COURT WATCH: Man Charged with Felony Battery Testifies to Being Called Racial Slurs, Takes Plea Deal

By Sunny Zhou

VENTURA, CA –  Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Young late last week sentenced a man charged with felony battery with serious bodily injury to 120 days in the county jail and 12 months of probation following a sentencing hearing about the unusual circumstances surrounding the incident.

At the prior preliminary hearing, the accused testified that following a dispute over a car wash stall, the victim called the accused the “N word” and insulted his wife, after which the accused knocked the victim to the ground and broke his collarbone.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kelly Keenan prefaced his comments that the plea deal was an offer from the prosecution.

“I had met with [the victim] at the time this occurred; he was 64 years old,” Keenan began. “As the provision report indicates as result of this he was badly bruised and broke his collarbone, so I think there’s really no issue that serious bodily injury was not caused in this matter.”

“As you see from the report he’s requesting restitution of $660,” Keenan noted, asking for 180 days in jail because, “I believe that’s appropriate based on what happened to [the victim].”

“I want to add this: [the victim] is adamant and adamantly denies that he made any racial statements towards [the accused],” Keenan said. “Did not say anything about calling his boys, did not spit on [the accused]. I think in looking at the video it’s clear that he did not spit on [the accused].”

“If the court remembers the video, it was a dispute over a stall at where you wash your own car. [The victim] came up…wanted to get his point across that you shouldn’t be drying your car in a place where people wash [their] car…and [the victim] admits that he shouldn’t have let that get to him and kept ‘at it’…”

“Several times,” Judge Young said.

Keenan continued, “[The victim] kept on even when the person in the stall next to him said ‘hey, you can come over to this stall.’”

“He did move to the other stall, and he’s walking over to get change to…get his quarters to work his washing machine,” Keenan described. “[The victim] says at that point there was another person there, a woman who was still commenting and he said – and he says he regrets it, he shouldn’t have said it – ‘Who’s that bitch.’”

“And then the accused walked up and said that’s his wife and then hit him. The spitting, that’s what provoked it,” Keenan said. “I think looking at the video, that that’s consistent with the video. And then the accused hit him on the ground and continued to hit him on the ground.”

“It’s unprovoked in the sense that there was no physical violence from [the victim] towards the accused, it was verbal, and based on that, I think he should get 180 days,” Keenan explained.

“I read all the letters of reference…and to me, those are the letters that influence me in offering a misdemeanor, 17b, with a 180 day TOP,” Keenan said. “We always anticipated that it be 180 days that we’d be asking for, but he’s getting the benefit of all that was said about him in the letters by getting 17b no strike. So I would ask the Court based on that to sentence the accused to 180 days.”

Defense attorney David Lehr argued for a lesser sentence and presented a different version of the events. “There are times…where I’d rather be anywhere else including the pit of hell than sit next to my client during a sentencing. This is not that case.”

“If the court read the preliminary hearing transcript, I’m not quite sure if the judge’s comments at the very…end were actually recorded,” Lehr continued, “but the court said to my client…after he testified about being called the ‘N word’ and being spit on and [the victim] saying ‘who’s that bitch’ about his wife…words to the effect of ‘sticks or stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me.’”

“I think it’s hard for us to truly appreciate the power of that word, the power that has over people of color who have unfortunately been called that for far too long in this country,” Lehr said. “[C]learly as the court saw in the video, the victim was…”

“They were close together, face to face,” Judge Young said. “I recall that.”

“And he was very adamant and kept going back,” Lehr continued. “[W]hat Keenan probably does not know is that every single stall has a change machine, so [the victim] had parked two stalls over, and walked not to his own stall to get his change and start his wash, and not to the one next to it, but two over to confront my client yet again.

“Your argument would be that he was determined to have the last word, is that right?” asked Judge Young.

“Yes, your honor. I just think my client regrets it,” Lehr said. “When the police arrived at the hospital, the victim said to the cop…‘I don’t want to prosecute’ and the cop basically said ‘because you’ve got a broken collarbone, you don’t have a choice; it’s a felony now, we’re taking over…’”

“During that same conversation as it’s pointed out in the police report and as my client testified to at the preliminary hearing, the victim kept saying ‘my boys are coming, my boys are coming,’” Lehr continued. “The ‘boy’ who wrote you this letter saying how badly his father was affected, was talking in the ER about looking up my client’s address while they’re at the hospital.”

“They already knew where my client lived, which to me is scary, because my client took the yelling over and over and over again,” Lehr said, “until the victim turned his attention to his wife, and the spittle occurred.”

“Would he like to take it back? Yes,” Lehr continued. “Does a man of this age who appears before the Court for the first time ever would like to not be here? Yes, he would. Does he regret his actions? Absolutely.”

“Does that mean he gets out of a penalty completely? Eh, probably not. [My client] realizes that. But is it worth a full 180 days?” Lehr asked. “My client takes care of his mother…he would like to be away from her for as little as possible…so I ask the court to consider something less than 180 days.”

Judge Young asked if the defense had any other comments. Lehr confirmed the $660 requested by the victim was fine for restitution, though asked to reduce court fines and fees as best as possible.

Prosecutor Keenan gave his rebuttal comments on the point about the victim walking up to a change booth not at his stall. “[F]irst of all, I have heard this issue before [that] there’s change booths in each of the stalls. I did personally go out there…there’s one change machine where the victim went…there’s not a change machine in where you wash the cars.”

“The other thing I want to point out is, [the victim] did walk over to the change machine,” Keenan said. “[S]omething was said and then he looks, but the accused then walked up to them…so they’re not face to face, the accused walked up to him, then hit him…”

“I do find a factual basis for the plea,” Judge Young said. “I’ve read the letters supporting [the victim] and some family members…I’ve read the many, many letters supporting [the accused].”

Addressing the accused, Judge Young said, “I’m not going to get up on a soapbox…I don’t know what it’s like to be you, okay?…I wish I could find a magic solution as to why if someone looks different from me or talks different from me or something else, that somehow means they’re inferior…but I’m well aware of those problems. It’s unfortunate.”

“You know and I know that you lost your temper, you had had enough…(the victim) seemed to be relentless…in addition to sticks and stones, I’m not [fully] adapting of that philosophy, but hopefully you’re a young man, sir and you have the things we see out there,” the judge added.

“I’ve handled several road rage cases that start with somebody’s mad because they got cut off…I’ve seen people get stabbed, hurt, killed when the best thing to do is tell your significant other ‘blanketly blank what that person is’ and let it go.

“I understand, you were there washing your car. That’s unfortunate. There are certain fighting words in our society, and the ‘N word’ is certainly, I understand, one of them.

“However, in this particular case you two weren’t exchanging blows, you also know that the video also shows that when [the victim] was down on the ground you also took that opportunity for a few more hits.

“I’m sure your significant other…and others have talked to you about those things and I’m sure sometimes the words come up, you know ‘what were you thinking.’ I understand the insults levied at your fashion, of all things over a shaded car wash stand,” the judge said.

“I in no way, shape, or form endorse the position and comments of (the victim)…he brought a large part of it on himself, but punching out a 64 year old man with some additional blows on the ground for (someone) as young and strong as you are, that’s…the price you have to pay,” said Young.

Judge Young accepted the prosecution’s 17b motion to reduce count one from felony battery to a misdemeanor. The accused was sentenced to 12 months of summary probation, 120 days in Ventura County jail, and an order to pay restitution to the victim.

Judge Young added: “I can give you a list of about 200 people that are in custody right now that’ll tell me ‘I’ve got to take care of Mom, I’ve got to take care of Dad,’ well, that’s not happening because you have an obligation. I’m satisfied that this is appropriate to convey that message as a young person, but I’m very optimistic that your other family members…may remind you of this as to ‘take it down a notch’ for the benefit of you and your family members and also those victims.”

Judge Young also accepted the prosecution’s motion to dismiss the 1192.7(c)(8) serious felony charge and 4.421(a)(1) great violence aggravating factor.

“You have to take the high road,” Judge Young said. “(T)hat’s what people of good character do and you’re one of those people.”

A remand is scheduled for June 14.

About The Author

Sunny is a third year Political Science student at UC Davis. She is passionate about the intersection between law, justice, and creative media. In her spare time, she enjoys watching films, playing TTRPGs, and creating animated shorts.

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