Halfway House Hustle – Was it False Imprisonment or Something Else?

By Ganga Nair and Christopher Datu

SACRAMENTO, CA – A preliminary hearing here in Sacramento County Superior Court this week involved one halfway house resident tying up his roommate not once, but twice—although court testimony showed the bound roommate OK’d one restraint. And may have owed money to his alleged assailant.

Defendant Francis Ngissah, who faces false imprisonment charges, was recently released from prison after being sentenced to 10 years for sex offender-related misconduct. He was staying at the Freedom through Education housing program in Sacramento with other parolees like him and the victim.

On Jan. 18, 2020, Ngissah allegedly bound the victim’s hands and ankles with packaging tape before blindfolding him with a pillowcase.

A few days later, on Jan. 22, the victim claimed Ngissah woke him up in the early hours of the morning and restrained him again, but with zip ties this time on his hands and ankles, until a substance abuse counselor came to the door.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gong called Matthew Thompson, Ngissah’s parole agent at the time of the alleged crime, to the stand.

Thompson recalled a call he had from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department that “Mr. Ngissah was being removed from the housing program he was in and was refusing to leave” and that “there were accusations regarding Ngissah tying up his roommate.”

Thompson reported that he went to the Freedom through Education housing program and spoke with the alleged victim, and “he had been restrained by Mr. Ngissah on the 18th as well as the 22nd.”

Thompson said the victim alleged that around 6 p.m. “he and Mr. Ngissah had been discussing, essentially, life decisions as well as behavior modification,” and at the time, “he felt at the time he could trust Mr. Ngissah” so the victim allegedly allowed Ngissah to restrain his hands and ankles with packaging tape before being blindfolded with a pillowcase.

Gong asked if Ngissah had been upset at the time, and Thompson recalled the victim claimed Ngissah “didn’t like the responses that he was giving to the conversation.” After he was restrained, Thompson added that the victim “indicated he was scared, that he was no longer comfortable with the situation.”

The victim, according to Thompson, asked several times to be released, though “Mr. Ngissah refused and left him restrained for approximately 45 minutes.”

When asked about the victim’s recollection of the events on Jan. 22, Thompson said the victim was “suddenly awoken by Mr. Ngissah at approximately 5:30 in the morning” with Ngissah upset that the victim did not tell him where he was the night before.

Thompson stated that the victim then reported being forced to get up, and be subsequently zip tied at his ankles with his hands behind his back. The victim was restrained for an hour and 15 minutes, despite repeated requests to be released.

It was only when Arnold Booth, the substance abuse counselor at the residence, knocked at the door that Ngissah let the victim loose, cutting the zip ties. Ngissah then warned the victim, “You’re saved by the bell, but we’re not done with this” before letting Booth into the apartment.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Kevin Mighetto asked Thompson about the incident on the 18th of January, specifically about the type of tape used. Thompson reported the victim saying he was restrained with brown super-sealing packaging tape. However, Thompson only reported finding a roll of clear packaging tape.

Mighetto also questioned Thompson about the presence of a cutting device at the apartment. According to the victim’s statement, the zip ties were cut off, letting him loose. Thompson, however, stated that he did not find any cutting device or cut zip ties at the apartment.

Mighetto continued the cross-examination on the events of Jan. 22, asking Thompson whether he found any ligature marks on the victim’s wrists or ankles, since the victim claims he was restrained for more than an hour. Thompson replied, “I didn’t notice anything.”

Thompson had also investigated the contents of Ngissah’s phone and provided documentation of the correspondence between the victim and Ngissah to the court.

Mighetto pointed to a specific text on Jan. 22, around 2:50 p.m. that told the victim “it was Mr. Ngissah’s last day at Freedom through Education.”

Thompson looked at his report and confirmed the text Mighetto read aloud. Mighetto then offered the victim’s response, reciting, “What, don’t leave, what the h*ll”, including the “three frowny face emojis” that followed.

The prosecution then called Ngissah’s former parole officer, Agent Catalina Martinez. She recalled going to the Freedom through Education residency on Jan. 24, 2020, in response to a call from the program director regarding Ngissah.

During their conversation, the director handed her a bag of zip ties with the Harbor Freight logo, identified by the victim as Ngissah’s bag. She asked Thompson to check if the bag was Ngissah’s by going to the Harbor Freight store and confirming through the store’s surveillance footage.

When cross-examined by Mighetto, Martinez was asked about the zip ties, about which she indicated she preserved them, but did not find any cut ones.

The defense concluded that the case was simply the “word of one parolee against another,” pointing to inconsistencies in the testimonies and evidence presented. Mighetto criticized the investigation, stating the allegations were “fabricated to avoid a $286 debt with Mr. Ngissah.”

Judge Laurie Earl concluded that the prosecution met the burden for a felony charge of violating the victim’s personal liberty on Jan. 22.

However, for the events for Jan. 18, there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the violation of the victim’s personal liberty was violent, because the victim gave Ngissah consent, and thus reduced it to a misdemeanor.

Ngissah is set for a jury trial on Aug. 2 and is being held without bail because the court feels he is a serious threat to public safety, with his prior convictions and parole violations.

Ganga Nair is a rising sophomore at UC Davis, majoring in International Relations and Psychology. She is from Sacramento, CA, and hopes to pursue a career in international law.

Christopher Datu is a 4th year Political Science major at UC Davis. He is originally from Corona, California.

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