By Kelly Moran
SACRAMENTO–– During a lengthy preliminary hearing this last week in Sacramento County Superior Court, a defendant accused of battery against three correctional officers at Folsom State Prison will undergo a psychiatric evaluation before he faces a jury in May of 2021.
Romaine Alexander Morgan, an inmate at Folsom State since 2008 for prior robbery convictions, is alleged to have randomly attacked three officers in the prison in September of 2018. Morgan is currently being charged with three felony counts of battery against a correctional officer; one count for each officer.
After Ryan John Jay, Morgan’s assistant public defender, brought the issue of Morgan’s mental health to light, Jay entered a not guilty plea by reason of insanity on behalf of his client.
Judge Allen Sumner announced the potential appointment of two doctors, Dr. Lauren Marasa and Dr. Denise Kellaher, who both specialize in forensic psychiatry in the Sacramento area, though he admitted he was unaware of their availability during the prelim.
The three officers involved in the incident were brought in by Deputy District Attorney Michelle Carlson to testify before Judge Sumner in Sacramento Superior Court in order for him to decide if there was sufficient evidence for the case against Morgan to move toward a trial.
Sergeant Robert Curry appeared first via Zoom, followed by his fellow officers, Larry Copenhaver, and David Bonomi.
In regard to Morgan’s mental state, Curry denied knowing anything about that, though PD Jay announced that Morgan had been complaining of “mental health symptoms” leading up to the 2018 incident, and that a CDCR 128 (notes taken by correctional officers documenting inmate information such as change in behaviors) had been filled out by another officer for Morgan on Sept. 17, the day before the altercation.
According to Jay, Morgan had also been housed in the prison’s psychiatric unit prior to the incident.
Curry explained that the incident started with him and Morgan, with Morgan saying, “What did you say to me?” to which Curry told the court, “I told him I did not say anything to him.
“I asked him what he thought I had said to him,” continued Curry, “he stated, ‘You better stop with this disrespect s––– on the intercom, or I’ll bum on you n––––.’
“At that time, Mr. Morgan stated ‘f–k you n––––’,” said Curry, “he then punched me in the face.”
Curry claimed that Morgan started punching at other officers when they ran over to intervene in the matter.
“We basically all used our bodyweight to take him down to the ground and subdue him,” said Curry, and “he struggled briefly and then he stopped.”
Larry Copenhaver confirmed Curry’s timeline of events, but admitted that “[he doesn’t] remember exactly what happened until [he] got to the wall area and was kind of falling on top of inmate Morgan.
“It’s hard to remember the exact image of the punch connecting,” said Copenhaver, referring to Morgan’s alleged attack on Curry, “but I know he swung towards his face.”
Copenhaver also told the court that Morgan “was talking loud and his fists were clenching and unclenching,” adding on that “his demeanor led [him] to believe he might attack Sergeant Curry.”
While it can be said that Curry was simply reading from his report, it should be noted that Curry, Copenhaver, DDA Carlson, and PD Jay all chose to say the N-word in court. It should also be noted that the defendant is Black, while those repeating the alleged language used in the confrontation are not.
All three officers repeatedly referred back to their reports because, as Curry put it, “I just want to make sure I get the verbiage right.”
When Officer Bonomi took the stand virtually, he admitted to slamming Morgan onto the floor as an attempt to restrain him, stating, “I lifted him from the ground and threw him straight to the ground.”
Similarly to Copenhaver’s testimony, Bonomi also admitted to not seeing the actual strike by Morgan’s fist upon Curry’s face.
Both Curry and Copenhaver sustained scrapes and bruising to their faces as well as minor bruising to their bodies, for which they sought treatment from the prison’s treatment triage. Officer Bonomi reported no major injuries on his part, mentioning that he noticed “redness and slight bruising” on his face and forearms.
None of the officers required any medical service outside of the facility
DDA Carlson and PD Jay will return to court on Dec. 11 to find out the status of the doctor’s reports on Morgan, though Morgan himself will not have to appear.
Morgan’s jury trial is set for May 14 of 2021.
Kelly Moran is currently a senior at Santa Clara University, though originally from Connecticut. She is majoring in English, with a focus on British Literature and Professional Writing, and is also minoring in Journalism.
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