By Julie Maruskin
A police officer was injured when trying to break open a car window to aid an allegedly overdosing driver.
In a preliminary hearing, the defendant, Joaquin Cordova, plead not guilty to a felony charge of driving under the influence and a misdemeanor charge of driving without a license, and denied a case enhancement for a prior burglary conviction.
The prosecution called its first witness, Officer Ryan Bowler, to the stand. Officer Bowler testified to responding to a call at 7:02 a.m. The call was a wireless welfare check which meant that he received the call; however, the call hung up without providing any dialogue. He responded to the area from which the call was traced to and noticed a vehicle collision.
The accident had occurred between Second and North Streets in Woodland involving a gold Toyota Camry and a parked blue Toyota Prius. The officer reported that he often saw the Prius parked on that street when he drove his regular patrol route. When the officer approached the scene, he noticed that the two vehicles were against each other and crossed into opposing traffic. The gold car appeared to have someone in the driver’s seat. In his testimony, Officer Bowler identified the person in the driver’s seat of the gold car as the defendant.
Officer Bowler claimed the driver appeared unconscious with his head slanted back, his eyes closed, and his mouth open. His remembered the driver’s arms having scarring on them, which appeared to match drug track marks. He claimed that he was able to identify these marks from his previous experience with people who used drugs; however, he had only come into contact with someone under the influence of opioids fewer than about 20 times.
The officer believed that the defendant may have been overdosing at the time, because he was unresponsive as the officer stood on the driver’s side and attempted to speak to him. To his recollection, the officer did not remember whether or not the airbags were deployed.
After the officer explained the extent of his drug training, the prosecution asked the court to certify the witness as an expert on recognizing opioid use. The court denied the request due to the fact that the officer had a lack of drug training and experience in addition to not being certified as a drug recognition expert, or “DRE.”
The prosecution asked Officer Bowler if he was familiar with the drug Narcan. The officer responded that he knew the drug was administered to people who were overdosing on drugs and his understanding is that it is an emergency drug that works to reduce the effects of opioids.
Officer Bowler claimed that after first noticing the collision, he went to turn the vehicle off because it was still on. He noticed that the driver’s seat belt was stretched across the center console and clipped into the passenger seats buckle. After checking to see whether the driver was still unconscious or not, the officer claimed that he went around to the passenger side of the car to check if that side was unlocked because the driver’s side had been unlocked.
The passenger side was not unlocked, so he used his flashlight to smash in the window. The goal of smashing in the window was to be able to unlock the passenger side in order to unbuckle the driver’s seat belt and move the driver to safety. The prosecution asked the officer why he did not reach over the driver to unbuckle his seat belt, to which the officer responded that he did not reach over him for “officer safety purposes.”
When smashing in the passenger side’s window, the officer did not expect the glass to break on the first strike, resulting in his being cut many times by the glass. This injury later required hospital attention, and the officer did not work for the rest of the night. These cuts from the glass led to scarring.
After smashing in the window, the officer was still unable to unlock the passenger side door, so he resorted to cutting the seat belt off the driver with his knife. He then pulled the driver out of the car, as the driver was still unconscious and considered dead weight. He called for medical attention for the driver and himself.
The officer testified to Mr. Cordova slightly opening his eyes. When his eyes were open, Officer Bowler noticed that the defendant’s pupils were constricted, a sign of opioid use. Mr. Cordova asked the officer what had happened, to which the officer asked Mr. Cordova if he had used heroin. He gave no response, as he went back into unconsciousness.
After Officer Bowler finished with getting Mr. Cordova medical attention, he consulted with Corporal Officer Drobish, who was able to gather a statement from the defendant. Corporal Drobish reviewed his report with Officer Bowler, where it was stated that Mr. Cordova said that he used $10 worth of heroin in a parking lot before getting into his vehicle and driving off. The defendant claimed that he was feeling a high stronger than he had ever felt before because he usually used heroin every other day, and his batch he had used was a bad dose. He claimed that this batch led him to black out. He also told Corporal Drobish that he wanted to thank Officer Bowler for saving his life.
The defense walked through the series of events explained in the testimony and agreed that the actions made by Officer Bowler were during an emergency situation where it was stressful circumstances. The defense attorney asked the officer if he previously knew the defendant, to which the officer responded that he did not.
The defense asked the officer if anything prevented him from cutting the seat belt with a knife on the first try, instead of using a flashlight to break the passenger side window. The officer responded that he did not think to do that. The defense attorney also asked him if he had any knowledge of drug paraphernalia in the car, and he said he did not. The officer was asked by the defense if he administered the drug Narcan and he responded that the medics had done so. He had only checked on Mr. Cordova before the medical team took care of him.
The defense objected to the three exhibits of evidence presented by the prosecution marked as People’s Exhibits 1, 2, and 3. The defense claimed that information from those documents were not relevant to the case. Exhibit 1 was a DMV record that the court admitted as evidence due, to the fact it was a record showing that the defendant had had his license suspended on June 20, 2019. The court admitted the second exhibit, the Woodland Fire Department’s record, because it had a narrative that the drug administered, Narcan, allowed for the defendant to wake up. Lastly, the court admitted the third exhibit of evidence, American Medical Response records, because within the document it included the statement by the medical expert, “Once the Narcan took effect he awoke and was talking to us all.”
The prosecution closed with the argument that there was an issue of causation due to the officer being injured. He cited two prior Superior Court cases in which it was proved that the injuries sustained by an officer were foreseeable in an emergency situation. The prosecuting attorney claimed there is a standard that if there is a substantial factor, such as a person using heroin and crashing a car, it is sufficient reason to be the cause of harm.
The defense argued in their closing argument that injuries must be natural and probable, and the injury the officer had sustained was not a common or likely injury. The defense pointed out that the officer had the option to cut the seat belt or to reach over the driver and unbuckle the seat belt, but he unnecessarily injured himself.
The prosecution’s rebuttal stated that the defendant had a prior strike that showed he was a habitual drug user and had committed other crimes such as two burglary crimes. The prosecuting attorney used these incidents to argue that this was not just a momentary lack of judgment, and that the defendant’s continued use of drugs could lead to harm for those around him.
The defense stated that the defendant had been in an in-patient treatment since Sept. 27, 2019, and has been clean for 62 days.
The court stated that the DUI charge was not one that was in question, but the additional causation of injury that would lead to the charge being a felony was what was in question. Judge Paul Richardson, the presiding judge, claimed that whether or not the way that the officer responded to the scene constituted charges for causing injury, the defendant driving under the influence constituted negligence and the court found strong suspicious elements for DUI and causing injury to a person who was there to rescue the driver. Due to the driver choosing heroin and then choosing to drive, the court ultimately decided to deny the defense’s request to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.
The court set Mr. Cordova’s arraignment date for Dec. 9, 2019, at 9 a.m.