The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch for Mar. 1 – 5, 2021

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Compiled by Roxanna Jarvis

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 – Mar. 1, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Michael Wheeler and Alex Morgan – Dept. 60, 61, 63: Alex and Michael heard multiple prelims and plea agreements in the Sacramento Superior Courts. Multiple cases in Dept. 63 had complications due to defendants unable to communicate with their counsel, as they were in medical isolation due to Covid-19.

In Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette discussed the difficulties in conducting hearings virtually with District Attorney Rainey Jacobson. Reacting to a previous defendant appearing from bed, he stated, “We are not doing that guy any favors by treating it like it’s not important.”

In Dept. 60, defendant Calvin Davis had bail set at $10,000 for misdemeanor battery against a person with whom he was in a previous dating relationship. He asked to be reinstated to his sheriff’s work project, where he worked at UC Davis, but this was denied. A hearing date was set for March 8 at 8:30.

In Dept. 61, Christina Ramirez was sentenced to time served, restitution, and fees for one count of aggravated trespassing and one count of misdemeanor vandalism. Difficulties arose when discussing the beginning of the probation period. “I don’t have a phone, so that’s been my problem, and no one’s going to just let me use their phone. I’m homeless, that’s a big problem.” Told to find a solution by Judge Geoffrey Goodman, she replied, “Ok, I’ll figure something out.”

Roxanna Jarvis and Ankita Joshi – Dept. 61: Sacramento Dept. 61 experienced a lot of confusion during court proceedings. Ankita and Roxanna saw a number of continuances that day. But also, there were a few pleas that happened. One case involved the defendant, Cicely Evans, who was present to plead no contest for causing injury to an individual while driving under the influence. Details of the case claim that Evans failed to stop at a red light and shortly after hit a pedestrian, who ended up suffering pain in their elbow and leg. During her arrest, she exhibited signs of intoxication and admitted to driving the vehicle. Deputy District Attorney Frederick Gotha informed the court that Evans has a record, but claimed that it does not “merit a higher sentence” because her past cases were over 10 years old.

 

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 62: Dorrin observed multiple hearings in Dept. 62 with Judge Michael A. Savage presiding. Naomi Coady was the public defender for nearly all of the 40+ defendants that appeared before the court. Notably, a number of PD Coady’s clients lived or were planning to move to outside of the Sacramento area. Coady attempted to address her clients’ unique circumstances by notifying the court that they’d show proof that they’d signed up for home detention through a private organization rather than through the local Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program. Her request was based on what had been relayed to her by Probation. These requests ultimately led to an outburst by Judge Savage: “Here’s the thing about breaking the law. If you commit crimes and a court sentences you to things, your decision to decide you want to live somewhere else doesn’t take precedence over that…Is there something that’s not clear about that?” Following a tense back and forth between a noticeably irritated Judge Savage, Coady continued advocating for her clients.

Will McCurry and Yvangelina Poghosyan – Dept. 63: Yevangelina and Will heard a lot of cases that were continued to further dates. In some of the cases the defendants took a deal from the prosecution where then Judge Patrick Marlette read them their rights to a jury trial and all the regulations of their sentence.

Yolo County Superior Court

Derrick Pal – Dept. 1: Derrick observed a warrant hearing in Yolo County Superior Court. “I’m so sorry, I’m just so sorry,” stated defendant Trina Ruiz, who unexpectedly pleaded guilty instead of no contest to three charges during a warrant hearing.  On or about Mar. 4, 2020, Ruiz was alleged to have committed a misdemeanor of driving on a suspended license and committed an infraction of driving an unregistered vehicle. Additionally, on June 24, 2019, Ruiz was alleged to have committed a misdemeanor violation of shoplifting. District Defense Attorney Martha Wais considered the charges presented and explained an alternative program where Ruiz “would be eligible for the neighborhood court…on a deferred entry of judgment basis.” Judge Tom Dyer explained to Ruiz the rights she would waive if she accepted and asked if she would like to plead no contest. Defendant Ruiz surprisingly pleaded guilty, and after confirming this was made freely and voluntarily, Judge Dyer dismissed the charges of driving on a suspended license and driving an unregistered vehicle. A future proceeding is set for Sept. 1 at 9 a.m. in the same Dept.

Alexander Ramirez and Ned Meiners – Dept. 1: Alexander and Ned observed many arraignments with Judge Dyer presiding. The majority of the hearings resulted in the scheduling of a preliminary hearing at a later date, although a few were notable in other respects. Josue Gamera was arraigned on a misdemeanor trespassing charge and released on his own recognizance with a stay away for the Yolano Housing Authority. The order is the result of a charge  Gamera sustained while he was a juvenile. It was noted that at this time Gamera is working with the activist group Brown Issues. Defendant Robert Powers became visibly upset and disrupted court proceedings when it was determined by the court that he would not be released on his own recognizance and held for assessment by the Mental Health Court.  Powers is charged with felony criminal threats. Defendant Diego Barrientos was representing himself and had sought to have his previous felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor by filing a petition. Judge Dyer denied this request, stating he had not demonstrated any cause or reason for such a reduction. The petition was dismissed but may be filed again at a later date.

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 7: Hongyi witnessed two preliminary hearings. The first hearing involved defendant Dejesus Zanas Johnson was charged with battery with serious bodily injury. According to officer Eric Aguirre, on Jan. 10, the victim was in the bedroom and Johnson knocked on the door. Johnson punched the victim around his jaw area, which caused a fracture. Johnson said that he asked the victim to leave the room but the victim refused, and Johnson asked the victim to stop bullying him. The judge ruled to deny the reduction to misdemeanor and release additional medical records about the injury for both parties to review. Johnson’s arraignment is set for next week.

The second hearing involved defendant Myron Smith, and he is charged with 2nd-degree robbery. According to the Witnesses, Smith robbed The Bank of America that is located in Downtown Davis. He presented a note to the teller to give him all of the $50 and $100 bills, to which the teller obeyed and handed him a total of $12,000. The court ruled that there is sufficient evidence to form suspicion of second-degree robbery occurred and committed. Smith’s arraignment is set for March 16.

Tuesday – Mar. 2, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 60: Kathryn heard a number of probation and bail hearings Tuesday morning. After appearing frustrated with the court’s proceedings on the dismissal of his violation of probation charge, Defendant Bakari questioned, “If I deny it the deal is off the table, is that how this works?” When Judge Scott L. Tedmon affirmed this question, Bakari replied “This is disgusting,” but proceeded to willingly admit to the violation.

Defendant Bonilla was charged with first-degree burglary and inflicting injury upon an individual, which left the victim in a traumatic condition after suffering from being thrown to the ground and hit 3-4 times with a belt. On a different occasion, Bonilla grabbed the victim by her hair, dragging her to the ground, resulting in injuries to the arm, hand, marks to the neck, and a broken pinky finger. Bonilla was also charged with a DUI after being under the influence of Methamphetamine.

Defendant Britt-Jenkins was accused of allegedly pointing and threatening his wife with a gun. She also claims that she was run over by his car and “rolled over the hood.” The defense reported that the investigator claimed there was no damage to the car that was consistent with hitting the victim, but a medical examiner was going to determine the severity of the injuries. The defense questioned the extent of these allegations and asked that Britt-Jenkins bail be reduced to $250,000.

Savannah Dewberry and Esha Kher  – Dept. 60: Savannah and Esha heard a number of arraignments in Dept. 60. In one case, a defendant requested that his court date be moved as he believed he would be on a skiing trip with his family that same day.

In another case, written as an article, the judge in Defendant Todd Riesland’s sympathetically waived all fees associated with his sentencing.

Julia Asby and Michael Wheeler  – Dept. 61, 62: Julia and Michael saw a number of continuances and two sentencing hearings for plea bargains during the afternoon schedule. D’Angelo Williams was sentenced to time served in a plea bargain for a DUI dating back to April 12, 2019, when his blood alcohol content was .206. The counts included misdemeanor operating a vehicle with a BAC greater than .08, with a second count of having a BAC greater than .15. As a first DUI, he also was given three years informal probation and a nine month first offender program.

Later on the docket, Gary Woodrich pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor robbery and criminal threat dating to Sept. 29, 2020. Judge Geoffrey Goodman sentenced Woodrich to 90 days, to be served through a work project program or home detention. After Judge Goodman informed Woodrich that he would not be able to own a firearm or ammunition for ten years, Woodrich replied, “I’m scared of guns, so I’ve got no problem with that.” The rest of the docket contained continuances as well as rescheduling with the effects of COVID being seen throughout the schedule.

In Dept. 62, the afternoon session consisted of arraignments, with only one defendant given bail and many defendants released under pretrial supervision.

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 62: Lovepreet saw multiple cases in Dept. 62. In a particular case, Judge Michael Savage was unable to make a decision for a plea agreement offered by DDA Nikita Skokov because of a victim’s testimony in court. It appears that defendant Robert Irvine had allegedly been involved in the harassment of a victim within his neighborhood. He was accused of entering the property, confronting the victim with various threats, and was caught on 15 different occasions attempting to open doors and windows. A restraining order was filed against the defendant, however, that did not stop him in any capacity and the victim continued to receive threats. Citrus Heights Police Dept. had informed the victim that despite issuing a restraining order, this would most likely end up in a police report and nothing further could be done. The victim provided testimony in court and explained how she was emotionally and psychologically affected and she and her family have been forced to move. DDA Nikita Skokov offered a two year and eight month long sentence, but Judge Savage found cause to find this sentence unacceptable. Judge Savage was not on the case previously and offered to send it back to the previous judge, but continued to state that this sentence was unacceptable in comparison to the gravity of damage that the victim and her family faced. The case has been moved until April 6 in the same Dept. to give Judge Savage time to look more into the background information of this case to review a probation report and come to an adequate decision.

Wednesday – Mar. 3, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Lizet Gonzalez Palma, Yevangelina Poghosyan, and Aishwaryan Rajan – Dept. 5: Lizet, Yevangelina, and Aishwarya witnessed a preliminary hearing with Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle present through zoom from Dept. 5. The hearing was on an Armed robbery by a father, son, and an unidentified alleged suspect. The armed robbery occurred in a marijuana dispensary in Sacramento County. They approximately stole $12,000 and $4,000 worth of marijuana. The day after the robbery the marijuana was posted for sale on Facebook by a relative of theirs. Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle found sufficient cause to believe that both defendants are guilty of the charges in this case, and the court will hold both of them to answer.

The parties entered a general time waiver for a Jury trial, and the date is yet to be set for trial.

Ned Meiners – Dept. 14: Ned observed preliminary hearings with Judge Bogart presiding. The first hearing concerned Christopher Jackson who was charged with felony possession of a firearm.  Jackson is barred from owning or possessing a firearm due to a previous conviction.  Jackson agreed to plead to the charge, although it was unclear if he would be able to perform his sentence under the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Work Project due to remarks he made to an officer at the time of his arrest. If he is not accepted, he would have to serve 90 days in County Jail, and there is no way of knowing how the Sheriff’s Office will decide the matter at this time. The court reached a compromise by scheduling the sentencing date far into the future in order to address the problem. This interesting case seemed sufficiently interesting for an article.

The only other hearing concerned Deoni Johnson, who pleaded no contest to charges of pimping and larceny.

Dalia Bautista Rodriguez – Dept. 14: Defendant Christopher Jackson was charged with possession of a firearm, which has a maximum sentencing of three years. Due to remarks included in the report, Christopher’s attorney worries that they will not allow him to do a work project. Defendant Christopher Jackson then issues an apology towards his actions. His turn-in date was set, in case it was needed, and he is set to sign up for a Work Project later in July .

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 45: On April 25, 2020 Jordan Chang and four other individuals were pulled over on the basis of vehicle code violations involving alleged illegal window tinting, as well as a marijuana odor wafting from the car. When Det. Lewis conducted a vehicle search, he located marijuana and cocaine. Defense Attorney David Fischer mentioned that as of April 20, 2020, it is lawful for persons 21 years or older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana. He cites People v. Butler, arguing that “there is window tinting that is allowed to some extent on passenger vehicles and for that reason it is unlawful to pull someone over just to check window tinting…and especially in a case like this where the tinting of the front windows is much less tinted than the back windows.” Furthermore in People v. Johnson, it concludes that “detaining based on the general smell of marijuana is unlawful.” Judge Kara Ueda must thoroughly examine the cases cited to determine whether the initial vehicle stop was unlawful. She stated that she was not prepared to make a ruling and asserted that the court would reconvene on Mar. 5 at 11 a.m. in Dept. 45.

Contra Costa County Superior Court

Roselyn Poommai and Will McCurry – Dept. 6, 12, 23: Roselyn and Will bounced around Contra Costa County Superior Court Depts 6, 12, and 23. In Depts 12 and 23 Roselyn and Will were only able to see continuances of preliminary hearings, failure to appears, and other quarantine matters. In Dept. 6 we caught the very end of a preliminary hearing that involved an issue with a knife and mace. The judge found defendant Michael Clark guilty of committing the offenses and held him to be questioned.

Fresno County Superior Court

Ella Jennings – Dept. 11: On Wed., Ella monitored the afternoon shift and heard multiple arraignments and pre-preliminary hearings. Most hearings were short, and many of the clients were absent from their hearings. There were a few sentencings in domestic abuse cases wherein clients waived their rights and were sentenced to set hours of community service and prohibited from possessing firearms, as well as being granted future hearing dates.

Thursday – Mar. 4, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Roselyn Poomai and Natasha Feuerstein – Dept. 3: Natasha and Roselyn watched over 20 cases in Sacramento Superior Court. In Dept. 3, defendant Emmanuel Rodriguez entered a not guilty plea regarding a burglary that occurred at Total Wine in the summer of 2020. Two officers gave witness testimonies of the incident. Both officers described the account of the store’s assistant manager who allegedly saw Rodriguez outside the store asking for money, and later stealing a bottle of alcohol from inside the store. The assistant manager told officers that Rodriguez allegedly “lunged” at him and repeatedly yelled, “Get back” when he asked the defendant to return the bottle. Following this interaction, the assistant manager called 911. Upon apprehension, officers searched Rodriguez and found a substance they later tested and identified as methamphetamine. The officers identified Rodriguez in court as the man described and apprehended by officers at the scene.

Avalon Amaral – Dept. 5: A preliminary hearing was held for Willie Briscoe regarding allegations that link him to a burglary that occurred on Oct. 20, 2020. The resident of the home returned to an unknown bike in his driveway as well as an opened security door that usually remained closed. The man then blocked the door to restrict any last-minute escapes and proceeded to contact the police. Briscoe approached the door at this time and pleaded with the resident that he believed someone was sick inside and needed assistance. When the resident didn’t accept this reason, Briscoe began to strike the security door with a metal pipe. Police arrived on the scene and proceeded to detain Briscoe. Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie concluded that there is sufficient evidence to continue with a trial set for May 19 at 8:45 a.m. in Dept. 5.

Macy Lu – Dept. 23: Macy observed the preliminary hearing of Jeff Fowler and Timothy Pearce, which Judge Laurie Earl oversaw. Galt Police Dept. Officer Jared Spinelli initially stopped the two co-defendants in their Dodge Magnum after the driver, Pearce, failed to stop at a stop sign. The car was also missing a front bumper and had napkins obscuring the license plate. After his backup arrived, Officer Spinelli detained both defendants and searched the front of the car, finding brass knuckles, a double edged knife, and a black pouch with $3382.02 in it. Fowler, the passenger, confessed the knuckles and the pouch belonged to him. Two other officers on scene found a red bag of burglary tools commonly used for forcing open car doors, windows, and locks as well as a jacket with a taser device in its pocket.

Officer’s Spinelli’s backup Detective Nicholas Kohler, who was deemed an “expert witness” on narcotics after being questioned by DDA Emilee Divinagracia and Attorneys Manuel Alvarado and Anthony Crisostomo, additionally testified that the vehicle contained around 57 grams of methamphetamine and 30 grams of heroin. There were also two black bags nestled between the co-defendants. Within one, he found approximately 30 hypodermic needles, a few spoons, a black scale bearing meth and heroin residue, and an aerosol can with an unscrewable bottom whose insides also contained meth and heroin residue. Another striking evidence was a notebook detailing a list of names and addresses. Based on all of the evidence he found, Officer Kohler stated he believed the co-defendants are distributing and selling narcotics. Alvarado, however, expressed doubt that the evidence found is enough to determine whether the defendants were consuming or selling the narcotics. An arraignment date has been set for Mar. 16 in Dept. 62 at 1:30 p.m.

Julia Asby – Dept. 62: On Thurs. in dept. 62, there were mostly continuances which occurred that set dates for the next hearings. The docket was filled with those who could not attend due to COVID concerns and health reasons which show the drastic effect COVID is having on the justice system.

Yolo County Superior Court

Stephanie Boulos – Dept. 1: Stephanie observed a series of arraignments that took place by Judge Dyer and Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson. To start the afternoon off, there was a defendant charged with 23 counts, ranging from carrying firearms to missing appearances. His bail was posted at $1 million, and as such, wasn’t released from custody. Another arraignment involved defendant Jeremy Parsley, where the DDA alleged a felony violation of controlled substance for sale, as well as carrying over 140 grams of amphetamines and carrying a weapon. In addition to arraignments, Stephanie listened to a number of cases rescheduled to further dates in late April.

Friday – Mar. 5, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Nancy Aviña – Dept. 10: Nancy observed a sentencing hearing conducted as well as cases scheduled to continue in the following days. To summarize a specific case during this shift, there was a hearing that was focused on the defendant, Gregory Kosanke, who had a child molestation conviction that occurred in December of 2018 and had several victims come forward after. Kosanke was a former Sacramento radio personality and youth basketball coach and was in Dept. 10 to attend his re-sentencing. He was re-sentenced to a total prison sentence of eight years and would be a registered sex offender in any city or county that he resides in, and would pay a restitution fee to the victim’s compensation board of an amount to be determined.

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 60: Alexander saw cases mostly that were scheduled for further proceedings under Judge Timothy Frawley, but there were a few interesting cases. The first was a case in which the defendant said that they would not go anywhere near the alleged victim if they knew that they had a warrant on them, and that she’s scared that someone can just call the cops on her for something she didn’t do and now be in jail for half a million bail. She had other cases of domestic abuse and there was a witness for her alleged crime, but I didn’t know what to make of it.

There was another similar case of a defendant who didn’t recognize the statement against him, but he also had other previous counts of domestic violence and a witness against him, so again, not sure what to make of it.

The final interesting case was one that I made into an article and had an inmate who was released from jail in 2015 after acquitted of a false murder charge in 1998. He was asking to represent himself for this felony case, and the whole time he was in court was the judge telling him what that entails and his explanation of his prior experience representing himself in 2015. After that, the judge still appointed a public attorney, but gave him the ability to still have the option to represent himself later if he wants to.

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 1, 61, 62: Dorrin observed several hearings across Depts. 1, 61, and 62 with Judges Sharon Lueras, Geoffrey Goodman, and Michael Savage presiding. Nearly all of the early morning cases in Dept. 61 involved DDA Ashley Pane stepping in for her coworkers to approve dates for further proceedings. In Sacramento Dept. 62, Judge Savage had a pleasant exchange with a formerly homeless defendant. The defendant confirmed the successful completion of his AA meetings and noted he was turning his life around. Savage was able to refer him to an alternate program to serve his time, allowing the defendant to avoid having to turn himself in and risk losing his newly acquired job.

Esha Kher – Dept. 61: Esha heard multiple arraignments and bail motions. One case involved Defense attorney Lester asking for OR release and reduced bail for the defendant on the basis that he can’t afford bail, post-release suspension success, no criminal history. She argued that this case had to do with a felony due to PC 290 registration which was a 20 year old case and there was no recidivism regarding this case. The probation search in this case was conducted in a hotel room which he wasn’t resident of, there was 0.6 grams with packaging of heroin that he happened to be in the room he was in, Lester argues that because this was misdemeanor conduct and the fact that he’s been incarcerated so long affords him to be released on his own recognizance. Prosecutor Hayes argued that bail should remain as set and the defendant shouldn’t be let out with OR. She argued this because of his significant criminal history and felonies like vehicle theft and that in the case at issue it wasn’t just 0.6 grams of heroin to be linked to this case but there were other drugs found in the hotel. Judge grants release based on the nature and circumstances of the case, the time he’s been incarcerated, and because his prior recidivism is only related to 290, which is simply a failure to keep probation advised of his whereabouts.

Yolo County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen – Dep. 8: Hongyi witnessed a criminal calendar day conducted by Judge Paul Richardson in Dept. 8. In Defendant Lester Robert Current’s case, the public defender and the district attorney reached a resolution before the preliminary hearing and set for a pre-hearing status conference on April 2. Judge reviewed several motions by Defendant James Randall Poulin, the first motion is to withdraw the plea, the second motion is to dismiss. Judge Richardson ruled that on April 2 at Dept. 8, the court will continue the motion. Defendant Antonio Oceguera Solorio was out of custody for a preliminary hearing, but the district attorney questioned the defendant’s competency to stand trial since he does not have a phone number, would not speak to the district attorney, but only respond to court orders. Judge Richardson suspended the criminal proceeding, and will appoint doctors to speak with the defendant. The judge set for the defendant to come back on March 19.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 11: Sophia witnessed various continuances and rescheduling for preliminary hearings in Dep.t 11. There was seemingly some stress in the courtroom, as Judge Fall was covering Dept. 14’s cases, causing much confusion. This stress and confusion generated some tension between Judge Fall and attorneys, as he clearly became irritated at his continuous need to clarify and repeat himself. Despite this stress and confusion, Judge Fall moved through each case very quickly.

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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