COURT WATCH: Tense Arguments Sparked in Yolo Courtroom after Multiple Objections by Public Defender During Assault Prelim

By Madison Whittemore

WOODLAND, CA – A preliminary hearing here in Yolo County Superior Court began Tuesday for an accused charged with assault with a firearm, threatening with intent to terrorize, and an enhancement for use of a firearm, despite—said the defense—the investigating officer failing to run a criminal history check and admitting all firearms the accused possessed were legally owned.

Deputy Public Defender Richard Van Zandt also expressed concern about the charges against his client, noting no guns were fired at the end of the night and nobody got hurt or actually “assaulted.”

Mario Cuevas, a deputy for the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office who was the investigating officer as the first to respond to the victim’s house, testified.

According to Officer Cuevas, on Nov. 9, 2023, the alleged victim, his wife (daughter of the accused), and their two small children went over to the accused’s property for dinner. Although admitting to Officer Cuevas he had consumed some alcohol as well, the alleged victim explained the accused was already “heavily intoxicated” when they arrived.

The victim explained to Officer Cuevas that later in the night, they were all sitting around a firepit in the accused’s backyard when he made a joke about a neighbor’s prior comments to the accused’s daughter (his wife).

After hearing this joke, the accused, the officer said, allegedly got up and held the victim by his jacket saying, “Don’t disrespect me,” before letting go and rushing back into the house.

Shortly after, the officer was told the accused came back out to where the victim was, wielding a black handgun and pointed it at the victim drunkenly saying, “I’m gonna kill you.”

At this point, when questioned by Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Allen about what the accused’s daughter was doing during this tense moment, Officer Cuevas explained he was informed that, while holding her seven-month-old child in her arms, she allegedly stepped in between her father and husband.

After his wife attempted to break up the incident, saying “it was just a joke,” the victim took off running away from the property towards the road, according to the officer.

After this incident, Officer Cuevas revealed no officers were sent to the accused’s home for their own safety and instead, Officer Cuevas drove by the accused’s property “a couple of times” while on his night shift.

During direct examination by DDA Allen, it was revealed Officer Cuevas did not question the victim or his wife regarding whether the accused had ever expressed any similar hostile behavior before.

However, after DDA Allen asked a leading question regarding the accused’s “recent” divorce and weight loss (according to DDA Allen, insinuating alcohol consumption) that were noted in the police report, DPD Van Zandt vehemently objected.

Tensions in the Yolo courtroom continued to intensify as DPD Van Zandt cited why DDA Allen’s questions were irrelevant to the case.

“The divorce was decades ago…in the 1980s,” DPD Van Zandt said, questioning DDA Allen as to why she was bringing this up in her questioning, also adding, “Someone’s physical appearance is neither here nor there…The more you drink the more weight you gain…”

Eventually, Judge Daniel Wolk even expressed his own doubts and confusion regarding DDA Allen’s argument, eventually stating, “What is the link between weight loss and the crime?” and sustained DPD Van Zandt’s objection.

While pounding Officer Cuevas during cross-examination, DPD Van Zandt noted Cuevas, in his report, failed to run a criminal history check on the accused (who had no prior criminal history) and failed to note that all 10 firearms the accused possessed (and did not fire) were legally owned.

Finally, DPD Van Zandt concluded his cross-examination by asking Officer Cuevas about his testimony during direct examination, when he testified the accused’s daughter seemed scared and nervous while initially talking to the officer.

Officer Cuevas failed to give specifics as to why he thought the witness appeared scared and was only able to use her “pacing” as an example of the behavior, which DPD Van Zandt said was weak evidence since Cuevas did not know anything about the woman’s regular behavior and demeanor.

The preliminary hearing will resume Thursday with another witness called by DDA Allen.

About The Author

Madison Whittemore is a rising junior at the University of California, Davis where she studies political science and psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Madison wants to go to law school and study criminal law while working to improve efforts for prison reform and representation for lower income citizens.

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