By Esha Kher
WOODLAND, CA – Teen defendant Dominic Caesar—in high school and the father of a six-month-old child—was sent back into custody late last week by Yolo County Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam, but the judge said he may grant pre-trial release to the youth this week if he agreed to a strict, multi-prong structure of conditions.
Caesar is in custody for his alleged connection to a double shooting that occurred on March 24. The dispute leading up to the shooting began one day earlier as a result of a car crash caused by a violent fight between Caesar and his girlfriend in the car, according to the prosecution.
The district attorney’s facts noted that the crash spilled over into a family feud the next day for determining who would pay for the car damages, and ultimately led to verbal and physical disputes between multiple family members of the defendant and the girlfriend—where weapons were drawn and a gun was discharged, injuring two people.
During the rehearing, Deputy District Attorney Vita Mandala made efforts to meet the burden of evidence necessary to show that Caesar was the one who possessed and discharged the gun by direct examining the detectives and verifying the accuracy of the facts of the case.
Deputy Public Defender Andrea Pelochino cross-examined lead detective Nvard Avagyan, questioning the investigation.
Upon being questioned about the gunshot residue tests, Avagyan said “no” when Pelochino asked “as a lead detective you did not direct your Crime Scene investigator to take a gunshot residue test at the hospital on the victims, correct?”
Pelochino also asked Avagyan about the discrepancies between what Caesar’s mom reported and what another witness related in their statements, and whether a follow up questioning regarding some of those discrepancies was conducted. To that Avagyan said, “No, I have not had a chance to.”
The next witness testifying was Probation Officer Ana Gastelum. While Pelochino tried to indicate Caesar’s good behavior in juvenile hall and counseling, and his upward trend in academic performance and attendance, DDA Mandala elicited analysis by the PO that the defendant is not doing that well.
“He was lagging behind on credits. He should be a senior, but his transcripts reflect tenth grade, showing a huge concern,” Gastelum said.
Gastelum also noted the youth’s disregard for public safety as a concern and the family dynamics of the situation where “it doesn’t just involve Dominic but involves his mom, sister, and grandmother; in addition, the department got calls from the Sacramento County Child Protection Services about concerns related” to where the gun was found, and “when the minor would be released.”
Mandala also asked about the flight risks after a potential release, arguing that even though Caesar’s mother said he’s not a runaway child, “the police report said he ran from the police and hid from them when they were looking for him.”
Gastelum also said that the victim of the incident also had safety concerns if the defendant were to be released—her suggestion is that he should be kept in custody.
Judge McAdam ordered detention due to public safety concerns, unresolved conflict between the two parties, and the safety concerns of the two injured parties.
However, the judge said he would consider release with a structure of having the defendant stay with his paternal grandfather, upon a clear determination of the custody of the defendant’s six-month-old child including the role of both parents and plan of contact with the child.
The judge also set as a precondition for release and staying with his grandfather a life schedule, meaning that it includes what hours he will be going to work, what hours are dedicated to school, and what hours to counseling.
In addition to these conditions, the judge also hinged the release on proper curfew, GPS tracking, and a stay-away order. This includes restrictive contact with his own family and strict supervision by his paternal grandfather.
“Dominic is 17, needs to be a good dad, needs to be a loving and successful father. The adults created horrible situations. And Dominic just made the mistake of possessing the gun and discharging it, it was a mistake, but the whole thing was mostly set up by the adults,” said the judge.
The detention rehearing will be resumed next week on April 7.
Esha Kher is an undergraduate student at UC Davis studying Political Science and Computer Science hoping to pursue a career in corporate law. She is passionate about legal journalism and political advocacy that provokes new perspectives and sparks conversation among the public.
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