By Nicholas Gardner
SACRAMENTO – It was a close call, but a Sacramento County Superior Court judge still found probable cause that a man—who was previously found incompetent to stand trial—assaulted and robbed a woman who has memory problems after multiple brain surgeries and cannot remember details of the crime.
Despite “paper thin” evidence, the court determined that Joshua Soules will face three felony charges for robbery, battery against a person causing bodily injury, and assault by means of force likely to cause bodily injury.
At around 2:40 p.m. on April 21, Sacramento police officers Steven Andreazzi and Emily Kane arrived at the corner of Traction and Altos Avenues to find a woman who had allegedly been assaulted. The right side of the woman’s face was covered in blood and a “fairly deep” laceration existed above her eyebrow.
Witnesses at the scene recalled seeing the suspect “tussling” with the woman and subsequently kicking her in the back of the head before fleeing southbound down Grove Avenue. Her cellphone and a leather backpack that she recalled having earlier in the day were also reported missing. The woman claimed to have no recollection of the incident, and was “confused and upset” by officers at the scene.
Both Officer Andreazzi and Officer Kane appeared in court on behalf of the prosecution.
Andreazzi testified to interviewing one witness at the scene as well as two additional witnesses over the phone. The witness at the scene mentioned seeing the suspect, who was wearing either a white or grey shirt, wrestle the woman to the ground before fleeing down Grove Avenue.
This witness admitted that he was unable to get a good clothing description, but was able to affirmatively identify the suspect as having a strong limp. Andreazzi left the scene without making any arrests.
The next day Andreazzi returned to retrieve video surveillance from a private residence on Grove Avenue. Upon reviewing this footage, Andreazzi was able to identify the suspect as a white male wearing a black hoodie and long denim shorts, walking with a strong limp southbound down Grove Avenue.
Officer Andreazzi also interviewed witnesses over the phone who had called 911 from the crime scene.
One witness described seeing the woman get up from the ground and begin to follow the suspect. In this account, the suspect was wearing a black tee shirt and tan pants.
Andreazzi then spoke to another witness who saw the suspect push the woman to the ground and kick her in the back of the head. No further details were garnered from this witness, however, as she hung up the call and did not respond to further inquiries by Andreazzi. The other two witnesses who had called 911 were unable to be reached.
Toward the end of Andreazzi’s examination, the prosecution revealed to the court that Joshua Soules had been arrested on a separate assault charge on April 24—three days after the incident in question occurred. Soules was wearing the same outfit that he had been wearing on April 21 and had a noticeable limp.
Andreazzi requested that he be transported to the police station, where he identified him as the man in the surveillance video. In addition to his outfit, Soules’ hair, height, weight, and build all matched what Andreazzi had seen on tape.
In the defense’s cross-examination of Andreazzi, the credibility of the officer’s first witness was called into question. The defense began with a list of questions challenging the witnesses’ ability to make accurate observations of the crime, such as his proximity to the scene and whether or not his view was unobstructed. These questions were unable to be answered by Andreazzi.
Additionally, the defense identified discrepancies that existed in the witnesses’ accounts, such as the fact that one witness described the suspect as wearing a white or grey shirt, while the other believed him to be wearing a black shirt and tan pants. The victim was ultimately determined to be wearing a black hoodie and denim shorts.
The first witness was very certain that the suspect had a limp—in fact, this seemed to be the only description of the suspect that he was positive about making. However, the second witness did not even identify this rather obvious characteristic.
The prosecution then proceeded with the examination of Officer Kane, who had transported the victim to the hospital and received medical reports of her injuries. Kane’s testimony revealed that the victim had sustained bleeding to the membrane in her brain, and required 10 stitches above her right eyebrow.
Kane had also responded to Soules’ separate assault charge on April 24, and was able to testify to his original account of the incident. According to Kane, Soules had initially told her he had nothing to do with the incident, but later retracted this statement.
Soules instead claimed, said the officer, that he remembered walking by the lady who fell down and hit her head. He pondered offering help, but ultimately refrained because he “had seen people get hit before,” and thought that maybe she was “looking down on the ground or doing something else.”
The defense attributed Soules’ inconsistencies to his mental health issues. Soules had told one officer that he was bipolar and taking medication, and Kane admitted in her testimony that “his story was scattered and did change multiple times,” which makes it difficult to determine which aspects of his account are based in truth and which are not.
The idea of the victim falling and losing recollection of the incident appears far-fetched; however, the defense was able to provide evidence that made a respectable case for it.
As it turns out, the victim had undergone two brain surgeries that made her very prone to spontaneous seizures and short term memory loss, requiring her to take multiple medications per day.
In the examination of Officer Kane, it was determined that the victim was unsure whether or not she had experienced a seizure. The defense used this information to create a scenario in which Soules could have been helping the victim, who was experiencing a seizure, which could have appeared as an assault.
As for the count of robbery, the prosecution had difficulty implicating Soules.
Prior to the crime, the victim said she was in possession of a leather backpack and a cellphone, But, after the incident, both items were missing, and the suspect was the only person known to have passed her.
However, neither witness described the suspect as carrying a backpack. When Andreazzi reviewed the surveillance footage, the suspect did not appear to have the backpack. The cellphone could have quickly been slipped into the suspect’s pocket, but video footage could not determine whether or not it was in his possession.
The defense’s final argument stood on two pillars. First, the victim’s history of brain surgery had deemed her vulnerable to spontaneous seizures and loss of memory, which could explain the incident that she has no recollection of.
Second, Soules’ mental health issues could have led him to provide an account of the incident that was not entirely true. Specifically, Soules could have been deviating from the truth by telling police he did not touch the victim, when in reality she could have been having a seizure and he was trying to aid her.
The court concluded that there was probable cause—it’s a low bar to achieve—for all three felony charges against Soules, noting that while the defense’s explanation may be true, it is entirely conceivable that Soules did in fact assault the victim. The court, however, was less convinced about Soules’ involvement, despite evidence being “paper thin.”
Soules, who months ago was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, is now due to move forward later in August toward a preliminary hearing phase after probable cause was established.
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