THE VANGUARD WEEK IN REVIEW: Court Watch (Oct. 19 to Oct. 23, 2020)

Assembled by Nick Gardner

The Vanguard is an online news group that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and the courts, throughout California and the nation. The Davis Vanguard began by covering Davis and Yolo County with groundbreaking news about local government and policy issues affecting city, schools, county in 2006. And then expanded a few years ago to Sacramento and the surrounding region.

Today, the team has grown, encompassing about 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the State Capitol and Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.

Stories range from attorneys facing challenges over remote hearings via Zoom to someone being mistakenly called up to court for probation to a defendant being exposed about a drug deal through his Instagram account. In the last two weeks, four of our articles also became state and regional stories.

This week, the interns covered courthouses in Sacramento, Yolo, and Fresno Counties. They monitored several dozen courtrooms with up to 19 cases within a shift.

This is what you missed if you didn’t read The Vanguard,  just a sample of what we reported this week:

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Danae Monique: Julisha Douglas appeared in Dept. 63 on charges of PC § 187(a), felony murder, and PC § 29800(a)(1), possession of a firearm by a felon. Douglass appeared Monday morning with her Public Defender Brooks Parfitt for a bail review with the hope of reducing her $2 million bail amount. The defense’s argument was based on Article 1 Section X11 of the California Constitution, which states “ capital crime with a factor evidence when the presumption is great, violent felony offenses where there is clear and convincing evidence that there is substantial likely of harm to others upon release and the factor evident or presumption great, and felony offenses where the defendant has threatened another person with bodily harm with substantial likelihood that would carry out threat if released.” Deputy District Attorney Andrew Smith disagreed due to the need to ensure public safety in general and the safety of two witnesses involved in the case. However, Douglas’ hope vanished quickly when Judge Patrick Marlette from the Sacramento Superior Court changed the $2 million dollar bail to no bail. This ruling led to the defendant telling the judge, “I want you off my case your honor, you’re biased. You’re biased!” and further voiced “You are racist as f***!” After the defendant made this statement, Judge Marlette simply said “Okay” and further proceeded to listen to the next case called. Once the defendant was escorted from the courtroom, Judge Marlette asked a member in the courtroom “Am I racist too, or just biased?” Surprised by the accusation, Marlette continued to follow the court calendar unphased.

Reporter Hannah Skepner: On Oct. 19 in Dept. 35, defendant Kenny Goldman was charged with battery against a person with bodily injury (felony), assault with a deadly weapon (felony), and resisting or obstructing a peace officer (misdemeanor). Goldman refused to appear, and furthermore refused to meet with the public defender. The DA’s office objected to Goldman’s absence, mentioning that they will give the PD one more chance to meet with the defendant and see if he’ll agree to be present, and if not, the DA’s office will issue an extraction order at the next hearing. They are coming back Nov. 4. Also in court on the 19th was Stephen Simpson. Simpson had two cases, both of which yielded offers with a program that monitors out of custody service. Both parties agreed to continue the matter until Nov. 19.

Reporter Roxanna Jarvis: Two significant cases were covered in Dept. 42 on the 19th.

The first case on the calendar involved two defendants, Joshua Kennedy and Jana Lee, and they seemed to either be boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife. Both of them were charged with four counts of child endangerment regarding two children. There were two separate occasions and they received one count per child, per occasion. Kennedy received additional allegations on two counts, one for each child, for inflicting great bodily injury. Both Kennedy and Lee waived their right to a preliminary hearing, meaning they would be arraigned and after held to answer at a jury trial. Attorney Adam Weiner served as Kennedy’s lawyer, with Attorney Russell Miller representing Lee. DDA TeriAnn Grimes was the prosecutor in the case. Their arraignment was set for Nov. 13. Grimes put forward the offer and exposure for both defendants. Kennedy’s exposure is 17 years and 8 months, whereas Grimes’ offer to Kennedy was a total of nine years. Lee’s exposure was 10 years, but she would get a total nearly five and one half years with Grimes’ offer. Grimes is going to hold the offer open until the arraignment date, and then she will revoke it.

The second case concerned defendant Kevin Bunn, represented by Deputy PD Kimberli Miller.

Bunn did not appear in court, as he refused to come. Miller stated that it might be for the best, as he refused to see her when she tried to speak with him before the hearing.

Kevin was charged with elder abuse against his 81-year-old mother. Officer Alyssa Littlefield and Mustafa Mohammed responded to Kevin’s mother’s residence on July 1. There they were met by Kevin’s brother, who told them what occurred: His mother woke Kevin to eat breakfast, and Kevin accused his mother of not giving him one of the five houses that she owns, which was a lie. He also accused her of not letting him see his children, which also had no basis in fact.

She called up one of his kids, and when they did not answer, that made Kevin angry. He pushed his mother against the stove in the kitchen and began to strangle her with both his hands. His brother heard them fighting and walked in on Kevin over his mother and pulled him off. He had his mother go to the neighbor’s house while he kept Kevin inside and called the police. He waited on the driveway until they arrived. Kevin has had a long history of mental health issues, and according to a statement Officer Littlefield took, his brother believes that he hasn’t been taking his medications. When they found Bunn, he had no pants on, and after trying to have him wear pants, Officers decided to put a blanket over him to cover him up while they drove him to the station. They were unable to receive a statement from Bunn. he was speaking in incomplete sentences, and appeared to be speaking about other non-related topics. His mother had scratches on both sides of her neck, as well as redness. The next court date is set for Nov 5.

Reporter Julian Navarro: She heard about 50 cases Tuesday in Dept. 60. Many bail hearings but two drastically turned into crucial hearings due to the testimony that was presented by District Attorney Rona Filippini. The names of these two cases were People v. Kevin Holford and People v. Leon Brown. In the first case, defendant Kevin got into an altercation with a victim he knew and they fought over some keys in the presence of children. In this incident, the victim had a laceration on her forehead when she was tossed to the ground as the defendant left the scene with the vehicle. The motion to change bail from $500,000 to $150,000 was denied by the judge due to the prior history of the defendant and facts that were stated for today’s hearing. In the second case defendant, Brown had an altercation with his soon-to-be mother of his child over accusations that he was having an affair. In this alteration it was said the defendant physically hurt the victim and that there was a gun in the home during this incident which was hidden in the freezer. The motion to change bail from $1,000,000 to $150,000 was denied by the judge due to the seriousness of the facts in the case as well as the defendant’s previous history.

Reporter Tiffany Devlin: In Dept. 18 there was a case involving two co-defendants, David Fritz and Glenn Burglar, who were alleged to have robbed a T-Mobile store and a Verizon store. In the Verizon store robbery, approximately $39,000 worth of cell phones and tablets were stolen in a duffel bag. Fritz was represented by defense attorney John Gonzalez, while Burglar was represented by defense attorney Carmen Butler.

Four deputy law enforcement officers and one detective from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. gave witness testimonies in regards to these incidents. Three deputies gave testimony on the T-Mobile store robbery while one deputy gave testimony on the Verizon store robbery. The detective reviewed surveillance footage of both robberies, and was involved in executing a search warrant with another detective. The detective also investigated the involvement of two other suspects that will be named suspect A and suspect B connected with the robberies. According to the detective, suspect A admitted that he and Burglar were lookouts while Fritz and suspect B went into the stores. Fritz was alleged to be armed.

Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moore shared his screen on Zoom to show text messages from suspect A’s and suspect B’s phones. Butler made multiple objections to the evidence presented in court, claiming that the evidence was a matter of unreliable hearsay. Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moore believed that the numbers identified in the text messages between the four parties were sufficient, however Butler claimed that suspect B never made a statement admitting to sending texts to Fritz. Butler also claimed that since the contact names were different, there is no way to prove that Fritz nor Burglar were in fact the people identified in the texts.

“There is no proof that these are conversations between them, these are text messages. There’s no indication as to who actually texted these text messages.” Butler argued.

Reporter Dylan Ferguson: On Wednesday Oct. 21, in Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette asserted that in his 40 years of being a judge, he has “never seen a point” to pre-sentencing reports. Prosecutor Quirina Orozco had requested a pre-sentencing report when Judge Marlette interrupted her by saying “in my experience they are a waste of time.” and  “I am perfectly capable of parsing the factors…and determining what a fair sentence is.”

In Dept. 63, a bail review for defendant Richmond Butler took place. Judge Patrick Marlette stated that he was “unaware of anyone that had this many allegations” in his time of being a judge. The defendant had a list of sexual assault allegations for multiple minors dating from  2003 to the present. Prosecutor Quirina Orozco requested a bail of $500,000 and a confiscation of the defendant’s passport due to him being a danger to society and a flight risk. Ultimately, the judge ordered the defendant to be detained without bail pending resolution of these charges.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: Sacramento: Judge Steve White called the preliminary hearing for Joey Marks on Wednesday, Oct. 21 in Dept. 4. Marks is being charged with one count of felony attempted burglary and one count of misdemeanor theft. Home surveillance footage allegedly shows Marks and another man attempting to enter a residence. The two officer witnesses gave conflicting responses about the height and weight of the two individuals. The people tried to demonstrate that the person in the screenshot of the footage was Marks. Judge White said that the people established probable cause, but did not think there was enough evidence to go to trial. The trial date was set, nonetheless.

Reporter Linhchi Nyguyen: In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 9, Judge Helena R. Gweon mainly oversaw preliminary hearings for the cases on Wednesday morning. For one hearing, the defendant, Lawrence Martin, was unable to show up because he was at a rehab facility. District Attorney Sterling A. Wilkins was going to issue a bench warrant, but Martin’s defense attorney, David Garland, requested the judge to reconsider. Garland stated that the defendant was being held at Advance Health Care, “receiving acute care, subsequent to being a victim of multiple gunshot wounds.” Furthermore, Garland added that the defendant is “borderline homeless” and “has no one else in his life.” Therefore, he told the judge that he would submit to the court that this situation constitutes good cause for the warrant to continue. Attorney Wilkins then agreed to push back the preliminary hearing until Nov. 18, which will be after the defendant is released from rehab. Judge Gweon scheduled the date and decided not to issue the warrant.

In another case where a defendant failed to show up to court, Public Defender Damien L. Jovel waited for his client to show up for over an hour. Despite the extra time, the defendant, Robert Cooper, did not appear nor provide any explanation to Jovel. Jovel told the judge that he already discussed with the defendant about what he needed to do and was unsure about the reason for his absence. In the end, he submitted to the judge issuing a bench warrant for $5,500.

Reporter Julian Verdon: Judge Michael Sweet chose to delay the sentencing of defendant Talisa Hale because she was sick. Judge Sweet’s decision differs from his colleague Judge Michael Savage who sentenced a man last week despite the defendant’s concerns that he was coughing up blood. Judge Savage said that the defendant, Abel Elizando, had been out of custody for too long. Elizando will serve up to three years in state prison. It was unknown if Hale had the coronavirus and Judge Sweet did not indicate that that influenced his decision. These decisions come amid a pandemic where people with impaired immune systems are at greater risk.

Case 2: Wesley Petit was charged in an illegal marijuana growing operation, but his defense attorney, Justin Mixon, says he was just staying at the house and did not contribute to the drug business. Mixon said that his client did not have any belongings in the house besides the luggage he had by the door. Later on in the case Kitty Tetrault, the District Attorney, tried to bring up his criminal record but it was soon discovered they had a copy of the wrong rap sheet. Mixon pointed out that the birth year was the wrong one. Wesley Petit, according to Mixon, did not have a criminal record.

Case 3: Susannah Martin, a public defender, had to attend a long private breakout room on Zoom with her client Marcelino Medina. He was charged with battery against a peace officer, robbery, resisting against officers. The court took a break for roughly 10 minutes while Martin and Medina deliberated. Martin came back stating that her client did not want to accept the prosecution’s plea deal of five years in state prison. Instead Medina hoped for something closer to two years, something the DA’s office was not willing to offer. Judge Sweet then told Medina he would go to trial to which Medina responded that he understood.

Reporter Mia Machado: In Dept. 63, Defendant Jonas Ortiz, represented by Guy Danilowitz, was charged with a felony and is being offered a low term of 16 months in county jail. Defense Attorney Danilowitz asked the court to consider a probation offer. Danilowitz stated that his client is 41, works in construction, and although he has a felony record from 2017 and 2018 (and several misdemeanors mostly in theft and drug charges) and a couple of probation violations in 2017, he’s been able to follow his probation for the most part. Judge Patrick Marlette decided not to give him probation because of all of his prior violations, and set the case for a preliminary hearing for Dec. 3 in Dept 9, at 8:30.

Case 2: Defendant Brenton Stanphill, also represented by Danilowitz, came to court to plead no contest for his charges. On August 16th, a sheriff witnessed the defendant violate a traffic stop. When he pursued the defendant, Stanphill evaded the pursuing police officer, went 75 mph on a residential street, and ran three lights until he crashed into a telephone pole. The defendant was found to be armed and in possession of a handgun. Judge Marlette accepted his no-contest plea and found the defendant guilty. He will be sentenced on Dec. 17. The defendant waived time and will be held without bail until then.

Case 3: Defendant Gregoria Gutierrez, came to court to plead no contest for unlawfully being in possession of someone’s identification. His plea was accepted by Judge Marlette and sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years on probation. The defendant is able to serve his time through the sheriff’s work project. If he is not accepted into the program, he will then need to report to a county jail to serve his 90 days.

Case 4: Defendant Marissa Sarganis, pleaded no contest to her misdemeanor. On September 15, Sarganis was found in possession of property known to be stolen. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years of probation. If she doesn’t complete the alternative class offered– the deferred entry of judgment program: level 1, theft– she will have to serve 45 days in jail.

Case 5: Defendant Frank Essex pleaded no contest to his charges as well. On August 2 in Sacramento County, Essex committed grand theft when he stole personal property belonging to the victim valued in excess of $950. Essex took the property with the intent to unlawfully steal and not return the stolen property. Essex was sentenced to 180 days in county jail, with five days credit. He can do the rest of his time in the Sheriff’s Work Program but must be accepted by January 1st,  or he will have to serve time in jail.

Reporter Jose Medina: In Dept. 42, a defendant with a history of assault was charged with homicide of her own mother. Roxanne Cate had been having hallucinations thinking that “dragons” and “shapeshifters” were out to get her. She had taken her father’s shotgun to protect herself from the “shapeshifters” and “dragons” that she had hallucinated, which led to the alleged homicide of her mother. The preliminary trial intensified when prosecutor Matt Chisholm became visibly irritated with defense attorney Ryan Raftery’s questioning of the witnesses during cross-examination. Chisholm felt that Raftery was prolonging the cross-examination by asking irrelevant questions and kept objecting to Raftery’s questions on the basis of relevance. Judge Allen H. Sumner kept sustaining or overruling Chisholm’s objections throughout the prelim.

Reporter Ruby Chavez: On Thursday, Defendant Rochelle Becker-Grajada was in jail for her first time. Becker-Grajada was in custody for domestic violence against her boyfriend, and he stated to the cops she punched him a month prior to this current incident. Public Defender Rayla Freshwater wanted her to be released on level 1, but Judge Scott L.Tedmon released her on level 4 due to her behavior with the police. DA Anissa Garcia mentioned she “she tried to kick officers, in fact, she kicked an officer in the groin while being screened for COVID-19.” She refused to walk, was screaming and flailing around when they arrived at the jailhouse as Garcia described. Freshwater implies she has no prior arrest or violations, and it is her first offense. Judge Tedmon mentions Becker-Grajada, who had not been in court before needs to know “there is compliance and responsibility issue relative to court”. She will have weekly office visits with pretrial services. They return to court Dec. 3.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Dylan Ferguson: On Monday in Yolo Dept. 1, Judge Peter Williams appeared to be empathetic when telling multiple defendants that they should refrain from speaking during arraignments because they might back themselves into “a corner” that they cannot get themselves out of at a later date. Most defendants responded by immediately apologizing, but Judge Peter Williams told them that “it is okay” and he understands, however it is in their best interest to not speak on the record.

Reporter Kelly Moran: Judge Williams of Dept. 1 in Yolo County Superior Court handled a wide variety of felony and misdemeanor cases this afternoon. Several of the defendants are being held in Monroe Detention Center, including Ismael Farias, who had his bail reduced from $75,000 to $20,000 and Anthony Fernandez who is currently being quarantined inside the jail, most likely due to a COVID-19 threat though further information was not revealed.

Another defendant who is also being held in Monroe is Jeffrey Lee Graham who is in custody for a DUI with an injury charge. Graham was driving with a BAC of .18 with his girlfriend when he allegedly crashed the car into a ditch, and fled the scene leaving his girlfriend in the car. Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo cited his lengthy history of DUIs dating all the way back to 2004 in Iowa, which she called “very concerning behavior” as reason why he should not be released.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: Judge Timothy L. Fall called 37 cases on Tuesday in Yolo Dept. 11. Almost all of the matters were continued to later court dates. In one preliminary hearing, PD Martha Sequeira asked the court to clarify the terms for the CPO against Arturo Vazquez. DDA Deanna Hayes told the court that the CPO was modified from no-contact to no-harassment. Judge Fall asked that the CPO be reflected as such for the probation office.

Reporter Derrick Tat: The first case in Yolo Dept. 11 was a preliminary hearing for Jaime Flores. The defendant had charges of domestic violence. The victim first slapped him across the face, and the defendant retaliated by throwing his girlfriend down to the ground and struck her about 5 times with a closed fist. When the officers arrived on the scene  the victim had a bloody and swollen face. Later, when Officer Joshua Helton questioned the defendant, he acknowledged what had happened and was regretful and sorry afterwards.

Case 2: This was another preliminary hearing for Rosalinda Castro. The defendant had charges for abuse. She has three children: 17 years old, 14 years old, and eight years old. In an interview with the victims, they stated that their mother often hit them with her hands, plastic hangers, and a whip. The oldest kid had discoloration near her eye, bruises on her neck, and redness on her knuckles. One day, the defendant was hitting the eight-year-old brother. The oldest sibling then told the defendant to stop because he had a doctor appointment the next day. She then stopped and told him to wear a long sleeve shirt that would cover the bruises. The oldest sibling was fearful and went to their grandparents for advice. They responded by saying to wait until she turns 18 and to keep them out of the situation. The kids never reported these incidents because they were fearful that they would have to go back home, and would make the situation worse. Castro defended herself by saying that the kids had attitude issues. They were struggling to pay their bills and the kids would often keep the television on, that would make the electricity bill more expensive.

Reporter Carlin Ross:  On Oct. 22 in Yolo County Dept. 14 there was a 955 motion with Judge Stephen L. Mock, the People v. Tyler Ryan Garabata  (CR-2019-3314). The defendant had seven counts of felony on his record to be discussed, but the judge focused on three charges (Counts 1, 3, and 4). There were also two groups of evidence in this case, one of 1800+ pornographic photos from BitTorrent, and one of a fake Kik account created to solicit pornographic photos of underaged minors. The judge challenged the violation of PC §§ 311.10(a), 311.4(b), and 311.2(b), because they all entailed some form of commercial distribution of the child pornography and the judge couldn’t prove the defendant had any intent to sell or distribute. Additionally, and the most important part of the motion, none of the pornographic photos were filed as evidence in this case. Therefore, Judge Mock had to rule based entirely upon the defendant’s testimony.

Reporter Emma Phillips: Thursday’s preliminary hearing in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7 concerned defendant Raymond Obregon kidnapping and holding hostage a victim while forcing her to drive around Knight’s Landing, CA for 3.5 hours on September 27 of this year. The victim was called to the stand and examined by both DDA Alex Kian and PD Richard Van Zandt. She explained how she feared for her life, as she was in AFib and having a seizure during the entire drive, and did not want to call 911 or make a scene because she thought Obregon would retaliate against her if the police were involved. She suspected he had a weapon in his bulky jacket or black backpack, and did not want to put her life in risk by driving or running away, the latter nearly impossible due to her myriad of health issues. The victim had only known Obregon for two weeks before the incident, and suspects he is a gang member and/or meth addict. The preliminary hearing continues Friday at 8:30 am in Dept. 7 of Yolo County Superior Court.

Fresno County Superior Court

Reporter Emma Phillips: Dept. 62 of Fresno Superior Court pushed a lot of arraignments to later in the week on Tuesday morning. Judge Arian L. Harrell was very understanding as multiple public defenders explained that they needed more time with their client before arraignments could continue.


Reporter Victoria Lembesis: On Oct. 21, The District Attorney’s Office announced that it will be teaming up to combat election fraud during the upcoming election. DA Chelsea Boudin has been working closely with Dept. of Elections Director John Arntz to set up a multi-lingual Election Fraud Hotline. With this Multi-Lingual Election Fraud Hotline in place, members of the community will be able to report any type of election fraud or interference they witness. It will also make it possible for investigators to follow up on these complaints received by both offices. This hotline can be reached at (628) 652-4368.

Reporter Layla Mustafa: On Thursday, multiple District Attorneys across California partnered with Assemblymember Rob Bonta in announcing new legislation to cure the conflict of interest in prosecutorial investigations on police misconduct. Currently, California’s elected DAs are allowed to accept money and funding from law enforcement associations. Many have therefore called into question the ability of a prosecutor to unbiasedly investigate law enforcement officials who have potentially engaged in misconduct. The legislation comes at a time when community trust in prosecutors and law enforcement is low, and Assemblymember Bonta claimed the legislation was inspired by George Floyd protests.

There were 4 of 58 state DA’s present at the press conference to publicly sponsor the legislation…95 percent of elected Californian DAs have accepted funding from law enforcement agencies. There is currently a similar measure under consideration at the California State Bar which would effectively prevent prosecutors from accepting police union monies through an ethical rule. The CA District Attorneys association has firmly opposed the rule request, and is in opposition to the reform. The sponsors of the proposed legislation still remain hopeful that individual DAs will join in support of the new legislation.

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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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