By Michael Wheeler and Joe Cormac
SACRAMENTO, CA — Called to help a woman after she said she felt unsafe following an encounter behind a warehouse in Sacramento, Joshua Plante eventually was charged at his preliminary hearing Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court with second degree robbery and felony vandalism.
Judge Emily Vasquez held Plante to answer for the charges in the case, which stemmed from an altercation Aug. 1, 2020.
But witness testimony at times Tuesday raised more questions than it answered at the pretrial.
Deputy District Attorney Saron Tesfai relied heavily upon the testimony of Tara Ferneau, a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy who responded to the altercation early on the morning of Aug. 1. After arriving at the scene, she heard someone on the other side of a fence calling for help and for someone to call 911.
She then spoke to the alleged victim, who had met the woman that morning at a 7-Eleven convenience store. After picking her up and first driving to a trailer park, they later drove behind a warehouse where they parked for about an hour, according to the deputy.
The alleged victim told Ferneau that he and the woman had been hanging out and he said he and the woman then began arguing, leading to the woman grabbing his Gucci bag, which was lying in the back seat, and attempting to leave the vehicle.
The victim responded by trying to retake the bag, but the woman ultimately maintained possession of it.
During the altercation, the woman called her friend Plante for help, claiming the victim had attempted to rape her and owed her $100. The victim told Ferneau that when Plante arrived, Plante used a tire iron to strike the victim’s car’s windows.
Plante also confronted the victim, claiming that he owed the woman $100.
The victim, who has a visible handicap and trouble articulating due to a brain injury suffered during a motorcycle accident, feared for his safety and left the vehicle, crossing to a median in the middle of an adjacent street, from which he watched his car.
While he was fleeing to the street, the victim tried to call for help and said Plante and the woman then damaged the car’s windows and ransacked the interior.
Deputy Ferneau said that “there were items strewn about inside it. It did appear consistent with being ransacked and rummaged through, and there was a broken driver’s side window, there was glass on the ground all around it.”
Defendant Plante then left the scene, said the victim, while the woman crossed the street to a small homeless encampment and entered one of the tents.
The victim pointed out which tent the woman had entered, and while Ferneau was searching the tent for stolen goods, Plante returned to the scene, at which point he was arrested.
During the cross-examination, Assistant Public Defender Courtney Zane, appearing without Plante present at the hearing, tried and failed to discover what had been going on in the car behind the warehouse.
Ferneau stated that the victim told her that he was “out here doing something I shouldn’t have been doing,” but also said that she had not repeatedly asked the victim what he had been up to. “I had my suspicions what they were doing, but he said they were just hanging out,” said the deputy.
According to the victim, “everything [had been] fine, then all of a sudden she got mad,” leading to the situation that Ferneau had responded to.
At some point during the altercation, the victim’s cell phone was also taken from him and an item was thrown into nearby bushes, although Ferneau found nothing and the cell phone remained unrecovered.
The deputy also did not ask about the $100 which the victim had either taken from or owed the woman, which, along with the answer given by the victim when asked what had been going on in the vehicle, ultimately left unknown what exactly had occurred during the lead-up to the altercation.
Judge Vasquez ruled that there was sufficient cause to believe that Plante was guilty and ordered him held to answer.
Plante will continue to be represented by a public defender, and because he had not appeared at the hearing due to mental health reasons, another preliminary hearing will be held should he be returned to competency to stand trial.
Judge Vasquez confirmed a court date for June 14 in Dept. 63 to discuss the granting of conditional release for Plante to go to a state mental health hospital, while the date for a future preliminary hearing was not set.
Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.
Joe is a fourth year at UC Berkeley. He hopes to become a lawyer or harmonica sessionist, whichever happens first.
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