Defendant Claims He Was Going to Return Stolen Van; Judge Still Sets Trial for Theft and Drugs

By Christopher Datu and Jose Medina

SACRAMENTO, CA – A defendant here in Sacramento County Superior Court Thursday more or less admitted at his preliminary hearing he was driving a stolen vehicle, but told police he was going to return it.

Still, Judge Donald Currier ruled James Johnson should stand trial anyway for driving a U-Haul van on Jan 11 this year. Johnson is charged with taking a vehicle without consent of the owner and possession of narcotics and paraphernalia.

According to Officer Gabriel Maggini, he was on patrol on the night of Jan. 11 parked in the parking lot of a 99 Cents Only store when a U-Haul van’s headlights illuminated his vehicle.

Maggini then recalled that he looked up at the van and “noticed the driver of the vehicle made an immediate right as it saw my car and it kind of sped up through the parking lot as if they were startled to see me and left the area.”

He then used his in-car computer to run the U-Haul’s license plate number and learned that the vehicle was reported stolen on Jan. 6 from a lot located in Rancho Cordova. After learning of the vehicle’s status, Maggini pulled up behind the U-Haul after Johnson had parked it in front of the store.

He said he then took a statement from Johnson that night and remembered that Johnson told him that he did not steal the U-Haul and that he found it abandoned near his camp in Rancho Cordova.

Maggini recalled that the defendant “indicated that he was homeless and that he had a camp near Rancho Cordova and a few nights prior to that he had heard a loud noise near his camp and that it sounded like a vehicle accident.”

In the statement Johnson gave Maggini he stated that “he went and investigated said noise and that he found the U-Haul parked nearby…he also indicated to me that he saw two people walking away from the U-Haul and that nobody said anything to each other as they crossed paths.”

Johnson told the officer that he was using the U-Haul to run a few errands.

Maggini remembered Johnson’s statements about the status of the U-Haul, and recalled that “he reiterated to me that he did not steal it but that he knew that it was probably stolen.”

Maggini further questioned Johnson, asking why he had not reported the U-Haul to the police after finding it suspicious. Johnson responded that he was on probation and was uncomfortable going to the police. Johnson told the officer he fully intended to return the U-Haul to its original lot in Rancho Cordova.

A thorough sweep of the U-Haul was reportedly conducted later by Maggini’s partner, who found a glass pipe with traces of methamphetamine as well as methamphetamine paraphernalia in a bag Johnson had earlier identified as his. In the larger storage compartment, there was also an assortment of bicycles.

Officer Maggini was the one and only witness heard before Judge Currier declared that there was sufficient evidence to find Johnson guilty on both counts.

Johnson entered a not guilty plea and the jury trial was set for August 23 in Dept. 7.

Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

Christopher Datu is a 4th year Political Science major at UC Davis. He is originally from Corona, California.

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