By Fiona Davis
WOODLAND, CA – This past week, in a co-defendant kidnapping case here in Yolo County Superior Court, the defense team filed several discovery motions, detailing what it called undiscovered evidence and multiple incidents of alleged police misconduct never given to the defense by the prosecution or investigators.
The judge granted defense discovery motions, but wouldn’t rule on possible police misconduct.
In April of this year, Mason Allen John and Antonio Juan Del Castillo were arrested and charged with several felony counts, including ransomed kidnapping and first-degree robbery.
John and Del Castillo have pleaded not guilty to all charges, but after a preliminary hearing determined there was sufficient evidence to find both men guilty, and the accused men are now scheduled to face a jury trial later in August.
However, this last week, a hearing was held to address several discovery motions filed by John’s public defender, Jose Gonzalez-Vasquez.
Del Castillo’s private attorney, Rob Gorman, argued alongside Gonzalez, joining Gonzalez in his motions and stating that they had been working closely together on these discovery motions.
While Gonzalez filed several different motions relating to discovery, Gorman told the court, “The discovery motion we have on today is a general discovery for trial motion.”
“It has nothing to do with the prelim … it has nothing to do with anything but to get timely discovery before trial,” Gorman continued, adding he believed some of the evidence the defense was requesting did fall under the Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to disclose materially exculpatory evidence to the defense.
“Some of that stuff on that list is Brady, I believe, and some of it may or may not be. But I believe it is relevant to our preparation and defense at trial,” he argued.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman told the court that, while the prosecution would agree to provide “most of” the requested discovery to the defense, “the defense has all the information the prosecution has.”
However, Gorman pushed against the prosecution’s claim, stating the defense had conducted its own independent investigation of the case, and found new, undiscovered information pertaining to the case, and evidence of potential police misconduct.
When describing the defense’s investigative findings, Gorman largely focused on evidence that allegedly indicated that the kidnapping victim and his girlfriend had a prior relationship with one of the investigating officers, Detective Derik Russel.
Gorman told the court that in August of 2020, a raid was conducted on the victim’s home, and a Child Protective Services worker was present. Based on the statements of Del Castillo’s attorney, it appears that the victim and his girlfriend may have been using drugs illegally at the time.
The CPS worker allegedly told the defense investigative team that Detective Russel had approached the CPS worker, telling them that the Davis Police Department would place the victim and his girlfriend into a drug treatment program, “so that the CPS worker would not take [the victim’s] child from the premises.”
Gorman noted that while the victim, his girlfriend, and Detective Russel were all present during the preliminary hearing, this prior interaction between the three individuals was never brought to light.
“That was a benefit that those witnesses were provided that we were never told of,” Gorman stated, adding when the victim’s girlfriend learned that the victim was being held hostage, she called Detective Russel’s work cell phone instead of calling 911.
“If someone was holding me hostage right now, I would call 911,” Gorman told the court. “So we know just by how the evidence played out tangentially that [she] had some pre-existing relationship with Detective Russel.”
Additionally, the private attorney stated, while the victim’s girlfriend had testified to having broken her phone in anger after the kidnapping and was unable to provide its contents into evidence, the defense investigation had uncovered “40-some” text messages sent between her and Detective Russel between the time the kidnapping occurred and when they were interviewed by police.
Gorman alleged Detective Russel had reportedly approached a relative of the victim’s girlfriend, and the relative had been told to “not cooperate with the defense investigator in this case.”
The relative later reported this alleged interaction in an interview with a public defender.
Gorman said the prosecution “has an obligation to find out what the officers have; There is something really wrong here. And I don’t know what it is, because we are not privy to information the Davis PD and Detective Russel are keeping from us. It completely handicapped our ability to have a meaningful prelim hearing.”
Gonzalez later added the defense had requested this evidence two months prior, and they had already continued the trial once before.
“What I don’t appreciate is silence … the defense is kind of kept in the dark in terms of what [DDA Vroman] is doing to get us these things,” Gonzalez stated.
In response, DDA Vroman stated that, while a “joyous event” in his personal life had reduced his focus on the case for the “last few days,” he would be making further efforts to gather the evidence the defense had requested in their discovery motion.
Vroman also stated that he was in contact with Detective Russel, and that the detective’s “representation of the conversation” he had with the relative of the victim’s girlfriend differs from their report of the interaction.
Judge Peter M. Williams told the attorneys that because he only had hypothetical, undiscovered evidence in front of him, he would not be making a ruling on the potential police misconduct.
“I’m not in a good position to make that kind of ruling … I have to rely on the DA’s representation as an officer of the court here saying he’s not aware of any such information,” Judge Williams stated.