by Ransom Bergen
San Francisco – Officer Jan Guess was called as a witness in a preliminary hearing for a defendant who allegedly held out a weapon in the presence of the complaining witness. Guess described the weapon as a “boomerang-shaped spork/knife combination.” After a brief pause, he added, ““It sounds weird to describe if you haven’t seen it.”
The defendant is a woman in the process of seeking Section 8 housing. The complaining witness is an assistant manager at a Goodwill store.
According to Guess’s testimony, the complaining witness stated that the defendant had previously walked into the Goodwill and attempted to walk out again without paying for a jacket and two blankets, the total cost of which was estimated at less than $20. Before she could leave, the complaining witness stood between her and the door. The assistant manager told Officer Guess that the defendant shoved him and walked out.
The complaining witness followed the defendant for a block or two to confront her a second time, at which point she withdrew the oddly-shaped knife and held it out. The complaining witness retreated from the scene. He was called back to it later by Officer Traw in a “cold show” to identify the defendant, the knife, the jacket, and the two blankets.
At first, Officer Guess used the word “brandished” in reference to the knife when relaying the complaining witness’s statement. To clarify, Deputy Public Defender Christopher Garcia asked Officer Guess if the assistant manager had used that precise word. Officer Guess responded by saying that he could not, in actuality, recall the precise word the complaining witness had used in his statement. He further explained that the complaining witness had become fearful upon seeing the weapon, but that the defendant had not wielded it in a manner that was itself threatening. She had merely held it.
Because the complaining witness is 66 years old, the defendant faces a charge of elderly abuse. One of the conditions necessary to make this charge is that the defendant must have known prior to the act of holding the knife that the complaining witness was over the age of 65.
Assistant District Attorney Sam Beckerman attempted to show that the defendant did indeed have knowledge of the complaining witness’s age by asking Officer Guess if the complaining witness “look[ed] 66.” Officer Guess replied that yes, the complaining witness had looked 66.
Beckerman never asked for clarification as to what being 66 specifically looks like. He also did not ask what precise features Officer Guess had observed to assess the complaining witness’s age. Garcia, then, argued that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the defendant had known the complaining witness’s age. Therefore, the defendant could not be charged with elder abuse. The judge agreed.
The defendant also faces a charge of petty theft by force or fear. When confronting this charge, Garcia pointed out that Officer Guess had only heard from the complaining witness that the defendant had shoved him. Security footage has not yet been provided in evidence to confirm that statement. Until proof is received that the complaining witness was shoved, it is only the complaining witness’s word against the word of the defendant that the defendant used physical force before exiting the Goodwill with stolen property.
Beckerman, however, indicated that the statement the complaining witness gave Officer Guess included mention of the complaining witness’s state of fear upon seeing the knife.
The hearing will resume in October.
Before court adjourned, however, Garcia submitted a bail motion on the defendant’s behalf to allow for her release before trial. During this process, a member of Felton Institute, Randy Carter, testified to the character of the defendant, saying she has been receiving treatment two to three times a week, and is close to being considered for Section 8 housing. Garcia claimed that, without release, the defendant might lose her chance. Beckerman posited that release would put the defendant herself, as well as the general public, at risk.
The judge asked Garcia if the defendant had secured temporary housing to stay in before trial. Garcia indicated that Carter was waiting to hear back about that. Carter then left the courtroom to take a phone call regarding whether or not temporary housing was available to the defendant.
For a couple of minutes, the court was silent. Then Carter reentered the courtroom and informed Garcia that temporary housing had fallen through.
The judge denied the bail motion without prejudice, explaining that, with no place to stay, the defendant was at too much of a risk to be allowed release. The motion could be addressed again if the defendant did secure housing at a later time, however.
The judge expressed sympathy toward the defendant, saying the case “pulls at one’s heartstrings.” The defendant, who had been so diligently pursuing mental health treatment and a place to live, might now be in jeopardy of losing that progress as the case proceeds.