By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – In a suspected “driving while Black” case here, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi did the very unusual.
Sueyoshi – after a week of contemplation – reversed himself, and found there is not only just cause to re-open the personnel file of a Sacramento City police officer to look for misdeeds, but that there are items in that file which a defense attorney may be able use to impeach that officer on the stand.
But it wasn’t an easy fight for Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Eliza Hook.
Thursday, Hook continued the case of Caleb Macon – the delay gives her more time to investigate the information provided her from the personnel file of SPD officer Mustafa Mohammad, who was one of the arresting officers of Macon in a traffic stop that morphed from an infraction to jailings and two serious misdemeanors.
Hours before the Labor Day holiday, Hook moved to grant a motion to compel the city of Sacramento to hand over everything in Mohammad’s file to the judge to review because she suspected the city did not provide all of Mohammad’s file to the judge.
Months ago, Sueyoshi reviewed what the city gave him, and found that there was nothing in the file help Hook and her client. But, although she wasn’t sure, Hook suspected the judge was not fully informed.
“Something is amiss. Why was that complaint (that she obtained from a complainant about Mohammad’s actions) not in the file?” Hook said.
And, on Aug. 30, Hook wrangled with Deputy City Attorney Emilio Camacho, suggesting the city withheld information that could help her client. Camacho protested long and loud when Hook insisted that excessive force complaints against a possible dirty cop were missing.
“The defense has a good faith basis to believe that the City Attorney and/or Custodian of Record for the Sacramento City Police Department failed to provide the court with all the relevant requested materials,” according to a pleading by Hook.
Macon, who is Black, was arrested for “obstructing” a peace officer, a felony, about a year ago when SPD officer Mohammad – the subject of the Pitchess Motion – stopped Macon in South Sacramento. Now Macon faces years in jail after the simple traffic stop morphed into something much bigger. Rather than just being cited, Macon was handcuffed and arrested, along with his wife and brother.
At the hearing Aug. 30, Camacho didn’t exactly deny that the city had excluded excessive force complaints that Judge Sueyoshi reviewed in May. Camacho instead argued that the filing by Hook was improper and asked for money sanctions against Hook for electing to “drag everyone to Court for a third time under unfounded assumptions.”
Judge Sueyoshi, however, disagreed with Camacho. He acknowledged that Hook’s motion is “unusual,” but proper. He explained that the defendant wasn’t asking a higher court to overturn him, but to determine if the city has fully complied with the terms of the motion. He said he’d look at the personnel file again.
A week later, the judge told defense counsel that indeed there were items in Mohammad’s file that may or may not help the defense. He didn’t say if he just missed them the first time in May when he reviewed the file, or if they magically appeared this go-round and now were in the file.
He also didn’t grant money sanctions against Hook as city attorney Camacho had requested. The judge also left it up to the city and PD Office to work out any issues regarding disclosure of documents.
“If (the public defender’s office) wants to have a dialogue with the city, go ahead,” said Sueyoshi, apparently wanting to stay clear of some of the tough talk between the two sides in the case.
Hook has now been given general information from Mohammad’s file – she can’t talk about what, but it usually includes potential witnesses and their contact information that her office can investigate to determine if they can provide testimony to undercut the arrested officer (Mohammad) at trial.
Hook already has a place to start. Very shortly after the finding of the court in May that there was nothing to help her in Mohammad’s file, Hook said she “became aware of a complaint that is qualified as relevant and should have been disclosed during in camera review.”
Apparently, a “private citizen” filed a complaint in mid-March with the City Office of Police Safety and Accountability against Mohammad involving a different traffic stop in South Sacramento.
Mohammad, said the citizen complaint, “forcefully knocked” a cell phone out of the hand of an individual, also a person of color, “causing screen damage” to the phone, and bruising the wrist of the individual when handcuffs were applied by the officer.
Sacramento Police Dept. Internal Affairs told the citizen complainant on April 12 – well before the SPD turned over Mohammad’s files in May – that it had upheld the complaint against the officer.
“Your complaint of misconduct involving members of our Department has been thoroughly investigated. The investigation revealed improper conduct by the employees and appropriate corrective action has been taken,” wrote Internal Affairs.
Hook’s motions haven’t been shy about suggesting officer Mohammad could be a problem cop, noting that he and partner Jaguar Helper used excessive force and made a false arrest. And lied about it.
The officers were “untruthful” in their versions of events, the defense claims, and the information in their personnel files could contain “complaints of a similar nature by other citizens (and) would establish a habit or custom on the part of these officers to provide false information and/or testify falsely.”
The motion argues that complaints had been made previously about the two officers, and that “officers committed acts of unnecessary or excessive force, acts of bias and prejudice, illegal arrests, unlawful search and seizure and other alleged acts involving moral turpitude.”
Black Lives Matter Sacramento maintains Macon and his family, including his daughter, were “brutalized” by the Sacramento Police Dept. in yet another example of the SPD’s targeting of Blacks in the community, noting the high number of Black men – including Stephon Clark, who was unarmed – killed by Sacramento city police or county sheriff’s deputies.
A dramatic video of the Macon incident provided by “Cop Watch” – and obtained by the Vanguard – appears to show SPD officers making the arrest of Macon, and then arresting his wife and brother, all while a child cries, “Don’t touch my Mom. They’re arresting everybody.”