By Eric J. Trochez
WOODLAND – A police officer here in Yolo County Superior Court late Friday admitted she found a suspect’s drugs in a tissue dispenser in a room, and explained, “In all my years of doing this trade, I learned to look everywhere.”
Michael Villescaz was the “victim” of the officer’s sleuthing, arrested and charged with three counts of controlled substance possession after parole violations, one on Oct. 19 and two on Sept. 30, which were then enhanced due to prior serious felony convictions.
Judge David Rosenberg sat in for the preliminary hearing, including the parole hearing that was being tried concurrently, on Friday. Amanda Zambor was the deputy district attorney and Deputy Public Defender Joseph Gocke represented the defendant Villescaz.
In the end, both hearings were continued but the judge left open the possibility of reducing the charges to misdemeanors because of an “antiquated” law.
Officer Gina Bell was contacted by probation officer Joel Hilton about the defendant’s unruly behavior, including refusal to follow simple instructions and to meet with Hilton. They tracked the defendant via the GPS he wore, per the conditions of his probation. The tracker led them to the Econolodge Hotel.
Econolodge Hotel was a part of Project Roomkey, an initiative that provides housing to medically compromised or disabled homeless people. At this hotel, they visited one of the members of Project Roomkey and, when allowed entry, they found Villescaz in the bathroom.
Villescaz was formerly a part of this program, but was kicked out for violating probation too many times.
When Officers Bell and Hilton found Villescaz in the bathroom, Bell directed him out and sat him in a chair. She searched the bathroom, and testified that, in plain sight, she saw what appeared to be a methamphetamine pipe on the vanity. Upon searching a wall-mounted Kleenex dispenser, she found some meth and three bindles of heroin.
After talking to the resident of the room, Officer Bell confirmed none of the drugs to be theirs.
The bathroom also contained Villescaz’ hat, a prescription bottle with his name, and his backpack. In the backpack, Bell found a phone and Hilton searched it, in accordance with the conditions of the defendant’s probation. They confirmed it to be the defendant’s phone because it had a picture of him in the background.
The phone had an interesting text conversation. According to Zambor and Bell, conversation indicated that Villescaz had been selling drugs. Gocke objected to this, claiming this fact held little to no relevance to the case at hand. Judge Rosenberg overruled it, saying it was relevant.
In the texts, someone asked him if he “had the sh*t,” referring to narcotics, according to Officer Bell’s judgment. According to Bell’s recollection, he responded something to the effect of “yes” and asking where they would like to meet.
Defense counsel Gocke asked Bell to re-explain what Project Roomkey is and whether the room was assigned to the defendant. Bell admitted it wasn’t; she said she didn’t know any other details about the room.
Bell described the bathroom to be “inoperable,” because there was a chair on top of the toilet. There were also several dishes stacked in the bathtub and the bathroom door was broken, and couldn’t be closed. The hotel room had two beds.
Gocke then confirmed Villescaz was not visible upon entry and was in the bathroom. Gocke then asked Bell to confirm whether or not she saw an uncapped syringe on one of the beds, which she did. When Gocke tried to establish that the syringe was closer to the resident of the room, Bell denied that.
Bell established that the syringe was not in arm’s reach of either the resident or the defendant. It was in the middle of the room, by the dresser in between both beds. To put this in perspective, the resident was by the door and the defendant was in the bathroom, both being at one end of the room.
Defense counsel Gocke then asked about the narcotics in the bathroom. Bell agreed that they were concealed and that she was not there when they were placed so she can’t confirm who did so.
Officer Bell said the resident admitted to doing meth before and having done so a couple days ago, but not since. The resident denied using heroin, being diabetic.
Gocke recrossed Bell, asking if the resident used a wheelchair and any prosthetics. Bell affirmed.
Gocke then asked if amputees can get diabetes treatment due to their condition. Bell affirmed. Gocke ended his cross by asking, “Are all individuals you ask usually honest about drug use?”
“Not all the time,” Bell responds.
Officer Joel Hilton essentially testified to what Bell did, confirming earlier details from his own perspective. Hilton describes how he assisted Bell in her search and how he confirmed the indicators that Villescaz was potentially selling drugs and that it was his phone.
When crossed by Gocke, all he was asked was to describe the height of the chair on the toilet. This was done to establish whether or not the pill bottle belonging to the defendant that was placed on top of the chair would be considered in plain sight. Hilton was significantly taller than the defendant, about 9 inches taller.
Detective William Silvermaster testified he said he saw the defendant handcuffed to his wheelchair when he arrived, searched the room and found nothing other than the meth.
Silvermaster stated that the woman was an associate of the resident, not the defendant, and was there because she had agreed to help the resident clean his room in order to have a place to smoke some meth.
Defense lawyer Gocke asked one question: “Did you search either [the resident] or [the woman]?” Silvermaster said he did not.
PD Gocke asked the court that the three counts be reduced to misdemeanors. The enhancement on the charges is based on a previous felony that states that same sex sodomy in a penal institute is a felony. This means that regardless of this encounter being consensual, it would be considered a felony.
Gocke stated that this “antiquated” statute, as he put it, reflects views of a period of time that aren’t in line or as progressive as drug laws today. With this in mind, the felony should not be considered relevant in enhancing the charges of this case, he argued.
Zambor stated that summaries of the incident indicate that the encounter was not consensual, but it’s difficult to fully determine the facts and if this is a strike against the defendant or not. Regardless, the counts shouldn’t be reduced.
Zambor noted that Villescaz has an incredibly long criminal history dating back to being a juvenile. He has not been free from custody for a significant time since the 70s. He has prior strikes for robberies and does not do well on parole, not being able to follow simple conditions. For these reasons, Zambor doesn’t find him to be a good candidate for charge reduction.
Judge Rosenberg found Gocke’s argument to be quite compelling and stated that the court is “open to it in this particular case.” However, because the motion was based on a factual basis that has to be searched way back in the 70s, Judge Rosenberg denied the motion:
“I’m going to deny the motion without prejudice. If counsel can provide the factual basis that’ll make the difference, then I’m inclined to grant the motion. If the factual basis indicates that there was duress or coercion, then I’m inclined to deny it,” he said.
Judge Rosenberg asked the parties if they would like to proceed with the probation hearing another day and both parties agree. It was pushed to Dec. 4 at 1:30 p.m.
Eric J. Trochez is a recent graduate from UC davis. He is from Los Angeles, California. He majored in Political Science and Italian. His hobbies include video games and YouTube. Subscribe to my channel @Tromanzo ND (lol).
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