By Fiona Davis
SACRAMENTO, CA – An Assistant Public Defender criticized key testimony of a newly hired police officer here this week in Sacramento County Superior Court when the officer relied heavily on his notes, failed to document key aspects of his investigation, and appeared inconsistent in his recollection.
On Monday morning, Officer Cody Nguyen acted as the primary witness in a preliminary hearing for a defendant charged with two counts of indecent exposure.
Joseph Bowman, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges in this case, was previously convicted for the similar offense in 2020.
When questioned by Deputy District Attorney Celeena Wall, Nguyen was asked how many years he had worked as a sworn peace officer. The officer simply answered “zero.” And then added, “About two months.”
Prior to his recent promotion, Officer Nguyen participated in the Elk Grove Police Explorer community program, which works to “[prepare] young men and women for a career in law enforcement by developing a fundamental understanding of police procedures, duties, and concepts.”
Following his time as an Explorer, Nguyen served as a community service officer for the Elk Grove Police Department beginning in late 2018.
When asked about his role in Bowman’s arrest, Officer Nguyen stated in the late evening of April 11, he was dispatched to speak with an alleged victim of indecent exposure. In her statement, the alleged victim recalled walking down the street when a man drove beside her and asked her for directions.
When she heard him speaking to her, she said that she approached the car, and began to have an “almost normal” conversation with the driver before she saw that he was masturbating at the same time she was giving him directions.
“She made a comment in disgust before walking away,” Officer Nguyen recalled her stating.
Shortly after the alleged victim provided her statement, Nguyen stated that a separate officer spotted defendant Bowman walking into a nearby Chevron station where he worked, and reported that Bowman matched the description provided by the reported victim.
About 20 minutes after the supposed incident occurred, seated in Officer Nguyen’s patrol vehicle, the alleged victim then positively identified Bowman as the man she reported seeing. Bowman’s car and license plate also appeared to be a near match to the description given by the complaining victim.
“That’s it,” she reportedly stated, over and over again, while looking at the defendant’s vehicle.
While the prosecution largely emphasized the descriptions provided by the reporting victim, as well as her positive identification of the defendant, the defense scrutinized Officer Nguyen’s performance, both on the stand and during his investigation.
Throughout his testimony, the officer relied heavily on the notes he had written down regarding his conversation with the alleged victim and his subsequent investigation, and at times appeared to be directly reading from his report from that day – usually not allowed by judges.
Eventually, after Officer Nguyen once again requested and began to refer to his notes, Assistant Public Defender Patricia Contreras objected to the police officer’s conduct.
“I’m going to object. It appears the officer continues to read from the same (notes) that he’s speaking to for his testimony,” Contreras stated.
Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang, who oversaw Bowman’s preliminary hearing, sustained the objection, before advising Officer Nguyen on how he should utilize his notes.
“The report is just to refresh your memory, and then once you have refreshed your memory, you can testify from your memory,” Judge Chang told the police officer.
While Officer Nguyen appeared to attempt to follow the judge’s instructions, he continued to frequently refer to his report.
When it was the defense’s turn to question the witness, Contreras also challenged the quality of the officer’s report, as she pointed out several areas in which Officer Nguyen failed to obtain and document key parts of his investigation.
In one example, the officer’s report noted that the victim stated, due to the time in which the incident occurred, that it had been dark when the vehicle approached her.
However, Contreras made sure to point out that Officer Nguyen had failed to describe the approximate area the event occurred, making it difficult to objectively understand how dark it actually was.
In another, Officer Nguyen stated to the court that he had questioned an employee at the Chevron gas station in order to determine whether the defendant had potentially been at work during the time of the incident, and whether surveillance footage was available.
Yet, as the defense attorney emphasized, this aspect of his investigation was not mentioned in his report.
Contreras questioned the officer at length in regards to this exclusion. She asked, “You indicated as part of your investigation you felt that it was relevant to seek surveillance footage … and you did not include that information in your report, correct?”
The combination of the officer’s reliance on his report, and the alleged lapses in his documented investigation, seemed to lead to gaps and inconsistencies within Nguyen’s recollection.
For instance, while at one point he stated that he had talked to the defendant’s coworkers,” he later stated that he had only talked to one individual, who he could not name, describe, or provide contact information for.
“I just knew they were a clerk at the gas station,” he told the court.
Ultimately, while the defense’s line of questioning seemed clearly intent to place doubt in the testimony of the newly hired police officer, Shelleyanne W. L. Chang ruled in favor of the prosecution.
“It appears to the court that the offense charged in count one of the complaint has been committed,” she concluded shortly after Officer Nguyen had been dismissed.
The defendant is scheduled to face a jury trial Sept. 27.