Trial Proceeds for Unhoused Man Looking to Go to Jail for Warm Place to Avoid Freezing Temps

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By Katherine Longjohn, Delilah Hammons and Kate Hsu

WOODLAND, CA – The jury entered deliberations Wednesday in Yolo County Superior Court in the felony trial of Sander Findlay, a homeless man just looking to find a warm place to stay last Christmas Eve in freezing temperatures, but arrested for a serious crime.

According to his statements made in direct examination, Findlay, who said he was “homeless and essentially.. destitute” at the time, was trying to violate his probation so he would be arrested and could escape the freezing temperatures and have a warm place to sleep in jail.

However, he faced serious charges and trial here when police found him carrying a dirk/dagger.

Findlay said risking arrest “was the only conceivable violation he could think of that didn’t involve actually doing something illegal.”

But it turned sour when police found an open pocket knife during a search, resulting in a felony charge rather than just a violation of probation.

From the examination of Officer Nicholas Burke, the court viewed body cam footage recording Officer Sandeep Maan and Officer Burke’s search of Findlay where he disclosed to the officers he had a folded knife, discovered open in the search.

Officer Burke told the court that a person is allowed to carry a pocket knife but the blade must be in a closed position.

He also went on to say how it was concerning to find a knife on Findlay, especially one that is open, because it is more apt to be used as a weapon, pointing out that “most people wouldn’t carry a pocket knife in an open locked position in their pocket.”

Also presented to the court was Deputy District Attorney Matthew DeMoura’s examination of Officer Keirith Briesenick, who transported Findlay to county jail after being arrested on January 19, 2021, for threatening statements Findlay made against his neighbors after being arrested.

“What I’m going to do is kick in their door, stab all of them in the face…Well now that you said that, I’m gonna kick in their door and what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna take a knife, a very stable knife, and I’m gonna stab them,” said Findlay, according to Briesenick.

While Officer Briesenick was unaware of what happened to Findlay after he was released, Deputy Public Defender John Sage told her that as a result of the incident with his neighbors, Findlay couldn’t stay in his apartment and became homeless.

However, in DPD Sage’s examination of Findlay, he claimed that he was “exceedingly” intoxicated on January 19, 2021, the night he made the threatening statements and that he later apologized to Officer Briesenick.

He also said in response to DPD Sage’s examination that “in no way did (he) express any threat or retaliation to (his) neighbors,” and that his statements were “contemptuous sarcasm.”

In regards to this current case, Findlay said that he did make contact with a dispatcher from the Davis Police Department, “and proceeded to ask them if there were any resources. (He) conveyed them to (his) circumstance having no other available resources and that (he) was interested in being…arrested and taken to jail.”

Findlay continued, saying “the dispatcher informed me” that “unless there was some type of reason or violation, even though I was homeless and essentially… destitute, without any available resources… he was unable to arrest me or take me to jail,” said Findlay.

“It was often freezing at night and I didn’t have any resources, including a tent. I was sleeping in parks, curled up trying to stay as warm as I could. And having been incarcerated before, I concluded that it was preferable for me to be in jail as opposed to suffering in the elements,” said Findlay.

Findlay confirmed that he used the pocket knife for hygienic purposes and that while he knows a knife is capable of bodily harm, that was not the reason he told the officers he had one during their search and also not the reason he purchased it.

Entering closing arguments DDA DeMoura explained the four things needed to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt: 1) that Findlay was carrying a dirk or dagger on his person, 2) that he was aware he possessed a dirk or dagger, 3) that it was substantially concealed on his person, and 4) that it was in the unlocked position, labeling it as a dirk or dagger, and thereby making easily accessible and capable of causing great bodily harm.

De Moura went into detail to explain “it’s not the size of the knife that matters, it’s what it’s capable of doing. So just because it doesn’t, you may not think it can cause GBI, it’s not a must. It doesn’t have to cause it…it’s just in sort of how it can be used.”

Most of DDA De Moura’s closing argument centered around the last element stating that “whenever he put the knife back in his pocket, it was in his pocket with an exposed blade in a locked position. Ready for access if he just put his hand in his pocket.”

DPD Sage told the jury Findlay was homeless, arguing “when you’re homeless that silverware drawer is your pocket, it’s your coat, it’s whatever you have on and you have to understand that” and that this case is “just another way to punish the homeless for being homeless.”

Later in his argument Sage stated “the second element is that the defendant knew he was carrying it and what is it? It is a dirk or a dagger, so if the defendant doesn’t know that the knife is in the open position, he is not carrying it. He is carrying a folding knife and it is not a dirk or dagger.”

The jury entered into deliberation on Wednesday after closing arguments.

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About The Author

Katherine is a senior at USC majoring in Political Science with a minor in Gender and Social Justice. As an aspiring lawyer, she plans on attending law school after finishing her undergraduate degree in May 2022.

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