The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (May 17 to May 21, 2021)

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The 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 Michael Wheeler

Monday May 17, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dept. 9 – Roselyn Poommai watched the court move through a schedule of continuances and failures to appear.

Dept. 21 – Michael Wheeler witnessed Vannoy Sutton’s preliminary hearing. The defendant is charged choking his girlfriend and preventing her from calling the police during the incident, but the bulk of the hearing consisted of the victim, who remains his girlfriend, recanting her statement to police. “I was mad, I told them a whole lot of stuff,” she said. “I just said what I said, I didn’t care.” A domestic violence aid worker testified that it was common for victims of domestic violence to recant statements they had made to law enforcement, and Sutton was remanded with no bail. He has an arraignment scheduled for May 28.

Dept. 61 – Alexander Ramirez and Christopher Datu observed an interesting probation case in which a defendant had been sentenced but had not been given her felony probation packet at sentencing. The defendant failed to show up to receive the probation order and had missed two previous court dates, but because she had not officially been served with the order, she had not technically missed a court date. The public defender was ordered to coordinate with the probation office to ensure the defendant receives her probation order, but her past history with homelessness might make it difficult.

Dept. 63 – Roselyn covered many cases continued or not heard due to failures to appear. However, defendant Jason Gilford had his bail revoked for his charges of possession of child pornography due to a probation violation. He will continue to be detained and has another hearing schedule for June 28.

Wednesday May 19, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dept. 33 – Ankita Joshi watched the preliminary hearing of Brandon Morgan, who agreed to a plea deal for a felony charge resulting from police officers discovering a shotgun in his home on May 9, 2015, while serving time on the Sheriff’s Work Program. He was charged with unlawfully manufacturing a sawed-off shotgun with intent to sell it, and instead of proceeding to trial, agreed to two years of formal probation and the confiscation of the gun. Flash incarceration was included in the deal, so if he violates his probation in the future, he will be subject to incarceration without a right to a hearing.

Dept. 38 – Stephanie Boulous observed defendant Jose Herrera decline the plea deal offered by the deputy district attorney, and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for the end of June. A second defendant, Rudy Lara, also declined the plea deal offered him and had a preliminary hearing set for the following day.

Dept. 61 – Ned Meiners covered multiple pleas and a handful of probation violations. Charley Lindsay and Bobbi Thomas pled guilty to drug charges and will both serve 90 days on the Sheriff’s Work Program and two and one year of probation, respectively. Both Jimmy Nguyen and Dustin Ferreira violated their probation, and Ferreira was assigned to 30 days on the Sheriff’s Work Program and ten Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as his violation had been for possessing alcohol. Lastly, Sara Christiansen has completed her two year sentence, but because of a doctor’s report saying that she is “not restorable,” she was released to the emergency room, which was tasked with examining her and deciding if she should be involuntarily held for mental health reasons.

Dept. 63 – Koda Slingoff witnessed multiple cases involving co-defendants and three in which the defendant required a translator. In the first co-defendant case, Lasani Wiley and Darius Bizer plead no contest to charges stemming from an incident in which a child was hospitalized with fifteen wounds. In the other co-defendant case, Kyman Anderson and Ivory Spratt were ruled ineligible for bail because of their violent charges. The pair allegedly conspired to break into a house, and when the homeowner and her neighbor investigated the source of the disturbance, Anderson and Spratt attacked the neighbor with a gold club and stabbed him. Blood from both Anderson and the neighbor was found on Spratt’s pants, which contributed to Judge Patrick Marlette’s decision to deny them bail.

Dept. 63 – Mia Machado noted defendant Leanna Berryman attempt to defend herself pro per for felony car theft. Judge Marlette persuaded her, however, that the risks could be great if she chose to defend herself, and that she could be incarcerated for up to three years if she was convicted. After listening to Marlette, Berryman decided to allow herself to be represented by an attorney. The case was continued to July 14, and if Berryman does not have an attorney of her own present, Marlette will appoint a public defender.

Fresno County Superior Court

Dept. 10 – Stephanie Boulous reported a few minor cases in Fresno 10. Defendant James Shepley failed to post sufficient jail and was denied a time waiver due to Judge Francine Zepeda’s desire to move the case towards a resolution, and the deputy district attorney sent Shepley’s attorney a plea deal offer. Meanwhile, defendant Nehemiah Sclemente requested a general time waiver for his preliminary hearing, which is currently scheduled for June 30.

Thursday May 20, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dept. 11 – Natasha Feuerstein observed the preliminary hearing of defendant Sammy Zofar Grij Lenz, who faces two felony charges and one misdemeanor relating to his theft of a car on January 14, 2021. The victim testified that she had briefly left the car running to warm up and when she came back outside from her residence she observed her car being driven away. Police identified the car pulling out of a gas station, and Lenz fled the cops in a high-speed pursuit on Interstate 80. Lenz crashed the car into a tree at an apartment complex and continued to flee on foot, finally being apprehended after ignoring police commands to stop and lie on the ground. Judge Trena Burger-Palvin scheduled his arraignment for June 1.

Dept. 25 – Christopher Dato witnessed the eventful preliminary hearing of defendant Robert Rojas. Defending himself, Rojas is charged with threatening the life of a correction officer. Rojas told the officer, “Don’t trip, I get out in six months. I’m going to put a gun in your mouth and kill you.” Rojas argued that the six-month time period made the threat not immediate, and that since he was an inmate without any possible access to a firearm, the actual danger of his threat was severely undermined.

The prosecution disagreed with Rojas, arguing that the threat was made willingly, was clear and unconditional, and caused the victim considerable distress. Despite at times assisting Rojas with legal phrasing and ensuring that he was fully informed of the proceedings, Judge Donald Currier denied Rojas’ motion to reduce his charges to misdemeanors and scheduled a trial date for July 12.

Yolo County Superior Court

Dept. 1 – Leah Timmerman saw a handful of cases in Judge Tom Dyer’s courtroom. Jose Amezcua, facing nine ongoing cases, had eight bench warrants issued for his arrest, while Vincent Moreno was given no bail and had a preliminary hearing scheduled for June 17 on charges of felony attempted murder. Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson argued that Moreno should be given $1 bail for other misdemeanor charges in his case to ensure that he would receive credit for time served on those charges.

Judge Dyer disagreed with Hutchinson, saying that there was no reason to do so and that it would merely cause unnecessary administrative work for the court. Ultimately, Hutchinson was given zero bail for the misdemeanor charges, with Judge Dyer indicating he will receive time served for those charges.

Dept. 7 – Savannah Dewberry and Priana Aquino observed Uriel Esordienti’s preliminary hearing, with the defendant charged with assault with serious injury. Because the witnesses in the case were friends, Judge David Reed ordered them not to communicate about the case between themselves. One of the witnesses, testifying virtually, informed the judge that he was a firefighter and in the process of extinguishing an active fire. But because he was concerned about the threat of having a warrant issued for him if he was not present, he was taking a break from the fire to testify. Judge Reed allowed the witness to leave the hearing and ordered him to testify on June 4.

Fresno County Superior Court

Dept. 10 – Leah Timmerman saw Jordan Turnbill plead no contest to two domestic violence charges. He will be sentenced on June 18.

Friday May 21, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Dept. 62 – Alexander Ramirez reported on the hearing of a woman who was appearing for a failure to sign up for the Sheriff’s Work Project. She had been injured and said she had been approved for home detention but had had to turn herself in because of her failure to complete the Work Project. Judge Ken Brody worked with the defendant to find a solution, and although she could not be immediately released, he heavily recommended that she receive a work furlough. The court session ended with a string of failures to appear.

Marin County Superior Court

San Quentin Covid-19 Trial

Kathryn watched a witness give bracing testimony in the trial about the outbreak of Covid-19 in San Quentin State Prison. The witness stated, of the onset of his cell neighbor’s Covid-19 illness, “You could hear it in his chest… he couldn’t breathe… he belonged in the hospital for sure.” Describing the treatment of his neighbor by prison authorities, he testified, “It felt like trash… they treated him like cattle… [T]hey didn’t treat him like a human.”

Other

Mia Machado covered a symposium to discuss reimaging policing and accountability, held in honor of Angelo Quinto. State Senator Nancy moderated a panel discussion with the families of police violence victims, while Robert Collins, the father of Angelo Quinto, led a panel discussion about reimagining policing and policy changes that could be taken to reform police departments. The panel included state senators, the mayor of Antioch, and the president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Ned Meiners is a Legal Studies student at City College San Francisco. Originally from Maine, he currently resides on Bernal Hill in San Francisco.


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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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