By Fiona Davis and Simran Chahal
WOODLAND, CA – A preliminary hearing for a defendant charged with premeditated attempted murder faced further delays here Wednesday in Yolo County Superior Court after the suspect was exposed to COVID-19.
In August of this year, Marvin Montgomery was arrested for a shooting that took place in Woodland’s Freeman Park in June, where an injured victim survived after being hospitalized.
Montgomery was then charged with “willful” and “premeditated” attempted murder, along with committing an “assault with [a] semiautomatic firearm.” He has pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Montgomery’s preliminary hearing began Monday, and was expected to require an additional day to conclude.
However, Tuesday, it was reported that Montgomery had been exposed to a fellow inmate who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Montgomery was seen to be in close contact with the inmate—referred to by many in the court as “Patient 0”—while being transported in a van. After conducting a rapid COVID test, the results for Patient 0 came back as positive.
Due to this potential exposure, Montgomery was then unable to attend his Wednesday preliminary hearing.
Judge Peter Williams, who oversaw these proceedings, deemed it necessary to delay any further proceedings until more information regarding the defendant’s exposure could be determined.
On Wednesday, all legal parties in Montgomery’s case met again in court, to discuss how best to move forward with the preliminary hearing, and to determine whether a further continuance would be needed.
Ronald Martinez, a Yolo County Counsel attorney who wrote part of the county’s COVID-19 policies, also attended the hearing remotely via Zoom, in order to provide insight into the COVID-19 outbreaks occurring at Yolo County Jail.
Deputy Public Defender Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez expressed frustration with the precautionary measures taken in his client’s case, stating that more could have been done to accommodate Montgomery’s exposure “without the drastic step of interrupting the preliminary hearing.”
The defense attorney charged there had not been enough evidence to conclusively determine whether Montgomery should have been prevented from attending his preliminary hearing on Tuesday.
Gonzalez-Vasquez referred to the Yolo County Human Resources website for some guidance on the issue. Since there was no guidebook that closely correlated with his situation, he used the “Guidance on How to Handle COVID-19 in the Workplace” as an alternative to determine whether the situation was appropriately handled.
Under this guideline, the defense pointed out that “close contact” could only be proven with an “lab confirmed COVID-19 positive case.” He emphasized that Patient 0 only produced a positive rapid test, and that lab results were still being processed.
Gonzalez-Vasquez also noted that Montgomery produced a negative rapid COVID test on Monday, and had shown no outward symptoms of the virus.
“At this point, I’m just asking the court to wait until we have the information as to Patient 0…to shed light on whether it was appropriate to bring my client or not bring my client,” the public defender stated.
In response to the defense’s argument, Judge Williams pushed back against Gonzalez-Vasquez’s reasoning.
Judge Williams asked, “Would you agree or disagree, Mr. Gonzalez, that using just a standard workplace environment … and comparing that with the confined environment that we find in a prison is really an apples to oranges comparison?”
Gonzalez-Vasquez argued the county has provided no further guidance on the issue other than the guidebook that pertains to the workplace. Otherwise, the court is left to the guidance provided by the Sheriff’s Dept. which may or may not be in consultation with the county.
Then, the judge further questioned whether the statement read from the guidelines pertaining to asymptomatic individuals suspected of coming into contact with a positive case aligns with Montgomery’s situation.
Gonzalez-Vasquez pushed back, stating that the guidelines only apply to lab-confirmed positive cases. If Patient 0 was a lab-confirmed positive, then the actions would have been justifiable, he said, noting, however, this was not the case.
After hearing Gonzalez-Vasquez’s reasoning, the judge stated that no new information has been presented to change his ruling from Tuesday.
In response to the defense argument, Martinez stated that the Cal OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS)—which Gonzalez-Vasquez’s workplace policy falls under—do not have jurisdiction over the jail.
He also remarked upon the increase in positive COVID-19 cases seen in jail where the defendant is being held, and remarked that “[they]’ve had 27 cases come out of [Montgomery’s assigned building].”
Because of these reported outbreaks, Martinez told the court that he would be meeting with the County Health Advisor later to discuss the next steps regarding transportation from that unit.
Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor said that it is safest to assume that Patient 0, despite only having done a rapid test, is positive and that her witnesses have been ready for the case to move forward.
Martinez added that he could be able to provide the district attorney an affidavit to find good cause to move the case along.
After listening to all of the statements, the judge expressed that the sworn testimonies from the earlier hearing are “in full force and effect in today’s finding of good cause…to revisit the matter tomorrow (Thursday).
“We’ll see if we have any more information then,” he concluded.