The Vanguard Week In Review: Court Watch (Dec. 7 to Dec. 11, 2020)

 

Compiled by Linh Nguyen

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.

This week, the team covered dozens of courtrooms across four county Superior courts, monitoring sentences, continuances, arraignments and preliminaries. They also covered various webinars on criminal justice reform and hearings in Shawnee County, Kansas, in which an attorney is being tried for prosecutorial misconduct from a murder case and a sexual assault case.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

Reporter Evie Sun:

On Dec. 7, in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 60, defendant Emmanuel Deloney was denied release on his own recognizance due to domestic abuse allegations. He was charged with a felony violation of Penal Code Section 273.5(a) — corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. Assistant Public Defender Alicia Hartley asked the court to consider releasing the defendant on his own recognizance. However, after reviewing the court report, Jenna Saavedra from the District Attorney’s office objected to the OR release, requesting to leave the defendant on $50,000 bail, which was originally scheduled. She noted that the defendant allegedly attacked the victim several times and destroyed approximately $3,000 in property belonging to the victim. Given these details, the court found that release of the defendant on OR conditions to be not appropriate. Judge Scott L. Tedmon maintained bail as set without prejudice to further bail review. Defendant Emmanuel Deloney’s next court appearance date is set for Dec. 14 at 8:30 a.m. in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 60

* * *

In another hearing, defendant John Sandoval was granted an own recognizance release following a mix-up in court regarding his probation violation. After speaking with the defendant in a separate breakout room, Assistant Public Defender Alicia Hartley pointed out that he allegedly was never given notice of the Dec. 3 date to appear in court, and on that day, he in fact was speaking with Visions Unlimited, Inc. Mental Health Center regarding the requirements given to him by court orders. In addition, Hartley found that the defendant had not moved addresses, despite the basis of the violation of probation being a failure to alert probation regarding his change in address. Judge Scott L. Tedmon decided to release the defendant on his own recognizance, recall the 364 days previously proposed and re-refer him to Visions Unlimited, Inc. He stated that if the defendant’s public defender confirms, the court will dismiss his violation petition. The judge said that, upon his release, the defendant must contact Visions, as well as probation to provide them with his current address.

* * *

On Dec. 11 in Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Scott L. Tedmon presided over Dept. 60 with Deputy District Attorney Teal Ericson and Public Defender Sameera Ali. Defendant Christopher Savage was charged with a felony complaint in violation of stalking and violation of a restraining order. The defendant will return to court on Dec. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 60 with notice for bail evaluation.

Reporter Julian Navarro:

On Dec. 8, in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 4 and 61, I heard a total of eight cases. One of the cases was People v. Marques Watkins, where the defendant has two separate, active cases on him. For the first case, the defendant allegedly attempted grand theft of a delivery driver just outside a Quick Stop in Sacramento County. The defendant asked the delivery driver if he could buy methanol cigarettes from him. The victim of the incident replied, “I can’t sell them.” Watkins proceeded to enter the trailer as he grabbed a box of cigarettes that had a value of more than $950. Once the delivery driver noticed this he locked the back of the trailer and waited for the Sacramento Police Dept. to arrive at the scene. Lastly, the defendant was also charged with another incident where he was in possession of a stolen vehicle and was in possession of a controlled substance.

Reporter Alana Bleimann:

This week Alana attended court twice in Sacramento County Superior Court and saw over 20 cases. In Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 60, Judge Tedmon heard the case of Cary Chleboard. The defendant was accused of possession of firearms, in which the victim received multiple threatening text messages. In the messages, Chleboard attached images of the firearms and stated, “hmm which one should I use” and “go f yourself.” The victim believed the defendant still owns these firearms and was scared for her safety, according to District Deputy Attorney Jenna Saavedra. Public Defender Michael Wise needed more time with the defendant in order to further discuss the case, and Judge Tedmon placed further proceedings for later this month.

Reporter Hannah Skepner:

On Dec. 10 in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 60, the most notable case was regarding defendant Henry Hernandez. His case was on a plea and sentencing regarding the charge that he had unlawfully violated the personal liberties of the victim when he found her, locked himself in her car, drove the two of them to an unknown location and held her there against her will overnight. He pleaded no contest to this matter and was sentenced to three years of formal probation in which 180 days in county jail were included. However, the defendant already has served 192 days, so he will be released to start the probation immediately. Finally, he was served a no contact order on behalf of the victim.

Reporter Koda Slingluff:

Judge Scott L. Tedmon presided over Dept. 60 in Sacramento County Superior Court on Dec. 10. The court session lasted less than two hours. Interestingly, four different defendants did not appear due to medical concerns. Deputy District Attorney Anissa Galata prosecuted most of the cases, which were primarily domestic violence related. The day ended with the case of defendant Traisean Wallace, who was requesting that the medical records of the alleged victim be released to his defense. He was not present and an arraignment date was set for Dec. 24.

Reporter Macy Lu:

Judge Steve White presided over a restitution hearing between a homeowner victim and unlicensed contractor, defendant Michael O’Brien in Dept. 4 of Sacramento County Superior Court last Thursday. The victim claimed she contacted O’Brien after an acquaintance highly recommended him to her. Prior to the start of the remodeling process, O’Brien gave her an estimated quote of $30,000-35,000 for the entire project. The victim ended up paying $49,000 total before O’Brien walked off the job after she said she would withhold payment until he finished what he said he would finish with the $49,000. The defendant later testified that he was hired to do odd jobs day-to-day and paid $250 an hour, that he never offered a quote, nor did he give an estimated completion date. Deputy District Attorney Douglas Whaley requested the defendant pay for “the finishing and correction of the project that was contracted with Mr. O’Brien,” which amounted to a total of $40,764.70. Assistant Public Defender Brennan McGee reminded the court that “the only thing we’re here to decide is actual economic loss sustained by [the victim].” He claims that is $900-$1000 “even if we factor in the cost to repair and subtract it from the value she received when the job was completed.” Judge White agreed there was an agreement made as the victim stated and will be issuing a written restitution order to the defendant.

* * *

In Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 60 on Friday Dec. 11, there were a total of 43 progress report hearings. The judge reviewed how far along individuals are in their Batterer Treatment, which is a year-long probation program after sentencing on domestic violence cases. Most of the individuals who appeared were either half-way through or have completed the program. Several times the judge commended an individual for their “excellent progress.” There were 15 people who failed to report to court. To each of them, the judge issued a bench warrant of $10,500 and revoked their probation.

* * *

In Dept. 15 in Sacramento, co-defendants Logan Woods and Jesse Swafford entered a plea of no contest for their shared case as well as for their other separate cases. The felony committed was a first degree burglary on Jan. 30, 2019. They drove to the victim’s residence in a rental moving truck, broke in while the resident was in the shower, then fled when the resident saw them. Woods also pleaded no contest to another charge that accuses him of unlawfully possessing more than 10 people’s IDs with the intent to defraud them. Swafford also received sentencing on three other cases of burglary all committed in 2019. Because each defendant’s records show a prior strike, their total sentenced times were doubled. Woods will serve eight years total for the burglary and the attempt at identification fraud while Swafford will serve 28 years and eight months for the burglary and three other burglary charges.

Reporter Jose Medina:

On Tuesday in Sacramento Court Dept. 15 I witnessed the Donald Griffin preliminary hearing be trailed to another day due to prosecutor Sterling Wilkins’ learning that one of his witnesses may not have been a percipient witness to the identification of the defendant. It was unfortunate for Griffin’s due process to be stalled due to the prosecutor’s failure to get everything prepared for the preliminary hearing. However, it was clear that Wilkins felt remorse for his blunder as he apologized to Judge Kevin McCormick for the inconvenience this misstep had caused.

FRESNO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

Reporter Julian Navarro:

On Dec. 10, 2020, I was in Fresno 10 and I also heard a webinar from Appeal News titled “Trump Set to End Presidency With Execution Spree.” During this webinar the host Alana Sivin and both her guests Representative Ayanna Pressley and Sister Helen Prejean spoke about their own opinions on Trump’s administration. They believe that Trump is trying to get his way by using “force and intimidation” in order to get his own way. Both Brandon Bernard and Lisa Montgomery face execution in the last days of Trump’s presidency. Bernard was executed on Dec. 10, as his lawyers and people like Prejean, Sivin and Pressley fought to stop execution. Trump’s administration is leaving as they came with a last attempt to show they were hard on crime.

Reporter Tanya Decendario:

On Dec. 8, 2020, in Fresno County Superior Court Dept. 1, a majority of the hearings were scheduling pre-trials conferences, trials and sentencing. In one of the two major cases, 19 year-old defendant Victor Reyes was charged with a DUI after being found in an abandoned home in a car. In the other major case, defendant David Honeycutt was questioned why he received a second DUI. He explained that it was due to an incident on Labor Day when he was driving to work in Napa from Bakersfield. He had a “situation with [his] truck” and it ran off the road.

* * *

On Dec. 9, 2020, defendant Desi Estrada did not appear in court to avoid being remanded to the county jail because he was showing COVID-19 symptoms. The judge sympathized with the defendant and explained how the virus impacted her family and community. The judge stated that she believes in the honor system and took the defendant’s word. The deputy district attorney explained that the defendant should try scheduling a virtual symptom appointment to prove his COVID-19 claims. The judge agreed and will issue a warrant on Friday if no proof is given by then.

Reporter Jose Medina:

On Tuesday, Fresno Court Dept. 12 had many short arraignment and plea hearings. One that stood out the most was Abel Gonzalez’s plea hearing. The hearing was bombarded with a series of communication problems that made the hearing longer than it should have been. Gonzalez seemed irritated at the charges he was facing. He interrupted the hearing to ask Judge Monica Diaz if he could raise charges against the person charging him for throwing away items in a public place. Judge Diaz immediately shut down Gonzalez’s request stating that the hearing revolves around his plea and nothing else. Before the hearing could finish it had to be trailed so that Gonzalez could have some time to speak to his attorney, thankfully the hearing concluded on the same day after Gonzalez spoke with his attorney.

YOLO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

Reporter Tanya Decendario:

On Dec. 9, in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 12, defendant Larry Tillman needed treatment, though a representative from the state hospitals said he is number 121 on the waitlist. The representative predicted Tillman will be admitted in April 2021. The judge and public defender said this was unacceptable. The defendant interrupted the hearing to shout profanities towards everyone.

 

Reporter Kianna Anvari: 

Judge Paul K. Richardson called 30 matters on Friday, Dec. 11 in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 12. The majority of the cases were either pre-trial conferences or pre-hearing conferences that were continued to later dates.

 

Reporter Jose Medina:

On Friday, I witnessed short pre-trials and arraignments in Yolo County Court in Dept. 1. One particular hearing revolved around a defendant experiencing a mental health crisis. The defendant was Gregory Andrew Allman, he refused to appear in court and was represented by his defense attorney in court. The defense attorney asked for Allman to be released on Monday, on his own recognizance, so that he may be given an evaluation and transported to Woodland Memorial Hospital for treatment. Judge Peter M. Williams granted the request for Allman to be released on Monday so that he can be evaluated.

Reporter Layla Mustafa:

In Yolo Dept. 1, a man was called into court despite having already bailed out on the charges in question days prior. He left court with the same verdict.

 

RIVERSIDE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT

 

Reporter Mia Machado:

On Dec. 11 in Riverside County Superior Court Dept 2H, defendant Daniel Carlos Garcia, representing himself, filed a motion to dismiss his case due to a lack of a speedy trial. Garcia explained that the prosecution never set a trial date, but only the last date a trial could be set. Although Garcia had originally submitted a general time waiver in one of his earlier hearings, he explained to the court that it was properly withdrawn in front of the court. Given this, Garcia explained, the trial should have been set within 60 days but “that did not occur.” Garcia also referenced the emergency orders in response to the pandemic, explaining that “implicit in the Chief Justice’s orders, any delay must be attributed to the COVID-19 emergency, it can’t just be arbitrarily imposed just because the court didn’t take the matter to trial within the statutory period.”

After clarifying that no COVID-19 related issues may have caused a delay, he reaffirmed the need to dismiss his case. Judge Anthony Villalobos, however, disagreed. He explained to the defendant that whenever the prosecution was ready to proceed, Garcia expressed that he was not ready for trial, continuously refusing to tell the court when he would be ready. Judge Villalobos even referred to a time when the defendant told Judge Villalobos that if he called in a jury panel, he would be “running a circus” because Garcia would not participate. Judge Villalobos claimed that it appears he has been “playing games with the court” by telling the court he was ready to proceed even when he was not “several times”. He also found no good cause for Garcia to have withdrawn his time waiver in the first place. For these reasons, the defendant’s motion was denied.

Reporter Ramneet Singh:

On Dec. 11, 2020, reporter Lauren Smith and I observed Dept. 2K of the Riverside County Superior Court. Through the morning session, the court presided over arraignments that were to be continued at later times. Interestingly, Judge Emily Benjamini and both attorneys were confused over a defendant’s legal name, something that consumed a portion of the time and a matter that was later resolved.

Reporter Lauren Smith:

In Riverside County Superior Court on Dec. 11 in Dept. 64, Judge John Molloy was unprepared to hear arguments on resentencing for defendant Yolanda Bourassa. He stated that he had a “complete memory loss” due to current events. Judge Molloy also stated that there was a “workplace outbreak” of COVID-19 that led to a loss of “four courtrooms and five judges and the staff that go with them.” He repeatedly apologized to both the defendant and counsel for being unprepared and set a new resentencing hearing in Jan. where he promised he would read the briefs thoroughly and be able to rule on the resentencing at the next hearing.

SPRALDING HEARING:

Reporter Alana Bleimann:

I attended live Zoom hearings in Kansas in which former Shawnee attorney Jacqie Spradling is being tried for alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the murder case of Dana Chandler and sexual assault case of Jacob Ewing. The hearing will last until the end of the week in which attorneys, judges, lawyers and witnesses will testify and review evidence.

Reporter Dalia Bautista Rodriguez:

The afternoon session consisted of bringing in those who had taken part in writing reports on the case. The basis was to cover all the information gathered and dictate whether it was still persistent. The first witness brought in was Mr. Redmon, who has been an attorney for 22 years. He oversaw reviewing transcripts, files, and complaints. The report he had filed was not consistent with the one made by Mr. Pasquel. Redmon mentioned there were still issues between the oral argument and opinions of the court, being why the reports were not consistent with one another. After the Supreme Court clarified their opinions and identified the issues, he was confident enough to proceed with his report. At first it was confusing for him, but his goal was to obtain enough evidence for the record. One of the judges ruled there was a PFA [protection from abuse] order under file, but in the report, there seemed to be no PFA in file. The second witness was Shanning Felt, an attorney who works the CJ resource council for Kansas, but during the report administered the CJ panel.

Mr. Redmon asked for her assistance in the case as she had some prior experience. Her tasks included assisting in preparing for interviews, looking at dockets and documents relating to the prosecution. John Kite was another witness to this case. He is retired but worked for the KBI as a senior special agent, at the time of the case. He was in the cybercrime unit and specialized in computer forensics. He worked on the computer of Dana Chandler and examined the hard disk drive and reported on them. The copy of the report, produced in October 2002, states he examined a total of five hard disks. He described one as “bule” and the other as “coldwell.”

The last witness is Jody Lipmon, who has worked in an attorney general office since 2016. She worked for the Shawna District Attorney Office in 2011, where she oversaw appellate work. She took part in the State v. Chandler appeal and she reviewed the briefs. In her report, it describes that Chandler learned about Sisco’s engagement with Karen and there was a protection of abuse order. The copy of the state’s brief is signed by three attorneys, Chad Taylor, Jacqie Spradling, and Jody Lipmon.

Reporter Nickolas Kwok:

Day two of the Spradling hearing on Dec. 8 gave more context to the case of Dana Chandler, who was accused of murdering her ex-husband and his fiancée. The witness that was brought in was law enforcement officer Richard Volle, who was the detective investigating the case of the murder and was the first on the scene of the crime. Volle went through his theories about how he suspected Chandler went through Nebraska to get back to her home in Denver. This would make it possible for her to have committed the murders. However, all of the evidence that Volle presented was circumstantial. Volle ended his testimony saying that he believed Spradling was a good prosecutor that always did her best.

Reporter Layla Mustafa:

On Day 4 of the proceeding, Spradling testified to a panel that while she admits to errors made during her time as Shawnee County DDA in two high profile cases, they were unintentional. Both cases had to be overturned. Towards the end of the questioning, Spradling became teary-eyed as she underlined her commitment to the pursuit of justice. Multiple members of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorney’s hearing panel noted their belief in Spradling’s hard work as a prosecutor. These comments were made in spite of the fact that Spradling was in court to be held accountable for the alleged mistakes she made as a prosecutor. The closing arguments were heard on Friday. The panel will determine whether or not it is necessary to commit to any disciplinary action against Spradling’s alleged misconduct.

OTHER COVERAGE

Reporter Ozge Terzioglu:

George Gascón was sworn in and inaugurated as Los Angeles County’s 43rd District Attorney on Monday, Dec. 7. After the official swearing in took place, Gascón announced sweeping criminal justice reform that his office will immediately execute. Among his policies are ceasing the charging of juveniles as adults, not requiring victims to testify to receive victim services, and extending victim services to families of people killed by law enforcement. He is also creating a review board that would recommend use of force cases to be reviewed, eliminating cash bail, resentencing people on death row to life in prison, and ceasing the filing of first time misdemeanors for offenses associated with poverty. Gascón noted multigenerational incarceration, poverty, racism inherent in the death penalty, and his job as a police officer 40 years ago as some points of inspiration for his unprecedented policies. On Dec. 8, the new District Attorney, George Gascón released more details on his death penalty policy. Most notably, his office will stop requesting the death penalty as a punishment and will immediately begin to review every death penalty case in LA County to revoke the death as a punishment in cases where they can.

Reporter Nickolas Kwok:

The Academy of Arts press conference on Dec. 7 introduced a college freshman, Syon Green, who was able to finish his high school career with a scholarship provided by inmates at Soledad CTF. Green attended a private school, the Palma School, but he was not able to provide all funds for his final years. While at the Palma School, Green joined a program that would bring together inmates and students who would discuss novels and life lessons with each other. One inmate, Jason Bryant, helped to raise over $30,000 for Green to be able to finish his education.

Reporter Kianna Anvari:

On Dec. 10, the Sacramento Press Club, a non-profit educational organization, hosted a panel via Facebook Live entitled, “What’s Next in Criminal Justice Reform?” Robert Greene from the L.A. Times and Marisa Lagos from KQED posed questions to three prominent panelists: L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón, campaign strategist Dana Williamson and executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice Jay Jordan. The conversation covered topics from bail reform and recidivism to defunding the police.

Linh Nguyen is a third year Political Science student at UC Davis, also pursuing a minor in Professional Writing. She is an aspiring investigative journalist from San Jose, California, who also shares interests in literature and baking


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