By William McCurry and Ramneet Singh
SACRAMENTO – A man who walked into a gas station store and declared he was the owner and a police officer, before walking off with about $5 in merchandise, was ruled incompetent to stand trial for robbery last Friday—although Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Sharon Lueras said he would be held to answer once he maintained competency.
Before leaving court, the defendant, who allegedly stole a bag of Cheez-Its and a 20-ounce soda, questioned why the court believed him to have mental health issues.
According to the deputy district attorney’s summary, on Sept. 2, 2020, at approximately 9:01 a.m., dispatchers notified Sacramento City police of a robbery in progress at a gas station on 3031 P Street.
Defendant Jason Sanders allegedly stole approximately $5 worth of convenience products and fled the scene. After a follow up on Sept. 8, the Sacramento police officer requested a warrant for petty theft.
Deputy District Attorney Nick Karp presented two expert witnesses, the first of which was Sacramento Police Officer Casey German who responded to the dispatch on Sept. 2 and made contact with one of the workers. Karp inquired about the worker’s statement of the incident.
After referring to his report, German described how the worker did not immediately recognize the individual who walked into the business. After the initial exchange, the worker stated that the individual stated, “I own this place, you’re fired.”
After the worker recognized the individual, they went to retrieve their co-worker from the cooler. They witnessed the individual grab some of the products and push the co-worker as he exited the store. German stated that “…she recognized him from the notice of trespass that they had on file as well.”
Subsequently, German had also spoken with the co-worker, and described how the co-worker said they confronted the individual and saw him grab the products. She had asked him to leave; the individual responded that he was a police officer and the business owner.
She had also asked him to leave the product, but he refused and pushed her as she guarded the exit. German described it as “he walked through her,” with their shoulders touching
Due to the nature of court proceedings, German had difficulty identifying the subject due to his mask and glare issues. However, he eventually identified the individual as defendant Sanders.
After this, defense attorney Thomas Clinkenbeard cross-examined German to confirm prior details. With clarification, German described how the co-worker confirmed that Sanders had frequented the business. German affirmed that Sanders had not made verbal threats and that the co-worker had blocked his path as he walked out.
Officer Bianca Brau spoke with the same workers as Officer German. After reviewing her notes, she told DDA Karp that he only had a bag of Cheez-Its and a 20-ounce soda.
Brau was able to review the surveillance from the gas station that was booked into evidence. Once she reviewed it, she explained to Karp that she didn’t see Sanders pick up the items, but once he returned into view of the camera, she saw him with them.
Clinkenbeard argued that if a suspect actually believes that they have a right to the property, even if that belief is unreasonable, such belief is a defense to robbery. And he moved to suspend the proceedings because defendant Sanders is incompetent to stand trial.
In short, no matter how delusional or wrong he is, if Sanders truly believed that he owned the 76 gas station, he can still makes these claims.
Given these arguments, Clinkenbeard argued this is not a robbery but maybe a battery or trespassing.
Karp initially pointed out that the testimony established that Sanders stated that he was both a police officer and the store owner. So, he argued, “…the claim of right doctrine doesn’t hold the same weight that the defense counsel is giving it credit to.”
Concerning specific intent, Karp argued that the testimony confirmed “…the intent was there…” and Sanders used “sufficient force.” Conclusively, he stated that “…he specifically intended to take the property and then leave with the property.”
Regarding mental health, Karp noted how Sanders’ behavior was a “departure” from his previous interaction with the workers. More so, he specified that this related more to the intent and “…not to some sort of mental state that would abrogate the specific intent needed to rob the store.”
From the use notes, Karp proposed that the claim of right doctrine did not apply because Sanders stated he was a police officer, which conflicts with his prior statement that he was a store owner. Also, he argued that “…even as a store owner, he wouldn’t have that right (to the property).”
Judge Lueras affirmed that Sanders knew he was not supposed to be in the store. With this incident, he had taken products, was warned, and did not listen. She considered the possibility of delusion and Sander having “…some significant mental health issues.”
Judge Lueras conceded this is not “the most egregious of robberies,” but established the incident as a robbery based on evidence. She stated that “…I would hold him to answer on a robbery.”
Formally, she stated that it appeared to the court that the offenses had occurred and that “…Jason Eugene Sanders is guilty thereof.” She stated that the complaint should be certified specifically and that if Sanders “…is returned to competency, he is entitled to a preliminary hearing.”
Sanders is to be referred to an inpatient treatment with the California Department of State Hospitals.
Interestingly, Sanders asked to speak and he questioned the claim of his mental health issue and maintained that he was the owner of the store. With other claims, the defense asked if this could be off the record.
Judge Lueras said she needed to order involuntary anti-psychotic medication and Sanders refused.
William McCurry is a fourth year at Sacramento State, majoring in Criminal Justice. He is from Brentwood, California.
Ramneet Singh is a third-year student at the University of California, Davis. He is a Political Science major and is pursuing a History minor. He is from Livingston, California.
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