Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch – Feb. 15 to 19, 2021

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Compiled by Dorrin Akbari

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 the 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, from the State Capitol of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California. 

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

Monday – Feb. 15, 2021

Court Holiday (No Hearings Observed)

Tuesday – Feb. 16, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Esha Kher – Dept. 1: Esha heard a motion to suppress evidence of illegal possession of a firearm obtained as a result of search or seizure. The judge denied the motion because the individual possessed loose cannabis and was moving a vehicle illegally in a prohibited parking spot. Esha heard another case where the defendant denied four counts of probation violation. The same defendant was also charged with assault. They were said to have attacked someone with a bottle filled with Clorox after stealing donuts in a donut shop and then proceeded to run outside with the spray bottle and spray a security guard in the eyes. The security guard drew a taser and chased the defendant into the streets. Five witnesses were questioned in regard to this case. The judge held that there was probable cause to hold the defendant to two felonies and two misdemeanors and there was evidence of a violation of probation. The judge further noted that there was evidence that the defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine, so an argument that the defendant had a mental illness was not upheld.

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 45, 60: Lovepreet saw multiple preliminary hearings across various departments in the Sacramento Superior Courts. In a particular case in Dept. 45, a defendant was repeatedly shut down by his own attorney, the court reporter, and the judge. The defendant repeatedly informed the court that he had served time in Sacramento and Martinez Counties for this case and those time-served credits should be applied. The court did not have the records reflecting this. The defendant further mentioned that there was a warrant for his arrest despite him already being in the Martinez jail. The defendant pleaded for the judge to look into the time served and explained how, at the previous preliminary hearing, he was not taken seriously nor was his time served considered. The defendant’s attorney repeatedly told the defendant to remain quiet and that he would take care of the records. The judge ended the Zoom meeting before any further questions were answered.

Natasha Feuerstein – Dept. 63: Natasha watched over 20 cases in Sacramento and Fresno Superior Courts. In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 63, Judge Stephen Acquisto engaged in a heated debate with Prosecutor Spencer Rajabzadeh concerning a defendant’s request for a probation reduction under new California Law. The new law (AB 1950) shortens the length of probation to one year in most misdemeanor cases and to two years in most felony cases. In this case, the reduction would be to two years. Judge Acquisto was open to the defense’s request, but Rajabzadeh adamantly argued against a reduction, citing the defendant’s history. Judge Acquisto seemed slightly taken aback by Rajabzadeh’s objection. Judge Acquisto noted he believed there has been an acknowledgment in other courts that shorter probation terms are retroactive and granted the defense’s request in light of this. Judge Acquisto later struck all court fees for the defendant after learning she currently has no source of income.

Samara Yarnes – Dept. 60, 61: Samara observed various hearings and sentences in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61 and 60. In Department 61, notable cases included that of Otis Stone, who was given informal probation, as Stone had not picked up any new arrests during the last year. In Department 60 there were multiple defendants that were medically unavailable for the time being, so their matters will be continued directly after they are medically available.

Yolo County Superior Court

Aishwarya Rajan – Dept. 8: Aishwarya viewed a pretrial hearing for Defendant Terry Chafin. During the hearing, his defense attorney, Jose Gonzalez, requested a total of two motions to compel discovery under two separate hearings. It was made apparent that some of the evidence had only surfaced the day of the pretrial hearing. With new information and assumptions that there would be witnesses subpoenaed, the defense’s actions were viewed as a request for a continuance. The basis for Gonzalez’s argument was that if the continuance was not granted, the rights of his client would be infringed upon.

Wednesday – Feb. 17, 2021

Alameda County Superior Court

Sally Kim – Dept. 7: Defendant Zachary Running Wolf Brown acted as his own attorney as he filed a motion for dismissal. The hearing lasted longer than expected, as Brown repeatedly went on tangents, talking over Judge Delia Trevino, which caused several high temper moments. The vast majority of the hearing consisted of Judge Trevino assessing Brown’s readiness for trial. After hearing Brown had not subpoenaed a single witness, did not know the last name of one witness, and was only able to name two witnesses correctly in total, Judge Trevino decided that Brown was not ready. Trevino set a 9 a.m. status check meeting for the next day, noting that once she sees how much the defendant has gotten done, she will decide a trial date as necessary.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 5: Defendant Devin Whitefrost appeared for a preliminary hearing involving a hit-and-run incident. Officer Osmond reported that the victim was lying on his back with his motorcycle a few feet away from him when he (the officer) arrived at the scene. He noted that the victim had “a faint pulse, labored breathing, and was unresponsive.” The black car involved in the accident clipped the motorcycle and ran over the victim. Shortly after, the victim passed away. Later, Defendant Dolan Compton appeared for charges related to a shooting. The victim was riding his motorcycle when his suitcase fell off of his back. While attempting to retrieve his suitcase, the victim was shot in the abdominal area and was hysterically “screaming in pain.” Judge Kevin McCormick called for the defendant to answer in trial and set the date for April 7 at 1:30 p.m. in the Sacramento Superior Court.

Mianna Muscat – Dept. 1/36, 62: Mianna observed a bail motion in Dept. 62. The defense attorney asked the judge to thoroughly review the facts of the crime to reconsider the bail amount. The defendant was charged with a $1 million bail for a misdemeanor crime that involved torturing his housemate. The defendant and the victim had an argument which led to the defendant beating the victim, binding him with duct tape, then nearly choking the victim to death by tightly binding the victim’s mouth and neck. The defendant then fled the scene and was uncooperative with the officers in his arrest. Given the facts of the case, the defendant lost his bail motion.

Roxanna Jarvis – Dept. 61: Judge Timothy Frawley heard the bail hearing for Defendant Jairus Sexton, who was charged with lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, possession of child pornography, and unlawful use of an individual’s personal identifying information. Sexton’s court-appointed attorney, Tammy Soloman, provided Judge Frawley information about Sexton’s almost non-existent criminal history, as well as details about Sexton’s upbringing within the foster care system. Due to the severity of the charges, Judge Frawley denied lowering Sexton’s bail and kept it at $850,000.

Will McCurry – Dept. 60: Will viewed cases in both Yolo Superior Court Dept. 9 and Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60. In both courtrooms, he saw cases that were calendared to be heard on further dates. In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60, defendant Rashawn Lawson was released on a level four release condition. Lawson violated some of the terms of his release and was not present at court, but Judge Tedmon showed lenience and told Lawson’s counsel to relay a message to him. Noting this would be his only warning, Tedmon warned that if Lawson did not follow and abide by the terms of his release, he would revoke it.

Thursday – Feb. 18, 2021

Antioch

Mianna Muscat: Mianna covered a press conference from Antioch by two attorneys representing the Quinto family, who lost their son Angelo after his sister called 911 during a mental health emergency. The police used immediate force on Angelo, slamming him to the floor in his own house, shoving a knee to the back of his neck, and pulling his legs up and towards his back. In the video his mother and sister took of the incident, Angelo twice begged the officers, “Please don’t kill me.” During the press conference, the attorneys described the incident, answered questions, played videos, and gave the family and community a chance to speak.

Contra Costa County Superior Court

Ella Jennings – Dept. 37: Ella watched as Judge Wade Rhyne heard the bail motion case of Jesus C. Chavez. Chavez is currently in custody for a probation violation, possession of a dagger, and public intoxication. His attorney, Jillian Gonzalez, protested his $30,000 bail on the grounds that the DA’s office was holding him on weak and inconsistent allegations. Gonzalez argued that she didn’t think DA Augustyn had substantial proof that Chavez possessed a replica firearm as the chief witness claimed, and that he was being unjustly held in custody. She asked the court to consider lowering his bail and allow the defendant to be released from custody to stay at home due to COVID concerns and his low flight risk. The judge ruled that there was no flight risk for the defendant but there were sufficient grounds to deny the release due to concerns that the defendant presented an unreasonable danger to the complaining witness in the case, based on photos of a gun and death threats having been aimed at the witness. The court scheduled a date for the defendant to be transported after his quarantine period so that he could be present for his probation hearing.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Derrick Pal – Dept. 62: Derrick observed a settlement conference in Sacramento County Superior Court. Defendant Patricio Tenorio had reached his limit, stating, “I don’t want to be here in this prison. Not one more day.” Assistant Public Defender Morgan Karalash advocated for the defendant, stating that he would like the court to consider releasing him on his own recognizance. Judge Geoffrey Goodman denied his release, however, stating that the defendant is still serving time for a DUI and his expected release date is February 26. DPD Karalash and Judge Goodman agreed that a further hearing could be held next week—to Tenorio’s dissatisfaction. Ultimately unable to communicate further with the judge, the defendant slammed his fist in frustration against the door as he left the courtroom.

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 45: Hongyi viewed two hearings involving a DUI charge. The first was a motion for the release of records. The defendant, Robert Powers, admitted to speeding after drinking beer and smoking marijuana, which led to him crashing into a tree and causing minor injuries to both him and his friend. The DDA requested the release of the medical record of the defendant and his friend, but the defense attorney argued the medical records may be irrelevant. The judge granted the motion to release the records on the condition that irrelevant portions be removed. The second hearing was a preliminary hearing. Defendant Jose Guerra was charged with a felony complaint of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The defendant had two tall cans of King Cobra and smoked marijuana before driving. He drifted into the other lane, causing a collision with a motorcycle. Blood test results showed the defendant had a high concentration of THC. The judge ruled that the offenses have been committed, and the jury trial was set for April 26, 2021.

Tanya Decendario – Dept. 60: Tanya witnessed defendant Solomone Pale’s plea hearing. He pleaded “no contest” to a domestic violence case. After Pale’s partner broke up with him, he punched her, choked her, pulled her hair, and yelled at her. The court noted that Pale had a history of assault. For instance, in 2016, he assaulted somebody with a firearm. Noting this history, Judge Scott L. Tedmon sentenced him to eight years in prison. Later, Public Defender Justin Mixon requested the judge release defendant Lisa Taylor on her own recognizance (OR). However, DDA Danielle Abildgaard was quick to mention her long list of arrests and note that she is high risk and a danger to society. The judge subsequently denied the request for OR.

Friday – Feb. 19, 2021

Contra Costa County Superior Court

Avalon Amaral – Dept. 40: Judge Christopher Brown conducted himself in a very caring and respectable manner in regard to a victim of domestic abuse. Defendant Ignacio Alemanzaro allegedly initiated a violent attack on his romantic partner after she didn’t answer the phone when he attempted to reach her. When in court, the victim stated they are getting counseling to prevent this from happening in the future. Judge Brown considered the victim’s feelings and didn’t grant the stay-away order as prosecution requested. Instead he issued a criminal protective order stating that the defendant cannot disrupt her peace. He also spoke with the victim to ensure that she has an “insurance plan” in case this type of violent interaction were to occur again.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 60: Alexander observed as Judge Tedmon oversaw a number of cases involving domestic disputes, stalking, and ignoring of court orders. In one domestic violence case regarding failure to go along with rehabilitation, Judge Tedmon set the defendant’s bail to two separate charges of $50,000. The defendant spouted profanities as he exited the courtroom following the order. Another notable case involved a 26-year-old defendant who’d twice failed to appear in court. Judge Tedmon gave the defendant another chance to comply with probation.

Esha Kher – Dept. 61: Esha heard a rather interesting post-conviction matter that dealt with the retroactive application of legislation in relation to a motion that was for termination of probation. The defendant had $1,900 left to pay and had previously been denied release from probation. Nevertheless, the defendant’s attorney wanted to continue pursuing the petition because the defendant had paid the bulk of the amount owed. The defendant’s attorney brought up the amendments made to the AB 1950 in September 2020, the shortened probationary term legislation. Under the changes, he claimed his client’s term should have only been two to three years even though the defendant did three, so the probation would be statutorily terminated and the rest of the probation should be collected by the Department of Revenue and Recovery. The DA also noted that the $1,900 is a projected amount for five years of probation, which means that it doesn’t apply if the probation is terminated.

Hongyi Wen and Kathryn Wood – Dept. 15: Hongyi and Kathryn observed as defendants Brian Chavez and Ramiro Ramirez appeared for a preliminary hearing regarding a shooting outside of Stingers Sports Pub and Grill on Jan. 26, 2020. Detective Murawski recalled that Chavez stated the victim was “talking about someone’s girlfriend” and “he wanted to teach that guy a lesson.” The defendants believed the victim was “reaching towards his waistband,” and both fired at the individual. Murawski reported that the victim had “through and through” injuries, resulting in damage to “his colon, lungs, and spleen.” Additionally, the victim had “multiple surgeries.” Murawski added that Ramirez “teared up” at the end of their interview and seemed very “remorseful.” Defense attorneys Martin Tejeda and Steve Nelson claimed that the shooting should be classified as assault with a deadly weapon instead of attempted premeditated murder since there was no intent to murder the victim. Judge Kevin McCormick ruled that the shooting “demonstrated attempted murder” and called the defendants to answer in trial.

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 3: Lovepreet heard testimony for the People v. Nikolay Svistun. The prosecution based its case on proximity, linking the defendant to a residential burglary case. A van found at the scene of the burglary appeared to have been associated with those involved in the crime; the defendant was arrested the day after the burglary occurred for being in near proximity to the van. Two detectives testified for the prosecution. In Detective Edward’s testimony, she repeatedly contradicted herself and at various moments was not sure of the clear answer. Judge Stephen Acquisto questioned the detective and made remarks such as “I have some concerns” and “it is not very clear.” Judge Acquisto rendered his decision in spite of the fact that the defendant did not match any of the descriptions of the burglars who had entered the residence in question. Despite thoroughly agreeing with the defense and questioning multiple witnesses himself, Judge Acquisto found the defendant should stand trial, but “just barely” as he put it.

Nancy Aviña – Dept. 61: Judge Timothy Frawley oversaw a pre-trial hearing for defendant Oluwatoyin Mudashiru, who was arrested August 16, 2020 after an elderly woman died at a board and care home in Rancho Cordova. The defendant is currently facing two felony charges in connection to the death of the elderly women, one being suspected felony elder abuse under the homicide investigation. Mudashiru’s defense attorney, Randall Ensminger, was pushing to utilize a property bond that was posed by a Nigerian community member who knew Mudashiru. Ensminger stated that the property was valued on Zillow for $200,000 and a community member was willing to post the property as a bond for Mudashiru’s release. Following this, DDA Sydow pushed to hear messages from the victim’s family. Statements were by the victim’s twin sister as well as the brother of the decedent to encourage the court to set bail to a larger amount. After hearing from the victims and weighing several factors, Judge Timothy Frawley proposed a $200,000 cash or property bond bail, with conditions of an ankle monitor and passport surrender to release Mudashiru from custody.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 45: Sophia watched numerous cases involving continuances; however, there was a particularly notable case. Judge Kara K. Ueda denied Public Defender Ariana Hernandez Alejandre’s plea to not have her client held on possession of methamphetamines with the intent to sell after he was found with “345 doses” of meth. The defendant, Kevin Day, was also charged with driving under the influence, attempting to “defraud a person by passing a fraudulent check,” and driving on a suspended license. Calling two witnesses who have worked extensively with narcotics, DDA Linarez attempted to highlight the defendant’s intent to sell the methamphetamines, while Defender Alejandre vehemently opposed the charge. Ultimately, Judge Ueda, considering the testimony of the witnesses, determined that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial.

Yolo County Superior Court

Aishwarya Rajan – Dept. 8: Aishwarya watched as defendant Christopher Charles Koble’s public defender, Erin Dacayanan, requested that the court order a SOR (Supervised Own Recognizance) after failing to initially do so. She highlighted the importance of this action given that her client had been in quarantine and was unable to reach her office in regard to his case and custody status. Judge Peters agreed to order an SOR to make the fairest judgment for his hearing. In conducting the hearings for various cases, Judge Peterson consistently explained to the defendants exactly what their pleadings meant for their rights, regardless of whether it was previously stated by their attorneys. One such example was defendant Joaquina Rodriguez’s misdemeanor charge of battery, to which she pleaded no contest.


Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is from San Jose, CA.


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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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