The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch – Feb. 22 to 26, 2021

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Compiled by Derrick Pal

The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and the courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover groundbreaking local news concerning government and policy issues affecting cities, schools, and communities in Davis and Yolo Counties.

Over the past few years, the Vanguard has also expanded to Sacramento and its surrounding regions. The team consists of 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, including the State Capitol of Sacramento, the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California.

This week the Vanguard interns and news reporters covered stories from Sacramento, Yolo, Contra Costa, and Fresno courthouses. The following are a sample of the events observed this week:

Monday ­– Feb. 22, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 62: Dorrin observed multiple hearings with Judge Michael A. Savage presiding. Of note were periodic reminders of COVID-19’s impact on court proceedings and the withdrawal of an N.G.R.I (not guilty by reason of insanity) plea by a defendant. Regarding the former, Judge Savage took time between cases to commend frontline workers and attorneys who “work hard for a living” amid the pandemic, noting that “there’s nothing about [his] job that compares to [what they have to go through].” As to the latter, defendant Mandell Evans withdrew his N.G.R.I plea in court as an officer stepped in to adjust his mask for him. His attorney, Jeremiah Van Etten, confirmed that he had weighed the pros and cons of the decision with his client. Evans cited court delays and what he believed to be a conflict of interest with CDCR doctors being assigned to diagnose him as reasons for his decision.

Nancy Avina – Dept. 84: Nancy watched multiple rescheduled cases, including a DUI case for defendant Manuel Aguilar, he pled no contest and was sentenced to three years of informal probation. During this time, he would obey laws and complete a county jail work project as well as be enrolled in a three-month-long alcohol education program. Along with this case, there were several other DUI cases in which most received informal probation; in which they need to submit proof of completing the probation requirements to the court.

Samara Yarnes and Ankita Joshi – Dept. 60: Samara and Ankita observed multiple rescheduled cases including a hearing of defendant Alvin Bailey on the counts of domestic violence against his wife. The charges against him included assault likely to cause bodily harm, and the victim reported a constant pain in her back. The defendant pleaded guilty and was granted a four-year probation sentence with terms and conditions, which included peaceful contact with the victim and a no alcohol clause. These proceedings lasted a total of about 10 minutes in which the judge read through a summary of the defendant’s charges, and the terms and conditions of his probation.

 

 

Derrick Pal – Dept. 61: Derrick reported on a settlement conference for defendant Adam Blackstone where Deputy District Attorney Casey Newton argued that up to $1 million in bail should be set because the 19-year-old defendant poses a “flight risk” and “a danger” to Sacramento county. On a warrant issued for the arrest of defendant Blackstone, “upwards of about 10,000 pills” were found on search of his residence. Private Attorney  Linda Parisi did not dispute the large amount of pills Blackstone possessed, but disputed, however, that the defendant has no prior record, was cooperative, and forthcoming with police. After listening to both arguments, Judge Raoul Thorbourne concluded that setting bail at $1 million would “be approaching the line of an unlawful pretrial detention that we’re all supposed to be mindful not to do.” Judge Thorbourne indicated that while bail could have been set much higher in this case, based on the circumstances, he decided to set bail at $500,000 at this time. A further hearing is set for March 29, 8:30 a.m. in this same department.

Yolo County Superior Court

Will McCurry – Dept. 1: Will saw many continuances and Deputy District Attorney Martha Wais offering restorative justice programs. Many of the defendants that had court hearings today were directed away from the criminal justice system and offered a Neighborhood Court restorative justice program, and when it was completed their charges would be dismissed.

 

 

Tuesday – Feb. 23, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Aishwarya Rajan – Dept. 3: A domestic violence case was consolidated with a DUI case, both brought to court against defendant Cory Nickolas Satnowski. The premise of this consolidation was the result of the defendant’s violation of an emergency protective order filed after a domestic violence report on Aug. 19, 2020. The defendant ignored the order and went to the victim’s house on Nov. 9, where the officers had found him intoxicated, marking his fifth DUI. Satnowski was found guilty of five counts and two additional charges as requested by prosecutor Stephanie Maroun.

Derrick Pal – Dept. 42: Derrick observed a preliminary hearing where controversy arose on whether defendant Jason Frazelle’s large meth possession indicated it was for personal usage or for selling. Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gong referenced officer testimony and argued that the 10.8 grams and 8 grams of meth found in November 2020 and February 2021 respectively are “more than what the average user would possess at one time.” The text messages identified by the officers from the defendant “were indicative of methamphetamine sales.” Assistant Public Defender Anthony Crisostomo argued, however, that no currency or devices used for measuring the methamphetamine was found on defendant Frazelle, indicating there is no evidence that he was intending to sell. Considering all the information presented, Judge Allen Sumner found that there was sufficient evidence to hold Frazelle to answer for all five counts charged against him, which are two counts of possession of methamphetamine for sale, one count of transportation of meth for sale, one count of simple possession of meth, and one count of driving while license was suspended or revoked. A trial readiness conference is set for April 15.

Esha Kher – Dept. 63: Esha heard multiple arraignments, bail reviews, post-conviction matters, and a motion to recall bench warrants in a preliminary hearing. Of particular interest was a long factual basis stipulation that had to do with a defendant who was contracted with a medical program to provide services to his wife through a civilian caregiver services program. The defendant willfully and unlawfully presented timecards for false and fraudulent payment claims for services he did not perform and was not permitted to bill. He unduly procured an amount of $22,000.

Roxanna Jarvis – Dept. 29: Defendant Gregory Sanoski was charged with multiple felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and assault likely to cause great bodily injury, as well as one count of resisting arrest. On October 31, Sanoski is alleged to have thrown lead pipes and swung a machete and axe at two men helping Sanoski’s wife move. It is believed that only one of the men were targeted, as he sustained injuries from the pipe being thrown and is also alleged to have been struck with the axe. Judge Goodman found sufficient evidence to hold Sanoski to answer for the charges, despite stark differences in both men’s testimonies.

Yevangelina Poghosyan and Jose Medina – Dept. 60: Yevangelina and Jose heard several preliminary hearings and arraignments. During one of the cases, Judge De Alba allowed the defendant to be released of his own recognizance after hearing out the case in which the self-proclaimed homeless man allegedly attempted to kidnap a girl he was dating as well as violating his existing parole. The defendant, Shawn White, was very upset and began sobbing on the stand, claiming that the girl was trying to take his money. He was very relieved when the judge signed the release until his next hearing. While White’s arraignment hearing ended on a compassionate note, defendant Ariella Kidd’s arraignment did not. Kidd begged Judge De Alba to release her so that she may get back to taking care of her granddaughter and tend to her new job, however the court could not allow release due to a lack of a pre-trial assessment. The court argued that without there being enough information on Kidd and her case, Kidd would not be allowed to be released. With tears in her eyes, Kidd was held in custody until further proceedings were made.

Yolo County Superior Court

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 1, 11: Lovepreet witnessed various plea and arraignment hearings where many were set for further dates, but there was overall disorganization within the courtroom. There were Wi-Fi issues within the courtroom which caused the court proceedings to start a bit later than scheduled. Judge Fall quickly moved through the cases, but it seemed as though the rest of the courtroom remained disorganized, such as various discrepancies in submitting paperwork in a timely matter.

Wednesday – Feb. 24, 2021

Contra Costa County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 6: Hongyi viewed many pre-preliminary hearings and one sentencing on defendant James Shelton, where the alleged victim came to the court to retell her story. She explains that they live in a community of low-income housing and projects, and defendant Shelton got into an argument with the victim’s boyfriend which led to the drawing of a gun. She said that the defendants had broken into her house twice to get the gun, and they went into the drawers and refrigerator. They had taken things like jewelry, which were broken into pieces when they were returned. She feels unsafe continuing living in the house, so she decided to move, and she feels angry that her privacy is violated. The judge ruled that for two years the defendant is placed in a grant of formal felony probation, serves 270 days in county jail, and obey a stay away order during the probation period.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Natasha Feuerstein – Dept. 60: Defendant Timothy Holeman appeared for a bail motion for three different domestic violence cases, with one also involving a kidnapping felony charge. Holeman had failed to appear in court for the two previous cases after bailing out and was now appearing for a third case. According to the victim, the third incident of violence involved Holeman hitting her in the face and the back of her head several times with a closed fist before choking her from behind and constricting her airway. The victim said she “could not breathe and felt dizzy.” Once Holeman stopped, the victim said she coughed up blood. The victim repeatedly described her fear of speaking up against the defendant, claiming that he will kill her. Judge Scott L. Tedmon forfeited Holeman’s bail in the prior amounts and set an aggregate bail at $1,050,000, citing the incredible danger the defendant poses to the victim and her son.

Lisbeth Martinez – Press Release: Lisbeth worked on a press release in where the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) received a lot of backlash at the Assembly Subcommittee 5 hearing for requesting billions of dollars in prison spending. The extensive examination of CDCR has to do with their neglecting to follow Governor Newsom’s executive order that will be closing prisons and youth lockups. This order required many California prisons and juvenile facilities to no longer accept new intakes to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The governor currently prioritizes closing more jail facilities since the beginning of the virus outbreak.

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 61: Ankita heard a case on defendant Earl Riley, who repeatedly stated his innocence, even as a plea deal was offered. Riley also suffered from hearing difficulties, which made him shout in court and caused Judge Michael Sweet to constantly tell him to stop. Riley’s hearing took several minutes, as Riley wanted to get out of custody to meet with his heart doctor but also maintained that he was innocent. Riley’s medical record reported he had a faulty pacemaker that was sending shocks through his body, which needed to be dealt with as soon as possible. Judge Sweet concluded the hearing by setting a trial date for March 8.

Will McCurry – Dept. 61: Will saw many continuances for most of the defendants’ cases, and one case stood out because the defendant kept bouncing in between taking a deal and not taking it. Earl Riley was in custody and wanted to be released so badly that he was willing to take a deal, even though he claimed he was innocent on more than one occasion during his hearing. Judge Geoffrey Goodman ruled that he was not able to fully accept the deal, so his case was continued to a further date.

Thursday – Feb. 25, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Avalon Amaral – Dept. 5: A preliminary hearing was held for allegations against defendant Joshua Cross. His previous romantic partner contacted the police on Nov. 15, 2020 to report Cross for an incident that occurred the previous day. She stated that while Cross was pumping air in her tires outside a local gas station, she was approached inside the store by a man who was asking her for money. Cross was overcome with jealous rage and placed himself inside the store between his partner and the man. He began threatening his partner and making vicious remarks inside the store. She then retreated to her car where Cross then proceeded to hit her on the head with a firearm that he uncovered from his rear waistband. He then placed the gun to her head and continued yelling threatening accusations. His partner then acted with a fight response and pushed the gun away from her to the front of the car where a shot then went off. After the shot was heard in the gas station, a woman approached the car to ask if everyone was alright. Cross left the car when his romantic partner was speaking to the concerned witness, however, once she left, he began to approach the car again. Terrified more violence was coming her way, she pulled out of the parking lot into another gas station for refuge. Once in a safe location, she contacted the police. Judge James P. Arguelles concluded that although Cross did have the intention of harming his partner and did so, he does not believe the shot was fired willfully. Cross will be assessed for the charges of having willfully and unlawfully assaulted with a firearm and to have engaged in acts that could have resulted in death. A date is set for March 10 at 1:30 Sacramento Dept. 60 for arraignment.

Macy Lu – Dept. 26, 15: Macy observed in Dept. 26 The People of California v. Traci Oliver case reach a resolution. Public Defender Tom Clinkenbeard pleaded no contest on the defendant’s behalf to falsely posing as the victim in December 2019 and siphoning thousands of dollars from her bank account into the account of her accomplice, David Winston. Oliver was a bank employee at the time. She has been sentenced to 364 days in the county jail and two years of formal probation. Some conditions of her sentence, as requested by Deputy District Attorney Nick Carp, include staying away from all Golden One Banks, Wells Fargo Bank, Capital City’s Used Auto Sales, and the victim. In addition, she is prohibited against owning firearms and digital cameras (although ownership of a phone with a camera is permitted), giving false information to digital communication companies, and owning or using fake currencies.

Macy also observed in Dept. 15 Judge Kevin J. McCormick preside over the preliminary hearing of defendant Joseph Lowater, in which Deputy District Attorney Emilee Divinagracia and Public Defender Christopher Parkhurst examined Detective Mark Callaghan. Callaghan has worked for the Sacramento Police Department for 14 years and is currently assigned to the Major Collision and Investigation Unit. During the examination, Callaghan reported to have watched a video taken by a witness which showed Lowater’s white SUV attempting to turn into a Target parking lot only to get held up by a gray Malibu. An argument flared, in which the defendant allegedly heard the passenger of the Malibu repeatedly shout, “Do you want to die?” and in which a nearby victim allegedly heard Lowater shout in return, “Do it, do it!” At one point, when the passenger of the Malibu tried to get out of the vehicle, the SUV rammed into the passenger side of the Malibu, damaging the vehicle to the point that the door can no longer be opened. Fearing for his safety and the safety of his family, Lowater took from the parking lot only to be followed by the owners of the Malibu. After he entered the freeway, the owners of the Malibu decided to halt their chase to report him to the Sacramento Police Department. During the cross examination, it came to light that there was no sound on either the witness’ video or the Target surveillance video that the detective can use to follow the development of the argument. Additionally, it is not possible to tell whether the passenger had really gotten out of the vehicle before the SUV collided with it, but only that the door opened momentarily. The trial date is scheduled on defendant Lowater’s birthday, July 19, in Dept. 63.

Aishwarya Rajan – Dept. 62: Aishwarya observed arraignments during evening hearings. Defendant Dwayne Thomas was charged for alleged crimes of pimping to receive revenue and threats to force an individual into prostitution. Commissioner Brody also conducted the arraignment for defendant Ron Beilon after allegations of his Health Code violations for possessing for the sale of a controlled substance on January 14, 2020. During the arraignment hearing for defendant Larry Richardson, the defendant yelled, “I got attacked by the police” prior to the Commissioner’s whisper that he had very little “patience.” The defendant was charged for carrying a concealed dagger and resisting arrest.

Any Buitrago Zarabanda – Dept. 1: Any observed a preliminary hearing for Jose Mejia. The defendant first allegedly threw a piece of plywood at firefighters and then proceeded to threaten peace officers with a bow and arrow, a small machete, and a bb gun. He was eventually detained through canine and pellets used by officers at the scene. At the time of the hearing, Mejia’s fourth and fifth counts were reduced to a misdemeanor. His first and second counts were questioned as the DA seemed to struggle to prove the charges at the prelim. This case seems to be going to trial and the next time in court is for a bail motion on March 3.

Friday – Feb. 26, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 27: Lovepreet heard various preliminary and plea hearings and observed in one case Judge Steven M. Gevercer rule against Defendant Tobias Menefree. The defendant was allowed into the courtroom via zoom, where he was found sleeping on his couch as he waited to be let into the courtroom. Upon seeing this, Judge Gevercer suggested defense council, Mr. Alvarado, to contact his client. After waiting for a mere 3-5 minutes, Judge Gevercer began the hearing without further delay. The defendant was still asleep while his life was being changed for the worse. Prosecution attorney, Mark Ott, argued for an increase in bond amount by another $100,000 based on his continuous monitoring of the defendant’s social media presence. Judge Gevercer issued a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest and increased the bond amount by $25,000, which would be increased by $100,000 when the formal arraignment occurs.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 62: Friday, February 26, Sophia heard multiple sentencings and continuances, and in one interesting case, Damien Todd was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The defendant, initially arguing self-defense, shot the victim in the chest and fled the scene, the only witnesses being small children. The victim’s sister and mother gave victim impact statements, telling Todd “your legacy will be murder,” and pleading for Judge Savage to be harsh with his sentencing. Judge Savage, assuring the victim’s family that he was understanding of their hurt and anger, abided by the plea agreement and sentenced Todd to 16 years in prison.

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 60: Dorrin observed various domestic violence related arraignments with Judge Curtis Fiorini presiding. DDA Elise Stafford and PD Joseph Cress represented the People and the defendants, respectively, in nearly all the 20+ cases that afternoon. In one notable case, Judge Fiorini released a defendant on his own recognizance, citing the defendant’s lack of prior criminal history and year of no contact with the victim in his decision. “Now you know what it’s like inside of a jail. I don’t want to see you in there for missing court,” remarked Fiorini as he informed the defendant of his next court date. The defendant had been charged with misdemeanor battery against a person with whom he had a dating relationship. Despite the defendant threatening to kill his victim at the time of the altercation, the victim had informed the DDA that she did not fear the defendant because he is “all talk.”

Roxanna Jarvis – Dept. 10: Roxanna heard the preliminary hearing of defendant Quy Nguyen, accused of communicating with a minor with intent to commit lewd or lascivious acts, attempted lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, and arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes. The CA DOJ had an undercover sting operation with the Sacramento PD in July last year, where they posted a listing on craigslist with an adult decoy, posing as a minor, asking for a ride. Two photos were attached to the post of the adult decoy. Nguyen texted the number on the posting, sending a picture of five fanned out $100 bills near the gear shift of a car. From then, the two exchanged a total of 130 messages for two days. In those messages, the defendant indicated that he was interested in oral copulation from the decoy, who had stated she was 13. Nguyen drove his car to the arranged meeting place, but continued driving as he passed the decoy. He was soon after apprehended, and later admitted to DOJ Special Agent Supervisor Jason Nichols that he went to the meeting place for the purpose of receiving the discussed sexual act. Judge Ernest Sawtelle found sufficient evidence to hold Nguyen to answer for his charges and set further hearings to next week.

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 14: Defendant Casey Weber entered the Sacramento Superior Court Friday morning after being charged with 4 counts on April 5, 2020, consisting of assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, first-degree burglary, and a misdemeanor for preventing or discouraging the victim from reporting the crime. The male victim reported that “he was sleeping with his girlfriend at her residence and was awoken by a male punching him several times in the face and head.” From the opposition, Defendant Weber claimed that he “went to his girlfriend’s residence and noticed his girlfriend was in bed with another man.” He claimed that it was a “physical fight,” and he did not have a weapon. Officer Jeffrey Thompson testified that while viewing surveillance footage from the neighboring residence, the way the subject was holding the object made it appear as a firearm, however, he stated that it “could have been anything,” commenting that the surveillance was in night vision. Judge Tami Bogert ruled that “the court agrees that there might ultimately be some proof problems specifically regarding a pistol,” however the evidence was sufficient for the “low burden that applies at preliminary hearings.” Further proceedings are set for Dept. 62 in the Sacramento Superior Court on March 18 at 1:30 p.m.

Will McCurry – Dept. 3: Will observed a probable cause hearing where defendant Kevin Thompson attempted a robbery and burglary of Two Rivers Dispensary. One of the workers hit the panic alarm button and officers were dispatched to the dispensary where Thompson was arrested. Judge Delbert Oros found Thompson guilty of both offenses and scheduled further proceedings for Mar. 1, 2021, in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61.

 

Derrick Pal is a fourth-year student at Sacramento State majoring in Criminal Justice and pursuing a minor in Sociology. He is from Elk Grove, California.


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