The Vanguard Week in Review: Court Watch (June 7 to June 11, 2021)

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Compiled by Ankita Joshi

The Vanguard is an online news group that provides in-depth coverage of courts in California and around the nation. Since 2006, The Vanguard has been dedicated to transparency, democracy, open government and social justice. The team of 40 to 50 interns monitors live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the Greater San Francisco Bay Area all the way through the Central Valley and towards Southern California. These are some highlights of this week’s coverage.

Monday – June 7, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court

Christopher Datu – Dept. 63: Christopher heard various bail hearings, sentencings, and requests for continuance. Sarah Brown was sentenced for two separate but related charges. On April 2, 2020, Brown walked into a Chevron gas station and took various food items with no intent to pay. When the employees noticed and confronted her to retrieve the property, Brown pulled out and activated a taser to scare the employees. She stepped behind the counter to brandish it further and threatened the employees. Brown was later found and apprehended a short distance away with the stolen merchandise. The second charge was for car theft when on Dec 26, 2020 Brown and a codefendant Mark Harris forcibly stole car keys from the victim at gunpoint. The two defendants approached the victim on the street and flashed the gun on her, telling her to give up her car keys.

Brown held a lighter charge than her codefendant, only charged with the vehicle theft while her codefendant, Harris, bore the responsibility for the force involved as well as the theft. Brown pleaded no contest on both charges, leading Judge Patrick Marlette to order Brown to stay away from both Chevron and the victim of the vehicle theft, and sentenced to 233 days in jail plus fees and an amount of restitution decided by Chevron.

Yolo County Superior Court
Michael Wheeler – Dept. 1, 14: Yolo 1 moved quickly through the schedule with few hearings of substance. Junsik Choi pled no contest to a wet reckless, for which he was given a year of probation, a fine of $1,705, and a 12 hour alcohol education class. Charles Falk also faced drinking-related charges, and his attorney, Robert Darrohn, appeared 977 for charges relating to reckless driving with a .31 and .29 BAC. A date on June 24 was set for an early resolution. A similar pattern held for Yolo 14, which moved quickly through the schedule and for which I have no cases to report.

Nina Hall – Dept. 11: Nina witnessed the arraignment of Ervin Omar Vargas who is being charged with six first degree counts of robbery as well as an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon. Vargas is pleading not guilty to all changes despite multiple officers testifying on the details of the case. Vargas has since been identified as the male who was robbing people at a Woodland drive through ATM at a Federal Credit Union Bank. Vargas is said to have approached vehicles after they had pulled up to the ATM before displaying his gun and demanding money from the victims. Most victims lost between $200-$400 in cash. Vargas will be held to answer to these charges at a later date.

Tuesday – June 8, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court
Michael Wheeler and Joseph Cohn – Dept. 32: Michael and Joe heard a cross-examination at Sacramento Dept. 32. Deputy District Attorney Saron Tesfai and Assistant Public Defender Courtney Zane cross-examined police officer Tara Ferneau about a case that took place on August 1, 2020. The case involved charges of second degree robbery and felony vandalism against defendant Joshua Plante. Officer Ferneau described her interactions with the defendant and with a friend of the defendant who allegedly called him to ask for help.

On the night of the incident, Officer Ferneau responded to a 911 call and met the victim, who alleged that he met the friend that day in a parking lot. They then drove to a trailer park, and later to a spot behind a warehouse. After an hour, they began arguing, at which point the friend witness attempted to steal his bag. It was at this point that the friend called Plante for help, alleging the victim was attempting to rape her. Three key questions came up in the cross-examination. The first was the nature of the encounter between the friend and the victim. The second was whether the friend’s arm showed signs of recent injury on the night of the incident. The third was how far the victim, who fled his car, was from the scene when he perceived the alleged acts of vandalism.

Judge Emily Vasquez found sufficient cause to believe the defendant was guilty, and she ordered the court to hold him for answering. Judge Vasquez also confirmed a court date for June 14 in Dept. 63, on which date they will discuss a conditional release to allow Plante to go to a state mental hospital. They did not set a date for a future preliminary hearing.

S. Priana Aquino – Dept. 61: Defendant Donald Olson was charged with second degree burglary. The incident occurred in March of 2020 in Sacramento County. Olson unlawfully entered a Wienerschnitzel store through a side door and took some assets unnamed in his preliminary hearing. After the burglary, fingerprints were found on the side of a box present in the store. The prints were tested and matched those of Olson’s. Upon this discovery, he was taken into custody. The defendant was represented by Hubert Chen, who requested that Olson serve 10 months concurrent with the time he is serving as of today. After deliberation between Chen and Judge Geoffrey Goodman, the presiding judge made the decision to grant the defendant’s request.

Lois Yoo, Dario McCarty, and Jose Medina – Depts. 61, 62, 63: The prosecutor in one of the cases from Sac 61 with Judge Geoffrey Goodman involving defendant Alicia Herrick could not reach the victim because she is also homeless. On May 7, 2021, Herrick physically attacked the victim under a bridge and hit her 10 to 20 times. The victim suffered two cuts on her body and from bleeding. Herrick pleaded no contest.

Another case from Sac 61 involved Ahjamu Smith. Smith’s defense attorney Tom Clinkenbeard requested to have Smith reevaluated because he had been receiving psychiatric treatment and seemed to be in a sufficient mental state. Judge Goodman approved and Smith will be re-evaluated by the same doctor as before.

In Sac 62, Judge Ken Brody heard the case of Balentin Quintero who was accused of possession of a controlled substance and possession of a loaded firearm while out on bail for another felony case. When Brody asked the defendant if they were okay proceeding with a remote Zoom hearing, the defendant replied that they could not see their attorney on the Zoom call and further inquired whether their lawyer was present on the call. In response to this, Judge Brody appeared impatient and repeated his initial question; at this time, Quintero attempted to apologize, but Quintero’s attorney, Michelle Spaulding, who was in fact on the call, also began speaking at the same time. This prompted Judge Brody to shout that there must be “only one person speaking on the call at a time.”

Spaulding, after this time asking Judge Brody for permission to speak, explained that Quintero was simply asking whether his attorney was on the call; Brody replied that he understood what the defendant was asking, but he could not respond until Quintero responded to his initial question. After a brief hearing, further proceedings for Quintero’s case were set for July 13.

In Sac 63 defendant Charles Jones along with the assistance of his attorney asked for the court to grant him a 995 motion, dismissal of information, on the basis that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Jones is charged with driving with a suspended license and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. After the defendant was found to be driving with a suspended license his car was impounded. A detective conducted an inventory search in his car and found a locked case with a gun inside it. The defendant asked for the firearm charge to be dismissed on the basis that the detective did not have a warrant to look inside the locked case.

Jones’s attorney Vadim Kobrya argued that “the 4th amendment requires a warrant, this is not a judgment that officers in the field, especially gang suppression unit officers who are looking for guns who are hunting for gangsters and guns, to make arrests,” adding that “it’s not up to them to make that decision, that decision is up to a mutual magistrate or a judge.” Vobrya told the court that the “briefcase wasn’t going anywhere Mr. Jones wasn’t going anywhere, the car was there, the briefcase was there, there was no exigency.” Vobrya then berated the detective stating, “they decided not to follow the law, they circumvented the law and in doing so they violated the fourth amendment.”

Judge James P. Arguelles found Vobrya’s argument to be weak and disagreed with him. Judge Arguelles reminded Vobrya that “you don’t have to get a warrant to justify the inventory search, it’s already justified.” The judge then hypothetically asked “what was a detective supposed to do? He’s now got something that he’s pretty sure is a locked gun.” The court then denied the motion concluding that the inventory search was enough legal justification for the detective to search the locked case

Yolo County Superior Court
Koda Slingluff and Alexander Pleitez – Dept. 7: Koda and Alexander witnessed the conclusion of a criminal trial. The trial lasted the entire afternoon shift. This case was about a defendant, Danny George Raviart Jr., who was charged with a DUI and, allegedly, drove erratically in a vehicle and failed tests designed to assess his mental and physical ability at the time including a portable breath test. There was an examination and cross-examination of expert witness and forensic scientist, Jyoti Malik, who works for the department of justice and is trained in alcohol and body fluid analysis. Two officers had already given their statements and Raviart Jr. did not testify at all.

In the examination of this witness, Jyoti made it clear that the defendant was too impaired by the consumption of alcohol to be using a motor vehicle, without posing a significant threat to the public. Deputy District Attorney Emilie Anne Johnson and Public Defender John Joseph Sage delivered their closing statements to the jury.

Johnson argued that the defendant had to be well above the legal limit of intoxication at the time of driving, given his blood alcohol content (BAC) when police arrived, while Sage argued that the prosecution could not prove Raviart Jr. was intoxicated while driving, since his BAC was measured hours after the fact. This led Sage to say that prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Raviart Jr. was guilty.

Wednesday – June 9, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court
Leah Timmerman – Dept. 17: Defendant Francisco Salinas had his preliminary hearing this morning for his felony burglary charge, he stole a pair of Jordan sneakers from the victim valued at 350 dollars. Two witnesses were called to testify, Officer Brueck and Officer McDade, Brueck was present when the victim identified the defendant from a photo lineup, and McDade took the victim’s statement after the crime occurred. After the testimony of the two officers, Judge Arguelles determined that there was sufficient cause to believe that the defendant was guilty of the charges so the case will go to trial.

A date was set for July 20 for further proceedings as there may be a co-defendant in this case. Defendant Kenneth Kruse had his preliminary hearing today for his charges of illegally possessing a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. Kruse had been convicted of a felony in 1990 and 2004. In this case, Kruse was arrested after a traffic stop when he failed to provide the officers a driver’s license, and his car and person were searched.

The officers found ammunition and two revolvers in the car. There was an individual in the passenger seat but they were not arrested even though they had a prior conviction for concealing a weapon. After the testimony of the two witnesses, Judge Arguelles determined that there was sufficient cause to believe that the defendant was guilty of the charges so the case will go to trial. A trial readiness conference was set for July 21 in Dept. 61 and the trial was set for July 26 in Dept. 9.

Ankita Joshi – Dept. 31: Ankita Joshi observed a probable cause hearing for Defendant Michael Benton, who was present on two felony counts for possession of a handgun. Much of the hearing revolved around the defense and prosecution deliberating over what the legal definition of an “assault weapon” was and whether it applied to the handgun Benton was in possession of. Public Defender Gina Le contended that based on the testimony of the arresting police officer, the description of the handgun did not align with the specificity of the penal code that outlined the requirements for an assault weapon. On the other hand, Deputy District Attorney Allison Weider contended that there was enough probable cause present for a preliminary hearing to be set.

Judge Gerritt W. Wood chose to take a 30 minute recess to go over the specifics in the penal codes that were presented. When court resumed, Judge Wood moved to remove the holding order for Count 1, and continue with a preliminary hearing for Count 2. A 17b motion requested by the defense to reduce the count 2 felony to a misdemeanor was also denied by the court, as Judge Wood believed Benton could still be considered a danger to the public.

Yolo County Superior Court
Koda Slingluff – Dept. 14: Koda saw two riveting cases relating to mental health. In the first, defendant Nico Kade Traversie’s public defender Monica Brushia argued that Traversie’s 11 charges should be dropped due to incompetence. Traversie’s charges related to him painting swastikas on a Sacramento church back in June 2017. Brushia brought in Traversie’s psychologist, who has been working with Traversie for almost a year and a half, to explain that Traversie would not ever be “competent,” meaning the charges should be dropped.

The psychologist explained that Traversie initially suffered from “acute psychosis,” claiming to be a “stargate traveler.” After some argument from prosecution, Judge Paul Richardson decided to push off dropping the charges and sign an order to mandate Traversie take his medication. A renewal date was set for Sept. 16 to see if Traversie can become competent enough to be tried for his crimes.

Mental health also played a role in the second case of the day. Joseph Michael Granken appeared for a preliminary hearing regarding an attempted murder. From the police officers who testified, it seemed that Granken had planned and attempted to kill a woman by stomping and beating her face and body on the side of the road. Two different civilians interrupted Granken. Granken tried to beat the first civilian and, when the second arrived, he ran away. When the police arrived, Granken was lying on the ground face down waiting for them. In the courtroom, it quickly became apparent that Granken believed he was involved in a conspiracy with the FBI. He repeatedly asked that the “Federal bureau of investigation counter terrorism task force” contact him. He also suggested that the Yolo county judges were “bought out” and that Judge Richardson was a communist.

Thursday – June 10, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court
Joseph Cohn and Jose Medina – Dept. 17: Jose and Joe heard a preliminary hearing for charges of second degree robbery and possession of an illegal substance leveled against Harley Kinard. The initial charge came from an incident on April 20, in which the defendant allegedly attempted to take his friend’s bicycle. When the friend refused to give the defendant his bicycle, the defendant pointed what seemed like a handgun at the victim.

The victim called local police after the incident. Police located the bicycle that night, and they located the defendant the next day. When Detective Christopher Robertson arrested and searched the defendant, he also found a clear plastic bag containing 2.5 grams of what he believed was methamphetamine. When other officers searched the defendant’s tent, they also discovered the weapon described by the victim, which turned out to be a replica BB gun.

During cross examinations of Officer Kenyan Olsen, who responded to the initial incident, and Detective Christopher Robertson, who arrested the defendant and reviewed surveillance of the incident, the prosecution emphasized the victim’s ready identification of the defendant. During the defense’s cross examination, questions focused on the reliability of existing security footage and of Detective Robertson’s identification of the substance as methamphetamine without deferring to any tests. Judge James P. Arguelles found reason to believe the defendant was guilty, and he said there was enough information to file this case. A TRC will take place on July 21, and a jury trial July 26.

Christopher Datu – Dept. 61: Virginia Rivas, a defendant with two strikes, was present for her bail review today with her counsel, Michelle Trigger, asking for Rivas to be released from custody. Bail had been set at $50,000, though Trigger mentioned the fee was unaffordable for the unemployed Rivas. Trigger further claimed Rivas was a lifelong resident of Sacramento without a significant criminal history that posed no threat to public safety. Prosecutor Kitty Tetrault asked the court to hold Rivas without bail for the circumstances of the case as well as her prior history.

Tetrault went through the damage done to the halfway house owner Rivas was charged with attacking, listing a scratch to the head that was “bleeding substantially” (and) “bites all over”, bleeding from the groin where she had pulled “extremely hard”, and other witness testimony claiming she “went crazy and attacked everyone.” Tetrault then went into a prior incident where Rivas attacked a JC Penney employee with caustic chemicals. Judge Geoffrey Goodman ultimately held Rivas without bail, deeming the defendant “extremely violent” and deciding “no combination of conditions could both secure public safety and her appearance.”

Yolo County Superior Court
Ned Meiners – Dept. 14: Defendant Vallery Thompson appeared, she has been paying restitution of $100 a month in her case, and the judge, Paul Richardson, acknowledged her commitment. A hearing was scheduled for a year from now and if she continues with her restitution payments her charges may be removed from her record. Robert Gallegos had his theft cases moved to Addiction Intervention Court. Corey Robinson violated his probation by possessing alcohol and was sentenced to 45 days which can be served on Sherriff’s Work Project.

The most interesting case was that of Serena Morreno-Carrera. She has several assault and vandalism charges. According to her Yolo PD Tracie Olsen there is a plea offer for her client. However, when she went to the Yolo County Jail on Monday she could not visit her client. Visitation rooms are no longer in operation due to social distancing and the room where you can speak with your client over a phone from behind glass was currently undergoing renovation. She returned to the jail days later and was still unable to access her client as there is still construction taking place there.

Friday – June 11, 2021

Sacramento County Superior Court
Sophia Barberini – Dept. 63: Sophia sat in on a probable cause hearing for Defendant Tristan Cloud, who was deemed unfit to stand trial after he attacked his mother and her boyfriend. DDA Allison Wielder called three witnesses to highlight the defendant’s mental state at the time of the attack. First, she called Deputy Melanie Edwards who was a responding officer on the case. Edwards took the defendant into custody and he revealed that he attacked his mother and her boyfriend by throwing boiling water on them and then attacking them with kitchen knives.

The defendant argued that he attacked his parents because they were threatening to kill and evict him. Deputy Melissa Propps and Deputy James Avalos recounted their interviews with the mother and her boyfriend after the incident, asserting that the victims were confused and detailing their injuries. Judge Stephen Acquisto asserted that there was probable cause that the defendant was guilty, but he did agree that the defendant was unfit to stand trial.

Yolo County Superior Court
Alexander Ramirez – Dept 14: Alexander observed a preliminary hearing about a woman charged with arson after she is said to be seen lighting matches in an area where a fire was in the marina. There were four witnesses brought in by the prosecution to build the story. The first witness was a witness who said they saw smoke by the marina, and when they walked in its direction, saw someone crouch down, stand up, and walk away. Where the person crouched down was a small fire, to which the witness couldn’t put out since they were wearing sandals. An officer stopped a suspicious vehicle fleeing from the fire and arrested the defendant, who had 10 potential Molotov cocktails. The EOD team was brought in to identify the cocktails, to which they did.

The judge found there was enough evidence to sustain her four different counts, but since the defendant’s criminal record was minimal, left one of the counts open to a reduction in the future. This matter was to be continued on July 9.

Ankita Joshi is a second-year student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing a major in International Studies and a minor in Political Science. She is originally from Sacramento, CA.

 


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