By Danielle Eden C. Silva and Samantha Romero
Investigator Testifies to Prior Encounter
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
The trial for Jason Michael Lopez and Stephon Jerome Ramirez resumed in Department 9, as witnesses continued to be called by the prosecution.
The first witness called by Deputy DA Kyle Hasapes was Ruth E. Pagano-Trn, a Crime Scene Investigator in West Sacramento. She has worked there for nine years, focusing on conducting investigations of crime scenes and processing evidence.
For this case, Ms. Pagano-Trn had processed a live bullet, also known as an unfired bullet, and examined it for fingerprints. The bullet had been delivered to her via manila envelope. The investigator noted that small, smooth objects have trouble picking up imprints and she could find none on this bullet. She had also processed a vehicle. Ms. Pagano-Trn said she processed this evidence in response to a formal document request.
Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, representing Mr. Ramirez, asked in cross-examination how Ms. Pagano-Trn filled out a processing form. The investigator noted she usually goes to the scene to gather information but this time she was
provided the information. She noted that the vehicle processed was analyzed but no cell phones were found in it. Attorney James Granucci, representing Mr. Lopez, then took over cross-examination, where the investigator noted that she did not check the car for gunpowder as that was not asked of her.
Ms. Pagano-Trn was excused and is subject to recall.
A witness who had been present for the May 8, 2016, incident was recalled. The direct examination for the prosecution began with a video. In this video, a black car and a white car are seen going in and out of a parking lot at different intervals, one car stopping parallel to a parking space to speak to another driver before driving away. Both drivers of the cars appeared to have gone inside the store, and they then came out.
This video played for some time. The witness was revealed to be one of the drivers in the video, this being the first encounter with the defendant he identified as Mr. Lopez. This interaction would happen before the witness and his family arrived at his brother-in-law’s house for a Mother’s Day get-together. The witness then left the family get-together with two relatives, driving his car to the Lighthouse Market & Deli to buy meat for a barbecue.
Prior to reaching the market, the witness and his relatives encountered another car. In his testimony, he noticed the other car and recognized the driver as Mr. Lopez from the other stop. The other vehicle had the right of way so they waited. The witness had not thought much of it, before one of his relatives began to cry out that there was a gun. The witness, as the driver, was caught off guard, and needed to be encouraged by his other relative to drive out of there. The witness had also caught sight of the one holding the gun, whom he identified as Mr. Ramirez. After the encounter, the witness drove the three of them directly to the police station.
One of the relatives then called the police, as they found the station closed, and officers eventually arrived, searching them before taking testimony. The witness told Mr. Hasapes that he had no weapons in the car but he did note the passing vehicle nearby.
Ms. Sequeira took over next. The witness noted Mr. Lopez had asked if he was from the area, which he denied. He hadn’t felt any bad presentiments from Mr. Lopez at the store in his prior encounter with him. The witness did note that he didn’t see the other car following after he raced away from that intersection. He also noted the difference in time between staying at his brother-in-law’s house before leaving for the market. The other testimony had noted 30 to 35 minutes but he changed his testimony to 15 to 30 minutes.
In Mr. Granucci’s cross-examination, the witness did note Mr. Ramirez had his arm extended with the gun. The witness also mentioned the car’s AC was on and one of the windows was down about two inches.
Mr. Hasapes took over re-direct. The witness shared he had believed it was going to be a normal day and didn’t expect to be followed after that second encounter at the intersection. His prior trip to the store had been to retrieve medication for his wife’s headache. He again noted he had seen the defendants at the store.
The witness was excused and subject to recall.
West Sacramento Detective Anthony Herrera was called to the stand. At the time of the incident, he had been with the West Sacramento Police Department investigating gangs and narcotics.
Detective Herrera had received the cell phones of the defendants and visited several locations to have the information downloaded from them after obtaining a warrant. He noted not having the resources at the West Sacramento Police Department and going to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office where he was unable to find anyone. Det. Herrera eventually approached Yolo County Probation Officer Sergio Pimentel at the Woodland Police Department, who was able to extract the information onto DVDs that contained thumbnails, photographs, and text messages. The prosecution then presented a ream of papers which Herrera identified as part of the contents.
Following this, Det. Herrera filed an affidavit for another warrant for a “chip-off.” He searched Facebook for more information on Mr. Lopez, and those screenshots were used as evidence in court.
Prior to the May 8 incident, Det. Herrera had encountered Mr. Ramirez on February 26, 2015. The officer had pulled over a car for running a red light with a U-turn. After pulling them over, Herrera had requested they step out and he took photos of their tattoos, which were shown to the court.
In cross-examination, Attorney Sequeira asked if the officer had manipulated how the clothing was worn to take the pictures of the tattoos. The officer noted they did have to pull up their shirts or lift them in order to have pictures taken of the tattoos.
Attorney Granucci began his questioning on the cell phones and how the officer had obtained them. Det. Herrera couldn’t recall exactly but he assumed they would likely have been from the scene or when the defendants had been taken to the station. The officer did state he did not allow them out of his sight until he brought them to Officer Pimentel for data extraction. After that had been completed, Officer Pimentel returned them to Herrera.
The court then broke for lunch recess, with Det. Herrera’s cross-examination expected to be continued in the afternoon.
Testimony Continues in Gang Trial
By Samantha Romero
The jury trial for defendants Stephon Jerome Ramirez and Jason Michael Lopez reconvened Tuesday afternoon in Department 9.
Continuing after the lunch hour, Defense Attorney James Granucci, representing Mr. Lopez, completed his cross-examination of a police officer from the West Sacramento Police Department. Mr. Granucci asked the officer if he had any recollection of what had happened to the CD or DVD that was booked into evidence.
The police officer stated that he did not remember.
Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira, representing Mr. Ramirez, began her cross-examination of the police officer by asking him, “Did no one document where the DVD went?” Ms. Sequeira additionally asked if there was a chain of custody or any documentation from the evidence technician.
The officer agreed that the whereabouts of the DVD were unknown. Ms. Sequeira asked only about the DVD because the location of the CD had been documented.
Ms. Sequeira proceeded her line of questioning regarding the cell phones taken into evidence. She asked the officer if at any point, between May and August of 2016, the cell phones were out of his possession.
The officer first denied this, then corrected himself to say that they were out of his possession at one point because they needed a “cell (phone) right.”
Ms. Sequeira then asked the officer if he knew which of the photos (the same ones earlier shown by Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes) came from the SD card, versus the internal memory of the cell phone.
The officer was not able to recognize the photos nor have any independent recognition of them.
Ms. Sequeira brought up the DVD again, asking if the officer had “manually uploaded the DVD or hit print.”
The officer stated that it was normal policy to upload the data, but, ultimately, he could not remember exactly what happened.
Attempting to regain the integrity of the officer, Mr. Hasapes asked the witness if he manipulated or interfered with the evidence. The officer replied, “Absolutely not.”
Officer Sergio Pimentel, probation officer for the district attorney’s office in Yolo County, was Mr. Hasapes’ next witness called. Officer Pimentel is assigned to the gang task force in which he supervises both juveniles and adults.
On August 3, 2016, Detective Anthony Herrera of the West Sacramento Police Department asked Officer Pimentel to conduct a cell phone extraction. Officer Pimentel performed the extraction on both the HTC and Samsung cell phones, but was only able to extract data from the latter.
Officer Pimentel testified that the information he extracted from the device was burned onto a CD and he was able to print out an “officer-friendly report.” Although the transaction was successful, Ms. Sequeira questioned the witness about whether the original report could be retrieved.
Officer Pimentel stated that only the officer-friendly report existed.
According to Officer Pimentel’s testimony, the HTC phone was password-protected and the software could not access the phone’s information. However, Ms. Sequeira confirmed with the witness that the phone was intact and he could have easily retrieved the SD card within the HTC, but didn’t do so.
Officer Pimentel was dismissed and is subject to recall.
Mr. Hasapes called his next witness, Lieutenant Nathan Steele of the West Sacramento Police Department. When asked about an incident that occurred in 2014, Lieutenant Steele briefly explained to the court that he followed four suspicious Hispanic or white males.
According to his testimony, Lieutenant Steele followed the suspects because they were following an elderly woman at a senior care park in West Sacramento. When one of the suspects noticed Lt. Steele, the lieutenant loudly identified himself and told them to hit the ground with their hands out.
Lt. Steele mentioned that two of the suspects did not comply with the officer’s orders and one ran off into the park. Steele testified that the suspect who ran appeared to have thrown a handgun into a bush. When the suspects were all contained, Officer Daniel Gill and his K9 searched and found the handgun in the area.
Baffled, Ms. Sequeira cross-examined the witness, asking only one question. She asked if any of the four individuals they had captured and identified were either of the two defendants.
Lieutenant Steele admitted that neither of the defendants were one of the four suspects identified.
The three following witnesses called by Mr. Hasapes were dismissed fairly quickly. Mr. Hasapes called Officer Daniel Gill (a recalled witness), Officer Cameron Simpson, and Officer Andrey Kinda, all from the West Sacramento Police Department.
Officer Kinda claimed that Mr. Ramirez’s car was stopped by officers because there was no license plate present on the vehicle. At the time of the incident, Officer Kinda took a body-length photo of Ramirez and then his hand, which barely demonstrates his hand tattoo.
All three officers testified to identifying the person in the driver’s seat to be Mr. Ramirez.
The court session ended early, as Mr. Hasapes stated that he had no more witnesses to call for the afternoon. Hence, Judge Janene Beronio directed the jury to reconvene the following morning.