The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch – March 15 to March 19, 2021

Compiled by Max Kennedy

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.
The Vanguard now covers courts and other news in Sacramento and its surrounding regions. The team includes 40 to 50 interns who 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 watched hearings in Sacramento, Yolo, Fresno, and Minneapolis courthouses. Notably, a few of our interns observed the court hearing of Derek Chauvin, who was brought to trial for the murder of George Floyd. The following are a few stories covered this week:

Monday – March 15, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dorrin Akbari: Dorrin observed multiple hearings in Sacramento Dept. 62 with Judge Michael Savage presiding. The majority of the 40+ morning appearances ended in the scheduling of further proceedings. Of note was a lighthearted exchange between Judge Savage and a defendant struggling with his Zoom audio connection. Unable to speak to the court because of his audio issues, the defendant held up his certificate to show proof of his completion of programming as required by the court in his case. He “spoke” to Judge Savage using thumbs-ups as his counsel, Public Defender Naomi Coady, arranged for a later appearance date to discuss a deal. The defendant gave a final thumbs-up to confirm that he would appear at the new date—ideally with a working audio connection.

Roselyn Poommai: Roselyn watched multiple cases in Sacramento Dept. 16 and 61. The defendants in Dept. 61 either received their probation sentences, took no contest pleas, or took not guilty pleas. One defendant, Deante Hilluckett, requested that the court held off on his reprimand so he could celebrate his son’s fifth birthday that was approaching in a few days. However, the court rejected his request upon his current bail enhancements from recently earning three strikes. Another defendant asked for a new public defender as he explained with irritation that his current appointed one appeared unwilling and unresponsive to his case. In Sacramento Dept. 16, the preliminary hearing for Autumn Clark took place. Autumn Clark had been accused of stealing a subwoofer and speaker after a next-door neighbor witnessed Clarke and two other subjects looking through his neighbor’s car. He suspected that the vehicle belonged to his neighbor rather than the suspects and called the police. The responding officers located the victim’s subwoofer and speaker in Clark’s vehicle, which was parked 100 meters away from the scene, upon a traffic stop and search. Clark pled not guilty.

Derrick Pal: “Mr. Sutton, you know, it could have gone either way today, quite frankly…but if there’s any new offenses, and I mean any new offenses, you’re gonna be in the cage,” warned Judge Michael Bowman in a bail review here in Sacramento County Superior Court. Defendant Vannoy Sutton is charged with one count of great bodily injury enhancement, one count of battery inflicting serious bodily injury, and one count of attempting to prevent or dissuade a witness from attending or giving testimony. In a previous case on December 31, 2000, the defendant was with his then-girlfriend who was taking care of their 10-month-old baby where, according to Deputy District Attorney Mitch Miller, the defendant came home intoxicated and threatened her with a shotgun because she called the police on him a week earlier. In the current case which occurred on December 19, the defendant was alleged to have thrown a scooter at the victim’s chest and later strangled her based on suspicions that he was texting and sleeping with another woman. Private Defender Charles Pacheco argued, however, that “Mr. Sutton has done his time…we have made all court appearances, he’s not a danger to the community, he’s not an escape risk, and he does have ties to the community.” Judge Bowman recognized the good deeds of the defendant, however, he stated “I am going to order that Mr. Sutton completely abstain from alcohol, take three AA meetings a week and have proof,” from the findings that the defendant has drinking problems. He warned the defendant to be careful or he could end up in the cage of the courtroom the next time they see each other. A further proceeding is set for Monday, April 26 at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 9.

Minneapolis Court

Kathryn Wood: After being charged for the death of George Floyd, day 5 of Derek Chauvin’s trial proceeded with the selection of potential jurors. Two jurors were successfully admitted to the jury. The first admitted juror stated that “discrimination is well beyond what the media can report,” adding that “black lives just want to be treated as equals” and not be “killed or treated in an aggressive manner simply because they’re black.” He claimed that he could be fair and impartial, claiming “this is the most historic case of my lifetime and I would love to be a part of it.” The second admitted juror stated that the police “should treat everyone the same.” She asserted “all lives matter to me, it doesn’t matter who they are… we are all important.” After being asked about her thoughts on blue lives matter, she claimed that she thought “blue lives matter meant everyone else.” When Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank told her that blue lives matter referred to police officers, she responded that she “didn’t perceive it like that” and “didn’t know what blue meant.” Defense Attorney Eric Nelson argued that there should be a change of venue with the large number of demonstrators in the area following the announcement of the $27 million civil settlement with George Floyd’s family.

Yolo County Superior Court

Will McCurry: I saw many cases continued to further dates. Martha Wais prosecuted all the cases in this Dept.. In a couple of cases, she offered the diversion program Neighborhood Court, where upon completion would drop their charges or lessen their offense. Defendant Clayton Isaeff was charged with resisting an officer, failure to present a driver’s license, failure to present insurance, using a cell-phone while driving, driving without a bumper, and obstruction of view from the vehicle. Wais offered this defendant Neighborhood Court to lessen his charges after completion of the program.

Ned Meiners: I watched Yolo County Superior Court, Judge Peter Williams presiding. Jasmine Vinegas, who is charged with a count of felony burglary, saw her case transferred to Neighborhood Court and was released on Supervised O.R. According to her defense attorney, Neighborhood court is backed up until July. Jasmine Vinegas’ niece Emilia Vinegas also had a hearing that morning but did not appear. Judge Williams asked that Jasmine get in touch with her niece if possible. Defense Lawyer Ava Landers appeared on behalf of Derikya Taylor. Taylor pled no contest to a count of unlawfully discharging a weapon in June of 2020 and feels she was not adequately represented by her attorney. The prosecution was receptive to letting her reverse her plea and a hearing for the motion was scheduled to April 26. I wrote an article on this.

Natasha Feuerstein: In Dept. 14, PD Ava Landers urged the court to be lenient with her client, defendant Michael Bradley. Bradley failed to appear in court multiple times for charges relating to a felony conviction while out on bail. Judge Dave Rosenburg cited his concerns with this, and the Prosecution agreed, explaining how Bradley claimed to have coronavirus each time he missed an appearance. The Prosecution sought to arrest Bradley, but expressed concerns with introducing coronavirus to the prison should Bradley really be ill. PD Landers assured the court that Bradley had proper paperwork to show his mother did have coronavirus at the time of his last appearance. Landers could not speak for the other missed appearances, but emphasized that his mother was surely ill, and Bradley could not appear since he lives with his mother. Judge Rosenburg decided to issue another court appearance for Bradley in early April to settle matters.

Tuesday – March 16, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court
Alexander Ramirez: For my afternoon shift, I checked into Sacramento 9. Here, I waited for about 30 minutes before letting the chat know that the Dept. hadn’t opened and I was looking for a new one. I took an assignment that Linhchi offered instead. It was on a statement released by the Public Defender’s Coalition for Immigrant Justice towards the federal government. My day was just spent working on this assignment.

Minneapolis Court

Ankita Joshi: On Tuesday, March 16, the jury selection for the trial of Derek Chauvin continued. The morning session began with a preliminary hearing on the defense’s request to include evidence from George Floyd’s May 6, 2019 arrest. While the judge had ruled in favor of the prosecution to suppress this evidence earlier in the trial, the defense requested Judge Cahill to reconsider his ruling on the basis that Floyd might have been operating under a modus operandi. The inclusion of the May 2019 arrest was supposed to help establish a repeated action of Floyd taking drugs when arrested to have “hospitalization instead of incarceration”. However, the prosecution argued that the inclusion of any evidence from the May 2019 arrest would add a prejudicial element to the trial. Judge Cahill resolved to take the arguments under advisement until the next day. As the jury selection resumed during the morning session, 5 potential jurors were interviewed and all were excused from serving on the jury. While the majority of these jurors were excused on the basis of hardship or for cause, Defense Attorney Nelson used his 11th strike to remove Juror 69 from the selection process, as the juror had negative views of Chauvin. The morning session of jury selection ended with Judge Cahill granting the defense’s request to interview the 7 seated jurors about whether they were exposed to news about the $27 million settlement paid by the city to Floyd’s family, which will take place over Zoom on Wednesday.

Wednesday – March 17, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen: Sacramento Dept. 9: Hongyi Wen witnessed mostly continuous today and one preliminary hearing. A lot of defendants lost contact with public defenders. Defendants Tanisha Jones, Tyree Bennett, Alexander Danilyuk, Delvin Cage were all not in contact with their public defenders, so their cases will be continued on future dates. The preliminary hearing involved defendant Keymar Johnson. Keymar Johnson is charged with one count of first degree residential burglary. Johnson and his co-defendant allegedly broke into the victim’s residence from the rear glass slide door and took a TV and a wedding ring, they also went into the kitchen area and went through all the drawers and cabinets. The victim had a security camera that caught the incident. The victim showed the video to the landscaper and he was able to identify that one the suspect in the video was Johnson. Detective Kenshin Vu was able to match the suspect in the video with a mugshot of Johnson. The judge ruled that there is sufficient evidence to prove Johnson committed a first degree residential burglary, and he is ordered held to answer. Johnson entered a not guilty plea. The next court date is set on April 29, 2021 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 61. The trial date is set on May 3, 2021 in Dept. 9.

Minneapolis Court

Will McCurry: On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, I sat in on the jury selection for Derek Chauvin’s trial. Today marked the eighth day of jury selection. Two jurors prior to the start of my shift were dismissed because the $27 million settlement affected their ability to hold Chauvin innocent. During my shift, Judge Peter Cahill dismissed two more jurors for similar reasons. Defense Attorney Eric Nelson questions these jurors and they had strong opinions against the Minneapolis Police Dept.. These jurors were dismissed for cause. One juror that was excused for cause, Maslon Partner Steve Schleicher was not pleased with being dismissed. He believed that this juror could have fairly made a decision besides his opinions and life experiences.

Yolo County Superior Court

Derrick Pal: Judge David Rosenberg demonstrated compassion and understanding in a pre-hearing conference for a defendant who encountered hardship through an alternative program here in Yolo County Superior Court. Deputy Public Defender Teal Dixon began the hearing on behalf of defendant James Hughes, stating “I would like the court to consider, since it sounds like Mr. Hughes is, really wants to go into treatment, whatever the results of this case may be, whether the court would consider if probation could find residential drug treatment that he could be placed.” DPD Dixon explained how the defendant had a bad experience in the salvation army in Sacramento and asked if the judge could consider alternative treatment programs to provide assistance. “I don’t want to set someone up for failure in going to a program that’s not a good fit that, we know that from the outset,” stated Dixon, concerned for the defendant’s success. Judge Rosenberg considered the position of the defense and stated that the court would “go through the process of evaluating Mr. Hughes for addiction intervention court or another appropriate program.” Judge Rosenberg stated he is not yet prepared to release the defendant on his own recognizance because “they’re really jammed for programs right now,” and he does not want to “set Mr. Hughes up for false hopes.” However, the judge reassured defendant Hughes that it will eventually happen, stating “we’ll see you soon, we’ll get there.” A future pre-hearing conference is set for Tuesday, April 27 at 9:00 a.m. in Dept. 14.

Ankita Joshi: The majority of cases presented in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 1 were either dismissed or rescheduled. Defendant Daniel Foster was present due to his inability to sign up for neighborhood court that was mandatory for his plea deal. DDA Martha Wais contended that Foster had never reached out to the neighborhood court, but Foster was extremely adamant that he had reached out multiple times, but they had told him there were no available positions until April. Judge Dyer requested that the public defender on the case should call the neighborhood court to clarify. But after the call, it was found that the neighborhood court had no record of Foster contacting them. As a result, Foster was sentenced to one year of summary probation.

Thursday – March 18, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Savannah Dewberry: Savannah heard multiple arraignments in Sac 60 and Sac 62. In Sac 62 a mistranslation from Russian had the defendant referring to Judge Gevercer as “your highness” instead of “your honor”, which he found very amusing. In Sac 63, defense attorney Joseph Farina asked for a special hearing to investigate why the Sacramento Interpreter’s Office would not send an interpreter to assist in his communication with his client, who could only speak Spanish. Also in Sac 63, defendant Bradley Bodai was denied reduced bail and release on a psych evaluation, after being deemed too high of a risk to the public. Bodai was arrested in his Carmichael home in February after police found over 50 assorted weapons in his possession and is charged with 21 felony counts of possession of an assault weapon.

Minneapolis Court
Roxanna Jarvis and Macy Lu: The March 18 morning session of the Chauvin Trial began with the prosecution contending why the court should permit a forensic psychologist to testify on the general behavior of someone undergoing trauma and anxiety. After Judge Cahill clarified that he would rule on that as well as the issues of continuance and relocating the trial elsewhere on Friday, the court commenced the jury selection process. Out of the four jurors questioned, only one, Juror Number 89 a cardiac care nurse, was selected for the panel. One of the concerns both counsels shared was whether she would rely on her own medical knowledge when deciding Chauvin’s verdict.


She assured them that she had yet to form an opinion on the actions of Chauvin during the arrest, the cause of Floyd’s death, and who was responsible, neither would she consider herself an “expert” when deliberating with other jurors. During the afternoon of the trial, two jurors were selected, making the total number of jurors equal 12. The first selected juror of the afternoon was a retired grandmother who volunteers by helping children in need with their homework. The woman, who is Black, stated that her life mattered when asked about Black Lives Matter. She also said that while Blacks and other minorities are unfairly treated, she has a favorable view of police officers and a relative of hers is an officer of Minneapolis PD. The second juror was a woman who works in the commercial insurance industry. In her testimony, she indicates a positive view for both Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.

Yolo County Superior Court

Stephanie Boulos: In Dept. 1, Judge Dyer went through roughly 9 cases, ranging from preliminary hearings to dealing with failure to appears, resulting in issuing multiple bench warrants. The first case Judge Dyer went through was that of defendant Ricky Gonzales, who committed a felony of assault with a deadly weapon. In addition, the defendant had multiple counts, from endangering and elder, and making threats to do with a deadly weapon. He was set on $50,000 bail and his preheating is set for late April. the second case seen to by Judge Dyer was that of defendant Benjamin Howe, charged with a misdemeanor of an outstanding violation of probation. His bench warrant was sent at $50,000, along with his bail and is to be seen back at court on the first of April. The third case seen by Judge dyer was that of Francisco Ponsé, who’s case of violation of probation was immediately dismissed without prejudice by district attorney Johnson. Another notable case seen to by Judge Dyer was that of defendant Savannah King, who appeared on local CBS news for getting arrested in a Walmart parking lot this morning. Her public defender seemed very sad of her citation and arrest, and her bench warrant was set at $20,000. The last three cases that came up in Yolo County Dept. 1, were those of failure to appears to court and violation of probations.

Friday – March 19, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen: Sacramento Dept. 15: Hongyi Wen witnessed three preliminary hearings today involving defendants Anisah Smith, Amir Moore and Tyshai Washington. Defendant Anisah Smith with another co-defendant allegedly entered the Food Max grocery store and took merchandise and clothes from the store, and defendant Amir Moore and Tyshai Washington both waited outside of the store in the car. After being caught by the security guard, defendants Smith with her co-defendant pushed past him and left the store. The security guard tried to take a picture of the car’s license plate, which led to defendant Tyshai Washington got into an altercation with the security guard and sprayed him with a can of mace spray. All defendants fled the scene with properties. All of the defendants had a negotiated disposition for entering a felony plea for robbery. Smith and Moore will have a 2 years of formal probation, Washington will serve a total of 4 years in custody along with her other felony violation of unlawful prostitution. The next court date will be on May 5, 2021 for an order of probation for all defendants.

Roselyn Poommai: Watched multiple cases throughout Sacramento Superior Court Dept.’s 9, 60, and 12 and Yolo County Dept. 8. In Sacramento Dept.’s 9 and 60 and Yolo Dept. 8, many defendants either failed to appear or made changes to their pleas. In Sacramento Dept. 12, Roselyn witnessed a judge deny a defendant a remanding for a crime he was convicted of as a teenager. In 2008, Frank Abella was just a month away from turning 18 when he participated in the homicide of a defenseless and disabled military veteran. Abella and his co-defendant had stomped the victim into a coma, leaving him to bleed out while later returning to the scene with a BB gun to continue shooting at his body. Records indicated that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the offense’s time. Frank Abella’s defense attorney requested that the court consider reducing his life sentence without parole to 25 years to life under juvenile jurisdiction. He presented the court with mitigating factors through Abella’s progress while serving prison time for the past 13 years, including remarkable educational, personal, and professional advancements. However, the judge had been reluctant from the start, describing the offense as one of the cruelest and heinous murders she had presided over. After hearing both the defense and the prosecution speak, the judge affirmed the court’s initial sentence and denied the defense’s remand request. She strongly pointed out that although she commends his progress, the existing mitigating factors do not change the committed crime’s severity. Frank Abella will be granted a parole hearing after serving his 25th year in prison.
Sophia Barberini: Sophia watched multiple continuances in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 63, as Judge Timothy Frawley took on Judge Patrick Marlette’s cases. Judge Frawley presided over a plea agreement and sentencing hearing amongst the other cases. Most notably, abiding by a plea agreement, Judge Frawley sentenced Brian Oros to twelve years in state prison after he was convicted for sexually assaulting his 5-year-old daughter on Fathers’ Day. The court moved through the cases quickly and with ease, Judge Fawley noting that it was a calm day in court.

Michael Wheeler: Today in Sacramento’s Dept. 33 the preliminary hearing of Lance Jordan was advanced by Judge Laurel White. Jordan faces drug-related charges, one each for possession for sale of heroin and meth, with accompanying charges of firearm possession, with a felony charge related to the firearm due to a previous strike upon his record. Former police officer Jorge Martinez, and current officers August Johnson and Daisy Castro, all of whom were present at Jordan’s arrest at the corner of 8th and K Streets on August 11, 2020. Judge White ended the hearing by stating, “It does appear to the court that the offenses charged in the counts one, two, three, and four of the complaint have been committed. I further find the allegations relevant to counts one and two concerning the possession of a firearm also to be true. I find there is sufficient cause to believe the defendant is guilty thereof.”

Alexander Ramirez: I checked into Sacramento 60 to start my shift. A lot of it was rescheduling and continuances. However there were a couple of interesting instances. The first was the fact that at one point there were 60 people watching the stream, and the chat had messages in support of someone named “V” I believe. The defendant was a man who seemed educated as he talked about a violation of due process since his case was supposed to take place yesterday at 2:30, but the court was closed. The judge explained that with COVID, he wasn’t the only inmate who has to deal with a backlog of cases and court congestion, before scheduling TRC and a jury trial. The chat went back to normal after the man left. There was also another man who was in on a bench warrant since he alleged that he was picked up by Stockton PD the day he was supposed to come in. The man also requested OR as his father is on his deathbed. Although the judge silenced the man when he started crying, the judge scheduled the closest date (3/22) for further proceedings and ordered that the man get access to a phone call to call for a bail bond. Afterwards, I checked into Sac 61, but it was a short recording about a previous trial that was not on the YouTube page.

Minneapolis Court

Stephanie Boulos: On the tenth day of the Derek Chauvin trial, Judge Peter Cahill made the decision to allow evidence from George Floyd’s arrest in May 2016, with the exception that Floyd’s emotional behavior not be discussed and presented to the jury. Cahill additionally denied the defense’s motions to move the date of the trial and the venue, in light of the $27 million settlement to Floyd’s family that was recently announced by the city of Minneapolis. Juror No. 96 was selected to be the 13th juror. She works in the customer service industry and describes herself as a lover of animals (especially dogs) and an advocate for affordable housing who volunteers to aid unhoused populations. Trial proceedings will continue Monday, March 22. After recess, the jury selection reviewed jurors 109, 110, 111, and 113. All of these jurors were dismissed for biases related to their ability to be impartial. One juror, No. 110 was dismissed following a private conversation with the judge. Another juror, 109, even admitted that the settlement by the state was a “dumb” decision. The day ended with two more jurors needed to be selected on Monday, in the hopes of having 15 possible jurors by the day of trial.

Max Kennedy graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a degree in history. He is an intern with the San Francisco Public Defender and most recently worked as a digital organizer with Joe Biden for President.

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