By Benjamin Porter
WOODLAND, CA – Nineteen-year-old defendant Diego Cortez appeared in Dept. 1 of the Yolo County Superior Court Thursday about alleged recurring violent offenses against his grandparents over the last year.
Cortez had been out of custody on a “supervised own recognizance release” agreement (also called a supervised OR or SOR) that his public defender, Martha Sequeria, argued would better facilitate mental health treatment.
However, Judge Tom Dyer chose to revoke the SOR after taking the concerns of the grandparents, who have raised and housed Cortez, into account.
Since August 2020, Cortez has been charged with multiple counts of assault, battery, vandalism, abuse/endangerment of an elder or dependent adult, threatening of a crime with intent to terrorize, and contempt of court.
In the most recent offense, Cortez asked his grandparents for $3, which they would not give him. After threatening to act out, he allegedly did, throwing ornaments, breaking plates and plants, pushing and raising a hand to his grandmother, and picking up his grandfather’s metal walker while he was in bed recovering from a recent surgery and slamming it upon the floor, saying, “I want to smash you where you are at.”
Sequeira began the proceedings by questioning whether terms in the SOR stipulating engagement with mental health teams and follow-ups with medication compliance had actually been carried out effectively.
“I’m curious as to what engagement has attempted to be done with Mr. Cortez while he’s been on supervised OR,” Sequeira said. “Because I think that with true engagement, we may be able to not be in jail, but I don’t know if true engagement has been attempted thus far.”
She added, “I just know it was a term on his last release. So I was going to ask Probation […] what engagement efforts have been made to get Mr. Cortez the medication he needs for the medication compliance portion of that supervised OR term.”
The probation officer responded that “according to their notes,” Cortez had been engaging with those resources, but that “it is our request that his SOR be revoked.” Sequeira then expressed her bafflement as to why the SOR would be revoked if engagement had been occurring.
“Then why would it be revoked?” Sequeira asked. “Because if he’s engaging—he needs to engage and start his medication and start engaging, and putting him back into custody for a new misdemeanor case isn’t going to help that engagement. So I guess what I’m saying is why isn’t there more of an interaction and monitoring or Mr. Cortez on supervised OR to where he’s medication compliant.
“Like I don’t even think that they have done an assessment yet for the types of medication or the plan that should be in effect. And I know our office was working with probation, so I’m just trying to figure out where the disconnect happened, and what we’re going to do with Mr. Cortez meanwhile, because it seems like putting him in jail isn’t the answer,” the PD said.
Deputy District Attorney Robin Lynn Johnson responded by emphasizing that Cortez is back in custody because “he committed another offense against the same victims: his grandparents.” Johnson added that the grandparents still “want him to get help, but they expressed to our office that they did not want him released.
“I don’t know, and Ms. Sequeria may know if that assessment can be done while he is in custody, that can assess what medication he might need,” Johnson said. “But at this point the People think he is a danger […] and at this point the grandparents want him to remain in.”
In response, PD Sequeria passionately argued that, given her client’s young age and history of trauma and mental health issues, remaining in custody simply would not be the optimal way for him to get the help he needs.
“And I understand that from the grandparent’s perspective,” Sequeira said. “They’ve tried, and they’re older, and you know, we as a society have failed because the burden shouldn’t just be on the two of them. It takes a village. So is the answer we keep him in custody?
“I just can’t get there, I can’t get there as a human being. So a ‘public safety risk?’ I don’t necessarily think he’s a public safety risk. It sounds to me like he had a tantrum when his grandparents didn’t give him $3, which just goes to show you the mental health issues,” she added.
“It’s like dealing with a five-year-old. They don’t get their way, they throw tantrums. The problem is he’s big, so his tantrums are a little more chaotic than the five-year-old’s. This is still a misdemeanor, all of his cases are misdemeanors, and I think that’s because everybody recognizes what we’re actually dealing with,” argued the PD.
“I just thought: isn’t there something better that supervised OR and the rest of us can do for Mr. Cortez as far as finding him a place to go or a care facility or a bed somewhere that isn’t a cage where we try to figure out how to help him be successful? And I don’t know the answer to that, judge, so I guess I’m putting that pressure on you. But I’m asking my client to be released back on supervised OR,” Sequeria closed.
The probation officer followed by advising that “if the court is interested in releasing him, it would be beneficial for an actual treatment plan to be in place before he is released.”
After much rumination, Judge Dyer made the difficult decision to revoke the SOR.
“I understand what Ms. Sequeria says with the nature of a jail bed,” Judge Dyer said. “I’m also balancing that with grandma and grandpa, who have raised Diego, and these have been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. But there’s a lot of charged dynamic in the household, and it recurs.
“And Ms. Johnson tells me right now—grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, which is even more accurate in this case—I have to listen to what the victims are saying. So, on balance here, it’s not without—you know, Diego, you’ve been before me, and this isn’t easy, but I’m going to deny SOR today, sir.”
While disappointed with the outcome, Sequeira expressed her appreciation for Judge Dyer’s carefully considered decision, noting, “We understand that. But I have no choice either, so I’m gonna ask for trial dates and time not waived.”
Consequently, Judge Dyer set a jury trial for Aug. 23, a trial readiness conference for Aug. 18, and a pretrial conference for Aug. 2, each in the morning in Dept. 14.