Thursday, April 14, 2016

People v. Weddington (Cal. Ct. App. - April 13, 2016)

This is why you should lock your doors every time you leave your home.  Every time.

"Sometime after Fernandez had left, Barba noticed a red car parked across the street. The car pulled away, but returned five or ten minutes later. Barba saw the driver, whom she later identified as Bashir, get out of the car and approach Barba’s front door. When Bashir reached the front door she pounded on it loudly for about 30 seconds. Barba became frightened. She gathered her children and went to the master bedroom as the pounding continued. When the pounding stopped, Barba saw Bashir return to the red car, where two male passengers were waiting. The car then drove away.

About 11:00 a.m. that day, as Los Angeles Police Officer John Parker was on patrol near Havenhurst Avenue in Granada Hills, he noticed a red Chrysler Sebring driven by a woman with two male passengers who were slouching down in their seats. Officer Parker followed the vehicle and next saw it stopped in the alley behind Barba’s house. Weddington got out of the car, and as he walked toward the trunk of the Sebring, he looked in Officer Parker’s direction and immediately got back into the car. The Sebring then accelerated quickly away. Officer Parker followed the Sebring as it sped out of the alley—going 30 to 35 miles per hour in a 15-mile per hour zone—and turned right without stopping at the end of the alley or signaling for the turn. Officer Parker tried to get behind the Sebring to conduct a traffic stop, but the Sebring sped onto the 118 Freeway with Officer Parker still in pursuit. Officer Parker accelerated, followed the Sebring onto the freeway, and turned on the patrol vehicle’s lights and siren. The Sebring exited the freeway and came to a stop.

Officer Parker requested backup units and conducted a traffic stop. Weddington and Nunnery were passengers in the car driven by Bashir, who was driving on a suspended license. The Sebring was impounded and searched. The destination on the GPS on Weddington’s cell phone was an address located in the southern part of Los Angeles. In the search, police recovered a crowbar, a window punch, two flathead screwdrivers, one with a bent tip, a Phillips-head screwdriver, a tire repair tool, a pair of two-way radios, one black glove, two empty backpacks, and a pair of white gloves. Another pair of black gloves was recovered from Nunnery’s pocket. Los Angeles Police Officer Benjamin Sadeh described how these items could be used in a burglary and opined that most of these items were common burglary tools.

Midmorning on September 26, 2011, a multi-unit team of the Los Angeles Police Department conducted undercover surveillance of the red Chrysler Sebring starting in the southern part of Los Angeles and continuing north along the 405 Freeway into the San Fernando Valley. Officers in a helicopter tracked the Sebring using a powerful magnifying camera, which enabled them to see people on the ground from an altitude of 6,500 to 8,000 feet. The officers in the helicopter were in contact with numerous officers on the ground in unmarked vehicles who were using the information provided by the airship to follow the Sebring and relay street names and house numbers back to the helicopter.

The helicopter tracked the Sebring as it exited the freeway in Northridge and slowly drove through side streets, occasionally stopping in front of homes. Eventually, the Sebring stopped in front of a house on the 9000 block of Gothic Avenue. After about five minutes, the female driver exited the vehicle, walked to the front door of the house, and knocked on the door for one to two minutes. No one opened the door. The woman returned to the Sebring and drove away.

The Sebring stopped in front of the home of Julianne McCloskey on the 9000 block of Gerald Avenue. Once again, the driver got out of the car, walked up to the front door of the house, knocked, and stood there for about a minute and a half. No one came to the door. The driver then peeked over the side gate of the house before returning to the car. After a few minutes the Sebring pulled away.

The Sebring then parked across the street from a home on the 16000 block of Tupper Street. Again, the driver exited the vehicle and knocked on the front door of the house for about a minute. No one came to the door. The driver looked over the gate on the side of the house before returning to the Sebring. After about five minutes the Sebring drove away.

Police next observed the Sebring stop in front of the home of Kin Fong on the 16000 block of Labrador Street. Fong was not home. The female driver got out of the car and walked up the driveway to the front door of the house. After knocking on the door for a minute or two and receiving no response, she walked to the side gate and looked into the backyard. As she had done after knocking on the doors of the previous homes, the woman went back to the Sebring and sat in the driver’s seat. This time, however, the Sebring did not pull away. After about five minutes, a thin male emerged from the backseat of the Sebring and went through the gate to the backyard. A heavier male then got out of the front passenger seat of the Sebring and joined the thinner man in the backyard. The men opened a window through which they entered the house. After about 10 to 15 minutes, both men exited through the front door carrying small bags and pillowcases which appeared to be weighted down.

A marked police car followed the Sebring when it left the Fong residence. As police attempted to conduct a traffic stop, the Sebring began to pull over to the right and slow down, but suddenly accelerated and sped away. During the ensuing police chase, the Sebring ran several red lights in heavy traffic, and money, coins, jewelry, clothing, and video game cartridges were thrown from all four of the Sebring’s windows. Some of the coins hit the windshield of the closest police car.

The Sebring eventually crashed, and the three occupants of the vehicle ran in different directions. Police took up the chase on foot, and Bashir, Weddington, and Nunnery were apprehended and taken into custody. As Nunnery was being apprehended, he spun around and elbowed the arresting officer in the face, breaking his nose.

In a bifurcated bench trial, the prosecution presented evidence in support of the gang enhancement allegations that Weddington, Nunnery, and Bashir were all members of the Clover subset of the “Seven Trey Gangster Hustler Crip” criminal street gang (STGH), an offshoot of the original Crips gang. They all had numerous STGH tattoos. The prosecution gang expert testified that gang tattoos were earned by “putting in work” for the gang, that is, committing crimes for the gang’s benefit. . . .

According to the prosecution gang expert, the burglary and attempted burglaries represented a signature crime of STGH, known as “floccin’,” in which Crip gang members leave their territory in the southern part of Los Angeles to commit daytime burglaries of residences in the San Fernando Valley suburbs. The term “floccin’” is derived from so-called “knock-knock burglaries,” in which one of the perpetrators knocks on the door of a target residence to determine if anyone is home. The gang expert described a YouTube video he had seen by a STGH gang member known as “Cowboy” which depicted floccin’ as a residential daytime burglary in which jewelry and other small items are taken and the perpetrators flee in a getaway car."

To me, this was outstanding police work.  I wouldn't have thought the LAPD would have engaged in such expansive surveillance just to stop a string of residential burglaries.  But I'm glad it did.

On the law side, I also agree with the Court of Appeal that there were multiple attempted burglaries in this case, including those involving the homes that didn't end up getting broken into.  Justice Rothschild dissents, and says that for the houses the gang passed up on, their actions were only equivocal and "they rejected each house, not because something interfered with the execution of a burglary, but because, after considering each of the houses, they themselves decided to look for another target."  I understand that position.  But disagree.  In my view, they planned on busting into every one of the houses they cased, but in each of the non-burgled houses, there was something that interfered with the execution.  Something didn't look right.  Maybe there was a dog.  Maybe they heard sounds.  Maybe they saw a neighbor.  Whatever.  In each of these cases, I'm not sure what it was that persuaded the robbers to ditch that house and go to a different one.  But I'm confident that it was something.  'Cause they planned on breaking in, and only that something -- whatever it was -- caused them to ditch that burglary for another.

These people were ready.  Their intent to burgle wasn't equivocal.  Every single one of those homes would have been entered if things had looked as the burglars hoped and initially thought.

That's an attempt.  Every single time.