The Vanguard Week In Review: Court Watch (Nov. 2 to Nov. 6, 2020)

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Assembled by Madison Forwood 

(The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. In the past few years, the online news source has been able to expand to Sacramento and the surrounding regions. 

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 of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California. 

Stories this week range from violent domestic disputes among spouses to unbearably cruel animal abuse to a dog. Notably, the court calendar’s seemed to be quite packed with continuances, and DUI cases. 

This week, interns covered courthouses in Sacramento, Yolo, and Fresno counties. They monitored more than 20 courtrooms, and dozens of cases in each court shift.)

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Cailin Garcia: On Nov. 3,  Dept. 63 of Sacramento Superior Court, Judge Patrick Marlette was presiding over a case involving Petra Gabriel, who allegedly doused her dog with an accelerant and then set him on fire. Her dog suffered from severe burns and potential loss of his eyes and ear as a result of the arson. Gabriel is facing two felony charges in this case: one charge for maliciously injuring an animal and another for committing a malicious act of arson. She is also involved in two other cases unrelated to this incident. Public defender Damien Jovel appeared in court via Zoom for Gabriel, who was not present for the proceeding. Jovel wanted a plea deal of one strike and four years in prison, which was rejected by Deputy DA Hilary Bagley-Franzoia. Bagley, who is also head of the Sacramento Animal Cruelty Prosecution Unit, felt that Gabriel should spend at least seven years in prison, especially considering Gabriel has a past history of committing arson against humans. The defense rejected the prosecutor’s offer of seven years and Gabriel’s case is currently scheduled for a jury trial on November 12, 2020.

Reporter Dylan Ferguson: On Nov. 4 in Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette openly expressed his frustration over the court calendar. When Public Defender Benjamin Williams and the Deputy District Attorney Mitch Miller were choosing their next date, Judge Marlette stated, “I have not felt this way before, but I think the court calendar is going to explode.” A few cases after this, Judge Marlette discussed his discontentment with the calendar once again. In this particular case, Public Defender Andrew Crouse appeared for his client under Penal Code 977 and wished to receive an offer from Deputy District Attorney Mitch Miller before proceeding. This would result in another case being added to the already overbooked calendar.

Judge Marlette responded with “God bless you guys. I am not working nearly as hard as you guys. But my job is to watch this calendar and it is ready to explode.” Judge Marlette also blamed the lack of organization of the calendar on the amount of appearances by public defenders. He said, “This cannot go on the way that it is.”

Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: On Nov. 4, Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60, defendant, LaTrae Frazier, was arrested for allegedly crashing into the victim’s car on purpose and breaking into his house where she messed up his belongings. On Nov. 1, the victim called 911 after the defendant attempted to run him over with her car. After reporting the incident to the California Highway Patrol, the officers went to the victim’s home and found furniture thrown upside down, clothes and debris scattered across the floor, and the TV fallen to the ground. They later saw the victim’s car parked outside, and upon searching, they found a brown bag with missing items from the victim’s home. According to the deputy district attorney, Rona Maria Filippini, the victim was fearful of releasing Frazier from custody and wished for her to get help. Judge Tedmon ended up reducing bail for Frazier, but he refused to release her due to the potential of future danger.

Reporter Roxanne Jarvis: On Friday, Nov. 6th, Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 25,   a man was accused of shooting his neighbor in the neck with a shotgun. Toese Asiata is the defendant in this particular case. The situation occurred that day when the victim heard what she believed to be fireworks coming from outside in her apartment complex’s parking lot. There, she saw Asiata and her car with its windows broken in. When the victim yelled and asked what he was doing, Asiata replied something along the lines of “Don’t play the game.” The victim then heard additional gunshots and felt pain in her neck. She ran back into her apartment and locked herself in her bathroom. That was when she called 9-1-1.

Jarvais reported that Asiata’s attorney, Isaac Choy, claims that there isn’t enough evidence to hold Asiata to answer for the complaints against him. None of the neighbors who were in the area saw Asiata shoot the gun at the apartment. According to Choy, only one person saw him shooting, but it was towards the street. If Asiata’s gunshot did hit the victim, it wasn’t on purpose, argued Choy.

Ultimately, Judge Donald J. Currier, agreed with defense attorney Choy that there wasn’t sufficient evidence for a jury trial, but there was enough to find sufficient cause for a preliminary hearing. Defendant Asiata’s next court date for arraignment will be Nov. 20 in Dept. 9.

Reporter Lauren Smith: In Sacramento, in Dept. 62 there some discrepancies in the sentencing. In defendant Allen Bell’s case, he allegedly attended an anti-gun violence event where, after getting into a fight with someone, shot people in the playground at the event. This charge is typically a 19-year prison sentence, yet Bell received three years in state prison.

In defendant Joshua Szymczak’s case, he was charged with possession of 70 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, as well as possession of a firearm. Unfortunately, due to a prior felony conviction of felony reckless evading, Szymczak received a six-year sentence for his charges. Arguably, Bell could have had a harsher sentence because of the shooting; however, he received a much lighter sentence compared to Szymczak.

Reporter Kalani Gaines: In Sacramento Superior Court Department 60, there were a plethora of domestic violence cases, but one that seemed exceptionally severe. The defendant, Jose Conde Baeza, charged with a felony for infliction of injury on a spouse or cohabitant. Baeza was not in custody due to posting bond; however, District Attorney Renishta Lal initially requested that his bail be set at $100,000 due to the amount of injury the victim suffered. The victim had her head split open and needed 13 stitches. Despite this, the victim did not want her husband to be prosecuted; she did not feel he was a threat. According to the victim, Baeza has never exhibited this behavior before.

Assistant public defender Samantha Ting was able to persuade the judge to allow Baeza to remain out of custody on his bond with conditions of a stay away from his wife and her sister.

Reporter Linhchi Nguyen: At a preliminary hearing, in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 44, the prosecutor and defense attorneys debated over whether an uncovered bag of methamphetamine belonged to the defendant. The defendant, Lom Phanhkomh, was searched by the police in his hotel room in which he shared with his girlfriend. Because the girlfriend was the main occupant of the room and the defendant testified that the methamphetamine was not his, defense attorney Steven Hirsch argued that the substance actually belonged to the girlfriend. Hirsch also pointed out that when the police officers encountered Phanhkomh, they did not find any illegal substance in his car or persons. But the deputy district attorney, Nick Karp, brought up counter evidence that the methamphetamine was located near the defendant’s belongings, including his wallet. The defendant admitted to smoking just weeks prior to being searched. Due to the lack of evidence, Judge Julie G. Yap denied Hirsch’s request to allow Phanhkomh out of custody.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: On Nov. 4 in Dept. 9 of the Sacramento Superior Court, reporter Anvari observed a noteworthy preliminary hearing. Defendant Alyssa Powell, represented by her public defender Eliza Hook, plead not guilty to three counts: first degree robbery, unlawful taking of a vehicle more than $950, and receiving a known stolen vehicle.

In an alleged violent attack, defendant Powell, arrived with two men with handguns, who   beat the victim and tied his wrists and ankles. The victim’s car keys were stolen and three suspects drove the vehicle away. The vehicle was located six minutes later and only Powell was found in the car.

Judge Gweon found there to be sufficient cause to believe Powell should move forward for trial which was set for Dec. 21.

Reporter Cailin Garcia: On Nov 6th in Dept 9, Reporter Garcia was able to observe a sentencing hearing for three co-defendants – Isis Bolton, Anttwaneck Hobby, and Catherina Wilson. The three defendants took plea deals from Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gong after being accused of breaking and entering into the home of a victim, then starting a fight with her child.

The victim appeared via Zoom to provide a victim impact statement to the court to express how the incident has traumatized her and her 13 year old son. The victim said she was forced to move after the incident and the relocation cost her a significant amount of money. She also spoke on how her son was significantly affected by the event, as the defendants apparently started a physical altercation with him, stating that “he’s different now.” Most notably, the victim spoke on her status as a disabled person, stating, “Committing crimes against anyone is unacceptable, but against disabled people, you know, it takes a different toll.”

The defense attorneys for the three codefendants made efforts to have jail time reduced, but Judge Gweon felt strongly about having them serve an adequate amount of time considering their crime. She sided the DA Gong, noting that she felt that all three defendants “lacked any remorse” for their actions.

Reporter Mia Machado: On Nov. 5, in Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 60, defendant Jonathan Davis, represented by defense attorney Mirayla Freshwater, appeared in court to accept an offer made by the people in his domestic violence case. Davis pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of “infliction of injury on a spouse or cohabitant on October 6, 2020.” Davis will have to complete the 52-week Batterers Treatment Program, and return to court with proof of enrollment by April 23, 2021. The defendant was also sentenced to three years of formal probation– which will revert to informal probation once the Batterers program is done– and is prohibited to have any contact with the victim.

Reporter Victoria Lembesis: On November 6th, in the Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 21, defense attorneys argued a motion to suppress a case against defendant Roland Simmons because the police officers lacked probable cause to search the vehicle.

Officer Arian Terman recounted his experience with a traffic stop on September 3, 2019. The Officer watched Defendant Roland Simmons pull into a restaurant parking lot and park in a handicap spot.

Due to his inability to view inside the vehicle, the officer then opened the front passenger door. Upon opening the door to the car he observed several burnt marijuana blunts, a marijuana pipe, and an ashtray in the vehicle with Simmons. Defense Attorney Alan Donato addressed the issue of the officer opening the door without reasonable suspicion of illegal substances in the vehicle.

Reporter Tiffany Devlin: On Wednesday Nov. 4, reporter Devlin, covered Sacramento Superior Court in Department 15. In a case involving a probable cause determination, defendant Kenny Golden was charged with aggravated battery causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, and resisting an officer. Golden struck his neighbor in the head with a glass bottle and proceeded to punch the victim in the face eight times. Sacramento Police Officer Drake Walker testified, saying that Golden thought that “Caucasian people from hell” and “Caucasian android people” were trying to kill him or cause problems in his apartment building. While officer Drake and Golden were in the hospital, Golden told officer Walker that he was hearing voices, and that he believed people were trying to kill him from two or three years ago.

Upon Assistant Public Defender Karri Iyama’s cross examination, Golden was diagnosed with schizophrenia but was not on his medication for two years. Judge Kevin McCormick concluded that there was sufficient evidence to believe that the defendant was guilty at the level of proof given. The case will continue on Nov. 9 in Department 63.

Reporter Nina Hall: On Thursday this week in Sacramento Superior Court department 35 a pre-trial was held for Yong Moua, accused of wrongful imprisonment and animal abuse. Prosecutor Stephanie Mourun brought in three witnesses all employed at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s department to testify on the events of July 30, 2020. Officers described an altercation between a man and woman that had happened in a car parked outside an auto parts store. Moua was seen slapping the woman (his girlfriend) before she exited the car to seek shelter in the store. Once inside, officers testified that she asked the employees to call 911. Shortly after Moua was seen outside holding the couple’s dog, suspended in the air, threatening to kill it if the woman refused to get back into the car. Shortly after officers responded to another 911 call near the auto parts shop from two different complainants who had witnessed an assault. Officers explained witnesses at the scene had seen Moua strike the woman with a metal rod multiple times. Defense attorney Pamela Dominisse appeared to be laying the grounds that the second altercation had just been a result of a flat tire as noted on the vehicle. Judge Labre found Moua to be held to answer to all charges.

Fresno Superior Court 

Reporter Dylan Ferguson: On Nov. 2 in Dept. 13 of Fresno Superior Court, Judge Dalessandro issued two different bench warrants of $11,300 and $11,000. Each defendant failed to provide sufficient evidence to justify their absences. Defendant Allen Oswalt failed to appear even after speaking to Public Defender Breann Sheppard who advised him of his court date. Judge Dalesandro ruled a bench warrant for $11,300 because “it is the defendant’s responsibility to appear for his cases.” The other defendant who was issued a bench warrant failed to appear due to a “family emergency – but Judge Dalesandro could not find enough evidence to justify his failure to appear so he issued an $11,000 bench warrant for the defendant.

Reporter Caitlin Garcia: On Nov. 5 in Fresno Superior Court Dept 13, reporter Garcia witnessed some DUI cases, and one in particular had some discrepancies. A particular defendant failed four field sobriety tests to measure alcohol intoxication. The defense and prosecutor argued over the meaning of a comment spoken by the arresting officer, “I don’t think you were even close to the limit.” The defense counsel tried to argue the officers phrasing meant that the defendant was well below the limit. While the prosecution argued that the statement meant the defendant was well above the limit. The defendant admitted he had two beers, and performed poorly on the field sobriety tests because he was wearing shorts on a cold night. Ultimately, the court rejected the defense counsel’s argument, and found the officer had probable cause to believe the defendant was driving under the influence.

Another interesting observation to note is that there were 18 cases in which defendants failed to appear or give their lawyer permission to represent them without him/her present.

Reporter Kelly Moran: In Fresno Superior Court Dept 12, Judge Monica Diaz presided over a DUI case on Wednesday afternoon in Fresno Superior Court. The defendant’s representation, public defender Tonya Lopez, put in a motion that there was not probable cause for her client’s arrest. Judge Diaz ruled that there in fact, was probable cause for the arrest. “Just because a person’s not falling over, is not losing their balance constantly, [the] person that cannot be up, doesn’t mean that they’re not impaired while driving at this time,” argued Brian Exline, the deputy district attorney. The defendant will return to court on Dec. 2 and 3 to face his pretrial and a jury trial.

Reporter Emma Philips: On Nov. 5 in Fresno County Superior Court Dept 10, Judge Francisco Zepeda further expressed her frustration with public defender Carter Sears, who appeared (977) for all of his clients on the afternoon calendar. The judge thinks no one is making pleas because no one is appearing in court due to COVID-19. Sears was under the impression that the pandemic made it so the court had to allow for defense attorneys to appear 977 for their clients, but Judge Zepeda claimed that many defendants had appeared in court with their attorneys. She said that the courthouse was very diligent in who they let come into the courtroom based on symptoms checks, etc. Judge Zepeda made it clear that appearing in person is very possible, but understood why people would want to appear via Zoom during this time.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Ariel Abdullah: In Yolo County Superior Court Dept 1, five defendants did not appear at their scheduled arraignments with Judge Peter Williams. The court issued bench warrants for their arrests. This seems to be a regular occurrence as many other defendants for other pending cases failed to make their court appearances.

Reporter Bianca Estrada: In Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7, on Nov. 4 there was witness testimony in a domestic violence case, involving a woman being hit with a laundry detergent bottle after a dispute with her partner’s brother, James Caldwell. The argument was caused by the fact that she told her partner she did not want to pay rent. Caldwell was also upset over the fact that he allegedly tripped over a “bucket of pee” (urine). Officer Barajas said he was dispatched to a home, where he initially made contact with a woman, and man. The woman appeared to be shaken up, and had a small red mark on her nose. The defendant was inside the residence in his room. The victim said her nose felt broken, and officer Barajas called for medical aid. Her nose was not broken, and ultimately she declined any medical services. The defendant was detained shortly after. Van Zandt asked for the felony charge to be reduced to a misdemeanor. Judge Reed said he needed more evidence, but the situation seemed to align itself more with a misdemeanor. A trial is set for Dec. 16.

Reporter Kianna Anvari: On Nov. 3, Yolo Superior Court Dept. 11, Judge Timothy L. Fall, called Shiu Kumar’s case. Kumar, represented by PD James Bradford, appeared out of custody, in court. He is awaiting sentencing for two counts: second-degree burglary and battery. Bradford told the court that he and DDA David Robbins reached an agreement, and that Kumar is pleading no-contest to the charges. The agreement states that Kumar will be placed on probation rather than face a prison sentence, and his other four counts will be dismissed. Bradford explained that this is a stipulated West plea, meaning he is asking the judge not to take a factual basis for the charges. Robbins explained his reasoning for deviating from the “very serious charges” that were dismissed. He said that the victim just had a child with Kumar and he is looking out for the victim’s best-interest by not deporting the defendant. Kumar’s sentencing date is Dec. 15.


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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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