By Angelina Sang
MODESTO, CA – Police testimony called into question the legitimacy of the charges against a homeless man “trying to survive” and highlighted the importance of video footage in investigations here in Stanislaus County Superior Court Tuesday.
On July 3, Norman Seal allegedly broke into a Ford F-350. The owner of the vehicle then came out of his home and the two got into a physical altercation, according to police. Seal now faces serious felony assault and burglary charges.
The owner of the Ford F-350 claimed Seal began the physical altercation by punching him and cutting the victim’s wrist, foot, and the side of his head with a T-shaped chrome object.
Paramedics checked the victim’s injuries, reportedly “small lacerations,” at the scene, but no hospitalization was required, according to police testimony.
During the police officer’s testimony, the officer was asked if they knew why Seal broke into the car. The police officer quoted Seal, who allegedly said he broke into the car because he was “homeless, trying to survive,” and “looking for change.”
According to the victim’s police report, given to the court via the police officer’s testimony, the victim pulled Seal out of the car by his legs and Seal began punching and cutting the victim.
Stanislaus County Public Defender Reed Wagner asked the police officer who punched first, who said, “Based on [the victim’s] statement, it was Mr. Seal.”
Wagner asked if there was any other evidence besides the victim’s claim, which led the police officer to bring up the fact there was footage of the fight.
“Was [the victim] correct, based on your review of the video footage, that Mr. Seal punched first?” Wagner asked. After referring to his report, the police officer responded that it was the victim who actually punched first.
“In the video, did it show that the defendant [Seal] had a metal object in his hand?” asked Deputy District Attorney Henry Kim, and the officer said, “It did not, A metal object is not seen in his hands in that video. I’m not saying one wasn’t there, but I did not observe one there.”
“[The victim] punched first on this video? That’s not what [the victim] told you happened,” said PD Wagner. “Then [the victim] actually tackles my client?”
The police officer told Wagner that was correct, and it was revealed that at the time the police officer arrived on scene, the victim had Seal pinned down in the road.
“On the video, do you recall if my client actually punched the victim at all?” Wagner asked, to which the police officer responded that they did not recall. Wagner then asked if the alleged weapon, taken off the ground near where the fight took place, was found next to both the victim and the accused. The police officer confirmed it was near them both.
After the police officer rewatched the video in court, he said he saw a metal object fall off of Seal’s person as the victim threw him to the ground. The officer was unable to say if Seal had the object in his hands, and instead opted to use the term “person.”
After the testimony concluded, DDA Kim recapped the victim’s report. “[The victim] stated that the defendant had the metal object in his hand, made a stabbing motion at him, and due to the stabbing motion [the victim] suffered lacerations the officers observed.”
Kim told the court that Seal broke into the victim’s truck purposefully, and with the intent to “steal change,” providing what Kim believed would be proper evidence to hold Seal to the burglary charge.
After highlighting the victim’s previous misstatements that Seal hit first, and that no weapon was spotted in Seal’s hands, Wagner said the court should not take the victim’s word that Seal did have a weapon.
“There’s certainly some information to be examined at trial,” said Judge Dawna Reeves. “But I think it’s sufficient for preliminary hearing,” which judges often state is a “very low bar” for evidence to go to trial.