by Michelle Lagos and Danielle Silva
Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury at Walters House
By Michelle Lagos
After a physical altercation broke out at Walters House in Woodland, Eric Wayne Smith faces charges of battery with having caused serious bodily injury. The court heard testimony from an eyewitness and a program manager.
On April 8, 2019, the alleged victim claimed that the defendant, Mr. Smith, punched and kicked him repeatedly in the face after a verbal altercation broke out at an event that evening held by Walters House, housing a rehab program called Fourth & Hope.
Earlier that day, the alleged victim claimed to have been “horsing around” with the defendant Mr. Smith. The alleged victim had claimed that he hit Mr. Smith with his belt as part of their “horsing around.” A witness testified that Mr. Smith seemed to be distressed after the described incident. The eyewitness stated Mr. Smith and the victim had never had any previous issues with each other. He stated that Mr. Smith was not a violent person, but was a “calm and collected” person, while the alleged victim was known for his aggressive behavior.
Later that day, at a picnic event held at the facility, the alleged victim tossed a pack of cigarettes at Mr. Smith. The witness testified that the alleged victim had been handing out cigarettes to other members previously, before “tossing” the pack to Mr. Smith. This led to a verbal altercation between the alleged victim and Mr. Smith, which resulted in a physical altercation.
The eyewitness testified that the alleged victim has been known for inappropriate conduct and misbehavior toward other members of Walters House. However, he was “shocked” that Mr. Smith reacted in the way that he did. Mr. Smith was seen by the witness and by other members punching and kicking the alleged victim in the face.
The defendant’s attorney followed with a police body cam video from Officer Brian Olson which showed the alleged victim talking coherently and being led to a gurney to be treated for his wounds.
The defendant’s lawyer proceeded to call the newly-appointed program manager to the stand. The program manager proceeded to testify that the alleged victim’s actions should have resulted in his dismissal from the program at Walters House. However, no action was taken against the alleged victim.
Closing statements were set to finish in the afternoon.
Is a Concussion Serious Bodily Injury?
By Danielle Silva
The issue of self-defense and the relation between a concussion and serious bodily injury drove the closing arguments in a battery case.
Eric Wayne Smith is charged with battery with serious bodily injury. On April 8, 2019, the alleged victim had thrown a cigarette pack at the defendant when Smith wasn’t looking. Smith is then said to have punched and kicked the individual in the face, with the defense and prosecution differing on the words exchanged before. If not found guilty of battery with serious bodily injury, the jury is also to consider the lesser counts of battery and, if not battery, assault. The three-day trial reached closing statements this afternoon from Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher and Deputy District Attorney Alex Kian, deadlocked on the arguments of self-defense and whether a concussion immediately means serious bodily injury.
In the prosecution’s original closing argument, Attorney Kian outlined the three elements needed for battery with serious bodily injury: the alleged victim must be touched in an offensive matter willfully and unlawfully; the alleged victim must have suffered serious bodily injury; and the act must not have been in self-defense. The prosecution argued that there was no dispute that the alleged victim had been punched and kicked in the face and that the argument for self-defense did not apply because the defendant had not been in imminent danger.
Eight hours before the event, Smith had been sitting in the courtyard when the alleged victim smacked the table with a belt and asked Smith if he “wanted a spank.” Smith had expressed discomfort at the statement. The prosecution argued that this event happened too long before the actual incident for the defendant to feel in danger, especially when the alleged victim testified he had been playing around and then walked away. Attorney Kian also argued the amount of force used by the defendant was not a reasonable response for having a cigarette pack thrown at him, stating the defendant needed to be “pulled off” the alleged victim. He also stated that belief in future harm did not constitute a defense.
Deputy Public Defender Fisher disagreed with the prosecution’s argument, stating that the defendant and alleged victim had no communication between the belt incident and the later incident that would have appeased the situation. In the hours between, Smith had been bothered while meeting a counselor and expressed his discomfort at having a cigarette pack tossed to him while he wasn’t looking. If the alleged victim was said to have been playing around with the belt, she argued that Smith didn’t know what the alleged victim would do when angry.
She also reframed the incident, stating the Smith told the alleged victim he didn’t appreciate the belt or the cigarette-pack throwing. Names apparently had been called and the alleged victim, who had been walking away, turned and challenged the defendant to a fight. Ms. Fisher argued that both parties had been angry and the alleged victim, who felt “embarrassed” from the incident, likely challenged Smith and then lost.
While the self-defense argument continued, the attorneys focused on their deadlock over whether or not a concussion meant serious bodily injury. According to medical reports, the alleged victim had suffered a concussion, which the report defined as a “strong hit to the head that hurts the brain.” However, testimony from Dr. Jordan Kramer, the emergency room doctor from the night of the incident, noted the injuries to be “minor,” as the alleged victim only had a forehead laceration and a headache, was alert and conscious and answered questions. The alleged victim was also discharged from the hospital two hours after arriving, being reminded of a follow-up for high blood pressure instead of a concussion.
The definition of serious bodily injury, according to the jury instructions, consisted of impairment of physical ability and listed examples that included concussion. Out of the presence of the jury, the defense argued that, due to the degree of the injuries being minor, the concussion was not serious bodily injury. The prosecution argued that because the concussion was included, it must be considered serious bodily injury. The judge ruled that the prosecution didn’t need to prove the degree of the injuries, but it was up to the jury to decide if the concussion was serious bodily injury.
In his rebuttal, Deputy DA Kian provided examples that the defense found disagreeable. On one slide for considering the defendant not guilty, for instance, Mr. Kian listed one of the rationales being, “Find Dr. Kramer and staff at Woodland Memorial Hospital were professionally incompetent at their jobs.” He also stated they must find the medical records wrong and the punching and kicking not to have happened. On the record but not in front of the jury, the judge outlined that the jury could find those aspects true but still not find the concussion to be serious bodily injury.
At the conclusion, the prosecutor then played a FIFA ‘19 video of a Netherlands player being called on a penalty kick. The video, presented with no volume, showed a replay of the Netherlands player attempting to kick the ball and hitting another player in the shoulder. The image then cut to the referee walking on the field, getting approached by the Netherlands player, and then calling a penalty kick. The prosecutor stated that the jury is like the referee and the defendant is like the Netherlands player, attempting to get out of the penalty kick.
Following the jury being released into deliberation, Ms. Fisher stated that Mr. Kian had originally charged her client with Penal Code section 243(f)(4) which dealt with great bodily injury, not serious bodily injury. She did not know until closing arguments that this would be a serious bodily injury case where a concussion would equal a guilty result. If she had known that originally, she stated she would have called an expert to testify on concussion. Great bodily injury depends on the degree of the injury, which comes from the defense’s focus on the minor injuries rather than a focus on if the injury was serious or not.