Assembled by Mia Machado
The Davis Vanguard is an online news forum that provides coverage of criminal justice reform and courts throughout California and the nation. In 2006, the Davis Vanguard began to cover Davis and Yolo County groundbreaking, local news concerning government and policy issues affecting the city, schools, and county. In the past few years, the online news source has been able to expand to Sacramento and the surrounding regions.
Now, the team has grown to about 40 to 50 interns who monitor and report on live court proceedings in more than six different counties throughout California, from the State Capitol of Sacramento to the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.
Stories this week range from hearing victim statements recounting a pattern of stalking, to a defendant repeatedly claiming that he worked for the Pentagon, the CIA, and that he owned the United States of America. Notably covered by reporter Emma Philips, The Davis Vanguard saw coverage of Zepeda Rivas et al. v. Jennings et al., where civil immigration detainees filed against ICE over a botched handling of a COVID-19 outbreak at Mesa Verde detention facility.
The court calendars seemed to be packed with continuances, rescheduled court hearings, and domestic violence cases when interns covered courthouses in Sacramento, Yolo, and Fresno counties. They monitored more than 25 courtrooms, and dozens of cases in each court shift.
SACRAMENTO SUPERIOR COURT:
Reporter Özge Terzioğlu:
On Nov. 16 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60, defendant Jimmy Armstrong told Judge Scott L. Tedmon that he had been in 24 hour lockdown for 23 days without permission to make any phone calls. He did not have an arraignment, nor was he permitted to speak to his attorney or anyone else. Having been unable to contact his family, Armstrong was unsure whether they had hired an attorney, so Public Defender Samantha Ting was appointed to represent him. PD Samantha Ting talked to the defendant off the record, then requested to continue his case to November 23, 2020, at 8:30 a.m. in Dept. 60. She requested that Judge Tedmon provide the defendant two court-ordered phone calls to contact bail bond and his family about the attorney. Judge Tedmon granted the request.
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Defendant Jasel Zuniga on the other hand, failed to appear, PD Ting asked to call him because she would “hate for him to lose his $5,000 bail.” When he didn’t pick up her call, Judge Tedmon forfeited his bail and issued a $50,500 bench warrant.
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On Nov. 18 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60, defendant Arlie Halcomb was not granted a release from custody to see his cardiologist for his heart condition due to his extensive criminal history. He was in custody for allegedly violating PC 273.5, corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, and PC 29800, unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon.
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Defendant Reggie Johnson showed up for the afternoon court session even though his case was heard in the morning, where he failed to appear and a bench warrant was issued. Johnson said he was on the train from Pittsburgh to Sacramento, which is why he failed to appear. Judge Scott L. Tedmon sympathized with the defendant and withdrew his bench warrant and continued his case to December 16 at 1:35 p.m. in the afternoon, so that the situation would not repeat itself.
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Defendant Raquel Huesso was in court for allegedly violating PC 273.5, corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, and PC 273 (a) (b), child endangerment. PD Samantha Ting requested she be released with pre-trial conditions, arguing that she has a newborn child she is currently breastfeeding, and that the incident occurred because she had relapsed on alcohol. DDA Renishta Lal objected to a pre-trial release because the defendant has a DUI from 2008 and “it seems like alcohol is an issue.” DDA Lal also presented a picture of the victim’s shoulder, which was covered in a very long scratch. She stated that if the defendant was to be released, she should have conditions of no alcohol and AA meetings, for the sake of her newborn child’s safety. Judge Tedmon ordered a level 4 pre-trial release. Huesso’s next court date is December 16, 2020 at 8:30 a.m.
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Defendant Reginald Gardner, who allegedly violated his probation and penal codes 243 (e) (1), battery against spouse, and 166 (c) (4), an offense against public justice, has his bail set at $5,000. He allegedly was found in the victim’s bedroom, after he assaulted her at her house. He left bruises on the victim, and resisted officers. A no contact order was set.
Reporter Dylan Ferguson:
On Nov. 16 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 63, defendant Herbert Highsmith was denied a bail review. The defendant’s bail is currently set at 1.5 million dollars. Defense Attorney Karri Iyama argued that the defendant should be considered for an OR (“own recognizance”) due to the fact that the defendant would not be able to post a lower bail. The defense attorney also mentioned that the defendant will be 69 years old in January, has missed skin cancer appointments since being in custody, is no longer in contact with the victim, and would be willing to comply with any GPS requirements, if an OR would be permitted. Defense Attorney Stephanie Aarseth did not see enough relevance with the defense attorney’s argument, seeing as the defendant has admitted to repeatedly sexually assaulting an 8 year-old. The Judge Patrick Marlette agreed with DDA Stephanie Aarseth and only granted the defendant a medical visit and jail site visit.
Reporter Roxanna Jarvis:
On Nov. 16 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 9, Roxanna observed a total of 21 cases, all of which were continuances and moved by quickly. For defendant Danielle Ayers’ DUI case, the people requested for a continuance because their witness, an “officer Williams,” was unable to testify due to being on injury leave. Legal Research Assistant Patrick Brady–supervised by Deputy District Attorney Kelly Clark–relayed that moving the trial date to January 4, 2021, was a reasonable time considering that the officer “could possibly be out for the remainder of the year.” The public defender in the case, Ashley Chang, objected to the continuance saying that the ambiguity of officer Williams’ return date was not “reasonable time”, and Judge Helena Gweon, noting, “The only information I have is you saying that the liaison has said he’s possibly unavailable for the rest of the year. Well, anything is possible so that does not really tell the court anything,” explained Gweon. A break was then given for Brady to call the liaison again and see if there was a better estimate for officer Williams’ return. It turned out that the officer was able to testify after all. “Great, thank you. I guess the problem [is] resolved, huh?” asked Gweon.
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On Nov. 20 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62, Judge Timothy Frawley appointed a third doctor to evaluate the mental competency of defendant Aaron Walker, charged with committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under the age of 14. The first psychologist, Dr. Janice Nakagawa performed an evaluation on Walker and found him to be malingering, or falsifying their competency. The other appointed psychologist, Dr. Donald Siggins, found Walker to be not competent. But the issue with Siggins’ evaluation was that he was not alone in making an opinion, for he had his supervisee assist him. Dr. Krysal Piumatti aided Dr. Siggins in doing the research and making an evaluation, which caused concerns for the DDA Quirina Orozco since Dr. Piumatta was not appointed to evaluate Walker. Orozco said that after the evaluation was made, Piumatti approached the panel which approves doctors asking for payment for her work. This was when it came to light that Dr. Siggins was not alone in making the report. It was stated by Orozco that Piumatti visited Walker 7-8 times, while Siggins visited him once. “There’s a question as to whether we can use the report because we don’t know if the basis of the report was written by Dr. Piumatti who was not approved or Dr. Siggins,” stated Orozco. She added that both doctors have been giving conflicting responses as to who wrote the report. The panel has now removed Dr. Siggins from the list of approved doctors, so he will not be able to testify or make any evaluations for the time being.
Walker’s attorney, Thomas Clinkenbeard, objected to appointing a third doctor, stating “it appears to the defense that this is, in no undue disrespect intended, a pre-textual measure in order to begin to undermine doctors whose opinions are antithetical to the People’s case.” In the end, Judge Frawley did end up appointing a third doctor to evaluate Walker.
In addition, one defense attorney logged in to Zoom while driving his vehicle. No one questioned the attorney as he used one hand to drive and the other to look through papers in the passenger seat, switching between looking at his notes and looking at the road. The attorney then switched his eyes from the road and into the camera as he discussed reasons for a continuance, and looked at his notes once again when setting up the next court date.
Reporter Tiffany Devlin:
On Nov. 16 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62, there were approximately 32 cases heard. defendant Robert Johnson was considered incompetent to stand trial, repeatedly claiming that he worked for the Pentagon, the CIA, and he owned the United States of America.
Johnson was charged with PC 211 involving robbery. While Judge Michael Savage asked Johnson if he was okay with the hearing being live streamed for public access, Johnson said, “before you make the hearing I want to let you know who I am,” But the judge said, “I just need to know if it’s okay if we do this hearing just like we’re talking right now. That’s all I need to know sir.” The two sparred back and forth while Johnson continued to ignore the procedural question. He said that he worked for the CIA and the Pentagon, and that the “special intelligence court” is the proper jurisdiction.
According to a doctor, the defendant was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Before Judge Savage could finish with the proceeding, Johnson said that his Constitutional rights were being violated, and that his military rights were being violated. “Sir, I need you to be quiet.” said Judge Savage. Public Defender Naomi Coady submitted on Penal Code §1368, which requires the judge to state that the defendant is mentally incompetent to stand trial. The case will be reviewed on Dec. 7 in Dept. 9.
“I’d like to file for attorney incompetence,” Johnson blurted out. “Okay y’all disrespecting the federal government. I’m actually owner of the United States of America, Robert Johnson.” I said I’m under government surveillance! I’m under government surveillance, sir, you hear me? I’m under government surveillance! I worked for the Pentagon! I’m the wrong person to disrespect… Y’all violating my Constitutional rights, I got a right to speak, man.” Johnson yelled. While Johnson continued to yell, the courtroom microphone eventually was muted. One court staff member was heard saying, “He owns the United States… of America.” and burst into laughter.
Reporter Kelly Moran:
On Nov. 17 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 4, Judge Steve White oversaw a preliminary trial for a woman charged with assault with a deadly weapon and willfully causing a child to suffer. The defendant, Lakia Young, is accused of running into her ex-boyfriend’s car with her own. The child that Young shares with the victim was in the backseat of the car, though neither victim was seriously injured. Young will return to court on January 6 for a readiness conference before her trial on January 11.
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On Nov. 17 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 42, an inmate faced the three officers he is alleged to have attacked in court, as they testified via Zoom as DDA Michelle Carlson’s witnesses. Romaine Morgan, who has been kept at Folsom State Prison since 2008 for a prior robbery conviction, is charged with three counts of battery against a correctional officer. Judge Sumner set Morgan’s trial for May 14 of 2021, where Morgan’s public defender, Ryan Jay, will continue to make the case for Morgan’s unstable mental health. Morgan pled guilty by reason of insanity in his preliminary trial, and will have his mental state evaluated by two doctors appointed by the court.
Reporter Kalani E. Gaines:
On Nov. 18 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62, most cases that had to be rescheduled were set for a date in February and a few in January. “I am completely overwhelmed with cases,” Public Defender Brooks Parfitt stated when asking one of his cases be scheduled for February. It may be possible that this is a similar issue for the other cases as well.
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Defendant Ronald Brown was released out of custody without probation as his case was resolved by his plea deal. Seeing as he has served more than a year in jail, a Harvey waiver was issued towards one of his counts, to eliminate any probation time.
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Defendant Dashune Jones was to remain in custody though his case did resolve. He was sentenced to three years in state prison and four years of supervision upon release for assaulting the victim with a gun and carjacking in 2019.
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Defendant Aaron Ross’s resolved case also resulted in more time to serve. Ross had already been in jail for 553 days but felt he did not have enough time to think about his plea deal as he told Judge Michael Savage. “I don’t feel like I’m being treated fairly,” Ross stated. Judge Savage told Ross “You’ve had a lot of time to think about this,” Judge Savage said. He gave Ross 30 seconds to accept the plea deal or go back on trial. At the least second, Ross said “Wait, I’ll take it.” Ross is sentenced to four years in state prison for assault with his vehicle and obstructing a CHP officer in 2019. His DUI did not count toward his sentence.
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On Nov. 19 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 62, Judge Tedmon presided over a largely uneventful morning. The majority of cases discussed were either rescheduling plans or providing proof of progress on programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The calm atmosphere of the courtroom was contrasted with the large amount of corporal punishment charges heard today. One standout moment was a victim’s statement recounting a pattern of stalking from defendant Anthony Sanchez, whose conduct Judge Tedmon referred to as “insidious in nature.”
Reporter Kianna Anvari:
On Nov. 18 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 10, Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle presided over defendant Lemar Mitchell’s case. Mitchell, represented by PD Ariana Alejandre, appeared in custody for his preliminary hearing. DDA Frances Cobarrubio appeared remotely via Zoom. Cobarrubio motioned to add two additional misdemeanor counts, one for a hit and run on Aug. 2, and one for resisting arrest on Aug. 24, along with his five other felony charges. Cobarrubio called two witnesses from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Sina Ghaffarpour, who pursued Mitchell by vehicle on Aug. 2, and Deputy Benjamin Gil, who issued a Ramey arrest warrant for him on Aug. 24. After hearing testimonies, Judge Sawtelle said there was sufficient cause to believe the defendant to be guilty and would be held to answer in trial.
Reporter Alana Bleimann:
On Nov. 18 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 15, defendant Steve Hancock was charged with a felony automobile theft charge. According to the officer witnesses of Barron Cox and Daniel Hanson, Hancock allegedly stole a white Honda Civic while working at the dealership, test-driving clients around the lot. His public defender Juan Corona argued to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor with a 17B motion. Judge McCormick denied this motion and set the defendant’s arraignment for December of this year.
Reporter Danae Snell:
On Nov. 18 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 31, court consisted of only one preliminary hearing for a defendant that is facing charges of assault with a deadly weapon. Defendant James Dearborn is facing three charges after accelerating at a speed of over 100 mph to follow his brand-new SUV vehicle that he allowed his friend to drive. defendant Dearborn is facing two penal code charges — PC 245(a)(1), “Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm” and PC 245(a)(4), “Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.” He is also facing a violation of VC 14601.2a, “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at any time when that person’s driving privilege is suspended or revoked.” Although no weapon was present throughout the entire incident, DDA Brandon Jack summoned responding officers Terry Baggett and Brandon Herron from the Citrus Heights Police Dept. to explain the series of events that unfolded and resulted in these charges. Judge Gerrit W. Wood from the Sacramento Superior Court struck his ruling along with dissatisfaction in his voice and some future advice.
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On Nov. 20 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 33, one of the preliminary hearings addressed the case of Daniel Ramos who is being charged with raping his co-worker after an evening out with friends on Halloween night. Twenty-seven-year-old Daniel Ramos is currently being charged with two felonies — PC 287(f)(1), “Any person who commits an act of oral copulation, and the victim is at the time unconscious of the nature of the act.” Along with PC 261(a)(2), “Where it is accomplished against a person’s will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the person or another.”
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Another preliminary hearing from the morning addressed the case of Javier Arizmendi who kidnapped a 10-year-old child after meeting and speaking with him sexually through an Xbox gaming console. Arizmendi is currently facing five charges, but his Defense Attorney, Michelle Spalding, objected to two of the charges. This objection resulted in the continuance of the preliminary hearing, so Judge Laurel White from the Sacramento Superior Court can properly read other cases that have ruled similarly.
Reporter Derrick Tat:
On Nov. 19 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 31, there was a preliminary hearing for Damon Lewis, who was charged with multiple counts of felony domestic violence. Deputy Vy Suon was dispatched on the evening of June 11 to their residence, where the victim stated that they had argued for the past few days. It started out with verbal abuse and threats, then led to physical violence. The victim had left the house to stay with a friend, but the defendant continued to contact the victim through phone calls, messages, and emails. He threatened her multiple times about possibly killing her, her friends, and future romantic partners. He entered a not guilty plea and trial is set for Feb. 22, 2021.
Reporter Dalia Bautista Rodriguez:
On Nov. 19 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 31, court convened for the preliminary hearing of defendant Damon Luis’ domestic violence case. During the court hearing, defendant Luis seemed very calm and intrigued by the conversation and details of the evidence against him. He only intervened once on his case and did not seem to be as bothered about the facts of the case. The witnesses consisted of Deputy VY Suon who responded to the 911 call and Detective Darry Deguzman who was put on the case for a follow up investigation. DDA Mitch Miller was on the stand questioning both the deputy and the detective about the incident. Most of the questions consisted of messages being sent to the victim by defendant Luis. He was threatening to find her and “put a bullet through both of their heads before she found a new lover.” He was also issuing threats to the victim’s lawyer, Jonathan Bassoon Daft, via direct message over Facebook. The defendant violated his restraining order on 10 counts and has still tried to get into contact with the victim through handwritten letters and phone calls. Judge Gerrit Wood found the defendant guilty on probable cause, setting a trial date for February 22, 2021.
Reporters Julian Navarro and Macy Lu:
On Nov. 19 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 10 and Dept. 62, there were a total of 23 cases. A difficult hearing was covered in Dept 10 –People v. Edward Marin — which dealt with the defendant performing PC 288(A) Lewd Acts on a Minor Child Under 14 years. It wasn’t a pleasant case to hear due to the fact that a person would commit such a harsh act on the two named victims of the case. The second case the reporters heard, People v. Sarthereat Som, also concentrated on a sexual assault against a minor, though only on one charge. Pleading under the three-strikes law, the defendant made a no contest plea and settled for a six year prison term for one strike, rather than a five year term for two strikes. Both defendants –Marin and Sartherea– facing allegations of taking advantage of a minor and performing horrible acts, that show that the perpetrator in sexual assault cases is usually someone that you know.
Reporters Julian Navarro:
On Nov. 17 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 10, four cases were heard in total. At the beginning of Julian’s shift, three different cases for the same defendant, Semaj D. Myers, were heard. For case number 20FE009186 he faced charges of PC 273.5 (A) Corporal Injury to Spouse/ Cohabitant, PC 459 burglary, PC 273.5 (A) Corporal Injury to Spouse/ Cohabitant, PC 148 (A)(1) Resisting Arrest. In addition, he was charged with HS 11351.5 Possession for Sale of Cocaine and Cocaine Base, 11370.1 Possession of Controlled Substance While Armed and, PC 29800 (A)(1) Possession of Firearm by a Felon. Lastly, he was charged once again with another PC 459 Burglary. Julian found it hard to hear these cases due to the fact that the defendant has constantly harassed and assaulted the same victim on multiple occasions. Myers has constantly ignored the no-contact order against him which has led to multiple incidents where he has physically and verbally assaulted the victim. Luckily, the victim was able to find a safe place where she could live without worrying if the defendant will come back to hurt her.
Reporter Hannah Skepner:
On Nov. 20 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 15, two cases were called before Judge McCormick. The first case, that of defendant German Flores, represented by Public Defender Mendez, regarded a negotiation of a disposition in which he entered a no contest plea to count 2 of his charges in which he used force and violence on the victim resulting in serious bodily injuries that included lacerations to both his face and liver, and bleeding in the brain. As per the deal made with the DDA, Flores pleaded no contest to count 2, resulting in two years on formal probation, and 85 days in the county jail, for which he has credit for time served. All other counts were waived or dismissed. There was supposed to be a live testimony of the victim, however this did not occur.
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The second case that was called was that of defendant Albertina Morales, represented by Defense Attorney Larry Pilgrim. Again, it was a negotiation of a disposition in which the defendant entered a no contest plea to count 2 of her charges. The defendant willfully and unlawfully possessed with the intent to defraud or retain personal identifying information of 10 or more individuals. As per the deal made with DDA Ryan Roebuck, She pleaded no contest to this charge and was sentenced with two years in custody which could be split into one year in custody, and one year under supervised release by the probation Dept.. She currently has 89 days credit towards her 365, and she will report to finish her in custody time on January 22, 2021. All other counts against her were waived or dismissed.
Reporter Carlin Garcia:
On Nov. 20 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 60, Judge Scott Tedmon presided over BTP progress hearings. BTP refers to batterers treatment programs, which are classes or programs often required as a term of probation or plea for domestic violence cases. Each defendant came into the courtroom and was asked to show proof of enrollment or completion of their BTP classes. Judge Tedmon encouraged defendants to “keep up the good work” and congratulated those who had successfully completed all of their classes.
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In Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 31, Judge Gerritt Wood presided over the preliminary hearing of defendant Jorge Alberto Perez-Acuna. Acuna is facing two felony charges for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and refusing to let her leave the house. After listening to testimony from officer Jessica Lenehan regarding the night of the incident, Judge Wood decided that there was enough evidence for Acuna’s case to be brought to trial. Acuna’s trial was scheduled for February 8, 2021
Reporter Linhchi Nguyen
On Nov. 20 in Sacramento Superior Court Dept. 6, an interesting event occurred where defendant Rodney Williams, who was listening in on his hearing through Zoom in his car, was interrupted by a police officer that stopped by. The defendant was parked on the side of the freeway to attend his preliminary hearing, but an officer requested him to drive to a safer location. On the Zoom screen, Judge Helena Gweon seemed distraught with what was going on, and the public defender, Hendrick Crowell, had to request the court to pause the hearing until Williams could relocate. A couple minutes later, Williams logged back on, and the hearing proceeded smoothly without any other odd interruptions.
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On the other hand, in Sacramento Dept. 63, Judge Patrick Marlette reprimanded defendant LeJohn Spittler for his “cowardice” in picking on a “vulnerable victim” in his alleged robbery. As a result of his crime, Spittler allegedly caused physical and mental pain to the victim, who is now receiving treatment from a doctor. On top of revoking the defendant’s probation and giving him four years of state prison, Marlette also charged him a series of fees for his guilty plea.
FRESNO SUPERIOR COURT:
Reporter Özge Terzioğlu:
On Nov. 16 in Fresno Superior Court Dept. 1, much time was spent waiting for attorneys to be ready to call cases. At the end of court, Judge Alvin Harrell III let out a sigh and asked if the calendar was like this every day. When the attorneys said yes, he responded, “Damn! I’m exhausted.”
YOLO COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT:
Reporter Anika Khubchandani and Macy Lu:
On Nov. 17 in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 7, Judge David W. Reed oversaw a total of 19 cases Most cases dealt with continuances due to unforeseen circumstances related to COVID-19 and family hardships.
For example, in “The People of the State of California vs. GOMEZ ARREOLA, JOSE LUIS,” Alex Kian from the District Attorney’s Office asked for a continuance since the wife of the pathologist, one of his expert witnesses, passed away recently. The preliminary hearing has been pushed back to December 2-3 due to the prosecution’s large number of witnesses.
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Aram Davytan, public defender for Mohammad Omar Zia, also asked for an extension for his client on the basis that the majority of Zia’s housemates are experiencing COVID-like symptoms. Zia himself also reports experiencing COVID-19-like symptoms. The preliminary hearing has been set for February 8 of next year.
Reporter Derrick Tat:
On Nov. 19 in Yolo County Superior Court Dept. 1, most cases were arraignments, and many defendants did not appear. Bench warrants were sent out between $10,000 to $75,000.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT- NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
Reporter Emma Phillips:
On Nov. 17, Judge Vince Chhabria heard the case of Zepeda Rivas et al. v. Jennings et al., where civil immigration detainees filed against ICE over a botched handling of a COVID-19 outbreak at Mesa Verde detention facility. Doctor Robert Greifinger testified on Tuesday afternoon about the shortcomings of the Mesa Verde facility and its deficiencies in being able to prevent and respond to an outbreak of the virus.
Greifinger primarily went over the structural deficiencies of the facility, saying the detainees are sleeping in a formation that is less than 6’ apart, the tables in the common room are too small for multiple detainees to sit at them at once, and there is not enough space to properly separate the general population, new arrivals, suspected cases of COVID-19, known cases of COVID-19, and those who refuse to test. Without these separations, Greifinger believes that an outbreak at Mesa Verde was imminent.
Despite having testing on site, Mesa Verde sent tests to an off-site location, waiting over 15 days for results to come back to the facility. In this time there was no separation between those who could have COVID-19 and the general population of detainees. Judge Chhabria asks during Greifinger’s testimony whether the Mesa Verde facility is adequate to house people during the pandemic at all.
Court proceedings continued on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Zepeda Rivas et al. v. Jennings et al. case continued on Thursday afternoon with more expert testimony from Dr. Sean Henderson and GEO group facility administrator Nathan Allen. Despite multiple technical difficulties, proceedings were much more streamlined than Tuesday’s witness testimony. After asserting his expertise in the field of medicine, Henderson viewed Attorney Royal Oakes’ multiple presentations of evidence that showed the GEO group, ICE, and Mesa Verde detention facility’s multiple policy and procedures regarding COVID-19 prevention and response plans. Henderson agreed that all of these documents followed CDC guidelines at the time that they were written. He also claimed that Mesa Verde was perfectly adequate to house detainees during the pandemic, given the facility was part of a larger system and could move detainees in and out of the facility as appropriate.
Attorney Sean Riordan’s cross-examination identified Henderson’s shortcomings in his testimony. Henderson contradicted himself in how far apart detainees should sleep from each other to avoid transmission of the disease, and also stated that saturation testing is not a good idea because of the possibility of receiving too big of a number of positive COVID-19 tests. This information does not work to assist Henderson in his expert testimony of COVID-19 in detention and correctional facilities.
Henderson ended his testimony by reiterating to the court that he never expected to keep COVID-19 out of the facilities, his goal was to “keep whoever we have as safe as possible” and to “protect the vulnerable” from the virus.
Mesa Verde facility administration Nathan Allan then took the stand to describe the daily happenings in the facility. He claims the cafeteria remains socially distanced as stools have been placed 8’ apart, tables and chairs are disinfected after detainees use them, and a cleaning cart is available to detainees to clean the dormitory areas. Additionally, mask distribution occurs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and detainees can receive masks in between these times as well by asking the working officer. Although this information seems adequate to combat the virus, Attorney David Weinstein submits a variety of pictures to evidence that depict detainees in almost every area of the facility, none of whom are wearing masks.
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in political sciene-public service and minoring in Luso-brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California
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