After a series of delays, the preliminary hearing in the case against Alex Opmanis got under way this afternoon. The proceedings are intended to outline a bare-bones version of the prosecution’s case against Opmanis, and convince Judge Charles Umeda that the accused should be bound over for trial in the fatal shooting of Sammy Davis last summer. The prosecution’s effort to demonstrate Opmanis’s action rose to the level of murder offered no startling turns. The testimony of three witnesses today did, however, provide some degree of nuance to a series of violent events that culminated in the death of the 29-year-old Davis.
Opmanis, who was then 27, is accused of gunning down Davis at 9:14 p.m. on July 11, 2019 in the parking lot of Goodwin’s Market, located at 24089 Lake Gregory Drive in Crestline.
Based on the proceedings so far, it does not appear that a crucial piece of evidence, a security video that captured moving images of the shooting itself, will be featured as part of the preliminary hearing when it resumes next week. Nevertheless, the video was referenced repeatedly in testimony today, which confirmed that the video had in some fashion been “chopped up.”
Word emanating from more than one quarter of the county, and indeed from the investigative agency that secured the original video, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, is that the video was in some fashion altered in a way to assist the prosecution. A close examination of the video that was turned over to the defense shows that numerous passages were deleted, leaving out what, based upon the remaining parts of the video that were not deleted indicate, seem to be several key sequences. One of those is a crucial 12 seconds just two seconds before the shooting takes place. The images and sounds intact on those portions of the tape just prior to that 12 second deletion and after it suggest that Davis and another individual, 29-year-old Robert Shuey, were physically assaulting Opmanis while they were in immediate physical proximity to him. An earlier excision from the video, while Davis, Shuey and a third man, Shane Codman, are some distance away from Opmanis, featured, according to Opmanis, one or more of the trio taunting and threatening him.
While statements elicited from two of the three witnesses testifying today confirmed that the video was cut up, it remains unclear how the video was piecemealed and by whom, and for what purpose.
Testifying first under direct examination by Deputy District Attorney David Rabb was Detective Gerardo Moreno of the sheriff’s department’s homicide division, who was dispatched to Saint Bernardine Medical Center on the evening of July 11, 2019. Moreno testified that by the time he arrived at the hospital and was cleared to see Davis, who had been transported from the scene of the shooting in Crestline in the west San Bernardino Mountains to San Bernardino, that Davis was dead.
At the hospital, Moreno testified, he spoke with both Dr. Yasmina Boyd, the emergency room physician who was on call when Davis was treated, as well as coroner’s division examiner Brad Coleman.
Moreno said when he first saw Davis, he appeared deceased. He said a thoracotomy, a surgical incision into the chest, had been by that point performed on Davis, but that he was yet able to note a gunshot wound to the left side of his chest and another gunshot wound to his right middle back, along with an abrasion to his left index finger.
Moreno said that Dr. Boyd said she had performed the thoracotomy in an effort to locate the gunshot injury.
During his cross examination of Moreno, Deputy Public Defender David Spiker on behalf of Opmanis, elicited that the two gunshot wounds he had referenced appeared to be an entrance wound to the chest and an exit wound at Davis’s middle right back, signifying that Davis had been shot just once.
Moreno also indicated in response to Spiker’s questioning that the wounds to Davis were consistent with the statements that Opmanis had made to him about the shooting.
Spiker also inquired about when Davis’s blood was drawn. “I was not present when the hospital [staff] drew blood from Mr. Davis,” Moreno responded.
At the conclusion of his testimony as Moreno was leaving the courtroom, he looked toward a group of courtroom spectators that included Davis’s family members, and made a hand gesture of acknowledgment to them.
Detective Kevin McCurdy followed Moreno to the witness stand.
McCurdy related in response to Rabb’s questioning that on July 12 he had spoken with members of the San Bernardino County Fire Division crew that had responded to the parking lot at Goodwin’s Store on the night of July 11. He said one of those crew members, Michael Bass, told him that he and the rest of his crew, which included a captain named Newcomb, a firefighter/paramedic named Perry and a paramedic named Shakula, along with an ambulance operator named Eduardo Gonzales, had responded to the scene of the shooting, and had been delayed at the periphery of the parking lot until they were signaled that it was safe to enter it. Bass, McCurdy said, told him they encountered a “patient lying on the ground with labored breathing” who was “later identified as Sammy Davis.” McCurdy testified that Bass related that Davis had a “gunshot wound near the nipple on the chest and another believed to be an exit wound” on his back and that Bass reported “not seeing blood around the victim” which “indicated that bleeding was internal.”
According to Bass, McCurdy said, the team “immediately began life saving measures,” and given the seriousness of the situation, did what McCurdy referred to as a “load and go,” meaning Davis was put into the ambulance, which left directly to transport him to the hospital, in this case Saint Bernardine’s Hospital in San Bernardino. En route, Bass said, according to McCurdy, he and Paramedic Perry were continuing lifesaving measures, during which Davis’s pulse stopped, so they had performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and at one point needed to perform an incision to relieve the internal pressure on Davis’s lungs to allow him to breath. Further, according to McCurdy, Bass said Davis had received “two rounds of epinephrine” and that he and Perry were unable to insert a breathing tube down Davis’s throat, so they instead outfitted him with a breathing bag valve mask.
According to McCurdy’s testimony, Bass told him he and Perry were able to restore Davis’s pulse, which was strong at around 115 beats per minute. At the hospital, Davis was unloaded and transferred from the care of the paramedics to the hospital staff, after which Davis’s pulse had stopped and the hospital staff was unable to revive him.
McCurdy indicated he had also spoken with Firefighter/Paramedic Christopher Perry.
McCurdy further testified that he had interviewed or interrogated Alex Opmanis at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station for approximately four hours and that he read him his “Miranda Rights prior to speaking with him.” According to McCurdy, Opmanis “was not in custody but he had been transported in handcuffs” to the sheriff’s station. He said the Miranda Rights notification had been given “to make sure there was no misunderstanding during our interview.”
McCurdy said Opmanis indicated he understood his rights and was willing to speak to him. He said he asked Opmanis if he had fired a gun and that Opmanis said “he did fire a weapon …at an individual.” McCurdy said that Opmanis told him he had “retrieved a pistol out of a lockbox in his vehicle and put it on his driver’s seat.”
Asked if Opmanis had “prior contact” with Davis and those in his company, McCurdy said Opmanis told him he “had been assaulted by the same group of individuals,” one of whom was Robert Shuey.
Opmanis also told him that he was “charged” or “quickly approached” by the person he shot prior to the shooting. Opmanis said that he had retrieved the gun from the lockbox prior to being set upon by those he encountered, but that there was no no round in the chamber nor was the magazine inserted into the firearm at that point.
Opmanis had further stated that he was “grocery shopping prior to his contact with those individuals,” that he had interaction with “an attractive female” after leaving the store and that he had loaded the groceries he had purchased into his car when he heard motorcycles start up and revving. He said that Robert Shuey had yelled at him when the three on their motorcycles passed by him and that one of the motorcyclists turned around, parked and quickly approached him.
McCurdy said the interview/interrogation of Opmanis was “pretty lengthy, a couple of hours… He was very emotional. That’s why it took so long to speak to him.” McCurdy added that Opmanis was “crying” and “vomiting” throughout the exchange at the sheriff’s station.
McCurdy said he had gone “briefly” to Goodwin’s Market before the interview, where the entire parking lot was roped off as a crime scene. He said he saw Opmanis’s vehicle, which, while he was on the witness stand, he could not describe as to make, model or color, “somewhat centralized in the parking lot.”
McCurdy testified that the call to the fire/paramedic crew had come in at 21:18 [i.e., 9:18 p.m.], and that it took the crew about ten minutes to get to the scene, after which it was delayed by five minutes before the firefighters were cleared to render assistance to Davis, presumably because the sheriff’s department was seeking to verify that there was not an armed and active shooter yet in place on the premises. McCurdy testified that it took the ambulance another “20 to 25 minutes” to make its run to the hospital with Davis aboard.
Under cross examination by Spiker, McCurdy said that throughout the interview/interrogation Opmanis had the right to walk away and that if indeed Opmanis had left, he would have let him go.
Spiker questioned McCurdy about the security video of the activity in the Goodwin’s Market parking lot prior to, during and after the shooting.
At that point, McCurdy said he had only cursorily examined the video and that there “was a breakdown of the video by another detective.”
McCurdy acknowledged that Opmanis’s statements made to him during the course of the interview/interrogations were consistent with his investigation of the shooting, including his review of the video, which essentially verified that prior to the time of the shooting, Opmanis was near or at his vehicle and was approached by three motorcyclists, including Davis and Shuey. McCurdy identified the third motorcyclist as Shane Codman. The video did show, McCurdy said in his testimony, Opmanis remaining near his vehicle, and that one of the motorcyclists dismounted and then walked aggressively toward Opmanis.
McCurdy testified that Opmanis during the interview related to him that Shuey had assaulted him previously, putting him in the hospital, and that Opmanis had experienced night sweats and “major trauma” as a result. McCurdy said Opmanis claimed to him that he had suffered post traumatic stress as well as a traumatic brain injury and memory loss as a consequence of the beating.
Spiker asked McCurdy if he had verified Opmanis’s account of what he was experiencing and McCurdy said he had not. To Spiker’s follow-up question about whether he had found anything to disprove what Opmanis had claimed, McCurdy said he had not. McCurdy did say that Opmanis’s relating of how he had been beaten by Shuey prior to the shooting incident prompted him to be less than aggressive in his questioning of Opmanis, that is, that he had used “kid gloves” in conducting his inquiry, which contributed, he said, to the length of the interview/interrogation.
Spiker asked McCurdy if he was able to in fact verify that Opmanis had sustained serious injury at the hands of Shuey. McCurdy said “I located a prior battery report where the two were involved with each other.” Spiker asked if McCurdy had found anything to disprove what Opmanis had said about his prior encounter with Shuey.
“No,” McCurdy responded.
Spiker asked McCurdy if Opmanis had told him that he had no prior issues with Davis, no prior problems with Davis and had suffered no prior beatings by Davis.
“Correct,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy also testified that he had not passed along to the lead detective and case agent on the shooting, Eric Ogaz, that Opmanis had told him that he was afraid of Shuey, that he believed Shuey was in some way associated with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and that Opmanis had related that he suffered from post traumatic stress. “It did not come up,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy acknowledged under questioning by Spiker that Opmanis had told him that Davis was being aggressive, that Opmanis was “basically standing his ground by the car,” and that Davis had punched Opmanis multiple times in the head.
McCurdy acknowledged that Opmanis had told him he had undergone reconstructive surgery and had two metal plates in his head, and that he believed being hit in the head put him at serious risk.
Spiker then read directly from a transcript of the interview/interrogation in which Opmanis said, “I thought they were going to kill me. I was so scared, man.”
McCurdy acknowledged that was an accurate reflection of what Opmanis said during the interview and that he had responded to Opmanis, “Don’t beat yourself up.”
McCurdy acknowledged that he had told Opmanis that he would track down Shuey and Codman but that ultimately that did not occur for several weeks.
McCurdy acknowledged Opmanis discussed with him that he had multiple head injuries, that he was being assaulted by being punched in the head, that he fired the gun in self defense and that he used the gun because he was in fear of his life.
Spiker asked if an effort was made by the sheriff’s department to determine if Davis’s DNA was present on the ripped hoodie that Opmanis was wearing when the shooting occurred.
McCurdy was unable to say whether that had been done.
Spiker asked McCurdy if Opmains’s statement that he had yelled at Shuey, “Get Back! Get Back!” in the seconds after the shooting had been verified by what was on the video.
McCurdy at that point indicated he had only briefly viewed the video.
McCurdy said viewing the video was not a priority at that time. He acknowledged a decision was made at that time not to arrest Opmanis, and that Opmanis needed medical attention, so he was released to paramedics who transported him to a hospital for treatment. Spiker pursued the issue, stating that just because a suspect requires medical care, an arrest can still be effectuated, and McCurdy stated that Opmanis was permitted to return home without being arrested after his release from the hospital.
Spiker further succeeded in getting McCurdy to put on the record that after the shooing Opmanis had remained on the scene and had been the first person to summon medical assistance and the authorities by making a 911 call. McCurdy also confirmed that Shuey and Codman had left the scene shortly after Opmanis summoned the sheriff’s and fire departments.
McCurdy also testified that Opmanis had told him he didn’t want to leave the parking lot and that he knew the video camera was pointed directly at his vehicle. McCurdy testified as well that Opmanis told him his head was throbbing, he felt his brain was swollen and he wanted to go to the hospital for a CAT scan. McCurdy acknowledged that after the shooting Opmanis said he feared that Shuey would come after him and his family.
McCurdy said that Opmanis was cooperative and had provided him with the password to his phone. He acknowledged that he had told Opmanis, “We want to work on getting you out of here and taken care of.”
After Spiker ended his cross examination of McCurdy, the court took a short recess, during which Rabb and McCurdy conferred. In Rabb’s redirect examination after the break, the prosecutor pursued a line of questioning that related to the video which appeared to be aimed at establishing that the video had not been altered after it was obtained from Goodwin’s Market. That questioning elicited a response that was different in tenor and substance than what McCurdy had provided during his testimony under cross examination by Spiker. Whereas in response to Spiker’s questions, McCurdy underplayed the significance of the video and represented that he had only a vague recollection of it, in response to Rabb’s questions, McCurdy evinced a far greater definitude, describing the video in much greater detail, saying that he had watched it on a colleague’s laptop perched on a vehicle in the Goodwin’s Market parking lot. The description he gave of the video in large measure matched the nature of the evidence that has been turned over to the defense. That video is not continuous, but chopped up into multiple sections, with passages missing, including a crucial 12 seconds just prior to the shooting having been removed entirely.
In response to Rabb, McCurdy said he had viewed “multiple clips” that had required “a significant amount of time” to watch as each clip had to load in the laptop’s video buffer.
McCurdy said the entirety of the parking lot was considered the crime scene and had been taped off, an area he estimated to be about two acres.
He said that Opmanis had been released to the paramedics to be taken to the hospital and was not arrested at that point because the investigation “was not complete at that time.”
Upon leaving the courtroom after his testimony, McCurdy made no eye contact with anyone in the group that included Davis’s family members, and walked straight out of the courtroom.
Also testifying on Friday was San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Victor Ruiz, who was the first law enforcement responder to the Davis death scene.
Ruiz said when he came into the Goodwin’s Market parking lot he observed a male subject on his back, with three individuals around him who were rendering assistance. He said he noticed no weapon or weapons around Davis.
He indicated he was at the site from seven to 15 minutes before the arrival of the paramedics, at which point Davis in short order was put into the ambulance to be transported to the hospital. He said he had spoken with the defendant, whom he identified from the witness stand as seated at the counsel table in the courtroom. Ruiz said there were several vehicles in the parking lot when he arrived, and that Davis was prone on the ground six to ten feet behind a black Mercedes and approximately five to ten feet from a motorcycle.
Asked by Rabb what he noticed in his initial brief examination of the area, Ruiz said, “I didn’t see a large amount of blood anywhere.”
Ruiz testified that at some point he had gone into the store to see if he could get the video. He said that some other deputy had to wait for the owner to provide the video.
Ruiz testified that he spoke to Kyle Boggs, an employee of the market. Boggs stated to him, he said, that he heard while he was in the store that there was a fight outside. Ruiz also testified that Boggs said he had not seen the person who had fired the gun. Ruiz testified that Boggs had told him Opmanis had at one point screamed, “I didn’t want to do this! I didn’t want to do this!”
Ruiz testified that Opmanis had remained at the scene of the shooting.
On cross examination by Spiker, Ruiz stated that he had spoken with Opmanis.
“Did Mr. Opmanis tell you anything about motorcycles circling him?” Spiker asked.
“Yes,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz recounted, in response to Spiker’s questions, that the three bikers had driven past Opmanis in leaving the parking lot but then circled back and parked next to him and his vehicle, that Opmanis told him he had been hit several times and that he was in fear. Ruiz said his interview with Opmanis was approximately five minutes long. Ruiz said Opmanis admitted he did shoot a gun and that he had shot because he was being assaulted.
Spiker asked if Opmanis had been cooperative with law enforcement officers who arrived on the scene and Ruiz acknowledged that Opmanis was.
Spiker asked Ruiz if Opmanis had told him of a prior confrontation with Robert Shuey, and Ruiz said Opmanis had told him “he was assaulted by Robert Shuey because he had thrown up in Mr. Shuey’s residence” and that “they were picking on him.” Ruiz also indicated that Opmanis at that time had told him about sustaining a facial fracture and black eyes from the assault by Shuey.
Ruiz said he handcuffed Opmanis and put him in his patrol car, and that while Opmanis was in his patrol vehicle, “he was making sounds like he was trying to throw up.”
Ruiz indicated that Opmanis, after purchasing groceries, had remained in the parking lot for an extended period of time after the three motorcyclists were in the parking lot. Ruiz said Opmanis had indicated to him “he was doing some other things inside his vehicle.”
Asked “When did he [Opmanis] reach into his vehicle?” Ruiz responded, “After he heard the subject yelling and cursing at him.”
Ruiz said Opmanis described staying in place in the parking lot for approximately two to three minutes until the time the three motorcyclists encircled him. Opmanis told him that it was when he was hit from several different directions that he racked and loaded the gun. Opmanis told him, Ruiz said, that he only shot the gun once and didn’t aim the weapon.
Ruiz said that Opmanis was “fairly calm” in relating the incidents pertaining to and leading up to the shooting.
Prior to testimony, there was discussion with regard to information the defense was seeking to obtain relating to a DUI arrest and ongoing prosecution of Eric Dyberg, one of the detectives from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Departments working the homicide detail of the Specialized Investigations Division who was assigned to investigate the Davis shooting. Spiker was recently informed of Dyberg’s arrest and pending prosecution, and is seeking the police report relating to that matter to ascertain if there are any statements that Dyberg made which are at a demonstrable variance to the evidence that accompanies the case file. Without prejudging Dyberg’s guilt or innocence, Spiker said, if the police report provides an indication that Dyberg in any fashion made misrepresentations within an official police report, that would cut to the heart of Dyberg’s credibility.
Dyberg’s believability is of some moment in the Opmanis prosecution because of Dyberg’s relationship to the video of Opmanis’s shooting of Davis. The provenance of the video the prosecution provided to the defense is an issue, as the fragmented nature of the video and several crucial elements of it that are missing have led to suggestions that it was purposefully altered to assist the prosecution of Opmanis and hinder his defense.
Under standard protocol in criminal trials throughout the United States, prosecutors are mandated to provide to the defense any exculpatory, meaning potentially exonerating, evidence that the prosecution obtains or which is generated by the law enforcement agency investigating the circumstances of the alleged crime. Failing to make full and adequate disclosure of such materials to the defense is referred to, in legal parlance, as a Brady violation. On Monday morning, February 3, Judge Umeda is to conduct a special hearing relating to Brady issues and the information pertaining to Detective Dyberg that should be provided to Striker in order to aid him in his defense of Opmanis.
The remainder of Opmanis’s preliminary hearing is set to resume on Friday, February 7, before Judge Umeda in Department S-2 at the San Bernardino Justice Center.