THE VANGUARD WEEK IN REVIEW: Court Watch April 5 to April 9, 2021

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Compiled by Hongyi Wen

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, as well as national stories. The following are a sample of the events observed this week:

Monday April 5, 2021

Reporter Will McCurry: On Monday April 5, I sat in on the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. During my shift today, there were two testifying witnesses. The first witness to testify was Dr. Bradford Langenfeld who provided medical care to Floyd after he was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center. Dr. Langenfeld testified that the leading cause for Floyd’s death was a lack of oxygen. The second witness to testify today was the Chief of Police of Minneapolis Police Dept. Medaria Arradondo. Arradondo testified that Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd absolutely violated Dept. policy and goes against their ethics and their values. The prosecution plans to bring in more witnesses to ensure a conviction of Chauvin.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Ned Meiners: Dept. 9: I began the morning in Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 9. The most notable case had two defendants. Both Eukeayah Armstrong and Leronda Herald were charges for a theft at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Armstrong’s hearing was first and she was dismissed for insufficient evidence.

Hareld’s attorney moved to waive the preliminary hearing. When asked if she understood that she was waiving her right to a hearing Herald became confused. She stated she wanted whatever her attorney had stated but was unsure if they were asking something “tricky.” After a recess and a conference with her lawyer Herald agreed to waive her rights to preliminary hearing and set dates for trial. Several witnesses did not show up for appearances and bench warrants were issued in the cases of Tyler Smith, Teunie Turner and Aaron Crawford. One defendant, Wyatt Henry, completed 13 anger management classes and fulfilled the terms of his probation.

Dept. 9 finished early and I moved to Dept. 60. Two defendants, John Hubbard and Ramitesh Kumar were not present due to being in isolation due to COVID-19. Kumar is notable as I wrote an article on his case when he was denied bail after pursuing his ex-girlfriend in a car chase and firing a gun at her and a companion upwards of ten times.

Several defendants had problems with alternative sentencing. Brandyn Bishop had wanted placement at the Delancey Street substance abuse clinic but was denied due to suspected mental health problems and referred to mental health court. Richard Ramos had trouble completing his required anger management classes and the judge stated he had till June 7 to complete the required amount and it would be his final opportunity to do so. Kendall Willard pled guilty to a domestic violence charge and received 180 days sheriff work project. He was to be served a stay away order and when he asked if he could run outside and feed his parking meter, which had expired, the judge ordered him to stay in the court room. A notably exasperated Willard waited several minutes, was served his papers, and left the building.

Reporter Ankita Joshi: Dept. 42: On April 5, Defendant Arturo Sanchez appeared in court for a preliminary hearing after forcibly taking his ex-girlfriend from her home to a secondary location. The victim had relayed to Officer Victor Stevens, the responding officer to her 911 call, the events of the previous night when the incident had occurred. Sanchez had arrived at her home, and had slammed her against the wall. When she refused to go with him, he had threatened to kill her. At the secondary location, she was threatened again, and was body slammed into the ground after the defendant had accused her of cheating on him. Sanchez had eventually driven her home, and had made his way forcibly into her house before leaving after an unknown amount of time.

The defense argued that there was no concrete evidence against Sanchez for these allegations, and brought up the issue that the victim may have been on meth at the night of the incident, which might be why she waited a whole day to report it. Towards the latter end of the preliminary hearing, the defense tried to pass a 17B motion to reduce the felony charges against Sanchez to a misdemeanor, as there was only slight bruising on the victim. However, Judge Allen Sumner moved to dismiss the motion and maintained felony charges. A bail hearing was also considered, but under new procedural law in Humphries, the victim had to be notified or present at the bail hearing. Thus, Judge Sumner scheduled a bail hearing for a later date, and moved to hold Sanchez, as he posed a risk to public safety.

Reporter Roselyn Poommai: Dept. 61: On Monday morning, April 5, Roselyn monitored Sacramento Superior Court Depts. 15, 37, and 61. In Sacramento Dept. 15, Defendant Robert Harris was facing an allegation for the sale of drugs. The witness, an officer who approached the defendant at the park that day, testified to having found 30.57 grams on Harris’s person. The officer and her partner additionally found numerous dominations of cash and empty plastic bags in his pockets. Because no smoking device was found on Harris, the testifying officer and her partner determined that his possession of rock cocaine was for the purpose of sale. The judge determined that there was enough evidence for continuing forward with the case. Defendant Harris’s next trial date is on May 1.

In Dept. 37, Defendant Demetrius Williams faced a domestic violence felony allegation against his ex-girlfriend, the victim. In 2019, the defendant had allegedly thrown a glass alcohol bottle at the victim’s head and left an injury. However, when the testifying officer arrived at the scene that night, the victim was too shaken up to speak to him. The officer solely received the victim’s statement from the victim’s friend and could not receive further details. The judge determined enough evidence to continue with the trial and set Williams’s next trial date on May 19. In Dept. 61, defendants either took no guilty and no contest pleas.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Derrick Pal: Dept. 1: A defendant’s misunderstanding of his case dismissal creates confusion and frustration in an arraignment here in Yolo county, where he then realizes his mistake and apologizes to the judge. Defendant Jeffery Hammit was charged with one count of a misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine. Deputy District Attorney Martha Wais explained how the defendant was eligible for a harm reduction diversion program, and through considering appropriate treatment, his case would be dismissed.
Judge Stephen Mock began speaking, stating he would dismiss the case, however, defendant Hammit interrupted. The defendant misunderstood what the judge was saying, and stated, “This would have been taken care of, your Honor. I have immunity since May 31, 2018, now you guys are coming back three years ago and saying your gonna put me on probation, and I gotta do what?” stated Hammit who was now clearly upset. DDA Wais tried to interrupt but was unsuccessful. “It’s your guy’s fault that I didn’t have knowledge of this warrant,” claimed defendant Hammit in frustration.

Judge Mock explained again that the defendant’s case had been dismissed, attempting to clear up the misunderstanding. Defendant Hammit appeared taken aback after hearing this, now realizing his mistake. “I’m sorry, your Honor, I’m sorry. I apologize. I thought something else was going on here,” stated defendant Hammit, now laughing at the misunderstanding. With this misunderstanding now cleared, defendant Hammit thanked Judge Mock once more and exited the courtroom, relieved and happy.

Reporter Michael Wheeler: Dept. 11: Judge Timothy Fall pushed Yolo 11 at rapid speed through the morning agenda. The agendas of Yolo 11 and Yolo 7 were combined, and as Yolo 11 itself had 43 items on its agenda, Fall expressed his need for speed frequently in the first half of the proceedings and pushed all preliminary hearings to the afternoon. The morning schedule actually finished early but no cases stood out, except for one defendant who failed to appear because he was dead.

 

Reporter Kathryn Wood: Dept. 14: Judge Dave Rosenberg held the pretrial discussion for Defendant Louis Ortiz in Dept. 14 of the Yolo County Superior Court. Ortiz is charged with counts of assault with a deadly weapon (scissors), threat to commit crime resulting in death of great bodily injury from use of a deadly weapon, and use of a deadly weapon other than a firearm. The Court played the 911 call from one witness, stating that there was “a guy who charged a couple of people” and was “threatening people about to hit them.” Judge Rosenberg ruled to dismiss this call from the trial and stated that it was not necessary to include. Defense attorney Richard Van Zandt added that Ortiz has bipolar disorder and mental health issues, which are relevant for sentencing if he is convicted of a crime. The trial will continue on April 6 in Dept. 2 of the Yolo County Superior Court at 9 am.

Tuesday April 6, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Michael Wheeler: Dept. 61: Two cases from Sac 61’s schedule stood out as notable. In the first case, Eugene Brooks was accused of sexually assaulting his mother in law while she slept in August 2019. He was sentenced to three years in jail. During the hearing, he mentioned that he had been under the influence when he had committed the assault, but had since cleaned up. “I just want to thank her for ruining my life, but also for starting my life of sobriety. I have no ill will towards her, I just hope that her and her family will heal.”

In the second case, Rafael Valles had a preliminary sentence issued of 12 years, 8 months, for a string of armed robberies that he had committed in Sacramento in summer 2019, including robbing a T-Mobile store and a Dress Barn store, in addition to individuals he met up with via apps like Offer Up to buy shoes and other small items. Judge Timothy Frawley got irritated with the legalese prosecutor Andrea Morris used, saying, “Just the way you talk to your neighbor is the way I want to hear it, because the defendant hasn’t gone to law school. I want him to understand. You’re putting too much formality and legalese into it. I just want facts, which in plain English address the elements of the charges.”

Wednesday April 7, 2021

Reporter Will McCurry: On April 7, I sat in on the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd. During my shift, there were two witnesses that testified. The first witness to testify, rolled over from yesterday’s trial, was Sergeant Steiger. Steiger told the court that Chauvin’s use of force on Floyd was excessive and not objectively reasonable. As time passed, Floyd’s health was deteriorating and Steiger said that Chauvin needed to take responsibility that something was wrong and take an action on that. The second witness to testify was Senior Special Agent James Reyerson with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Reyerson was the lead investigator on this case. His agency investigates criminal uses of force. Reyerson was involved in every aspect of investigation for this case and obtained camera footage, both the vehicles from the scene, a blood sample from Floyd’s body, and the autopsy report.

Sacramento County Superior Court

Reporter Julia Asby and Hongyi Wen: Dept. 18: On April 7 , Julia and Hongyi heard a preliminary hearing in Sacramento County Court Dept. 18. Cody Houtz is charged with multiple felonies and a misdemeanor for stalking, harassing and threatening his ex-girlfriend. The preliminary hearing included testimony from Officer Patrick Scott and Officer Ricky Lazaro who testified to the extent they interviewed the witnesses in this case and gathered information and evidence. Houtz was defended by public defender Eliza Hook and is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Scott Scheweibish. One of the main points of inquiry during the preliminary hearing was whether or not text messages allegedly sent by Houtz to his ex-girlfriend were threatening and could conclusively be traced back to him. The preliminary hearing will continue in Dept. 18 on April 8.

Reporter Roselyn Poommai: Dept. 15 and 17: On Wednesday morning, April 7, Roselyn tuned into Sacramento Superior County Court Depts. 15 and 17. In Dept. 15, defendant Richard Williams entered not guilty pleas for a felony charge of a criminal threat. The defendant had allegedly threatened the victim by holding up a firearm and bragging about killing people multiple times. At one point during their interaction, the defendant stated, “I kill people with a gun.” The defense argued that the defendant’s statement did not fall under the requirements for serious intent and was merely “perceived” as a threat by the victim. The defense further argued for the defendant’s first amendment rights to free speech and established that there was not enough evidence to hold that his client’s statement was a true threat. The case will be further discussed on May 19.

In Dept. 17, a stepfather of two was facing 14 charges of sexually abusing his stepdaughter. Over a span of three years, Defendant Joshua C**** (last name withheld to protect identify of juvenile) allegedly committed lewd and lascivious acts with the victim, who was only five years old at the start of the acts. The prosecution’s witness, a detective under Sacramento’s Child Abuse Bureau, testified the victim’s graphic details during their SAFE interviews. In another interview, the victim’s brother reported being locked out of the defendant’s bedroom frequently while the victim was in there. Although the defendant ultimately admitted his acts to the detective before the preliminary hearing, the defense entered not guilty pleas in court today. C***’s next trial date is June 30.

Reporter Ned Meiners: Dept. 9 and 62: I began the morning in Sacramento Superior Court, Dept. 9. Several preliminary hearings were scheduled, but none occurred. For defendants Michelle Miller, Andrew Martinez and Melinda Segura-Tello, officers were unavailable for their hearings and had to be rescheduled. Defendant Dennis Bell’s attorney stated they were looking into Veteran’s Court and hoping to proceed there.

I moved to Dept. 62. There seemed to be some confusion as to who was Jose Coronado’s attorney and the defendant stated he wanted to represent himself. The judge stated he would have to fill out paperwork and return at the end of the calendar. Kevin Winn’s PD, Andrew Crouse, moved the court to grant Mental Health Diversion for his client. Winn is accused of burglary and loitering and Crouse has a spot for him at Telehealth, a local in-patient facility. The prosecution objected, although the prosecutor stated that mental illness seemed to be an underlying cause. Judge Savage stated he would review to motion and scheduled a hearing for April 19. I wrote an article on this topic. Nathan Stephens was denied referral to drug court. The judge stated his offense was a hit and run and evading the police and therefore not applicable. Several defendants pled guilty.

Phouvanh Senonoi was sentenced to 120 days sheriff works project for stealing a BMW from a car dealership. Jessica Jestraub also pled guilty to auto theft and received 120 days as well. Thinh Phan also pled to vehicle theft but had a prior offense as well and received a year and half in prison. Larry Beaver pled guilty to possession of meth and had a previous offense and was sentenced to 180 days sheriff work project. Diamond Shelton was sentenced to 12 anger management classes for misdemeanor assault. Finally, Jose Coronado was called again. He had filled out the required paperwork and would represent himself, stating “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.” The judge tried to discourage him. Coronado has a charge of resisting arrest and maintains that he called police officers to his house and “wrestled me in front of my mom.” I wrote an article on this case as well.

Reporter Koda Slingluff: Dept. 62: This Wednesday afternoon, Commissioner Kenneth N. Brody presided over Sacramento’s Dept. 62. The commissioner worked swiftly through cases, offering fair but limited feedback as he worked through the day’s calendar. Commissioner Brody authorized release for three individuals awaiting pretrials; two with probation violations and one awaiting return on a warrant. Toward the end of the calendar, Brody approached a handful of cases where the defendants had failed to appear. Four of them had been released on their own recognizance, much like the defendants who Brody had just ordered released. For two defendants who had failed to appear, Brody set a bench warrant of $10,500 dollars. The other two he set at $50,500. One of the final cases of the day was Vaughn Beatty who had, surprisingly, driven in the opposite direction of traffic. Commissioner Brody concluded the day early.

Reporter Derrick Pal: Dept. 60: A judge showed no hesitation in imposing strict enforcement of release conditions after hearing of a defendant’s violent history of assaults, warning “if any conditions of release is violated, you will be remanded at custody and remain in custody until the day of the sentencing, do you understand?” Defendant Xavier Morgan is charged with one count of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, one count of assault with a semi-automatic firearm, and one count of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant.

On April 8, 2019, in Sacramento County, the defendant is alleged to have willfully and unlawfully assaulted a victim with a semi-automatic firearm. “Specifically, during a road rage incident, the suspect and defendant were cutting each other off on the freeway. They were strangers to each other,” explained Deputy District Attorney Teal Ericson. The defendant followed the victim off the freeway, where the victim then tried to go into a cul-de-sac to turn his vehicle and headlights off in hopes of losing the defendant. The defendant, however, found the victim, and approached the vehicle with a semi-automatic firearm, firing at the victim through the windshield. The victim suffered a laceration to his ear where the bullet grazed him as a result.

In another case from July 12, 2020, in Sacramento County, the defendant is also alleged to have willfully and unlawfully assaulted the victim physically in her car with his hands. “When she tried to flee, he grabbed her and threw her in the vehicle and she was afraid to leave, and he drove her to a different location against her will,” stated DDA Ericson. Judge Scott Tedmon reviewed these facts and took the defendant’s plea and stated that defendant Morgan will remain out on the current bail posted. However, Judge Tedmon warned that if defendant Morgan violated any conditions of his release, “you will be remanded at custody and remain in custody until the day of the sentencing.” Judge Tedmon explained that the matter will be sent to probation for presentence report and recommendation, and defendant Morgan is ordered to return for sentencing on May 7.

Reporter Alexander Ramirez: Dept. 60: I checked into Sacramento 60 under Judge Tedmon for my afternoon shift. It started fairly slow, but I eventually noticed that a name popped up in a few cases. After checking into the 5:30 meeting with David, it turns out the name “Humphrey” was referring to the recent California Supreme Court case that involved changing how bail review was completed. It made sense, but the way that the Sac 60 court interpreted it seemed different from how David explained it. The court seemed to explain it as a precedent to set bail at an amount able to reasonably be paid by the defendant, and if the court was unable to set an amount it deemed reasonable while fitting with the defendant’s ability to pay, then they will hold the defendant with no bail.

This occurred in multiple cases with different endings. The first one being a case involving a count of injury to cohabitant or spouse in which it ended with bail review being set for next week with further proceedings, and for the defendant to fill out a CR-115 form in between now and then.

There was another case of corporal injury to spouse or cohabitant, but this defendant was released on level 4 conditions after it deemed there was no flight risk or public safety risk. No recent prior convictions and the lack of flight risk was the difference between these two cases.

The last case where Humphrey’s occurred was an interesting one because of the fact that the defendant has been in custody for three years now, and his lawyer had deemed that the law change meant that old cases like these should be looked at. However, after the prosecution brought up the severity of the defendant’s drive by shooting and the previous instance of the defendant escaping from jail. the judge deemed that there was no reasonable amount that the defendant could pay while coinciding with what the court deems is reasonable. I still don’t know if the way the court interpreted Humphrey was correct.

Yolo County Superior Court

Reporter Mia Machado & Lizet Gonzalez- Dept. 1 & 7: On April 7, a slow court day in YOLO 7 with Judge David W. Reed. Mia & Lizet switched between YOLO 1 & 7 but ultimately stayed to watch Yolo 7. Case after case it was only for continuance. Although Judge Reed made sure that although the court hearings were through zoom, they needed to follow courtroom etiquette and proper attire for defendants present. It’s understandable considering the fact that they’re there for serious matters in regards to their lives.

Thursday April 8, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Reporter Savannah Dewberry – Dept. 60: Savannah Dewberry was to cover Sacramento Court 21 today, but it never went live on streaming. She heard multiple arraignments in Sac 60, and eventually took assignment on the recent Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner’s press release supporting the Biden administration’s new plans on gun violence.

Friday April 9, 2021

Reporter Will McCurry: On Friday, April 9, I sat in on the Derek Chauvin case for the murder of George Floyd. During my shift, I saw Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Lindsey Thomas’ testimony. Most of Dr. Thomas’s work includes working with deceased people. She has conducted over 5,000 autopsies and assisted on another 1,000. Including the autopsies she’s conducted and assisted on, there are many more cases in which she has determined the cause of death.

In her testimony, she states that “There’s no evidence to suggest he would’ve died that night, except for the interactions with law enforcement.” She believes, and agrees, that the cause of Floyd’s death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.”

Yolo County Superior Court:

Reporter Ramneet Singh: On April 9, Ramneet Singh observed Dept. 7 and Dept. 11 of Yolo County Superior Court. He briefly observed the proceedings of Dept. 7, in one instance the prosecution had a motion to consolidate specific cases, while the defense attorneys were opposed. In Dept. 11, Judge Timothy Fall presided over various cases that included pre-trial conferences, trial setting conferences, and reviews. A number of continuances occurred for different reasons. There were a couple of plea agreements discussed. A plea agreement was agreed to in a case of child endangerment and a DUI that was downgraded. At different points, the probation officer present offered information when necessary.

Sacramento Superior Court:

Reporter Alexander Ramirez – SAC 60, 61: My afternoon shift began in Sacramento 47, where I waited until 2:15 to change Depts. I checked into 61 where many further proceedings occurred, and I think there was a substitute judge. All the cases mentioned another judge’s name that the prosecution and defense aimed to schedule their further proceedings with. The judge that was actually in 61 quickly got through the calendar though. 61 ended fairly quickly, and I entered 60 and saw a 30 minute recording that also had further proceedings as the majority of cases. It was 3:15 so I had to look for another Dept., but 63 and the other Depts. I checked had nothing.

Hongyi Wen is a junior at UC Santa Cruz majoring in Sociology. He is from Guangzhou, China.


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