by Sindy Lim
Woodland – The prosecution examined its first three witnesses to prove defendant April Lynn Wilson guilty on two counts: battery on a peace officer and resisting a peace officer.
On April 4, 2019, an employee at Woodland’s Quik Stop noticed Wilson outside the convenience store, appearing “intoxicated and belligerent.” A few hours earlier, Wilson had purchased a half-pint of vodka. The employee called the Woodland Police Department, and Sgt. Victoria Danzl—an 18-year veteran police officer—and Officer Carlos Barrera arrived at the scene. Sgt. Danzl tried to talk to Wilson, but the defendant—who has a history of mental illness—began screaming insults. When Danzl told Wilson she would get arrested if she didn’t leave, the prosecution claimed Wilson punched Sgt. Danzl in the face.
Wilson’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson, however, argued that Sgt. Danzl’s body camera recording shows Wilson never threw a punch. He claimed Danzl made the first contact, “losing her cool due to insults from a mentally ill woman.”
The People’s first witness, the Quik Stop employee from that night, testified on events that happened before the police’s arrival.
According to her testimony, Wilson purchased the alcohol around 3 pm and joined homeless individuals outside of the store. A few hours later, Wilson came back to purchase more alcohol. The employee, believing Wilson to be intoxicated, refused to sell. When the employee asked Wilson to leave, Wilson allegedly said, “F**k you. I don’t have to leave.” Eventually, Wilson left and began threatening the employee from outside.
Mr. Hutchinson questioned how the witness knew Wilson was intoxicated. When asked if she had seen what Wilson did with the vodka—whether she knew if Wilson drank it all by herself or shared it with some of the individuals outside—the employee said she had not.
The People’s second witness, a man who was parked near the entrance to the Quik Stop, saw Sgt. Danzl arrest Wilson. The man stated Wilson threw the first punch at the officer.
Attorney Hutchinson raised the possibility that the witness might have looked away during the encounter and missed something. He played Sgt. Danzl’s body camera recording and asked the witness to identify his car. Once the witness did, Mr. Hutchinson continued the video and asked the man to observe his head in the video.
In the clip, Sgt. Danzl approaches Wilson in a friendly manner, kindly asking her, “What’s going on?” She naturally leads Wilson away from the entrance of the Quik Stop. While Officer Barrera goes into the store to speak to the employee, Sgt. Danzl continues to engage in a conversation with Wilson.
When Wilson begins yelling insults, Sgt. Danzl points her finger at the defendant and assertively says Wilson either leaves or gets arrested. The sergeant starts counting down, but this agitates the defendant even more. Then, in the video, Sgt. Danzl’s hand makes contact with Wilson’s head. The witness in the car is looking down at his lap when this happens.
When the witness looks up, Wilson is aggressively flailing her arms. As Sgt. Danzl attempts to subdue the defendant, both individuals fall to the ground. This fall resulted in the officer’s one injury—a knee scrape.
On the ground, Sgt. Danzl tries to twist Wilson’s hands to her back, telling her to stop moving. Wilson continues to grab the officer’s arms and pinch her wrists. Officer Barrera comes out of the store and subdues Wilson.
After the video, Attorney Hutchinson asked the witness who he thought made the first physical contact. The man stated that from the video, the police officer did.
The People’s third witness was Sgt. Danzl. The prosecution asked about her Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to establish the officer’s expertise in working with intoxicated and mentally ill people. The CIT program trains officers to safely assist individuals with mental illness and/or addiction.
The prosecution questioned whether the sergeant grabbed the defendant at any point. Danzl said she did, out of fear. Allegedly, when the sergeant began counting down, Wilson stepped forward, “invading Sgt Danzl’s space.”
When asked why she didn’t just ask Wilson to turn around and raise her hand behind her back, Sgt. Danzl revealed she was concerned that she would be assaulted.
During cross-examination, Attorney Hutchinson stated most of the CIT training focuses on de-escalation with mentally ill individuals. He asked a series of questions to challenge whether Sgt. Danzl used the training’s de-escalation techniques with the mentally ill defendant.
A key question—did the CIT training explain that people with mental illnesses can have trouble following directions? “Yes,” Danzl said.
During the middle of Mr. Hutchinson’s questioning, the judge called a recess for lunch. The trial reconvened in the afternoon at 1:30pm.