After Debate, Judge Sends Man Accused of Stealing Orange Juice to State Hospital

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By Roxanna Jarvis

SACRAMENTO – A Sacramento County Superior Court judge delayed a defendant’s preliminary hearing here to prove the suspect’s competency and ordered that he be placed in a state hospital after the man allegedly stole three cartons of orange juice and brandished a stolen knife at a store employee.

Defendant Christopher Harper smiled and pointed at the screen displaying Officer Maryna Stanionis, who had just identified Harper sitting in court as the man who robbed a Sacramento Smart & Final back in July.

Officer Stanionis was quite familiar with Harper, telling Deputy District Attorney Nick Karp that she has had multiple interactions with him in the past and recognized him as the subject when his description was relayed over dispatch—a Black male in his 60s with short, gray afro hair, wearing dress-up clothing and carrying a black bag.

“I knew that he lived directly in the neighborhood immediately behind this grocery store and the distinct dress of clothing stood out to me as well as the description,” Stanionis said.

According to a store employee that Stanionis took a statement from, Harper came in the store wearing a suit and carrying a black handbag. While the employee was stocking in the aisle Harper was in, he “observed the suspect take a butcher knife off a shelf and conceal it inside his bag,” relayed Stanionis.

In response, the employee walked over to Harper and greeted him as a way to “begin the conversation.” Harper then allegedly pulled the knife (still in its plastic package) out of his bag, pointed it at the employee, and said, “What are you [going to] do?”

As the employee backed off, he observed Harper walking over and grabbing two cartons of Minute Maid orange juice. He placed them in his bag and left the store. The employee later told Stanionis that although the knife was packaged, he “still felt scared” when Harper brandished it at him.

Harper, on probation at the time, was soon located by police and had his body, bag, and vehicle searched. They were able to locate the knife, now out of its package, in his coat and cartons of Minute Maid orange juice inside his large handbag.

The store employee mentioned that Harper was a regular at the store and he did not want to press charges against him, noting that “he recognized [Harper] from daily interactions…and that most of the time he appeared to be very nice, but on occasion he would act extremely [erratic] and pretty [aggressive].”

When questioned by Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Cerri, Officer Stanionis confirmed that the employee also requested that charges not be filed against Harper because he “it is clear that he has mental health problems” and he “felt bad.”

Cerri also corrected inconsistencies in Officer Stanionis’ testimony.

Stanionis had earlier told the Court that the employee described Harper as “pretty aggressive” on occasion and that the knife was “butcher-style.” Yet, the officer’s statement shows that the employee never said Harper was aggressive as a customer, only that Harper sometimes “flips out and starts yelling.” The knife was also not described as a butcher knife, but an approximately eight-inch long kitchen knife.

“Do you know what a butcher knife actually is, or are you just—can you state this was a butcher knife?” asked Cerri to Stanionis.

“It was a large kitchen knife,” she replied. “I don’t know if I know the definition of a butcher knife.”

Officer Stanionis was unable to receive a statement from Harper at the time of his arrest, as he was “unintelligible.”

PD Cerri argued that the prosecution did not have enough evidence to charge Harper with robbery, as they must prove a “specific intent to permanently deprive” and that “force or fear was used to take the property.”

According to Cerri, a number of factors show that this standard was not met.

“What we do know is that the knife was in its packaging still. We know that Harper was unintelligible and incoherent at the time of the incident and we have one quotation which can [mean] any number of things,” the PD said.

DDA Karp disagreed, stating that Harper brandishing the knife scared the employee, and, using that fear, Harper was able to also steal the orange juice, adding, “Just because the defendant was found to be unintelligible, potentially at the time after the event occurs, does not leave a bearing at the time that the event occurred.”

Cerri made one last rebuttal, noting that Harper was not “cognizant” of everything around him.

“They do have to prove his mental state [and] specific intent to permanently deprive. He’s not taking anything of value, he’s just taking stuff. What [the prosecution] has shown in their case is that he’s not cognizant of everything around him. Given the charge on him and the specific intent, they have not proven their case,” defense counsel argued.

With all the information given to her, Judge Kristina B. Lindquist made the decision to issue a holding order on the case and stall the future proceedings until Harper can be deemed competent to be held accountable.

A report by the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP) was also given to the Court, recommending that Harper be sent to a state hospital.

Judge Lindquist stated that those who signed the report from Harper Medical Group, Rhonda Love (Program Director) and Gordon Migliore (Forensic Mental Health Specialist), recommended that Harper receive “in-patient treatment” at Department of State Hospitals (DHS).

The report also recommended Judge Lindquist include an order “governing anti-psychotic medication.” Lindquist, confused by the recommendation, looked through past court reports to see if she had the ability to give such an order.

“Well your honor, they didn’t address the issue as to whether he should be forced to take medication against his will,” said PD Cerri.

“Well they sort of did,” answered Lindquist. “They sort of addressed it although they didn’t outright offer recommendations.”

“I think that we are to err on the side of patient’s rights, due process. To say let’s have somebody else evaluate him and try come up with the right answer is not the way to go with this,” Cerri stated.

Cerri continued to tell the judge that she has the ability to place Harper in a state hospital and not force him to take medication.

“If you are going to go with the recommendation and place him in a state hospital, I don’t believe it is appropriate to then try to read into that [and think] ‘I think they want me to force meds on him’ or ‘I want to give the DA longer to try to force meds on him.’ At this point, judge, you are safe in adopting the recommendation and not ordering it like you’ve discussed.”

Judge Lindquist took PD Cerri’s recommendation to place Harper with DHS, while not ordering he take medication. Harper was ordered placed for a maximum of three years in a state hospital with a subtraction of 153 days (that is how long he currently has been in custody).

“I think I have to find by clear and convincing evidence that he does not have capacity [to consent to medication]. Absent any clear and convincing evidence [to the contrary], I think I can make the finding that he does have capacity to consent because I don’t have the evidence in front of me,” the judge said.

Roxanna Jarvis is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley, currently majoring in Political Science with a minor in Public Policy. She is from Sacramento, California.


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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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