The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (April 12 to April 16, 2021)

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The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. Today, the team has grown to about 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. 

Compiled by Nina Hall

Sacramento County Superior Court

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 4

This week in Sac 40, Ankita observed the preliminary hearing for Jesus Garciatamayo. Originally, the defendant’s prelim had been scheduled earlier, but due to the defendant contracting covid, the dates were pushed back. At this time his expected release from quarantine is this Friday, the defendants bail review was denied.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 11 

Sophia witnessed a sentencing hearing for defendant, Nicolaus Garcia, in Dept. 11. The defendant was convicted of first degree murder, after he shot a man with the help of a past girlfriend. Defense attorney, Joseph Farina, filed multiple motions before the sentencing hearing, consisting of a motion for a new trial, a motion to reduce charges, a motion to strike a prior conviction, a motion to strike a firearm enhancement, and a motion to strike a five year enhancement on the sentencing. Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan denied all of the motions except for the motion to strike the five enhancement, which she granted, asserting that the additional five years “would not further justice.” Judge Burger-Plavan denied the other motions, citing the brutality of the murder and the fact that it was “done over something so small.” Before imposing her sentence, Judge Burger-Plavan heard from a family member of the victim. The family-member tearfully addressed Garcia, telling him “You are a murderer, and you will always have blood on your hands.” Judge Burger-Plavan sentenced Nicolaus Garcia to 25 years to life in prison, which has been doubled to 50 years to life in prison because of his previous convictions.

Roselyn Poommai and Hongi Wen – Dept. 11, 36 

On Wednesday, April 14, Hongyi and Roselyn monitored two preliminary hearings in Sacramento Superior Court Dept.’s 11 and 36. In Dept. 11, Defendant Roberto Guzman faced theft charges after allegedly stealing the victim’s vehicle from a Home Depot parking lot. A responding officer located Guzman a short distance away from the scene and testified that the defendant was very apologetic and compliant when approached. There was no reported damage or sign of forced entry observed upon the vehicle, valued at approximately $1,100. The defense entered not guilty pleas and will further be heard on June 1.

In Dept. 36, Defendant Tyrone Joseph faces charges for allegedly striking his elderly aunt’s head with a metal chair at her senior housing apartment after an argument. Before leaving the victim’s apartment, Joseph repeatedly made statements expressing his desire to kill her. Upon arrival, the responding officer observed evidence of the dispute being broken glass and the metal chair on the floor. CSI was also able to capture the victim’s injuries, which pictured bloodstains on the victim’s shirt and scalp in addition to bruises on her wrist and back from a prior incident between the two. Defendant Joseph will be held in custody without bail until his next appearance on July 7.

Stephanie Boulos – Dept. 25 

Stephanie sat in on the preliminary hearing of defendant Byron Jones. Judge Currier found in the preliminary hearing of Defendant Jones, probable cause in a firearm charge based off of a bag of marijuana found in the defendants bag and a very loose link to a room found in the house with marijuana paraphernalia that contained a gun in the closet.  Jones, at his preliminary hearing for two charges, a felony and a misdemeanor, had three different witnesses cross examined and speak of 3 separate instances regarding his theft of catalytic converters. The third witness was detective Chad Lewis, who responded to a call to the Arden Fair Mall, where footage appeared to show the defendant stealing another converter out from under the car. As a result, on Feb. 4, Lewis and a team of officers conducted a search of the property where the defendant was seen to reside. The search of the rest of the property resulted in the finding of a handgun, sitting on a very visible shelf in a closet in the room closest to the Defendant from the driveway. Judge Currier concluded by saying the large quantity of marijuana in the defendants bag, the numerous marijuana smoking devices, and the proximity and visibility of the gun, is probable cause to find the odds and sufficient evidence to be charged.

Hongi Wen – Dept. 26 

On Friday, April 16, , Hongyi Wen monitored a preliminary hearing in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 26. Defendant Jeannie Sugar had reached a resolution with the DDA Saron Tesfai, and Sugar will be pleading to her felony charge of assault with a firearm. She is going to serve 90 days in the Sheriff’s work program, a written no contact order with the two victims, and a 90 day formal felony probation. Defense attorney Leibrock added that one of the firearms belongs to Sugar’s husband and is asking the court to release the firearm to the original owner. DDA Tesfai ran a record check and did not see any firearms that the court recovered matching Sugar’s husband’s name. Tesfai argues that the firearms should be returned to the rightful owners or be destroyed. Sugar’s sentencing is set on July 21 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 26.

Michael Wheeler – Dept. 32 

Michael observed a preliminary hearing on Monday for defendant Dustin White. During an argument with his (now ex-) girlfriend, White pulled out a machete and began chasing the victim around a homeless encampment where they lived. He cut her on the arm, leaving an eight inch gash which she said, “was a really bad injury and that it was something you’d see in the movies,” and of which a reporting officer said that you could see the bone. The victim was taken to the hospital by firefighters, and at their shared tent, there were slashes on the door and blood on the floor. The victim later reported to an investigator that, as a result of the injury, her motor skills had been impaired and, because it was on her dominant arm, she had difficulty cooking and writing. The case is set to go to trial on June 1.

Ned Meiners – Dept. 61 

On Monday, Ned observed the bail hearing of Cassandra Pajibo who is accused of assault with a deadly weapon. Bail was set at 50,000 despite the defense requesting she be released with no bail. However, per In re Humphrey, the judge decided not to release her in the interest of public safety.

Derrick Pal – Dept. 63

Derrick observed the release of a man who had been charged with possessing a stolen vehicle after he displayed compliance in the courts. The defendant, James Majiko allegedly stole a 2005 Acura from Triple Crown Auto Sales  and crashed it into a parked vehicle. Despite offering a plea of no contest for two years of formal probation and 180 days in county jail, Judge Orr agreed to a same day release for Majiko to sign up for work project instead.

Yolo County Superior Court

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 1 

There was some confusion in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 1 on Monday, April 12, that Ankita was able to se. There were many continuances granted for defendants who had been experiencing trouble completing their community service because of Covid. Additionally, a couple of defendants were confused about certain aspects of the plea deals that were proposed to them. For example, Defendant Debra Marie Barrett requested Judge Tom Dyer to take into consideration her completion of a 90 day rehab program to reduce some parts of her sentence. The prosecution and the judge agreed to reduce the amount of time she would have to serve from 50 days to 25 days. However, the defendant was adamant she had already signed a plea deal that consisted of a 25 day sentence. A recess had to be called for the defendant and her attorney to discuss how the new change was different than the one she had previously signed. After the recess, the remaining part of the defendant’s hearing went by smoothly.

Derrick Pal – Dept. 14 

On Monday, Derrick saw a  defendant in violation of a protection order over giving a birthday card to her child raised controversy in a trial setting conference here in Yolo County, eventually leading the judge to conclude that court diversion is the best solution. Defendant Alison Mathews is charged with a violation of a protection order for allegedly giving a birthday card to her child who she was not supposed to contact. Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson argued that this case is not a domestic violence charge, therefore there is sufficient cause for court diversion to be applied. In addition, DPD Hutchinson argues that because this a case dealing with divorce, “the opposition is, this is kind of being used as leverage…where there is a lot of issues at stake.”

Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor argues, however, that typical diversion courses call for the defendant participating in a program. Judge David Rosenburg finds that due to the alleged conduct in this case of providing a birthday card, a program would not necessarily be appropriate for the defendant. Instead, Judge Rosenburg states that if defendant Mathews agrees to it, that a one-year court diversion would be the most appropriate action, where the defendant must obey all laws and family court orders. If these conditions are met one year from the time of this hearing, then the case will be dismissed. After the defendant’s confirmation of acceptance, Judge Rosenburg set the date for a future hearing.

A further hearing is set for April 11, 2022.

Alameda County Superior Court

Will McCurry – Other

On Friday, Will was given an assignment to write a brief concerning Attorney Benjamin Crump’s recent post on Twitter. Crump’s recent tweet explained that “the WHOLE SYSTEM needs reform NOW!” With his grabbing caption, under it he posted a video recorded by comedian and “The Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah explaining how our system needs immediate reform because we don’t see any of the “good apples” since they don’t want to go against our system. “We’re not dealing with bad apples, we’re dealing with a rotten tree that happens to grow good apples. But for the most part, the tree that was planted is bearing the fruits that it was intended to.

Derek Chauvin trial 

William McCurry – On Monday April 12th, Will sat in on former officer Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd. He saw the testimony of expert witness Dr. Johnathan Rich from the cardiology Dept. at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. After reviewing all of Floyd’s medical records, and view the footage provided, Rich was able to come to a conclusion about the nature of Floyd’s death. He concluded that Floyd died from a cardiopulmonary arrest, which is caused by low oxygen levels that resulted from the prone restraint used on Floyd, as well as positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to.

Michael Wheeler – Michael observed Tuesday mornings proceedings regarding Derek Chauvin’s trail. Defense attorney Eric Nelson called five witnesses to the stand today. His argument initially centered around Floyd’s previous use of opioids. During a traffic stop in May 2019, Floyd had been using opioids heavily, and officer Scott Creighton testified that “The passenger [Floyd] was unresponsive and noncompliant to my commands.” However, his respiratory effort was reported as normal by the paramedic who treated him at the scene. Next, witness Shawanda Hill, a passenger in Floyd’s car during the May 2020 events leading to his death, stated that Floyd had been upbeat inside of the Cup Foods outside of which he was killed.

However, when a police officer knocked on his car window with his gun pulled, “He instantly grabbed the wheel and he’s like, ‘please please don’t kill me, please please don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me, what did I do? Just tell me what I did, please don’t kill me, don’t shoot me.” Officer Peter Chang, who watched Floyd’s car during the events, stated that he was concerned for the safety of the other officers, but that the officers never requested backup or signaled that the scene was not secure.

The final witness, Nicole MacKenzie, explained the training Minneapolis PD officers receive regarding the controversial medical condition excited delirium, but stated that “absolutely” she would defer to the judgement of a doctor. “It’s not our place to diagnose that.”

On Wednesday, April 14, the witness called to testify by Defense Attorney Eric Nelson was retired forensic pathologist, Dr. David Fowler. Fowler worked for the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Maryland. Fowler provided that there were 13 peer reviewers on this case, seven of them being forensic pathologists. The other peer reviewers consisted of people who specialized in behavioral health, pulmonologists, emergency room physicians, and toxicologists. Ultimate other expert witnesses who testified on Floyd’s cause of death, Fowler testified that the cause of death was due to a sudden cardiac arrhythmia as a result from Floyd’s orthostatic hypersensitive heart disease that occurred during his restraint and subdual by police.

Kathryn Wood – Other

After a video of Lieutenant Caron Nazario being held at gunpoint and covered in pepper spray went viral on the internet, the Police Dept. in Windsor, Virginia took action to fire Officer Gutierrez. However, this incident occurred on Dec. 5, 2020, and the police Dept. failed to fire the officer until April 11. Lt. Nazario sued the Windsor Police Dept. for violating his First and Fourth Amendments, use of excessive force, illegal search and seizure, battery, assault, and false imprisonment. The Windsor Police Dept. claimed that Dept. policy was not followed. After the town of Windsor released a statement, they mentioned that “Dept.-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present.” The statement added that they are “reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”

Nina Hall is a sophomore from Colorado at Santa Clara University studying English and Sociology.


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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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