By Carson Eschen
SANTA BARBARA, CA – Deputy Public Defender Richard Addison Steele, II, vehemently objected last week here in Santa Barbara County Superior Court to the introduction of a video of his client in custody, arguing that it was irrelevant, prejudicial, offensive and possibly racist.
PD Steele also said the video was introduced too late in the trial, without notice, and should cause a mistrial.
Jorge Payan is on trial for alleged physical abuse against his ex-girlfriend last September.
On Aug. 23, Steele and Hannah Meyer, the prosecutor, met away from the jury to discuss Meyer’s request to play 10 minutes of a video for the jury. The video in question captured Payan, the accused, alone in an interview room after being arrested by police.
Within the video, Payan sits, hits the table twice, does push-ups, takes his shirt off, curses repeatedly, and paces. Notably, the video also shows tattoos on the back of Payan’s head, as well as an Eastside tattoo that is normally covered by his shirt.
Prosecutor Meyer argued that the video was relevant because it showcased Payan’s rage and tendency toward violence, corroborating testimony given by the officer in charge of the interview.
However, PD Steele objected, stating that the video was “pure unadulterated racism” and a ploy to show the Payan’s tattoos. He said that the prosecution wanted the tattoos to be shown to support a narrative that the defendant fit the “grotesque” trope of a “scary gangster Mexican.”
Steele stated that these racist tropes are a consistent problem that the defense side of the criminal justice system has to put up with time and time again.
PD Steele further took issue with the relevance of the video, arguing that the anger of Payan was already documented by the testimony of the officer, and that Payan would testify to his own anger.
Steele argued that between the prejudices that the video played off of and the video’s lack of relevance to the domestic abuse charges, the video should not be admitted as evidence.
Prosecutor Meyer replied that the video was not racist, and that she could not help that Payan had chosen to take off his shirt in the interview room. She further argued if he didn’t have a tattoo, there would not even be a question on whether the video could be played, and that Payan shouldn’t “get special treatment just because he has a tattoo.”
When the presiding Judge Pauline Maxwell indicated that the video could be played, Steele requested a compromise instead, to only show the particular moments where Payan hit the table.
While he still held that none of the video was actually relevant to the domestic abuse case, he requested that the video be cut down to only the specific moments that demonstrated rage, per prosecutor Meyer’s stated purpose.
Judge Maxwell denied his request, and said that the video could be shown in its entirety.
PD Steele expressed a deep disappointment with the decision, and said that he planned on arguing that the video was nothing more than racism in his closing argument.
Following the presentation of the video, Steele also took issue with the video being brought into the case this late into the trial, saying that he had been unable to voir dire the jury on issues of race because he had not known that the trial would involve those issues.
He also expressed dissatisfaction that the jury was almost entirely white, while the defendant was Latino, noting that if he had known the video was going to be brought in, he would have been more conscious of the jury’s racial makeup.
PD Steele further said, “Quite frankly, this should be a mistrial,” referring to the admission of the video.
Prosecutor Meyer responded that the video had been discovered a year ago, and that she had attempted to contact him regarding the video that weekend, so that they could discuss it in the morning if he had an objection to it.