By Anya Chen and Alex Klimenko
RIVERSIDE, CA – The trial of four inmates, who allegedly assaulted another inmate at a California Rehabilitation Center on May 21, 2018, reconvened here Tuesday, with multiple defense counsel grilling the victim about the incident.
The inmates on trial are Ruben Gonzalez Ramirez, Manuel Barbosa, Angel Jose Lopez, and Anthony Alexander Munoz.
Prior to the jury trial, Judge Dean Benjamini, Deputy District Attorney Alberto Recalde, defense attorneys Reno Cervantes, Greg Rollins, Bosky Kathuria and Joel Renk, and Deputy Public Defender Susan Do looked at an admissibility objection by Renk on July 26.
The victim testified on July 26 that one of the injuries he sustained involved bleeding on the brain. Defense counsel Renk objected to that testimony, arguing that “there was no way [the victim] could have known he had bleeding on the brain, he couldn’t have seen it, he couldn’t have felt it, it was something that was told to him.”
DDA Recalde argued that the victim could testify to this injury because “it really comes down to him describing what he believes occurred.”
Judge Benjamini overruled the objection by citing precedent in which people without medical knowledge could testify about their injuries.
The trial then moved to cross-examination of the victim.
PD Do directed her line of questioning about a conversation that the victim had with a prison official who was investigating the alleged assault. When asked if the victim had told the official “that the first assault only included being punched in the face,” the victim answered, “I do not recall.”
DPD Do then showed the victim an exhibit and asked “do you remember this person from May 21?” The victim answered, “I do not.”
Defense counsel Reno Cervantes then cross-examined the victim, and asked if the victim had been using his fan to blow dirt off of his bunk area, and the victim answered, “Yes.”
Cervantes then focused on the time between the two alleged assaults.
The victim had told DPD Do that he did not recall the time between incidents, but that it “sure wasn’t an hour.” Cervantes continued to pursue the timeline, and asked if it could have been 20 minutes. The victim answered, “Negative, think about it logically. I don’t want to get beaten,” the victim added. “It’s not a nice thing to get beaten.”
Cervantes continued to ask about what happened to the victim after the first incident, but the victim claimed that he did not recall a lot of what had occurred.
“It seems like you are trying to confuse me, make me seem like I’ve lied somewhere or something,” the victim said.
Defense counsel Kathuria then started to cross-examine the witness, and asked, “You cannot say with certainty it was Mr. Munoz who hit you with a guitar, correct?” He then asked if Ramirez or Barbosa had hit him with a guitar.
For all three names, the victim answered, “I cannot say.”
“You cannot say with certainty which of these individuals, if any, stomped on you, correct?” Kathuria asked about the victim’s body position when he was allegedly beaten.
“I cannot say for certainty whether I got beaten,” the victim said. “Look at the report and look at the pictures, look at the medical reports, you tell me.”
The jury then took a break, during which Judge Benjamini warned Kathuria that “there comes a point where questioning especially in the face of ‘I do not recall what happened’ really starts bordering on harassment of the witness.”
Following the lunch break, DDA Recalde called Bryan Moreno to the stand as his first witness. In 2018 when the alleged assault occurred, Moreno had already been a correctional officer at California Rehabilitation Center for approximately five years.
He was assigned to Dorm 204, where the defendants and victim were living, and his duties included providing supervision over inmates, doing security checks, searches, and daily counts.
Moreno testified that on May 21, 2018, at 7 p.m., he had been keeping guard in the hallway as inmates began to return to the dorm.
Moreno’s back was to the wall as he was watching the inmates walking through the corridor, until the victim exited the dorm into the corridor where he was positioned, and he noted, “When I turned around, I watched [the victim] walking through the door,” Moreno said. “[The victim] looked like he had been battered.”
Moreno saw the victim’s injuries and felt he needed medical assistance, so he called a Code 1 emergency which is “any kind of emergency given over the radio, if someone hits the alarm to indicate they need help. If some kind of incident in the corridors needs extra coverage, an officer will radio to exit the dorm and provide extra coverage.”
Between five to 10 p.m., dorm and security patrol officers arrived at Dorm 204 to assist, he said, explaining the officers possessed a baton and pepper spray, and Moreno had his pepper spray in hand as he entered the dorm to assess the situation.
Moreno explained that “whenever there’s a Code 1 response, officers come in with a use-of-force weapon in their hand.”
After hearing the alarm go off, the inmates were instructed to get down on the floor. Then, the officers ordered the inmates to go to their assigned bunk areas and strip down to their boxers and socks so that the officers could perform skin checks.
“Skin checks are to see if anyone has marks consistent with being involved in an altercation,” Moreno said. “We have the inmates stand up, have their arms out. We just look over their front side then we have them turn around to check their backside. We check their hands for any markings and their faces for any markings or redness.”
Moreno stated that he did not see any markings on the inmates he had checked. And identified Barbosa, Lopez, Munoz, and Ramirez as part of the dorm he supervised.
Moreno believed whoever had been involved had been in Dorm 204 at the time of the alleged incident.
Lopez’s defense attorney Renk argued that since the defendant had a job as a clerk, he could have been working in the program room and therefore not necessarily present during the alleged assault.
DPD Do then asked Moreno if he was aware of any places in Dorm 204’s walls that people could hide contraband.
“Due to the building being fairly old, there are multiple holes,” Moreno said, and clarified that whenever they found a hole, they called maintenance to cover it. Moreno did not remember if all the holes were patched up, but stated that he was not aware of any hiding places that could potentially hide a cane.
When asked how thoroughly he and the other officers searched the dorm for weapons, Moreno responded that he was unsure. The only item he saw collected was the victim’s guitar, and he did not see any dents, blood, or scratches on the guitar, but he had only looked at it from afar.
Moreno additionally stated that he “did not recall finding any blood anywhere or other weapons,” including a mop or cane that had been used in the alleged assault.
Judge Benjamini then ruled to strike the use of deadly weapon component from the charges, limiting it to just the assault.
After the afternoon break, Doina Rus was called to the stand as the second witness. Rus is a registered nurse and supervisor at California Rehabilitation Center, and treated the victim when he came in following the alleged assault.
According to her paperwork which documented the injuries of inmates that came into the emergency room, the victim claimed that “a bunch of inmates assaulted me with my guitar and broomstick.” He did not specifically name any inmates.
Rus had also examined defendant Lopez, including his knuckles and chest, and she did not find any abnormalities such as swelling, bruising, or scratching. However, in her examination of defendant Ramirez, she said she did find some scratches and traces of redness on the left side of his head and scratches on his hands.