Judge Refuses to Reduce Charges in “Criminal Threat” Case

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By Adam Ruthenbeck

A preliminary hearing was held on Wednesday, November 20, in front of Judge Christine Van Aken for a man accused of posing a criminal threat.  The defendant, Donell Henderson, is facing felony charges for harassing the complaining witness on the corner of Geary and Hyde.

The hearing began with testimony from the complaining witness.  Assistant District Attorney Larry de Souza went through some questions to get her to recount what had happened during the incident.  The witness testified that she had walked to the store to buy soup at around 11:20 pm back on November 2.  When she exited the store, she noticed a man whom she had never seen before say, “Hey baby,” to her.  She continued walking toward the intersection to cross the street when she saw that he was walking toward her.

At this point, the alleged victim told Henderson to stay away, but he kept approaching.  She yelled at him to get away, when he allegedly reached for a knife and told her that he was going to stab her.  The witness then ran into the intersection, but was still being followed.  She stated that it was at this point she pulled out a bottle of pepper spray that was  on her keychain and sprayed it behind her toward him. Deputy Public Defender Eric McBurney would later point out that police body camera footage recorded her stating to the police that she pulled the pepper spray before he threatened to stab her.

The complaining witness testified that she ran back into the store and told the owner what was happening.  She looked outside and saw Mr. Henderson walking away but still looking at her.  Henderson was shaking his head during much of her testimony.

During cross-examination, McBurney questioned whether or not the complaining witness ever actually saw a knife.  She admitted that she didn’t see a knife, although he threatened to stab her.  McBurney then asked if any physical contact was made during the incident.  She replied that there was no contact.

Following the alleged victim’s testimony, Officer Chrystie Hill was called to the stand.  Hill and her partner responded to the call from the store and later detained Mr. Henderson.  Mr. McBurney asked Hill if there was a knife or any weapon on Henderson when he was searched.  There was no weapon found, but there was a fork.  ADA de Souza had no questions.

Due to the nature of a violation of California Penal Code section 422, it is up to the district attorney and the judge to use discretion as to whether the offense should be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  McBurney argued that because there was no deadly weapon and no physical contact, there was no realistic threat to cause great bodily harm to the complaining witness.  Therefore, the alleged “criminal threat” was not at a felony level and he requested that it be charged as a misdemeanor.

Judge Van Aken denied this request, stating that the People have provided sufficient evidence that Mr. Henderson posed a threat of great bodily harm to the alleged victim at the level of a felony offense.  She acknowledged McBurney’s arguments, but was struck by the victim’s testimony and decided that a felony charge is appropriate. Mr. Henderson is scheduled for arraignment on December 4 in Department 22.


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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