Zoom Court Technical Difficulties Prevent Key Witness from Testifying

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By Bianca Estrada

WOODLAND – A bizarre domestic violence preliminary hearing Tuesday here in Yolo County Superior Court faced a few technical difficulties, causing frustration for key witnesses and the court.

And that’s besides the “bucket of pee” and plastic laundry detergent bottle.

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Serafin was relying on two key witnesses—the victim, and a Winters Police Department officer, who was dispatched to her residence.

The victim was set to be the first to testify, but was having trouble figuring out how to use Zoom.

Officer Victor Barajas was the other witness who was on camera even before the entire court had arrived. When Judge David Reed arrived, he asked the officer, who was wearing a “police” baseball cap, to remove the cap while present in court. Judge Reed’s next concern was where the other witness was.

Her voice was heard, but she could not be seen. The victim stated that she was calling from her phone in Michigan, and was by herself, nowhere near a computer. Serafin asked the court if it was okay for her to testify while off camera, but Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt objected to it. Judge Reed agreed.

When it was evident that it was going to take awhile, Judge Reed told the court he was going to take a break while they figured out how to deal with the situation. Judge Reed left the courtroom, and they went off the record.

While the judge was gone, Serafin and Van Zandt tried to explain how to use the app, but the victim was unable to figure it out. She said to the attorneys, “I’m having trouble seeing, my eyes are so bad, and I don’t have my glasses. I can’t walk. I don’t have anyone here to retrieve anything for me.”

Serafin told the victim she was going to send her another link which required her to hang up, and get back on. When Judge Reed came back, Serafin agreed to resume the hearing, and decided to go ahead and question officer Barajas while they awaited the victim to return on the call.

She never did.

Officer Barajas’ testimony was that on August 28, 2020, the victim was struck in the face with a plastic laundry detergent bottle. The defendant, James Caldwell, was the brother of a man the victim was dating, Timothy Caldwell.

When Officer Barajas and his partner arrived on the scene, the woman and her partner were outside. According to the officer, the man seemed intoxicated, and the woman was shaken up from the incident.

But then came the next technical glitch in the Yolo County courtroom.

Apparently, the court reporter was having trouble understanding what the officer was saying. He was asked to speak up, and speak clearly. This needed to be repeated a couple more times throughout his testimony.

The officer continued, saying that there was a small red mark on her nose that appeared to be swollen. The victim explained to him that James Caldwell, who was upstairs in his room at the time of the questioning, hit her with a laundry detergent bottle. She explained he became frustrated with her after he could not locate where the rice was in the house.

It was stated that the victim required a walker to move around. The woman believed her nose was broken, and, based on the injury, Barajas called for medical aid.

Barajas said that the argument started when Timothy Caldwell told his brother that she was not going to pay rent. The brother was so upset that “he tripped over a bucket of pee.” Barajas was asked to repeat his answer.

He did not recall whose it was, and he didn’t recall seeing the bucket, but was told James Caldwell was the one who tripped over it. The officer also did not look for the instrument that hit her, but pictures of the victim were taken. Caldwell was later called outside to be detained.

The defendant’s attorney, Van Zandt, asked to reduce his felony to a misdemeanor. Serafin opposed, partly due to Caldwell’s previous record. He had prior arrests from 2004, and was in prison in 2014. He was also “somewhat of a caregiver to her [the victim].” She asked the court to decline his reduced sentencing.

Van Zandt argued that the mark on her nose was “as low as an injury could possibly get.” Judge Reed decided that more evidence was needed, suggesting the injury was closer to misdemeanor territory, as she ultimately had no broken nose and declined medical attention. All of which was good cause to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor, he said.

The last day for motions will be Nov. 16. A trial is set for Nov. 23 at 8:30 a.m., with a time estimate of three days in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7.


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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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