By Ankita Joshi
SACRAMENTO, CA – A Sacramento police officer violated the constitutional rights of a defendant, failing to advise him of his rights until after he had a confession, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled here at a preliminary hearing Monday.
As a result of the SPD officer’s error, Zion Henley—rather than facing up to three years in prison for the felony of carrying a firearm and ammunition in his car—is going to do just 90 days on the Sheriff’s Work Project and call it even, after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor firearms violation.
The defense filed a request for a motion to suppress the first felony count on the basis that the incriminating statement made by Henley was a violation of his Miranda Rights.
Detective Ryan Trefehen of the Sacramento Police Department testified, outlining how he and other police officers were patrolling a funeral for a former gang member on Oct. 4, 2019, which he said SPD does for the “safety of the community and attendants.”
Trefehen explained that gang funerals are more dangerous than others because it is “one of the most common venues where gang members will come from all over and gather.”
At this, defense attorney David Bonilla noted there is no evidence present that it was a gang funeral, and objected to Deputy District Attorney Toni Linarez’s line of questioning, as “there is not going to be any offer of proof that Henley is a gang member or is affiliated.”
Trefehen continued by stating that his attention was drawn to a silver Honda Civic with three occupants, which he then proceeded to follow southbound “for quite some time.” He said he noted three vehicle code violations: Henley was manipulating his cellphone while driving, there was a placard in the window that was 2×2 inches, and there was a turn signal violation for a right turn.
On the basis of these vehicle code violations, Det. Trefehen chose to conduct a traffic stop with the unmarked car he was driving and noticed that all the passengers were wearing tie-dyed memorial T-shirts. Trefehen then proceeded to ask all three occupants to step out of the car and wait by the side of the road until a marked vehicle was able to appear.
The reasons for asking the occupants to step out of the vehicle included that the occupant in the passenger seat covered his legs and floorboard with a black sweatshirt which was “concerning and odd” for the officers, and made them question if he was trying to conceal a weapon.
All three occupants were pat-searched, and Det. Trefehen took Henley off to the side to gauge his behavior and have a conversation with him.
Henley was not provided with his Miranda Rights at this time, but was questioned about whether there were any firearms present in the vehicle.
Det. Trefehen stated that Henley paused for an “abnormally” long amount of time, had questions about being arrested, and stated he did not want his vehicle to be searched.
At these statements, Trefehen made the “inference of something being in the vehicle that was problematic,” and “felt that there was something deeper that Henley wanted to consult Holmes about” when Henley asked to speak with one of the other passengers in the vehicle.
Once the marked vehicle arrived and a records check was conducted, Trefehen asked Henley once again if there was a firearm under any of the seats in the vehicle, to which Henley responded that it wasn’t under a seat.
A probable cause search was then conducted by the officers and an unloaded firearm and a magazine was found in the center console of the vehicle.
It was then that Henley was read his Miranda Rights and he admitted his ownership of the gun.
During Bonilla’s interrogation of the witness, it was noted that Trefehen did not see the defendant attend the funeral, and only saw the vehicle as it left the cemetery area.
And it was revealed that Det. Trefehen wanted to find probable cause to pull the vehicle over before he witnessed any traffic stop violations because of thirdhand information he had received.
Trefehen was also aware that the vehicle was properly registered, and Henley had provided all information that was asked of him during the traffic stop.
After this line of questioning, Bonilla proceeded to show Trefehen’s body cam footage, which showed Det. Trefehen following the vehicle for a long period of time, about 10 minutes, before pulling it over.
Bonilla focused on key parts of the cop-accused interaction, including that Trefehen told Henley he was “going to search the car no matter what,” repeatedly asked questions about a firearm, and stated he would act reasonably if Henley complied.
It was also noted that the detective asked Henley who owned the gun before Henley was read his Miranda Rights, which is a pointed question that can lead to an incriminating statement.
Body cam footage also depicted Henley wearing a plain white sweatshirt, not a tie-dyed memorial shirt as incorrectly stated by the officer.
During redirect by DDA Linarez, Trefehen stated that he had no prior knowledge of the occupants of the vehicle, but had been provided with a picture of the vehicle in the parking lot of the cemetery, which led to his belief the three occupants had attended the funeral.
At this, Bonilla also noted that people could have gone to the funeral and not be gang members, to which Trefehen remarked that he does not believe Henley is a gang member.
Once the interrogation of the witness ended, Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie summarized the facts of the testimony and case that stood out for her.
She noted that Det. Trefehen repeatedly spoke about his “feelings” and “inferences” when referring to how he chose to make his decisions, Trefehen admitted that he was simply looking for probable cause, and that was a violation of the defendant’s Miranda Rights.
Bonilla argued that it was clear that the witness was going to stop the vehicle no matter what, and brought up that the occupants of the vehicle were three young black males attending the funeral of what could be their peer.
Additionally, once the traffic stop had been initiated, Det. Trefehen did not write a traffic ticket, and very pointedly questioned the occupants about the presence of a firearm, even though none of the occupants were on probation or had any prior criminal history.
The body cam footage also revealed that the officer tried to elicit an incriminating statement even when he had not read Miranda Rights to Henley, and only did so once a confession had been given.
The case of Rodriguez v. The United States was also part of Bonilla’s argument. It previously set a precedent for the unconstitutionality of a police extension of a traffic stop.
Linarez centered her arguments around the three vehicle violations Henley had committed that warranted the traffic stop, and that the traffic stop was only extended because of the traffic caused by the funeral.
Concurrently, the front seat passenger was wearing a memorial T-shirt, and Henley had admitted in the body cam footage that they had the T-shirts made for the funeral for $20.
Linarez also deemed Henley’s admission to be voluntary, as he continued the conversation with Trefehen and did not ask for a lawyer at any time.
Bonilla concluded arguments by stating that attending a “gang funeral” is not probable cause because anyone can attend a funeral, not just gang members. Additionally, the passenger who moved his sweatshirt over his lap only did so because an officer had asked him to show what was in his bag.
After a brief recess, Judge Eurie ruled to suppress Henley’s initial admission, ruling it was a violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights.
Henley continued with a sentencing hearing and pleaded no contest for a misdemeanor violation for a sentence of 90 days in Sheriff’s Work Project, one year of informal probation and a $150 restitution fee.
Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.
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