The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch – March 8 to March 12, 2021

Compiled by Kathryn Wood

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 Derek Chauvin hearing, who was brought to trial for the murder of George Floyd. The following are a few stories covered this week:

Monday – Mar. 8, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 5: Defendant Richard Moore was charged on the counts of resisting a peace officer in performance of his duties, vandalism, and battery committed against a peace officer. Officer Daniel Mejorado claimed that the defendant threw a cigarette through the passenger window of the patrol vehicle, which hit his right cheek. Additionally, Officer Paul Danforth mentioned that Moore grabbed his leg and attempted to bite it as he spit up onto his uniform. The defense tried to argue that Moore suffered from mental illness, however, Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled, “it appears that the offenses charged within the complaint are admitted because there is sufficient cause to believe that Richard Moore is guilty thereof,” and “if defendant Moore is returned to competency he is entitled to a preliminary hearing.”

Derrick Pal – Dept. 45: Suffering a concussion to the head and forced to be hospitalized, Sergeant Travis Hunkapiller was met with violent retaliation from defendant Nathaniel Berumen who resisted arrest by a concert at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento County. On Oct. 26, 2019, at approximately 9:30 p.m., Peace Officer Kendra Armstrong and Sergeant Travis Hunkapiller were alerted by Golden 1 Center security officers of a disturbance. Upon arrival, they noticed the defendant being escorted by security officers where he appeared to be “jerking and moving back and forth, trying to get away from the security staff.” When Sergeant Hunkapiller attempted to restrain the defendant from behind, he was hip tossed and thrown into the air, where his head met the concrete ground with full force. Based on the testimonies provided, Judge Kara Ueda found sufficient cause that the defendant is guilty and is therefore held to answer for the charges against him. Defendant Berumen is charged with one count of committing unlawful threats and violence to prevent executive officers from performing their duties and one count of willful and unlawful use of force and violence upon an officer, resulting in serious bodily injury. A future proceeding is set for Friday, April 9 at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 8.

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 62: Hongyi Wen witnessed one case involving defendant Anthony Bidou and co-defendant Kenneth Linden and Gilbert Escobar. Bidou entered a plea of no contest to 180 days of alternative sentencing and 2 years of formal probation for a second degree of burglary. On Nov. 24,2020 in Sacramento County, Anthony lawfully entered the Pacific West Builder construction site and took tools and a protective vest that belonged to the construction site. He is entering a plea of no contest to count 1 for 180 days of alternative sentencing and two years of probation. Defendant Tyler Maile’s case is set for a jury trial on June 14. Defendant Michael entered a not guilty plea and the next hearing will be on April 13, 2021. Defendant Mario Corte’s preliminary hearing is moved to April 19, 2021.

Michael Wheeler and Julia Asby – Dept. 63: Out of the 17 cases that appeared before Judge Patrick Marlette in Dept. 63 today, a handful stick out. Marlette scheduled Nicole Davie for trial on June 28th, and although the crime was not stated, the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic was present. As multiple witnesses live in Georgia, prosecutor Morgan Forrest expressed concern that travel restrictions due to the pandemic could hinder the ability of those witnesses to appear in court. “Having people travel during this time has been a real challenge,” she informed Marlett

A second interesting case was that of Daniel Aldrete. Prior to the hearing, Alredete’s attorney Samantha Ting remarked, “He’s just a baby,” as Aldrete is only 18 years old. Ting requested that Aldrete be released pending trial, as he was being held as a result of a juvenile hold and did not have an adult criminal record. Marlette acquiesced to his release, but cautioned Aldrete that he should expect to be searched as a part of his release.

In the case of Cortney Thurman, Assistant Public Defender Damien Jovel objected to the inclusion of two counts in an amended complaint combining all charges against Thurman. “In every other count, your Honor, there is physical and corroborating evidence to place my client at the scene. But in counts two and four, essentially from my review… I don’t see any physical evidence, the people who were involved in those incidents told police at the time that they would be unable to identify Mr. Thurman.” DDA Andrea Morris disagreed, and Judge Marlette upheld the combination of charges.

Yolo County Superior Court

Ella Jennings – Dept. 1, 7: Ella heard probation hearings and multiple arraignments in Yolo County Dept. 1 and 7. In Yolo Dept. 7, there was a preliminary hearing with two police officers as witnesses in a stalking case. The defendant was a man named Sander Findlay who had been blasting music in the early hours of Jan. 19th, 2021 and walking around his apartment naked, causing him and his roommate to get into a physical altercation, resulting in the roommate exiting the apartment and dialing 911. Findlay was rather drunk at the time as well, and had a blood alcohol level of 0.2 when he was tested at the jail. After his interaction with his roommate, Findlay walked through the hallway of his apartment naked and continuously rang the doorbell of the apartment across from him. The police were called three times, and Findlay was arrested after the third time since he had been banging on the tenants’ door, yelling “f–k” and “where are the vaginas.” Since he was on probation for a DUI at the time and violated his probation condition of not drinking alcohol, his bail was raised to $5,000. He was arrested on three counts of stalking and his next arraignment is on March 23, 2021.

Fresno County Superior Court

Natasha Feuerstein – Dept. 12: In Fresno Superior Court Dept. 12, defendant Juan Carlos Valdez initially refused to seek representation from the Public Defender who was present in the courtroom at the time. Instead, Valdez opted to represent himself, despite seemingly having no prior experience with legal proceedings or knowledge of legal matters. Valdez interrupted Judge Monica Diaz multiple times as she attempted to inform Valdez of his rights, but she had to remind him each time that she, nor anyone in the courtroom for that matter, could give him advice or clarification since he chose to represent himself. After much back and forth between Valdez and Judge Monica Diaz, Valdez finally agreed with the Judge that it would be better if he sought representation from Public Defender Marco Aguilar.

Tuesday – Mar. 9, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 42: On Tuesday, March 9th, Lovepreet saw multiple preliminary trials in the Sacramento Superior Court. In particular, there was a preliminary trial that moved further into a jury trial. DDA Emilee Davinagracia prosecuted defendant Kevin Clemmons based on proximity and an unreasonable search and seizure. The officers on duty in Sacramento were dispatched to an AutoZone shop in the city for a domestic violence report, in which one female and male were involved. The female had reported to the store manager that she had been punched in the face, after which the manager called the police Dept. The defendant, who was sitting in his tinted vehicle, was detained and arrested for possession of amphetamine and a firearm, despite officers looking for a domestic violence report. The officers both insisted that they were able to see an amphetamine pipe in the front console of the vehicle, despite the windows being tinted and it being dark outside. Regardless, the defendant was detained and an unreasonable search occurred without reasonable cause. The officers then proceeded to search the rest of the car until they found the firearm and marijuana.

Michael Wheeler – Dept. 63: The case of Cory Satnowski was the first case of the day that stuck out. Public Defender Hubert Chen argued that the two counts Satnowski faces, one for DUI and the other for domestic violence, should be severed. This move is “necessary to allow the defendant to have a fair determination as to his guilt or innocence.” Prosecution argued that, as a hearing on this topic had been held just two weeks previously, today’s hearing was an improper forum to address this concern. Judge Scott Tedmon agreed with the prosecution, although he stated it could be brought up at a later date without prejudice. Later in the session, Mark Wright’s bail hearing became complicated when DDA Rona Filippini asked Judge Tedmon to set Wright’s bail at a higher amount than that scheduled. However, Filippini made the argument based on facts pertaining to a previous case of Wright’s, and bail was ultimately not imposed upon the defendant. Meanwhile, in multiple cases Judge Tedmon made use of the leeway granted him and arranged for defendants to be released in order for them to keep their jobs. Shaun Stacker and Kyle Sirman were the recipients of this leniency. Stacker’s probation expires on Friday, while Sirman will return to court on April 6 on charges of domestic violence. And as usual, multiple defendants were unable to appear in court due to medical isolation as a result of Covid-19.

Yolo County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 11: Hongyi Wen witnessed a preliminary hearing involving defendant Eugene Earl Houseman. Houseman is charged with assault likely to produce great bodily injury, threatened to commit a crime, and resisted a public officer. On Jan 19, 2021, Houseman and two other males got into a fight in front of a Sherwin and William. Houseman allegedly struck the victim on the head with a wooden stick that is similar to a baseball bat, which caused the victim to bleed all over his face. Afterward, Officer McKenzie arrived at the scene and saw Houseman allegedly chasing the victim on the east side of the store. Officer McKenzie and other officers asked Houseman to stop and get on the ground, but Houseman would not comply. A K9 officer was deployed and Houseman fell to the ground. The Deputy District Attorney decided to withdraw count 1 and 3, and the judge ruled that there is sufficient evidence to support count 2 and 4. The judge also declined the request to release the defendant on Supervised Own Recognizance and a bail reduction. The next arraignment is set to be on March 23, with Judge David Reed.

Wednesday – Mar. 10, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 9: Defense Attorney Hendrick Crowell appeared on behalf of the Defendant Kimberley Thompson on 977 authority, and imparted to the judge and DDA Rainey Jacobson that Thompson would not be able to show up in court, as she was suffering from delusional thoughts. DDA Jacobson was not pleased with this news, as this case had been continuing for 17 months. She contended that a diagnosis of schizophrenia and depression was not equivalent to a lack of competency, and thus a continuance should not be granted. However, Judge Helena R. Gweon agreed with the defense that auditory hallucinations warranted a continuance, and granted a suspension of criminal proceedings.

Derrick Pal – Dept. 60: An attempt by the defense to pass a Romero motion ended unsuccessfully for defendant Franklin Brittenum due to the court’s findings of his “egregious” violent history in a settlement conference here in Sacramento. The defense argued that despite the previous violent offenses, defendant Brittenum has committed the good behavior he has displayed through attending college, holding a steady job, and providing for his family, qualifying for consideration in a Romero motion where a previous felony may be struck.

However, the prosecution argued otherwise, stating that in this case, “the defendant brutally beat the victim by hitting her, slapping her, pinning her down, and going as far as beating her with a stroller all in front of the two-year-old child.” Given the seriousness and violent nature of this and previous offenses, the prosecution argued that the defendant is “within the spirit of the three-strikes-law.”

Judge Scott Tedmon ultimately decided from the totality of the information that these serious violent offenses, in addition to the commission in the presence of a two-year-old, outweigh what the defendant has done to try and better himself, stating that it “would be an abuse of discretion” to consider the Romero motion. Therefore, the request to strike the strike pursuant to pursuant to Romero is denied. Further matters are set for March 24, 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 60.
Thursday, Mar. 11, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Savannah Dewberry – Dept. 4: Thursday, March 11th, Savannah Dewberry heard the second half of the preliminary trial for John Meskell, charged with first degree murder and possession of a firearm. Three members of the police force were called for witnesses. Deputy Michael Neverve who was the on-scene photographer, Detective Mike Mullaly who searched the defendant’s home after obtaining a search warrant, and Detective Robert Peters who organized the defendant’s lineup. Sacramento County Office of the District Attorney criminalist Nikki Sewell was sworn in as a DNA expert to discuss the way she obtained the defendant’s DNA from evidence taken from the search warrant.

Aishwarya Rajan and Natasha Feuerstein – Dept. 33: On June 5, 2019 violence was incited at the Burlington Coat Factory in Sacramento County. After three men allegedly attempted to steal merchandise, one officer who arrived at the scene, Bryant Schmidt, became the primary subject of a use of force internal affairs investigation. The preliminary trial hearing conducted by Judge Laurel White, oversaw questioning of Sergeant Daniel Templeton. Through body camera footage and additional video footage from the location, the events of the incident showed Mr. Schmidt kicking the victim repeatedly. Statements previously disclosed to the Sergeant by Lieutenant and force expert, Michael Press, were highlighted by both sides of counsel. Defense Attorney Josh Olander, arguing on behalf of the defendant, questioned the qualifications of Lieutenant Press and analyzed the standards of a peace officer. Prior to his closing questions, he used the testimony to combat the arguments of Prosecutor Wilson that could indict his client. Prosecutor Wilson’s main argument outlined the extent to which the conduct of Schmidt was unlawful based on the evidence of the comment, “it ain’t going to be a good day for you” spoken by the defendant, and the significance of the officers negligence to immediately search the victim for possible weapons. The trial is set for a continuance later this month.

Roselyn Poommai – Dept. 45: In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 45, defendant Albert Alejandrez entered a not guilty plea regarding multiple felony counts of unlawful drug and firearm possession. Two deputy sheriffs gave witness testimonies of the incident, which had first been initiated through a vehicle stop. After detecting the odor of marijuana from the car, the first sheriff conducted a vehicle search and located a substantial amount of marijuana crumbs and debris throughout the car. He also located a backpack containing marijuana, marijuana edibles, over 60 Xanax pills, and a 22 caliber revolving firearm.

The second sheriff conducted two searches on the defendant, who initially lied about his identity but eventually confessed. Though no weapons were found during the first pat-down search, the sheriff observed a bag of a white crystalline substance under the defendant’s stomach flap that later tested positive presumptive for methamphetamine. The defendant now faces a possible additional charge of the illegal possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell.

Friday – Mar. 12, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 3: Lovepreet saw a preliminary hearing in Dept. 3 of the Sacramento Superior Court. Four defendants were charged with a felony complaint. The prosecution brought in three officer witnesses, who testified to how each defendant was involved in their investigation. The defendants were charged with burglary of a Marshalls store, driving off with carts full of merchandise. The alleged defendants also lived in the same apartment complex, in which they had received several complaints against them previously. Once the apartment and two suspect vehicles were searched, several different identification documents, bank cards, credit cards, and merchandise were found. The judge found probable cause and the case will move forward to a jury trial in April.

Avalon Amaral – Dept. 16: A preliminary hearing was held for Brenden Blom on March 12, 2020, in Sacramento Dept. 16. On Oct. 27, 2020, Blom was alleged to be found in a truck that was half stuck in an Arby’s drive-thru. When highway patrol officer Brian Galley arrived at the scene he approached the vehicle to see Blom residing in the driver seat. He noticed Blom had red watery eyes and the stench of alcohol on his breath. Galley performed a DUI test and reported Blom’s alcohol intake level was higher than 0.08. Blom admitted to having three to four beers prior to attempting to leave the Arby’s drive-thru. Unbeknown to Galley at the time he had prior involvement with Blom regarding the same charges years before. Blom has two prior convictions leading to the event on Oct. 27, 2020 one of which resulted in a strike on his record. The prior conviction and testimony from the officer witness convinced Judge Delbert Oros to conclude sufficient evidence and to proceed with a trial.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 33, 62: Sophia witnessed multiple continuances in Sacramento County Dept. 62 and two preliminary hearings in Sacramento County Dept. 33. The first preliminary hearing involved co-defendants, Barbara Sims and Orlando Alviar-Rios, who were accused of breaking into a Target store in June, 2020 and stealing electronics and other small goods. DDA Toni Linarez called Officer Douglas Manning as a witness who explained that he witnessed the defendants walking away from the Target store and running away, dropping the goods they had stolen after they had seen the officer. The defendants’ public defenders argued that the defendants were not the people that had broken into the store, claiming there was no proof of the defendants ever having been in the store. Judge Laurel White ruled in favor of DDA Linarez, asserting that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial. The second preliminary hearing was a narcotics case in which defendant, Justin Costigan, was accused of possession with the intent to sell methamphetamine and marijuana. DDA Toni Linarez, also on this case, called Officer Joseph Spurlin as a witness, establishing him as an expert in narcotics. Officer Spurlin concluded that the defendant undoubtedly, in his opinion, had the intent to sell the narcotics. Once again, Judge Laurel White concluded that there was enough evidence of guilt for the case to go to trial, citing the testimony of the expert witness.

Minnesota

Tuesday – Mar. 9, 2021

Macy Lu and Stephanie Boulos – The high-profile murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was charged with the death of George Floyd, entered into its jury selection phase on Tuesday, March 9. The day began with the defense presenting a series of motions before Judge Peter Cahill regarding what kind of information can be discussed during the trial. Judge Cahill agreed to disallow officers who were on the scene during and after the arrest to speculate what they would have done in Chauvin’s place and to disallow one firefighter witness from opining whether or not she believes she could have saved Floyd had she acted differently. He also ruled that both counsels can refer to the defendant’s employment dates; however, they may not discuss the probable causes that affected the Minneapolis Police Dept. Chief Medaria Arradondo’s decision on why he fired Chauvin.

In the morning session, Judge Cahill and the attorneys rejected all but one of the five jurors questioned. They decided against Juror Number One on the basis that the limitations of her knowledge of legal terms would hinder her from fully following the development of the trial. Juror Number Three after she candidly admitted that because of the strong perspective on the case she has constructed so far, she does not believe she can neutrally make a decision based on the facts and evidence presented in the case. As for Juror Number Four, Judge Cahill and the defense concurred that since he had already pre-formed opinions on the legality of the choke hold Chauvin used based on his experience with martial arts and would not change his stance unless proven otherwise, he was unfit for the role. Juror Number Eight, the last to be examined that morning, was also dismissed after he admitted that though he believes officers can make mistakes, he does not believe in second-guessing their decisions given the enormous pressure of their job. Only Juror Number Two, a chemist who demonstrated he uses the scientific framework to guide his decisions and who had never seen Floyd’s arrest video, was accepted onto the jury that morning.

The afternoon of the trial picked up with the ninth juror, a woman with type 1 diabetes and an “excited” reaction to being summoned to jury duty. The woman acknowledged her “negative” impression of Chauvin, regarding the death of Floyd, but was confident in her ability to keep “an open mind”. After a deliberate discussion on her ability to be impartial, even with an uncle in the police force, she became the second juror to be seated for the trial. The third juror to be seated was a self-described “honest” man, who said he had somewhat of a “negative view” of Derek Chauvin, and was pressed on his opinions over the presence of drugs in this case, in his opinion. After watching the video of Floyd’s arrest, he believed there to be a presence of “hard drugs,” but later elaborated that regardless, it would not affect his neutrality in the case. The afternoon also had two notable strikes of dismal for potential jurors based on their strong stances in respect to their life experiences, one having former experience in self-defense techniques, and the other’s trouble grasping certain terms frequently associated with this case.

Wednesday – Mar. 10, 2021

Will McCurry and Alexander Ramirez: On Wednesday, Will and Alexander watched part of the jury selection for the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Judge Peter Cahill swore in the jurors and asked them a series of questions pertaining to the validity of their statements and reassurance that they weren’t going to commit perjury.

After Judge Cahill asked his questions to the juror, Defense Attorney Eric Nelson proceeded to take the floor for questioning. Nelson began asking this juror general questions and ended with asking more specific questions pertaining to their questionnaire. After the long period of questioning from Nelson, the prosecution had no cross and Judge Cahill informed this juror that he will be serving on the jury.

The next juror was a man who was working at a church. Throughout the questioning, it was clear that the man had a bias towards social justice matters and not so much towards police matters. Despite this, and after many confirmations from the defense and the judge, the man was able to confidently say that he would be impartial when it came to the case. He was still excused by the defense. The next juror was an 80 year old man who worked in real estate. He also had a generally negative view on the case based on multiple photos and videos he had seen on the news. However, even if it meant disappointing his daughter who had participated in the protests after the incident, the man said he would not let it affect his decision on the case. Despite this, he was also excused by the defense.

Afterwards, a woman who was a practicing attorney came into court. She was asked about her role as an attorney and whether it may alter her viewpoints on the case, but she denied it will. Altogether, she had a very neutral view when it came to Black and Blue Lives Matter. It was clear that details were important for her before she made a complete decision. However, after being questioned by the prosecution about her respect towards police officers, and although she denied it would affect her credibility towards them, she was immediately excused by the prosecution.

Friday – Mar. 12, 2021

Will McCurry: On Friday, March 12, Will heard jury selection in Minneapolis for Derek Chauvin’s trial. The seventh juror was seated today, leaving seven more seats to be filled. Defense attorney Eric Nelson and Maslon Partner Steve Schleicher questioned this juror before she was selected to serve.

This juror is a single mother who worked in health care. Prior to her questionnaire, she saw some media coverage on this case. She claims that besides her opinions she may have, she will be able to make a decision based on the evidence that is presented to her in the courtroom. Judge Peter Cahill informed her that she will serve on this jury. She has to return to the courtroom on March 29 and not to talk or research about this case.

Kathryn Wood is a third year at UC Davis, majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Professional Writing and Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning. She is from Petaluma, California.


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