reaching for a gun in their waistband and that was what Officer Sean Bellamy had seen as well, causing him to try to subdue Perry.
It was then that Couzens brought up the bullets found in a backpack belonging to Perry after the brawl had subsided. He also decided to bring up text messages that police officers had found after Perry’s arrest, insinuating that he was buying and selling guns and narcotics.
Defense attorney Jeff Raven argued that the mention of the texts and the bullets had no bearing on the events that happened on April 22.
“He had no gun. There was no gun… These bullets are now introduced later to justify the police officer’s actions,” Raven said.
The third day of the preliminary hearing marked a noticeable increase in tension between defense attorneys and Mr. Couzens.
Judge Rosenberg even had to step in at one point and ask Couzens to stop leading his witness, Detective Helton, through the wording of his questions.
“I’m permitting you to ask hypothetical questions, but not in such a leading fashion,” Rosenberg said to Couzens, after defense attorney Mark Reichel objected to the wording of a question three consecutive times.
Reichel was especially impassioned during the cross-examination of Helton, raising his voice several times. Couzens objected to Reichel’s cross-examination for being argumentative on multiple occasions.
“They’re just so biased. Clearly, they’ve rehearsed everything and they have a production that they do where the cops are the victims. I mean Elijah [Williams] is the victim,” Reichel said later outside of the courtroom. “[Helton] had no problem answering all of Ryan [Couzen’s] questions.”
Throughout the cross-examination of Detective Helton, the public allowed in the courtroom could be heard audibly reacting negatively to Helton’s responses to the defense.
Helton seemed quick and responsive during his testimony under the prosecution’s examination, but combative and more forgetful under the cross-examination led by the defense.
At one point, Reichel asked if Helton had seen a television interview that Perry conducted after charges were first filed against him.
“Yes, Mr. Perry was interviewed on TV. On FOX 40, right,” Helton said.
“Do you remember him saying that he would never hit a cop as a black man,” Reichel said. (What Perry actually said was, “I know with all that’s going on, I would never hit a police officer because I’m black.”)
“No, I don’t recall that,” Helton said.
Helton later went on to emphasize that Alexander Craver was strangling Officer Steve Ramos during their conflict.
Helton then refused to say that Craver was “defending” himself against Ramos, who had gone from being “strangled,” to gaining a top mount fighting position over Craver.
Helton claimed that the word “defense” has an implication that implies someone is being attacked and that, instead of defending himself, Craver was instead countering or cancelling the move by Ramos to gain grappling advantage, not defending himself.
The defense counsel would later again argue with Helton over whether officers were engaging with the head and neck of the defendants. Helton held steadfast that the officers were instead going for the shoulders of the defendants.
Reichel mentioned the dashcam video where Ramos can be seen grappling with Angelica Reyes.
“That [dashcam] video, at a point, shows Ramos’ arm around her neck,” Reichel asked Helton.
“His arm looks like it’s somewhere near her head or neck. I can’t say,” Helton said.
Helton would also argue that he wasn’t sure what Ramos’ intent was when he began grappling with Reyes.
“I do not know his [Ramos’] intent with the grapple, but at one point, Ms. Reyes did end up on the ground,” Helton said.
Reichel argued that Reyes was being “thrown around like a ragdoll,” but Helton refused to testify to that.
He argued instead that they were moving around “in a fashion,” but that she wasn’t being manhandled the way Reichel interpreted.
The growing tension between defense counsel and the prosecution and their witnesses came to an anticlimactic end when the day was called to an early end after defense attorney Emily Fisher left to take care of a family emergency.
The preliminary hearing will resume on Aug. 30 at 10:00 a.m., on the fifth floor of the Yolo County Superior Courthouse in Woodland, California.