Hazy Memories Dominate Continuing Trial of Four Defendants Allegedly Involved in 2018 Norco Prison Riot

By Jacqueline Rodriguez and Angela Patel

RIVERSIDE, CA — The on-going jury trial continued here Thursday of four defendants allegedly associated with the “Southern Hispanics” prison gang, and two consecutive riots in May 2018 at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), located in Norco, where a victim was severely injured.

The trial is in Riverside Superior Court Dept. 2G. Defendants are Ruben Ramirez, Manuel Barbosa, Angel Lopez, and Alexander Muñoz.

Much of the testimony Thursday duplicated earlier testimony, with several witnesses having problems remembering details of the events from more than three years ago.

Deputy District Attorney Alberto Recalde called Matthew Addison, a corrections officer who has been working at CRC for five and a half years.

Addison was on duty the day of the riots, and had responded to Code 1 that was called when an officer on duty learned about the incident that had taken place in the dormitory where victim S.H. was allegedly attacked by the defendants.

When asked if Addison recalled seeing an individual with “any injuries,” Addison admitted that “this event occurred three years ago, my actual memory of the events that took place is foggy at best, so if you were to refer to the report, if that’s what it says then.”

Addison mentioned that he vaguely remembers responding to the area where he “saw a lot of blood” inside the dorm room where the attack had taken place.

Addison then explained that when a Code 1 is called inside a dorm room, the inmates inside the dorm area are told to get down and “if there’s a victim such as this one, he’ll be taken and removed from the rest of the inmates.”

He said he does not recall removing the victim from the dorm room in this situation, but does recall responding to the Code 1, seeing an individual who looked like the victim, and seeing a lot of blood.

After the initial Code 1 was called, and the officers on duty arrived at the dorm to assess the situation, Addison mentioned that they later returned to the dorm to perform what are called “skin checks” to see if there are any abrasions or wounds of the hands of any inmates that would indicate if they were involved in the altercation or not.

When asked if he could identify any of the individuals sitting in the courthouse, Addison said no.

After cross-examination was performed from all of the defendants’ attorneys, Addison seemed to have very small recollection of the incidents that had occurred on the day of the incident.

DDA Recalde called Michael Kelly, another corrections officer at CRC, who also had very minimal recollection of the events that had occurred the day of the riots.

Kelly was able to recall very vaguely entering the far back corner of the dorm where he located one of the inmates and searched, handcuffed, and took him to a 7219. He explained that a 7219 is a “report of unusual occurrences, ’cause even though we find something with them, it’s the medical staff that makes the decision.”

He then entered Facility B Program Room where he located another inmate, inmate Lopez, and did a body check, handcuffed him, and took him over to 7219.

The defense asked Kelly if he recalled seeing any objects when he entered the dorm room, such as a guitar or a cane, which on trial date July 26 were mentioned to be some of the weapons used to attack the victim. Kelly said no.

Kelly was then asked if there were any struggles when searching and handcuffing Lopez in Facility B Program Room, and Kelly also said no.

DDA Recalde then called Paul Popplvwell, a higher-ranked correctional lieutenant at CRC.

Upon hearing about the Code 1, Popplvwell said he “paid attention, listening for certain things which would require either me to get up and actually go respond, or just monitor to see how bad it’s progressing.”

Lt. Popplvwell described an interview he had with the victim on May 24, three days after the alleged incident occurred.

According to Popplvwell, the victim described being attacked by three inmates with a guitar, a dust mop, and a cane that belonged to the victim. During the interview, Popplvwell was told by the victim that he had been hit on his “head, neck, face, [and] back.”

The victim told Popplvwell that after this first incident, he was sitting on his bunk and catching his breath when an unidentified inmate told him that he needed to leave.

Popplvwell said the victim described seeing a large group of inmates. He said he was then punched in the face multiple times by one of the inmates and eventually “stomped on and kicked” by the group of inmates.

Lt. Popplvwell did not record his interview with the victim, noting he did not have any recording devices around and does not like to use his phone while on duty.

The interview occurred while the victim was in the infirmary, and his left eye was swollen shut. Popplvwell described the victim’s face twitching in pain and his bloodshot eyes in vivid detail.

According to Lt. Popplvwell’s testimony, the victim identified two of his attackers by their monikers, Demon and Chucky.

The lieutenant had a roster with inmate photographs that the victim was able to use to identify the inmates involved, but the victim first had to be given a magnifying glass in order to see the photographs well enough. The victim’s glasses were broken during the incident.

There was a lot of confusion regarding what weapons were involved in the alleged assault, how they were used, and by whom.

The cane, the guitar, and the dust mop were never recovered by corrections officers at CRC.

Lt. Popplvwell did not recall many of the details the victim had told him over three years ago, and several of his statements contradicted earlier testimony. The defense did not finish questioning Lt. Popplvwell before Judge Benjamini decided to dismiss the jury for the day to resolve another issue in the case.

Days into the trial, the prosecution had asked to add an alternative charge for defendants Ramirez, Barbosa, and Muñoz.

Because of the uncertainty around the use of weapons, DDA Recalde wanted to give the jury a chance to find the defendants guilty of either assault with a deadly weapon or assault by force using hands or feet.

Defense attorney Renato Cervantes criticized the proposal, saying the amended charges were “the DA trying to have another bite at the apple. This is their hail Mary at making sure something sticks on the wall, that we can get a strike on these guys.”

Defense attorney Cervantes accused the prosecution of gamesmanship, saying that the defense had already laid out their case to the jury based on their original knowledge of the charges and that it would prejudice the defendants to amend at this point.

DDA Recalde responded by saying that he “just wants to allow the jury to provide truthful conviction as to what happened that day. This is not gamesmanship, this is not a hail Mary, this is not throwing everything at the wall.

“The gamesmanship really is from the defense,” prosecutor Recalde continued. “If the jury believed that the three defendants were involved in committing the great bodily injury that [the victim] suffered, but they do not believe that weapons were involved, it’s not guilty and they walk away free. That’s not justice.”

In the end, Judge Benjamini allowed for the addition of the alternative count. He claimed that adding an alternative count would not violate due process, since it could not increase the defendants’ sentences and would not require any additional evidence or new witness testimony.

The trial will reconvene in Department 2G Friday.

About The Author

Jacqueline Rodriguez is entering her senior year as an English major at UCLA. Given her personal experiences as a youth in the juvenile justice system, Jacqueline grew a passion for criminal justice reform which motivated her decision to pursue a career as a criminal law attorney. She is originally from the Bay Area, but currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

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