By Jenean Docter and Fabhia Zaman
Provocative Opening Statements Heard in the People v. Lopez and Ramirez
By Jenean Docter
The opening statements for the case against Jason Michael Lopez and Stephon Jerome Ramirez were heard in Department 9 on the morning of Friday, January 26. The Honorable Janene Beronino presided over the proceedings.
Before the court reporter was even prepared to begin typing, Kyle Hasapes —representing the District Attorney’s office—framed the events central to the prosecution’s case as a “nearly fatal misperception” that took place on Mother’s Day 2016.
“They’re Broderick Boy gang members,” the prosecutor told the jury. Mr. Hasapes continued to describe a misunderstanding between witness “VB” and the defendants, in which the former assumed the latter to be Sureño gang members.
Mr. Hasapes described a theoretical narrative in which Lopez and Ramirez perceived VB as “disrespecting them” by “entering their territory.” Hasapes argued, “They wanted to make sure he paid.”
Hasapes declared that VB had made plans with another witness, “G,” and his brother-in-law, but stopped at Lighthouse Market & Deli, a liquor store, to purchase Advil and Gatorade for his wife, who had a headache. Upon leaving the store, VB allegedly found himself blocked in by the defendants’ vehicle, a black Dodge Durango.
In this version of the hotly-contested narrative, it is alleged that the defendants threateningly asked VB “do you bang?” after beckoning him over toward their vehicle.
Indeed, the surveillance video captured outside of the store reveals Ramirez and Lopez speaking with VB. However, James Granucci, counsel for Mr. Lopez, presented the jury with a different version of the events so dramatically related by Mr. Hasapes.
Granucci maintained that Lopez and Ramirez were not blocking VB in. Rather, Granucci claimed that the two defendants were simply backing out of the parking lot. In addition, Granucci denied that any interactions took place between the two parties inside or outside of the store—let alone any threatening encounters. The counsel for Ramirez, Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, passionately echoed this claim.
According to Granucci and Sequeira, Lopez and Ramirez arrived at the market around 3:00 PM. Ramirez remained in the car, using his phone, while Lopez entered the market. Around 3:45 PM, the two defendants backed out of the parking lot and headed to the home of a friend, “L.”
What ensued between the two parties was a highly-contested and evidently misunderstood interaction. Upon arriving at the stop sign at Andrews Street and Casselman Drive—in the quiet, residential Broderick neighborhood of West Sacramento—the two parties fell into a controversial encounter that lasted no more than ten seconds.
Hasapes alleged that a black Chevy Suburban (clarified below) carrying Lopez and Ramirez stopped in the middle of the intersection upon encountering VB. Yet, VB was no longer with his family. Instead, he appeared accompanied by his brother-in-law, and another friend. The People claim that VB noticed and announced that the defendants carried a gun, and remained frozen in shock until his friend punched him in the leg and ordered him to move the vehicle.
Ramirez allegedly attempted to pull the trigger of a semiautomatic weapon multiple times, while Lopez yelled “pop him, pop him! shoot ‘em, shoot ‘em!” from the driver’s seat.
The People claim that the defendants knowingly followed VB to the intersection from the liquor store, intending to murder him. From the intersection, VB drove to the West Sacramento Police Station while L called 911.
Mr. Granucci noted that, upon arriving at the station, VB acted uncooperatively, and was searched by police officers before being met by “Officer Q.” The two men spoke outside in the parking lot. During that time, VB noticed what he perceived as a black Suburban and identified it as the same vehicle driven by the defendants (the vehicle was a black Durango, but was misidentified by VB as a Suburban).
Granucci claimed that Lopez and Ramirez were simply driving home when they passed the police station. Officers Q, Rinaldo Monterrosa and Daniel Gill followed the vehicle, which stopped abruptly outside the East Yolo Manor apartment complex. Lopez put his hands up, and Ramirez fled on foot into the complex.
There, Officer Gill and his dog pursued Ramirez through the apartment complex. The canine located Ramirez inside of an enclosed HVAC unit, and bit his right arm.
Hasapes emphasized that the paramedics called out to treat Ramirez’s wounds wore gloves, thereby supposedly eliminating any source of inaccuracy in the gunshot residue (GSR) swab officers later conducted on Ramirez’s hands—which returned positive after analysis by the Department of Justice.
Sequeira and Granucci disputed the accuracy of these results, maintaining that “there are many explanations” for the results of the test, which must be fully examined before drawing any conclusions.
Police searched the vehicle driven by the defendants, and no contraband—including gunshot residue—was found inside of the car. Their apartments were also searched. While the two men possessed items of red clothing and gang-style photographs, no evidence linking either to possession of a firearm was found.
Granucci reminded the jurors that Lopez “had associations with the Broderick Boys since at least 2000, but it doesn’t make him guilty.
“The police did their job,” Granucci added, describing the thorough search of the East Yolo Manor apartment complex completed by police—a search which also did not produce a discarded firearm, or any evidence thereof. Following the apprehension of Ramirez, Officer Gill returned to Andrews and Casselman and conducted a thorough search of the intersection. He knocked on nearby doors, and spoke with the residents of the northeast and northwest corners. Neither household recalled seeing or hearing the alleged altercation.
Mr. Hasapes presented a photograph of discarded ammunition discovered outside the passenger door of the defendants’ vehicle, along with his statement, as proof intended to link Lopez and Ramirez to the use and possession of a gun. Yet, the defense counsel asserted that the type of ammunition found on the street was not consistent with the type of weapon described by VB.
“Quite a few areas of the evidence are inconsistent with the People’s idea of what occurred (between VB and the defendants),” Sequeira argued, as she dissected the claims put forth by Hasapes.
The People plan to call Detective Matthew Boudinot, a gang expert, as a witness. However, Detective Boudinot has expressed belief that a visible tattoo located on VB’s arm is gang-related. This tattoo would have been clearly visible to the defendants at the liquor store. According to Sequeira, this crucial element of the People’s theory rests upon assumption.
Yet VB maintains that the tattoo merely depicts a Day of the Dead skull and bears no relation to any gang affiliation. Regardless, Sequeira noted that if both parties were actively involved with rival gangs, they would have each immediately attempted to kill one another on the spot at Casselman and Andrews—especially since VB was no longer with his family, but with other potential gang members.
Sequeira also argued that the prosecution built their theory that the defendants followed VB from the liquor store from impermissible assumptions, rather than from credible facts. After all, more than one black Durango passed the police station in the video used as evidence by the prosecution. Moreover, VB went to G’s house and remained there for at least fifteen minutes—a detail which significantly shifts the timeline linking the defendants and VB.
According to Sequeira, this incident reduces to “salacious accusations by the DA” and “another case of overcharging by the Yolo County DA’s office because of the actors involved.”
Sequeira concluded the morning’s opening arguments with a single question poised toward the jury: “Look at the facts, not the assumptions, and you’ll wonder at the end of the day: why didn’t they (the People) prove the only charge they had?”
Codefendants Lopez and Ramirez Jury Trial Reconvenes
By Fabiha Zaman
On Friday afternoon in Department 9, the jury trial for codefendants Jason Lopez and Stephon Ramirez resumed after the lunch break. The codefendants are alleged members of the Broderick Boys gang of West Sacramento, and are charged with the felonious attempted shooting of an inhabited vehicle with a semi-automatic firearm. They have numerous enhancements for their alleged status as gang members.
Criminal defense attorney James Granucci, representing Lopez, began his cross-examination of the testifying officer. Officer Daniel Gill found the defendants in a Dodge Durango, which he followed before pulling them over. The officer testified that the car was driving the speed limit and even used its turn signals, and when Officer Gill turned on his sirens, they pulled over immediately.
The officer said that, once the car had stopped, Ramirez fled. Subsequently, Officer Gill and his police dog engaged in hot pursuit. Once Ramirez was located, Officer Rinaldo Monterrosa officially arrested him. Officer Gill later went back and searched the intersection and the car, but did not find bullets. He also talked to the homeowners around the intersection, but no one had heard anything and no one, to the officer’s knowledge, came forward regarding the situation.
Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes then conducted his re-direct. During this time, Officer Gill revealed that he had seen a round of ammunition in the area of the suspects’ vehicle when he went back after Ramirez was located. Deputy DA Hasapes then handed the officer a manila envelope that the officer identified as the round of ammunition he had seen on the ground the day of the incident. The officer also confirmed that it was not live ammunition.
The witness was then shown a photo he recognized as the view looking back toward the west side of 6th Street at the east end of Andrews Street. There was a car in the photo which was parked at a 45-degree angle. Based on his training, Officer Gill said that seeing a car parked like this gives him the impression that it allowed the passenger to easily escape from the car.
Before the witness was excused by Judge Janene Beronio, he was re-crossed by Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, who is representing Ramirez. The officer said that he knew how big of a threat the gun was and how important it was to keep the community safe. Ms. Sequeira then asked if the officer, along with the four other officers he was working with on May 8, 2016, did everything they could to locate the gun. Officer Gill answered that their searches found nothing.
The next witness called in by the People was Detective Matthew Boudinot, also of the West Sacramento Police Department. Detective Boudinot works with the Special Investigations Unit where he focuses on gang crimes and follows gang trends. When he was made aware of the incident a few days after it had occurred, he was ordered to respond to Jason Lopez’s apartment.
Det. Boudinot was given a photo of an aerial view of the apartment complex and the surrounding streets and was asked to identify Lopez’s building for the jury.
During cross-examination, the witness revealed that he had seen an adult female during the search of the apartment. Additionally, Det. Boudinot said that he took photos of the apartment but did not book anything into evidence and did not find firearms or any ammunition.
When Ms. Sequeira questioned the witness, he said that he had thoroughly searched the room he believed to be Lopez’s, and again confirmed that he did not find anything like bullets, firearms, or magazines to support a firearm possession. Sequeira emphasized that Lopez was in custody during the time of the search and thus had no access to his apartment.
DDA Hasapes asked if Det. Boudinot searched any other room, to which the witness answered yes, but not as thoroughly as Lopez’s bedroom. He did not know whether Lopez had contact with his wife, but he did know that he was the first to search the apartment.
The next witness was a civilian witness the People had called. The witness confirmed that he had reported an incident on May 8, 2016. He said he was never involved in any criminal street gangs and did not associate with anyone he knew or thought to be gang members.
On the day of the incident, the witness had his two sisters’ families over for a barbecue. After they greeted each other in his home, the witness and his brother-in-laws went to get supplies at the Arteagas Supermarket in West Sacramento. The witness said they took his brother-in-law’s car because it was parked furthest out in the driveway. He sat in the back left behind the driver.
On the way to the market, they stopped at the intersection of Andrews Street and Casselman Drive when they saw a vehicle approaching from the left come to a stop. The witness observed that the people inside the vehicle seemed to be yelling, screaming, jumping, and moving around a lot. He then noticed a firearm that was pointed at them.
The witness said it was a semi-automatic gun and recognized it as such because he likes guns and goes to gun shows. The passenger in the stopped car was the one pointing the gun, and the witness said he looked like he was trying to pull the trigger four to six times. His left hand did come in contact with the gun at some point. The witness added the passenger’s left hand cupped the top of the gun and pulled the top back toward himself about two to three times. The witness identified Ramirez as the one who was pointing the gun at them that day.
The People then asked the witness if the driver of that stopped vehicle was in court that day. The witness then identified Lopez as the driver and added that he heard him screaming “pop” or “do it” to the passenger.
In the witness’ car, the driver seemed to be frozen so the witness yelled, “Let’s go!” Once they left the intersection, the witness noticed the car following them and could see the passenger of that car still pointing the gun in their direction. The witness’ car drove to the West Sacramento Police Department to report the incident, but upon arrival they were asked to wait for a long time and, even when an officer had finally addressed them, they were searched as a precautionary measure.
During the cross-examination, the witness confirmed with Ms. Sequeira that he had testified for this case a total of three times before. In the previous testimonies, Sequeira told the witness that he had testified he was behind the passenger, but in this testimony he said he was behind the driver. Ultimately, the witness concluded he was behind the passenger because he remembers the car seat next to him.
The witness also gave different accounts of the windows in the car he was in and how long the entire stop was for them at the intersection. But, based on his independent recollection that day, he concluded that the windows were closed and that the altercation was 15 seconds (in previous accounts he said it was about 5 seconds).
Though the witness had mentioned he was very angry with the way the police handled their case at the station, Ms. Sequeira asked him about his initial demeanor on the phone when he first called dispatch. Sequeira asked the witness to confirm if he had told dispatch that he also had a gun and police should respond quickly before he does “anything stupid.” The witness confirmed he said that in his phone call with the police.
During re-direct, Mr. Hasapes began a line of questioning having to do with the witness remembering all the testimony he ever gave in this case. The DA also asked multiple questions about the witness’s knowledge of guns, and also asked if the witness was really focused on the length, size, or circumference of the gun or whether he was focused on his emotions. The witness said he was focused on his emotions, then was excused.
The court adjourned after counsel confirmed that all the witnesses that testified were subject to recall. The court is in recess on this matter until February 6 at 9 A.M. in Department 9.