The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (May 10 to May 14, 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. 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

Monday – May 10, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Derrick Pal – Dept. 14: A defendant’s pleas to rape charges with threats of violence led a judge to impose an eight-year prison sentence and a mandatory restitution fine of up to $10,000 in a preliminary hearing here in Sacramento County. Defendant Marcus Menefee is charged with one felony count of oral copulation by means of force or fear and one felony count of rape by means of force or fear. Judge Tami Bogert began the hearing, stating that there may be an agreed-upon disposition in this case between both parties. Private Defender Linda Parisi stated the terms of the agreement, explaining, “At this time, Mr. Menefee is prepared to enter pleas of no contest to counts one and two with the understanding that he would receive an aggregate term of eight years…”

Deputy District Attorney TeriAnn Grimes described the factual basis of the case, stating, “On or about March 1, 2019, the defendant engaged in two felony violations.” According to DDA Grimes, the defendant had an argument with his girlfriend that turned violent, where he used a boxcutter knife to threaten her and used his hands to strangulate her. Through the argument, “he walked over to her and demanded her to orally copulate him,” and although she tried to refuse, he threatened her with additional physical violence if she did not comply. DDA Grimes explained that “after orally copulating him, the defendant then…raped her by force or fear, and all of this was accomplished without [the victim’s] consent.” Defendant Menefee pled no contest to the charges against him, and Judge Bogert found him guilty on both counts. Judge Bogert concluded that the matter will be referred to the Sacramento County Probation Dept. for a presentence report. A future hearing is scheduled for July 30, at 9 a.m. in Dept. 14.

Michael Wheeler – Dept. 17: Michael saw defendant Robert Rojas appear in court today defending himself, putting on hold today’s planned preliminary hearing. He filed a complaint stating that he had not been sufficiently accommodated to competently defend himself while in jail, which had not been the case when he was previously incarcerated in Santa Clara County. “I’ve asked for discovery on several occasions. I’ve filed multiple motions for discovery. I’ve filed multiple orders with this court regarding pro per privileges that are reasonable, and that are not, you know, asking for a car or a cheeseburger and a milkshake. I’ve asked for reasonable pro per privileges and rights that are entitled to any other pro per inmate and I’ve not received that.”

Prosecutor Jeff Harry was very willing to work with Rojas, but he expressed concern about the expiration of Rojas’s 30 day time period on June 7, a concern which judge James Arguelles also shared. “I’m not trying to jam you, but we are limited by what we can do by Covid. You have to be transported. There are limitations to the system that we’re all trying to work with here. If you want more time to litigate this issue, if you want more time to contact witnesses and do everything you want to do, then ask for more time. Ask for a continuance, and I’ll grant it.” A compromise was reached when the parties agreed to another hearing on Thursday to rule on the merits of Rojas’ complaint, with his prelim set for May 19.

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 18: Ankita watched a motion to suppress on the basis of the violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of the defendant in Sacramento County Superior Court Dept. 18. Defendant Zion Henley was pulled over for a traffic stop on three minor vehicle code violations after allegedly attending the funeral for a former gang member. Detective Ryan Trefehen testified that he had received a photo of the vehicle driven by Henley and had followed it looking for probable cause. During the traffic stop, Henley and the other two passengers in the car were asked to step out, and Henley was questioned repeatedly about the presence of a firearm without being read his Miranda Rights.

It wasn’t until after Henley admitted to having a firearm in the vehicle that he was read his Miranda Rights. Body cam footage showed that Henley and the other passengers in the car complied with everything the officers had asked, and there was no attempt by the officers to write a traffic ticket. Judge Stacy Boulware Eurie ruled to suppress the initial admission of guilt by Henley, as it was a violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights. Henley then proceeded to take a plea deal to reduce his second felony charge to a misdemeanor violation for a sentence of 1 year of informal probation and 90 days of Sheriff’s Work Project.

Roselyn Poomai – Dept: 23: On Monday, May 10, Roselyn witnessed the preliminary hearing for defendant Karl Thompson in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 23. Thompson, who faces a felony charge for an assault with the intent to commit a felony, allegedly approached the homeless victim and threatened her to commit a lewd act on him. When the victim refused, the defendant repeatedly punched her head before she was able to escape and run away to a nearby Salvation Army. The victim suffered from bleeding skin abrasions and appeared visibly disheveled when the responding officer spoke to her. Upon the public defender’s attempt to establish that his client did not match the victim’s description and was wrongly detained, the judge concluded that there was sufficient reason to proceed with the case. The matters for defendant Karl Thompson will continue on June 23 for a trial readiness conference.

Christopher Datu – Dept. 61: Christopher saw the defendant and his public defender motioned to reduce bail in light of Alta Medical Group finding the defendant to be developmentally disabled. The victim was in the middle of trying to haggle the services of a prostitute in the back of a car when the defendant and codefendant broke in and struck the defendant. The victim was then forced to withdraw money from various ATM’s in the Sacramento area until they were caught. Alta Medical Group’s declaration made the defendant eligible for outpatient services, but did not resolve other points of contention the court still had regarding bail reduction. The nature of the crime, threat to public safety the defendant potentially posed, and the uncertainty of securing outpatient services made the court skeptical in giving full credence to this new eligibility. Judge Geoffrey Goodman ultimately denied the motion but was interested in hearing a later motion to reduce bail on June 7, once there was a definitive statement on the defendant’s access to outpatient services.

Ned Meiners – Dept 63: Ned saw several pleas in Dept. 63 on Monday. Carlos Horner pleaded to a misdemeanor charge for possession of tear gas, which carried a 28 day sentence, and was released for time served. Momoi Sinipata pleaded to a misdemeanor firearms charge. Dustie Poindexter pled to a misdemeanor for battery and received a stay away order as well as probation. Anthony Hayton pled to a felony assault and received two years’ probation but was released for time served. Dustin Thomas pled to possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 90 days sheriff’s work project. There was one co-defendant case where Treace Palmer pled no contest and received two years of probation and 240 days in jail for a firearm charge and evading an officer. His co-defendant pled not guilty.

Tuesday – May 11, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Leah Timmerman and Linhchi Nguyen – Dept. 61: Leah Timmerman and Linhchi Nguyen sat in on Sacramento Dept. 61 on Tuesday, May 11 in the afternoon. One defendant, Jonathan Dale, had his defense asking to not set trial dates on a four-year-old case because the expert witness would not be ready to testify in person due to COVID-19. The deputy district attorney was asking to set trial dates and stated that the defendant was creating an issue of an unavailable witness for himself by not having the witness testify remotely. The judge stated that they can’t keep this going indefinitely so the trial was set to start on July 12 with a trial readiness conference on July 8.

Another defendant, Joseph Reed, pled no contest to violating a restraining order and will serve 60 days in county jail with one-year probation where he can have peaceful conduct with the individual but must stay 100 yards from the house. One case that stood out involved two defendants, Jana Lee and Joshua Kennedy, who was alleged to have committed child abuse onto their 16-month-old daughter and six-weeks-old son. Sadly, their infant son passed away due to numerous rib fractures, and the hospital noted several other injuries including scarring, chronic ulcers, and a hemorrhage. The daughter also suffered from fractures on her leg. Both pled no contest to the charges, Kennedy received nine years and Lee received five years and four months in state prison.

Wednesday – May 12, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Ankita Joshi – Dept: 31: Ankita watched a preliminary hearing for Defendant John Armstrong who was present for an alleged violation of Government Penal Code 4502, which prohibits a person from possessing or manufacturing weapons in a penal institution. The correctional officer who found the weapon testified that the cellsense tower metal detector used alerted him and his partner to a possible weapon hidden in the knee brace of the defendant. However, the initial search of the knee brace resulted in no weapon, and it wasn’t until the knee brace was examined for a second time by another correctional officer that a small 4.5 sharpened piece of metal was found. The defense argued that Armstrong had no knowledge of the weapon, as there was no way to know where the knee brace was prior to being assigned to Armstrong, and that Armstrong would have known not to have a weapon on him since searches were a routine standard. Judge Gerrit W. Wood found Armstrong guilty for a violation of Penal Code 4502, and a trial date was set for October.

Thursday – May 13th, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Christopher Datu and Jose Medina – Dept. 17: Jose and Christopher watched a number of preliminary hearings and motions in the Sacramento Superior Court on Thursday. In Dept. 17, Judge James Arguelles traversed a motion to quash that involved two defendants facing the death penalty. The prosecution had entered the motion to quash in response to the defense requesting unimpeded access to the defendants’ “gang files”. Within the files are the defendants’ decades-long prison history, including their ties to the Aryan brotherhood and referencing existing informants. While the prosecution enjoyed governmental privileges allowing access to all the files, the defense had no access whatsoever. The main charges by the prosecution rested on the request being overly broad and overly vague for the sheer length of the report and amount of possibly irrelevant evidence inside.

A question of relevance and informant protection was furthered by the fact that the records went back to 1980 and could put the lives of numerous informants in danger. The defense argued that there is relevant information in the files and should still be made accessible under a protective order by the court, restricting the defense’s freedom to share the evidence. Judge Arguelles ultimately assumed a large task, committing to an in-camera review of the lengthy “gang files” covering thousands of pages. He further requested the defense to notify him what types of evidence he should be wary of when deciding what sensitive information to redact and what to relinquish to counsel.

Natasha Feuestein – Dept. 38: On Thursday, Natasha saw defendant Justin Robert Hicks face a plethora of felony charges across three different cases. The court conducted a hearing Thursday morning regarding all matters involved in the three cases. The charges in the first case include one count of a felony violation for evading a police officer driving against the flow of traffic and a second count of evading a police officer while driving in a reckless manner. The second case involves a felony violation for 2nd degree burglary with the intent to commit larceny.

The final case involved the most charges: two counts of a felony violation for assault with a deadly weapon, a third count for evading a peace officer while driving against the flow of traffic and a fourth count for the felony violation of the possession and sale of a controlled substance. DDA Andrea Morris planned to bring in four witnesses in regards to the third, most serious case Hicks is implicated in. Morris called a detective and a responding officer who both gave lengthy testimonies in regards to the alleged theft and assault as well as the initial officer pursuit of Hicks. The livestream of the hearing cut out about 2 hours into the proceedings.

Savannah Dewberry and Leah Timmerman – Dept. 61: Savannah Dewberry and Leah Timmerman sat in on Sacramento’s Dept. 61 this Thursday, May 13. One defendant, Sergio Barragan, falsely impersonated his brother in an attempt to get out of a fare evasion ticket. He was given two years of probation and if he completed a six-month program with the Salvation Army his 180 days in custody would be suspended. Defendant Benjamin Raines had a felony no-bail warrant issued on him by probation, a memo stated he was in “non-compliance while out.”

Judge Geoffrey Goodman recalled the bench warrant as there was agreement from both sides that Raines did not violate probation. Defendant James Cooley also had his bench warrant recalled, Cooley came late to court last week as he thought his case was set for 1:30. Co-defendants, Andrew Brulez and Michael Jaquith had their motion to consolidate granted and a preliminary trial was set for May 28 in Dept. 9. Defendant Colton Miles had his preliminary hearing set for June 15 and will be pleading not guilty to both charges against him. There were discovery issues with the video of the offense but the Deputy District Attorney Kitty Tetrault preferred to have the preliminary hearing set and then in the interim file the discovery motions.

Friday – May 14th, 2021

Sacramento Superior Court:

Alexander Ramirez – Dept. 63: Alexander saw some interesting cases this week in Dept. 63 on Friday. He saw a case from 1988 in which a murder had occurred after the victim had entered the defendant’s restaurant. The facts concerning the case were very unclear. Witnesses alleged that the defendant had beaten the victim for nearly 10 minutes, however; neither the court nor the attorneys had any information regarding the beating. The case went on to be rescheduled at a later date.

Nina Hall is a sophmore from Colorado at Santa Clara University studying English and sociology.

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