The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (April 26 to April 30, 2021)

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 Ankita Joshi

Monday – April 26, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Roselyn Poomai- Depts. 11, 15:. In Sacramento Dept. 11, defendant Demariea Spillers entered no-contest pleas for a felony violation for knowingly and willingly possessing a concealed firearm. When police officers initially identified Spillers as a suspect, they heard an object fall to the pavement from his person. They identified the object as his 40-caliber handgun. In court, he has entered probation terms and will have his gun confiscated.

In Sacramento Dept. 15, Defendant Patrick Batad faced scrutiny after having violated two of his three probation grants from a span of five years. He has reportedly been unresponsive to his probation officer, and his family has similarly not heard from him. However, Batad shook his head as Judge Kevin McCormick cited the issues, prompting McCormick to lecture him. The judge struggled to comprehend his failure to appear despite learning that Batad’s phone service had gotten disconnected for a period of time. Due to the lack of information on the case, Judge McCormick will hold an information meeting with the probation officer to decide Batad’s next steps. Batad faces a possible state prison sentence if he fails to abide by his next set of probation terms.

Kathryn Wood – Dept. 42: This morning I viewed a continuation of a bench trial for defendant Antonio Youmans in the Sacramento Superior Court. Youmans was charged in 2000 after sexually assaulting 14 victims. Dr. Christopher Fisher testified that he thinks Youmans “should be diagnosed with pedophilic disorder as well as major depressive disorder.” Since he was admitted into the state hospital, Youmans has not displayed any deviant behavior, but Dr. Fisher noted that Youmans has had “ongoing thoughts about children” and “has struggled to have relationships with adults.” Dr. Fisher used a Static-99R test to determine that Youmans did not fall under the category of “high risk and high needs.” This case will continue in Dept. 42 of the Sacramento Superior Court on April 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Dorrin Akbari – Dept. 61: Dorrin observed various hearings with Judge Geoffrey Goodman presiding. Of note was a case in which the defense had filed a Humphrey motion to have defendant Greg Dye’s bail set to $25,000 given his financial circumstances. DDA Dan Lee argued that the defendant shouldn’t be granted bail given that Dye had accrued four additional cases while previously out on bail and had four prior failures to appear in court. The subsequent cases included the defendant threatening his mother with a hammer, breaking into a car and pouring gasoline on the driver’s seat, and breaking into a home and using the victims’ bathroom and shower. PD Raymond Thomas noted that his client’s “bizarre conduct,” as stated by Judge Goodman, was the result of substance and mental health issues. Given the circumstances, Judge Goodman granted the $25,000 bail and recommended mental health counseling.

Will McCurry – Dept. 63: The hearings today consisted of continuances, plea hearings, and scheduling Pre-Preliminary hearings. In one of the cases, it was alleged that defendant Rafael Torres committed arson with a prior strike. It was also alleged that he poured gasoline on the fire and an open field burned. He was given no bail and not released on pre-trial release due to his lengthy list of priors.

Fresno County Superior Court

Michael Wheeler – Dept. 10: Events moved quickly and involved minor hearings, such as continuing hearings to a later date or imposing probation on a defendant. One recent development, however, was that, while the judge and attorneys appeared via Zoom, all other participants participated via the courtroom. In Sacramento defendants have frequently appeared remotely, however here even out of custody defendants appeared in person.

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 12:  During the morning session there were many continuances which involved defendants entering no contest pleas or time waivers. One of these cases included that of defendant Donald Barnes, who requested to be released on OR. The basis of this request was that the defendant could not afford bail, had a place to stay with this sister, and had no failures to appear for his current case. However, DDA Danielle Padilla was in opposition to this request because of the previous criminal history of the defendant, and the facts of the current case which included the defendant exposing himself to a minor. Judge Monica Diaz asked that the defendant be assessed by pretrial assessment services for a GPS monitor, and ruled that the arraignment hearing would be continued two days later.

Ned Meiners – Dept. 30: Teodore Torres could not appear because he was in medical quarantine, presumably due to COVID. John Montgomery also could not appear because he was in lock down. Danielle Mitchell pled guilty to a DUI charge. The judge noted that Mitchell’s lawyer had used very old plea forms that contained the out of date sentencing information and suggested he update them. Manuel Valenzuela pled guilty to concealed weapons charges and a probation violation. Connie Taroya pled guilty to charges of child abuse and hopes to serve her sentence attending the Child Abuse Treatment Program. Sedrak Muradyan was sentenced for a battery conviction. He is on two years’ probation and will be in custody in Fresno County Jail till July 25. Kalvin McCoy was arraigned on charges of gun possession. He is barred from possessing a gun due to a juvenile conviction. He is only eighteen. I wrote an article on this hearing.

Yolo County Superior Court

Derrick Pal – Dept. 14: A discrepancy between a defendant’s no contest plea and her belief that she was not guilty created confusion in the courtroom, which eventually was cleared up by the Judge explaining the meaning of no contest to the defendant. Defendant Esther Garcia is charged with voluntary manslaughter and enhancements for use of a deadly weapon. Judge David Rosenburg asked during the hearing, “So, count two was just added. Count two alleges that on or about Oct. 7, 2020, you committed a felony…voluntary manslaughter. At to that charge, what is your plea?”  At this point, the defendant remained silent and did not answer. Judge Rosenburg asked, “Is your plea a no contest plea, ma’am?” which defendant Garcia confirmed.

However, when asked by Judge Rosenburg if she understood that her no contest plea would be treated the same as guilty, she stated, “I’m not sure. I don’t feel like I’m guilty, but…” Judge Rosenburg then addressed the defendant, stating, “You understand this plea agreement is for voluntary manslaughter. If you don’t feel you can enter a plea of guilty or no contest, I cannot take this plea.” After allowing some time for the defendant to discuss with her defendant, defendant Garcia decided to plead guilty, which Judge Rosenburg confirmed was made intelligently and voluntarily. With that, Judge Rosenburg set a further hearing for Thursday, May 27, at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 14 for receipt of the probation report and sentencing.

Tuesday – April 27, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Lovepreet Dhinsa – Dept. 18: There was an interesting case, where two co-defendants were involved in an alleged burglary of the first degree on Nov. 25, 2019. DDA Jordan Avey put forth two witnesses, officer Kyle Vanek and detective Sarah Dippe, both of whom could not recall several important details of the case. Officer Vanek could not recall the specifics of the case nor the details in the surveillance video footage of the scene that day, as he had not reviewed the footage in more than one year. Yet, officer Vanek came to court and testified against these defendants. Similarly, Dippe did not evaluate all of the facts of the case, where she failed to investigate or listen to an important 911 call in the case. She investigated the entire case, but still was not aware that one of the defendants regularly was hired for housing sitting for the victim, especially when he was on vacation. Several important facts remain unaddressed, yet the Judge found sufficient evidence and moved the case for preliminary trial proceedings on June 9th.

Esha Kher – Dept. 41: Defendant Trent Marquez was present on charges of discharging a firearm, unlawful possession of a firearm, evasion of a police officer, and negligent firing of the firearm. There was sufficient evidence from corroborated facts of the case to hold the defendant to answer on the first three counts. But the last was more contentious. Although the facts of the case suggested that the defendant shot at an unoccupied vehicle, DDA Tesfai called upon 5 witnesses to testify in order to further his argument that there was criminal negligence involved due to the presence of civilians at the scene – that could have resulted in potential harm to them. While the DDA was able to prove through the witnesses’ testimonies that civilians were present, he failed to determine the proximity of them to the vehicle. Consequently, Judge David de Alba only held Marquez answerable to the first three counts and not the negligent firing count.

Derrick Pal – Dept. 61: Tensions rose high in a settlement conference here in Sacramento County as a defendant argued against not being appointed an attorney, being denied access to calls while in custody, and making allegations that the case is “retaliation for reporting a deputy that sexually assaulted me.” Defendant Claire Boggus is charged with using tear gas or any tear gas weapon, not in self-defense, and entering lands for the purpose of injuring any property or property rights. After Judge Geoffrey Goodman began the hearing, defendant Boggus stated “it’s not OK that I don’t have an attorney after being here for so long.”

Assistant Public Defender Susannah Martin explained that due to legal conflict in the case, she is not able to represent the defendant at this time. As Judge Goodman tried to explain this, defendant Boggus yelled, “Why didn’t you tell me this last time,” seemingly frustrated and grabbing her head. Defendant Boggus continued, stating she has not been allowed to make phone calls to her mom so she can be bailed out. Judge Goodman remained calm and explained, “I’m going to order the Sheriff to allow her a phone call so she can call her mom, ok?” which made defendant Boggus feel somewhat satisfied and express her gratitude.

Before she left, however, Defendant Boggus broke into an outrage seemingly unprovoked and yelled, “And this is all because I reported [a] deputy for sexually assaulting me two days before this incident….It’s retaliation for reporting a Deputy that sexually assaulted me.” After concluding, defendant Boggus exited the courtroom swiftly. A further hearing is set for Tuesday, May 4, at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 61.

Michael Wheeler – Depts. 9, 45, 63: In Sac 9, Judge Helen Gweon moved quickly through the schedule. Nearly all cases were continued or trailed. In Sac 45, Judge Kara Ueda heard arguments about whether or not defendants charged with misdemeanor DUI were eligible to be placed in diversion programs over the objections of prosecutors under California law AB 3234, which was signed into law last September by Governor Newsom. Defense attorney John Campanella gave an extended argument in favor of DUI suspects’ eligibility for diversion, which DDA Simone Leighty disagreed with. Ueda requested Campanella to provide additional documentation by Thursday, and set a date for later argument in May. Much like Sac 9, the majority of cases in Sac 63 were trailed or continued.

Wednesday – April 28, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Roselyn Poommai – Depts. 1, 9, 11: Five co-defendants in Dept. 1 entered guilty pleas regarding an assault incident on another inmate while at the Sacramento state prison. They had allegedly assaulted the victim multiple times with a prison-manufactured weapon, sending the victim to the hospital to heal kidney injuries and other vital issues. In Dept. 9, all cases went into continuances and will be heard at a later date.

In Dept. 11, defendant Brett Bowerssmith was given another chance after having violated his probation terms multiple times. He is set to be released with the expectation that he enters a treatment program facility. Later that morning, defendant Low Lueras also appeared in Dept. 11 for a domestic violence allegation against his girlfriend. The defendant allegedly strangled the victim twice, depriving her of oxygen, and threatened to kill her. After hearing conflicting evidence from the defense and prosecution, Judge Trena H. Burger-Plavan decided to deny the defense’s request for a release or reduced bail. The defendant’s matters will continue on May 6.

Hongyi Wen – Dept. 15: The defendant Brandon Mackenzie is accused of stealing and driving a vehicle. Officer Brye Schantz testified that on June 19, 2020 he received a report of a stolen vehicle. After waiting at the gas station, officer Schantz saw a vehicle that matched the description and followed. Officer Schantz conducted a traffic stop, and Mackenzie complied and was put in handcuffs in the back seat of the patrol vehicle.

According to officer Schantz, Mackenzie kept looking at the computer screen in the patrol vehicle that showed the victim’s information. Mackenzie said he knew the vehicle owner’s name and the owner let him use the car. Officer John Seubert later testified that the victim said he does not know Mackenzie nor allowed anyone to borrow his car. Officer Seubert also testified that the vehicle is a rental car. Judge McCormick ruled that the charge was committed and set trial date on June 10 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62.

Will McCurry – Dept. 26: I saw a Preliminary Hearing for defendant Emmanuel Pacheco. Pacheco was charged with attempted murder, unlawfully committing an assault, and unlawfully possessing a firearm after being convicted of a robbery. His public defender Jesse Ortiz filed a motion to suppress his statement given to the detective because his statement was “clearly” coerced. His trial is set for June 14.

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 61: For the first time in a while, the stream went up shortly after I checked in for my shift. The calendar consisted mainly of scheduling and further proceedings. The only case that was notable was a rape charge that I believe was being proceeded by two separate counties. The attorney of the defendant was arguing specific case law this shouldn’t be allowed to happen, and back-and-forth between the judge and this attorney went on for about 10-15 minutes. Eventually, the judge the motion was denied. Other than that, there were no notable happenings, and I just ended up writing an article on the bodycam footage released for the death of Mario Gonzalez.

Fresno County Superior Court

Ned Meiners – Dept. 30: Keith Morris had a sentencing hearing and was sentenced to four years, less 409 days served in county jail, for burglary, firearms and sex offender charges. Roman Torteledo was sentenced to two years for felony possession of a firearm as well as a misdemeanor assault charge. Co-defendants and relatives Eric and Dekoryean Major were both held on bail $2.04 million and $1.3 million, respectively.

Several inmates plead to charges. Joshua Taylor pled to auto theft and Cory Thompson pled to burglary. Several inmates including David Martinez, Eric Major, Erik Velasquez and Eddie Rubio could not appear as they were all held in medical quarantine. Ibrahim Muhammed had failed to appear in court previously, and though the judge reinstated his bail at $10,000, had threatened to raise it to $320,000.

Thursday – April 29, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Natasha Feurstein – Depts. 9, 10: In Dept. 9, defendant Mehrshad Mehrpour encountered difficulty with the online format of the court conducted via Zoom. Mehrpour is deaf. There was an ASL interpreter present in the virtual courtroom translating, and Mehrpour’s son was with the defendant translating and speaking on behalf of Mehrpour. Despite this, the defendant’s son explained to Judge Helena R. Gweon that the virtual setting made it difficult and confusing for Mehrpour and that an in-person courtroom date would be much better for him. Judge Gweon agreed that an in-person meeting would suffice. Mehrpour faces a felony charge for the possession of child pornography and is expected to appear in person mid-June.

Friday – April 30, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Hongyi Wen, Dept. 9: Hongyi Wen witnessed many continuous. Defendant Cedric Johnson’s hearing is set for May 26, and defendant Peter Arafiles’s preliminary hearing is scheduled on June 18. In Dept. 33, there was a sentencing hearing for defendant Stevivion Booker. Booker is sentenced to state prison for eight years. Defense attorney pointed out some errors in the pre-sentencing report such as they mixed up Booker’s driver license number, and they also mistaken the defense attorney as a public defender.

Sophia Barberini – Dept. 61: Sophia sat in on two Humphrey motions in Dept. 61. The first defendant, Bruce Adams, was arrested after he was accused, by a customer, of leaving a Safeway without paying for items. That customer pepper sprayed Adams before he could leave and when the police arrived, Adams was accused of threatening them with a knife, which was never located. Defense Attorney Brooks Parfitt advocated for Adams to be released on his own recognizance (OR), while DDA Saron Tesfai argued that the defendant should remain in jail, given his long criminal history.

The second defendant, Edwin Hernandez, was arrested after he was accused of stealing from a hotel. Parfitt, also the public defender in this case, advocated that Hernandez be released on OR. DDA Jordan Avery argued that the bail should remain, given the defendant’s many failures to appear in past cases. Judge Geoffrey Goodman skeptically granted pretrial release to both defendants, warning them of the potential risks if they broke the law in the future.

Dorrin Akbari – Depts. 10, 11, 63: Dorrin observed various hearings in Sacramento County Superior Court Depts. 10, 11, and 63.  In Dept. 11, Judge Trena Burger-Plavan presided over arguments surrounding a Pitchess motion filed on behalf of defendant Moenay Fair. The defendant alleged that she had been videotaping police activity when she was “violently detained and arrested.”

PD Alexis Payne was requesting access to personnel information for the officers present during the incident, particularly as it related to use of excessive force and wrongful arrest allegations. Judge Burger-Plavan ultimately found cause to grant PD Payne’s motion for only one of the four requested officers. She further limited the scope of the information to be released solely to use of excessive force allegations, finding that there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the defendant’s declaration to support the release of wrongful arrest records.

Yolo County Superior Court

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 8: Although Yolo 8 had a heavy schedule, most cases were arraignments or further proceedings. Oddly enough, the cases that could have been something were pushed to a different department in the afternoon, which I haven’t seen before. The PR that I ended up writing an article on was about a man that was arrested for posting a photo shopped picture of an officer’s grave site being urinated on. I didn’t think it was that interesting until I read the details of the defendants who went after the man who posted the picture. One was a District Attorney for Tennessee, and the other was a Director of an Investigative group. Of course, going after the man because of this is against the first amendment, which is why the defendants that pursued the man received quite a bit of public pushback.


Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is from San Jose, CA


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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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