By Amy Berberyan
RIVERSIDE, CA – In Riverside County Superior Court, Michael Paul Driver’s preliminary hearing included testimony from his wife that raised questions about the nature of the incident, given inconsistencies with previous witnesses.
Driver, who is facing charges for a vehicle occupant drawing or exhibiting a firearm in a threatening manner as well as assault with a gun, was arrested on the freeway for allegedly brandishing it toward two cars on Nov. 7, 2020.
According to his wife’s testimony, she had been in the passenger seat beside him in their U-Haul truck with their son in the back of the truck with their dogs.
The two guns found in the glove department were registered to her, as she had previously purchased them in Oklahoma.
According to her testimony, the guns “were both locked in [her] purse and then after the incident [she] locked them both in the dash.” She claimed “just one” was used during the incident.
When asked about whether there were any firearms in the vehicle, she told law enforcement “they belong to me” and said they “left the magazines and ammunition in the vehicle to take with me.” This was the only question she answered for the police.
Defense Attorney Michael Bruggeman asked if she was aware her spouse had been arrested and she answered affirmatively. She did not know the reason why he was until after he was arrested.
After Bruggeman asked why she did not volunteer any information about the incident, she said, “Because I was…I don’t know…because they had already said he was under arrest.”
Deputy District Attorney Justin Kim’s questioning revealed Driver had a chance to speak about the incident with his wife shortly after it occurred, though she denied having discussed what she was going to be saying to the court with him.
Kim asked her whether she kept a loaded gun inside her purse, and she denied having them loaded. She claimed “they were not loaded” on the day of the incident as well and affirmed that “the ammunition was in the rear cargo area.”
“Do you know that it is a felony to point a firearm at somebody?” asked Kim. She said she did not.
After pulling over during the incident, the witness said she locked the two pistols inside the dashboard “because that’s where [she] just felt they were safer. Because I had a feeling we were getting ready to be pulled over.”
“Is that when you also put the ammunition in the back of the U-Haul van?” asked Kim.
“No,” said the defendant’s wife, “the ammunition stayed in the back of the U-Haul from the very beginning of us getting in the U-Haul.”
In order to call 911, she said they were pulled over to the side of the road for “maybe a minute.” It was during this minute she locked away her firearms.
When asked about why she carried two unloaded guns, she mentioned that “in the state of Oklahoma it is a constitutional carry. So I carry around my weapons with me.”
“So you carry them around without ammunition?” questioned DDA Kim. She answered in the affirmative.
Kim questioned why, when she saw her husband was in handcuffs, she “never mentioned anything about the fact that [she] was the one holding the firearm.”
“[The cop] didn’t ask,” replied the witness.
DDA Kim said, “You were the one who held the firearm and pointed it at these individuals. So you knew why your husband was being arrested, no?”
She replied that “they said it was because he was a felon in possession of a firearm.”
The focus then shifted to the wife’s stepson, who was in the back of the U-Haul truck while they were pulled over; the witness said he stayed inside the entire time they were pulled over on the shoulder of the freeway.
The wife confirmed she could communicate with the stepson during the drive, since “there was a fence-cage between [them].” She confirmed there were holes in the cage as well, “probably an inch and a half” by an inch and a half.
DDA Kim said it was possible for a magazine cartridge to fit through, and the witness denied this “because they were in a bag prior to the situation.”
When talking about the incident itself, Kim mentioned there had been a car on the driver’s side of the car. The defendant’s wife said she pointed it at this car from the passenger seat, and mentioned that “the driver’s side window was closed.”
She denied breaking the plane of the window, which was inconsistent with previous witness testimonies that had confirmed the window of the car had been broken.
After the witness was excused, Kim argued the issue “was whether the firearm was loaded or not” with regards to the criminal charge.
Since the wife’s stepson was in the back where the ammunition was, and she mentioned she was communicating with him, DDA Kim argued that she had passed him the ammunition while they had been pulled over.
“What is most telling,” said Kim, “is that when she said she’s going to be pulled over, she then decided to take [the guns] out of her locked purse and put it into the glove compartment.”
He added that “we can make an inference that perhaps she also moved other belongings,” referring to the ammunition.
DDA Kim stressed the inconsistencies of her testimony and said that “circumstantially, we can infer that the gun was loaded. A person would not carry two guns in their purse not loaded and ultimately then point it at people.”
“With this witness’ testimony, and what she had stated,” Kim said that they could in good faith hold Driver to answer.
Defense Attorney Bruggeman said he thought it was an interesting situation given that “the People admit that they can’t go forward on Counts 1 and 2 except for a witness whose credibility is really an issue.”
He denied there was any circumstantial evidence, given the guns were locked away in the glove department, and the ammunition was in the back of the truck.
Judge Timothy Hollenhorst found Driver likely guilty on two accounts of Count 3, in which a vehicle’s occupant draws or exhibits a firearm in a threatening manner.
Driver will also stand trial on Count 4, in which a convicted felon and narcotic addict owns or possesses a firearm. Judge Hollenhorst dismissed Counts 1 and 2, which both consisted of assault with a gun.
An information arraignment will continue on Dec. 7, with trial setting to follow.