On Being A Witness In A Criminal Case These Days
By: Jeff Challender
We’ll start with an overview of what happened. Our son Max saw what transpired from beginning to end, and this is mostly his story. Janet saw a great deal, especially when she was preventing Max from confronting the Sheriff’s deputies for their sadism. He was so upset by what he was seeing; he felt the need to put a stop to it. I saw only about two minutes worth myself. The participants will be referred to as J, E, and F. The man J and the woman E lived together in the house next to ours. The woman F lived directly across the street from us.
There had been an ongoing feud between these parties the whole time we lived in the neighborhood. There had been numerous conflicts with each reporting the other to law enforcement many times. F was a Mexican, housing upwards of 14 people (most of whom spoke no English) at any one time, in her 900 Square foot three-bedroom home. The “cast of characters” at this house changed constantly, as shabbily dressed people with rucksacks and water jugs came and went. Appearance wise, this house was the ugliest on the block, with filth and garbage all over the front yard. We managed to stay out of the feud, and avoided socializing with all the above mentioned parties. None of them were ever the best of neighbors.
Part Two – The Incident
At around 8 PM on 20 June 2005, several children from F’s house began harassing and taunting J. J owned a recent model pickup truck. It was parked on the street that evening, and the kids were climbing up to honk its horn, over and over again. J would come out, and yell at the kids to stop. They’d run, and as soon as he went back to the bar-b-que in his back yard, they were at it again. J was not a very stable man mentally. He was easily brought to the boiling point, and when pushed could be unpredictable. After several more instances of the previously described horn honking, J came running out of his house, bar-b-que fork in hand, screaming at the kids to knock it off. Multiple men drinking beer in F’s front yard began to yell insults and make threats to J. J was very angry and yelled insults back. This is when F called the Sheriff’s Department to report that J was threatening her kids with a knife. This was an obvious, and deliberate exaggeration on F’s part, but quite typical of her. According to Max, J never threatened violence toward the offending children. By the way, the adults at F’s house made no attempt to control these kids, who were little terrors around the neighborhood. They were known to steal, and vandalize frequently.
Within a few minutes, the neighborhood was swarming with cars and deputies. It was getting dark by this time, and the lights on the sheriff’s cars were flashing through our windows, eerily illuminating the inside of our home. Additionally, a police helicopter began circling round and round, shining its searchlight all over our yard and neighboring ones. The helicopter, relieved by another from time to time for refueling, continued to circle for well over two hours.
J had disappeared at the first sign of a siren. For a short time he was hiding in our back yard. With all the noise from the helicopter, I was curious. I stepped out of our back door, and looked up into the sky to see what it was doing. I heard some rustling in the bushes out in the dark, and shouted, “Who’s there?”. It was J. He was trying to hide in the back corner of our yard behind the garden tool shed. He announced himself to me in a loud hoarse whisper. I could barely hear over all the noise, but it was definitely him. Realizing what getting involved with this guy could lead to, I said “Oh F**K!”, closed and locked the door, turning off all interior lights. I did NOT want cops breaking down our front door, or arresting us for harboring a fugitive. At the same time, I didn’t inform the cops of his presence, because J had demonstrated his talent for vengeance in the past with other neighbors.
[The previous year, he had a feud with an elderly Russian immigrant in the house on the other side of J from us. One morning, the old man came out to find ALL of the windows in his car smashed, and all four of his tires slashed. So, I felt it best to just be quiet, and not say anything one way or the other.]
Several Sheriff’s deputies gathered at the front door of J & E’s home at around 8:45 PM, demanding entry to search for J. As Max tells it, E refused to let them in without a warrant, since house was in her name, and she had committed no crime. The cops were in no mood to obey the law, or take no for an answer.
This part of the story is a bit unclear. From our yard, Max could not see what was going on inside the house next door. He could hear the verbal exchange, however. Also, a neighbor directly across the street from J & E’s house tells us she saw the deputies crash through E’s screen door and throw her to the floor. This neighbor refused to talk to investigators, and her official story was that she saw nothing, and had taken her children and gone to bed when things began to happen.
From our point of view there was shouting, and sounds of forced entry. Three deputies dragged the woman E, face down, out of her house onto the front lawn by her hair and feet, to be dumped on the grass. She was in handcuffs, and screaming at the deputies “Why am I being arrested?”. Then E was dragged to one of the patrol cars. After stuffing her into it, one of them took a can of Mace, and sprayed E directly in the face with it. He then closed the car door, leaving E to scream in agony alone. After around ten minutes of ransacking her house (We could tell by the sounds of glass breaking and things crashing that they were not being careful of private property), the other two deputies came back outside. From appearances, they were not really concerned with pursuing J at that time. The five of them were just standing in a circle on the lawn talking amongst themselves.
Shortly, E began vomiting from the huge dose of irritant. The deputies dragged her back out of the car onto the lawn again. She vomited and retched for several minutes. Then a deputy took E’s garden hose, turned on the water and began to douse her in the face with it. She choked on the water going into her mouth and up her nose. The deputies, five of them in a circle surrounding the stricken woman, were laughing and sadistically enjoying her suffering.
After E had been lying on the ground in a pool of her own vomit and cold water for approximately an hour, the Fire Department EMTs appeared. It seems that the deputies were becoming concerned that E was having severe physical problems, and didn’t want her to die. E could also be heard complaining that her wrists were broken. (Later, it was determined by medical examination that they were severely sprained). After a cursory examination by the EMTs, she was again locked in the back of the patrol car. She was left there for around another hour while the Sheriffs resumed the search for J. The Fire Department vehicle drove away after their brief examination.
At this point, a deputy came pounding loudly on our front door. Janet answered and the deputy shouted “WE NEED TO SEARCH YOUR BACK YARD RIGHT NOW!”. No asking permission to enter our private property, no politeness, no decorum, just a dictatorial DEMAND, along with the unspoken threat that non-compliance could get us the same treatment we’d just seen next door. Janet told the deputy she’d let him in the side gate, and to please not break it down.
Once they (three deputies and a dog) gained entry to the yard, they rode roughshod over everything. They kicked and lifted Max’s inflatable pool to see if anyone were hiding under it. Even though no one was there, they continued to kick it every time they came near it, and ended up puncturing it so many times, it was permanently ruined. They came up to the rear window of our living room and shined their flashlights inside, and tried to break open the padlocked door to our garden shed. In this they failed, so they gave up after a minute or so.
The dog seemed to indicate to the deputies that the fugitive had gone over the back fence. I am sure that is correct too, as I’d seen J near that spot around two hours earlier. The deputies grabbed our stepladder, and after hoisting the dog over, proceeded to climb the ladder one after the other, dragging their doughnut bloated pot bellies across too. In the process, they broke the fence down. These men behaved as crazed barbarians, pillaging a peasant village. They demonstrated no concern whatsoever for private property, or human dignity. They never apologized for any of their arrogantly destructive actions.
While this small army of black uniformed hoodlums stomped about the neighborhood, trampling flower beds, knocking down fences, and generally terrorizing the citizenry, one of the deputies had driven away in the car carrying E. The search for J relentlessly moved further away from our location.
As things began to wind down in our immediate area, the deputy who’d Maced E was using sandpaper to scratch himself on the arm. He sanded, looked at the “wound”, and sanded again until he drew blood. Another deputy then took pictures with a camera and flash. Max watched them doing this. Not much later, all the cops left. After that, the helicopter went away, and the neighborhood became quiet again. In total, there had been around 12 patrol cars, 24 to 30 deputies, 2 Fire Department EMTs, and a helicopter involved at various time in this incident. All of this to catch a man who yelled at his neighbors with a bar-b-que fork in his hand.
They never did find J that night. The next morning, very early, he returned and drove away in his pickup truck. E’s house was left wide open, the door smashed in, with broken dishes and furniture scattered all over.
Part Three – The Aftermath
Several days later, E came to our house to tell what happened from her point of view. Most of it was close to what Max told us. She asked if we’d be willing to testify in a lawsuit against the county. She was going to sue for millions of dollars in compensation for her treatment.
In September 2005, a private investigator came knocking. He wanted us to tell him what we saw on the night in question. Max spoke to him, and I spoke to him. He asked if we’d be willing to testify in court to what we’d seen. I was reluctant, but Max agreed. My wife wasn’t home. We heard nothing more about the matter for nearly two years.
On Monday, 30 July 2007 a business card with a different private investigator’s name printed on it, was left on our front door. Another was left that same evening. The next day, I called the man. He told me he was working for the Attorney representing E on charges of resisting arrest. (Wasn’t this an interesting turn of events? E had planned to sue the county for damages, false arrest, and brutal treatment, but now SHE was facing charges instead) He wanted to come to our home, and discuss with us what we saw on 20 June 2005.
He came, and presented us with subpoenas from the court, ordering us to appear as defense witnesses in the case. One by one, he interviewed each of us about our recollections of that night. He took notes in order to type up our statements for the defending attorney. As he departed, the man told me I needed to call E’s attorney as soon as was possible to find out when we would be needed in court.
Part Four – Going to Court
I called the attorney that evening. He said we would not be needed until the following week (6-10 August). The case had not even been assigned a courtroom yet. Once a judge and courtroom were assigned, a jury would have to be empanelled. After that, the prosecution would present its case. He told me we should keep ourselves available until he called. The man promised us "plenty of notice" before our appearance would be required.
We heard nothing more until shortly after 1 PM on 8 August 2007. The private investigator called, saying the judge had ordered us to be in court by 3 PM that day! We were given less than two hours notice! My wife was across town with one of her girlfriends. They were having an oil change done of the other woman’s car. I called Janet, and told her the news. The car was already in the shop, and they could not start for home until it was finished. The women were around 25 minutes drive time away, and even if they could leave the shop right then, they couldn’t be at our house before 1:45 PM. This was a mess. Max dressed for court, I took a shower and dressed, and still my wife wasn’t home yet.
At just about 2 PM, the private investigator called again and said to “sit tight”. We were to be on one-hour standby now. I called my wife, and told her of this latest development. She still needed to get home as soon as possible. Within minutes of the investigator’s call, the attorney called again to say that our appearance had been postponed to the next day at 9 AM (9 August 2007).
My wife came home soon after that last call. When she’d left earlier to accompany her friend to the garage, they had planned to go grocery shopping after the car was done. Now there was no time to head out again, and we didn’t have the needed groceries.
That night at bedtime, we set the alarm earlier than usual by an hour. At 7 AM on 9 August 2007, we rose to get ready for court. I was too tense to eat breakfast, and assumed that the testimony would be over by no later than 10:30 anyway, so I planned to eat when we got home. We left on the 20 mile drive to the courthouse at 8:10 AM. Traffic on the highways and downtown streets was predictably heavy. When we drove by the courthouse, we had only 12 minutes left to be on time, and there was no place to park! We drove round and round the blocks in the vicinity until we found a spot some two blocks away from where we needed to be. It was a rush, and my wheelchair only made things more difficult for all of us. We almost ran to the courthouse from that parking space, getting a bit lost once.
arrived at the courthouse, there was a lengthy line for the bag search
and metal detector, by an intimidating gang of hard-eyed black uniformed
Sheriff’s deputies. Once we’d cleared that hurdle, we made
our way to the elevators. Lots of people trying to get a car to the
upper floors were standing around. It took a while to finally get a
lift to the third floor. We finally made it to the correct courtroom
about five minutes late. This courtroom was on a long hall with many
other courtrooms. There were dozens of people crowding the narrow corridor.
Some were Jurors in various trials, some were witnesses like us, and
others were potential Jurors waiting to be chosen or not. Each wall
had long steel benches bolted to it. The benches were perforated with
hundreds of little holes, making them extraordinarily uncomfortable.
Once we were in the right place, we waited. No one came to check on our presence at all for at least a half hour. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, the Bailiff (Another Sheriff’s deputy. A huge mountain of a man dressed in black with lots of creaking leather.) came out, and told us to wait (NO KIDDING!). Over the next two hours the Jury was marched in and out, in and out, in and out at least four times. I was wondering to myself why the Jury was being sent to the hallway so often. I also wondered how a Jury could render a fair and honest verdict if they weren’t seeing all of the trial. It was strange.
After we’d been waiting, with no explanation why, for about 90 minutes, the Jury was sent out for the third time since our arrival. When the Bailiff came out with them, I commented “OUR time means nothing to these people. BUT, make the court wait five minutes, and it’s a contempt charge…” The Bailiff exploded in my face! His eyes popped out, and with red face he told me they DO care about people’s time, and that I was NOT to speak to, or in the vicinity of, any of the Jurors! The man was clearly being intimidating, and was “putting me in my place”. I was made to feel very threatened. These people are SUPPOSED to be public servants, but they work very hard to convince you that YOU SERVE THEM!
So we waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Once again, the Jury was sent out into the hallway. The Bailiff came out and told Janet it was time for her to come inside. This was at approximately 11:10 AM. After about 15 minutes, Janet came out, and I was summoned in.
I was rolled in my wheelchair, by the Bailiff, to a spot next to the court reporter. The only people in the room were myself, E, her attorney, the prosecutor, court reporter, judge, court clerk, and the Bailiff. The Jury had once again been banished to the hallway. I was at once privately wondering why I was going to testify without the Jury present.
The judge directed me to face the clerk and take the oath. I swore to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing BUT the truth (GOD was not mentioned!). Then the defending attorney began asking me questions. First he asked me if I recalled the events of the evening of 20 June 2005. I said, “Yes”. Then the man started reading various excerpts from my statement, which had been typed by his private investigator, asking me if they were true, yes or no. I answered accordingly. The judge interrupted, and told him to have me relate my experiences in my own words. I spent the next 10 to 12 minutes telling what I saw and heard that night, describing the sadism, and outright cruelty of the deputies toward E. I described how they demanded to search our back yard, and then proceeded to tear it to shreds, “like bulls in a china shop”… When I finished, the defense indicated that they had no further questions.
The prosecuting attorney had her turn then. She asked me if I could name any of the officers involved by name or badge number. I said, “NO, how could I? They were 50 feet away in the dark.” She then asked me if I knew the name or badge number of the officer who held the garden hose on E. I said “NO, I’m scared of cops these days. They’re out of control, and I wasn’t about to suffer the same treatment as E for going out there to ask them!” (I have seen, with my own eyes, citizens threatened by cops for asking names and badge numbers) The prosecutor had no further questions for me.
At that point, the judge asked me if I had ever testified as a witness in court before. I said no, I hadn’t. She then told me that I must limit my testimony to only respond to the exact question the attorneys put to me, and not include anything, which was not SPECIFICALLY asked in the question. This sure seemed to conflict with the oath I had just taken to tell the WHOLE truth. It was also the exact opposite of when the judge had earlier told E’s attorney to have me tell what I saw in my own words. I was getting suspicious of what was going on there, and really suspicious about testifying with no Jury present.
After the judge’s admonishment to only answer specific questions specifically, I was dismissed. The Bailiff rolled me back to the hallway, and I asked him if we were free to go home. He said he’d find out, and come right back.
When the man returned, he said that Max’s testimony was not wanted. The judge had ruled that it was INADMISSABLE! We were then told that we could go on lunch break, but to be back by 1:30 PM! HUH? I asked him, “But didn’t we just give our testimony? Why do we have to come back again?” He said the judge decides these things, and we’d better be in that hallway at 1:30. It was by now 11:45 AM.
Max was angry at being booted out by the judge. We could certainly guess why the judge had dismissed him. Max saw more of the events of that night than anyone else. Max is the one who saw three deputies drag E from her home face down, in handcuffs, by her hair and feet, to be unceremoniously dumped on the ground. He saw the deputy Mace E directly in her face while handcuffed. He is the one who saw the deputy deliberately injure himself for a photograph after E had been hauled off to jail. And the judge, without hearing one word from, him ruled his testimony INADMISSABLE???
Silly me, I thought judges were supposed to be impartial. I didn’t know judges were actually working to protect the prosecution and cops. I didn’t know that judges could deliberately tie the hands of the defense. I didn’t know that judges could disqualify witnesses WITHOUT hearing their testimony. Heck, I didn’t even know judges could disqualify witnesses at all on their own authority. And we were highly suspicious that most of this trial was being carried out in SECRET. The Jury was being allowed to see very little. What the Jury was permitted to see and hear was being carefully edited in advance. And the editing appeared to favor the prosecution and the cops. It sure wasn’t like any trial I’d ever heard of before; that is outside of Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Russia.
Anyway, we drove home as quickly as possible, grabbed a bite of lunch, and went straight back to court. Max stayed home this time, since there was no point in him sitting in that corridor any more. We got back to our “jail” at 1:20 PM; ten minutes early.
Once again, the hallway was packed with Jurors from several courtrooms. There were well over 60 people in there, and it was loud and uncomfortable. The hallway was narrow and confining. Anyone who is claustrophobic would likely have serious issues in there. The perforated steel benches were hell to be on after only a few minutes. Add in the intimidation of being subject to search of one’s person and belongings at the door, and the near total lack of available parking in the immediate area, and you have a recipe for complete demoralization of the individual.
It occurred to me that this was all probably a deliberate psychological ploy on the part of the planners. I believe they want the court experience to be as difficult and unpleasant as possible for Jurors and witnesses. It goes a long way toward discouraging any future attempts at willing participation.
But there we were, in pain, constrained from leaving, in the dark about what was really going on, and generally miserable. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then we waited again. The Jury for E’s trial were called in, then marched out. Called in again, and marched back out. Then we waited some more. At just after 3 PM, the Jury came out again, and the Bailiff announced a 15-minute break. Janet rolled me downstairs and outside for a quick cigarette. Then we went back upstairs and waited.
Finally at just before 4 PM, the Jury came out again, and so did the Bailiff. He said I was wanted inside to testify before the Jury. Janet’s testimony had ALSO been ruled INADMISSABLE by the judge, so she would wait outside. Hmmm, Janet saw about half what Max saw, and she saw plenty. I had only gone to our kitchen window for about two minutes that night, seeing E on her lawn in handcuffs, vomiting her guts out, with a deputy hosing her down, with five deputies in a circle about her laughing at her predicament. And my meager testimony was going to be the ONLY one heard by the Jury?? I felt this stunk to high heaven!
Again, I was rolled into the room. I was spotted next to the court reporter. The judge again WARNED me to listen carefully to the attorneys, and respond ONLY with specific answers to the exact SPECIFIC questions put to me, and not to add ANYTHING to those SPECIFIC answers. I was being ORDERED NOT to tell the WHOLE truth! I was being ORDERED to relate ONLY bits and pieces of what I saw that night! My testimony was being skewed to cover-up the real truth from the Jury!
As the veiled threats of the judge still echoed in my ears, the Jury was brought in and seated. I went through the farce of raising my right hand and swearing to “tell the TRUTH, the WHOLE TRUTH, and nothing BUT the TRUTH” with the Jury in attendance. Then the judge turned the proceedings over to the attorney for the defense. The following is what little of my edited testimony was permitted by the judge, who obviously did the editing.
He asked me five short questions.
Did I see the defendant on her lawn in handcuffs?
(Defense) What agency were they from?
Sacramento Sheriffs Department.
(Defense) What was the demeanor of the deputies?
(Me) They were laughing.
(Defense) No further questions your honor.
The judge then asked, “Does the prosecution have any questions for the witness?”
(Prosecution) No questions your honor.
Then the judge asked the defending attorney “Are there any further witnesses for the defense?”.
(Defense) No further witnesses your honor. The defense rests.
I was then “thanked” for my time and dismissed.
That was it?? What a travesty! My testimony had been castrated! It had been restricted to the point of ridiculousness! My wife and son’s testimonies had been ruled INADMISSABLE, and theirs were the ones that REALLY would have revealed the truth of that night!
This is what passes for justice today? The Jury was barred from seeing and hearing everything which took place in the court. That in itself is patently UNCONSTITUTIONAL!! It was obvious that this judge was choreographing the trial in favor of the prosecution and the cops. She was tightly controlling what information was allowed to the Jury.
Now I knew why Janet and I were brought in before lunch to give our stories without the Jury present. This judge wanted to hear what we knew, so she could edit out those portions, which told the real story before letting the Jury hear it. SHE WAS ENGINEERING THE VERDICT!! The judge was making darn sure that none of what we saw would jeopardize the prosecutor’s case against E, or expose the blatant brutality of the cops.
This was not open court. This was not a fair trial with a Jury of peers before an impartial judge. This judge was ANYTHING BUT impartial. This was kangaroo court, a rigged trial, with the defense being deliberately kept ineffectual. The crimes of the Sheriff’s deputies that night were being swept under the rug; hidden away from public scrutiny. You can bet that the cops will do things like this again, because the courts are supporting that sort of behavior. This is NOT justice; it’s TYRANNY! Seig Hiel!
As we were picking up to leave, the defense attorney came up to us in the corridor to apologize for what happened, and “thank” us for our time and patience. And he made a VERY telling remark… The first words out of his mouth were, and I quote, “I bet you’ll think twice about ever volunteering to testify in court again.”
The bastards drag us down there for a whole day in that hellhole of a corridor, with torture devices to sit on, for this? It was ludicrous. My testimony was the weakest of all three, because I saw the least. And what I did see had been pared down to five questions taking no more than three minutes to answer! I was boiling mad, but kept it to myself until we were on the way home. In the car, where none of these NAZI PIGS could hear me, I blew my cork…
This is what it’s like to be a witness in a “court of law” in modern fascist Amerika. God help us all.
FREEDOM AND OUR CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC
One might notice that I never capitalized the word judge in this story. That’s because I have absolutely NO RESPECT for that criminal, AND HOLD HER IN UTTER COMTEMPT!
Jeff Challender, 11 August 2007