SAN FRANCISCO – Judge Rita Lin, after hearing a full preliminary hearing, following a break watched the surveillance video and decided the conduct by Roger Vasso, who is charged with possession of ammunition by a felon, was not felony conduct. She reduced his charge to a misdemeanor.
The first officer taking the stand testified that two sisters were arguing in the hallway at approximately 3:37 am. At that point, the defendant, Mr. Vasso, came out and allegedly shouted, “Shut the f*** up.”
She testified that one of the sisters was “afraid (he) would (hit) her.” The officer said that the man was identified through a “cold show up” although the alleged victim had identified him as a neighbor.
“Yeah that’s him,” the sister told the officer. “It looks like him. I know him.”
Under cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender Crystal Carpino, the officer said that the woman described Mr. Vasso coming at her with his hands up. She said that he never threatened to hit the victim.
Ms. Carpino asked the officer if she sprayed Mr. Vasso with roach spray or pointed the can at him. She responded that she was not certain.
Officer John Ishita of the San Francisco Police Department indicated that Mr. Vasso filled out a consent to search form. When they searched his apartment, they found a replica firearm, bows and arrows and in the safe, and they found ammunition.
Under cross-examination, Officer Ishita indicated that he called Mr. Vasso while in custody and Mr. Vasso gave him the combination to the safe.
Ms. Carpino filed a motion to suppress that evidence based on the belief that Mr. Vasso either did not knowingly and willingly consent to the search, but, following the hearing, Judge Lin summarily dismissed the motion.
Officer Adam Sandoval noted one of the victims told him that, following the “shut the f*** up,” that Mr. Vasso said, “Come at me now, I’ll shoot you.”
The victim said it looked like a black semi-automatic weapon. She said that she knew the defendant, he was a neighbor in the hotel.
Under cross-examination, Officer Sandoval said that Mr. Vasso never attempted to limit the scope of the search. The victim said that she was not in fear for her life and the officers never had their firearms drawn.
In addition, he described Mr. Vasso as cooperative.
He said that while the personnel at the front desk could not access the surveillance footage, his supervisor later obtained that footage.
Meanwhile, Molly Braun, a lieutenant with the SF police, did a criminal search on Mr. Vasser and found a conviction from December 2000.
While Judge Lin rejected the motion to suppress, she would view the surveillance footage.
Following the break, Ms. Carpino told the judge that there was reason to call into question the believability of the victim’s account. The video, she said, never shows Mr. Vasso in the hallway. Moreover, she said that there was a clear view of him, and he at no point in time appears to have a firearm – real or otherwise.
Moreover, she said that Mr. Vasso had not had a conviction since 2000 – nearly 19 years before.
Those facts and circumstances, she said, mitigate the charge he was facing.
In addition, she said that he was cooperative with the police, there was no real firearm found in the apartment and no other weapons.
Moreover, she pointed out that this occurred between three and four in the morning when the two women acknowledged they had a confrontation in the hallway and caused a ruckus.
The People submitted on the Penal Code section 17(b) motion, simply stating that the ammunition was found in the safe inside the apartment and he was previously convicted, therefore there was sufficient evidence for a holding order.
Judge Lin agreed with much of Ms. Carpino’s 17(b) motion to reduce to a misdemeanor. She noted that the criminal conviction was “in the distant past.” There was no evidence that Mr. Vasso was violent or had a violent intent.
She said, from the video, the footage is clear. “At no point is he in the hallway,” she said. “He is not pointing a firearm nor is anyone acting like it.”
She said, that he was cooperative both in giving consent to search as well the combination to the safe.
“This should be a misdemeanor case,” she said. “There is no felony conduct.”
She, therefore, granted the 17(b) motion and set a date for arraignment on the information of what is now a misdemeanor charge.
—David M. Greenwald reporting