Defense Brings In Fragmented Video In Opmanis’s Prliminary Hearing

In the third week of the preliminary hearing for Alex Opamnis, defense attorney David Striker made further inroads on the prosecution’s spartan case, essentially establishing a video that captured Opmanis’s shooting of the deceased Sammy Davis which the prosecution once counted upon as a central element of its case was missing a crucial 12 to 13 second passage just before the fatal shot was fired, footage which the case’s lead detective on the witness stand acknowledged possibly depicted Davis’s savage assault on Opmanis.
Striker was further able to bootstrap the presentation of a portion of the video into having the lead detective, Eric Ogaz, admit he had relied upon the incomplete video, which omits the crucial activity the defendant said precipitated the shooting, to mislead Opmanis and coax from him what the prosecution now maintains was an inconsistent statement upon which the theory of Opmanis’s guilt rests.
Opmanis, now 28, is accused of murdering Sammy Davis, then 29, during an encounter in the parking lot of Goodwin’s Market in Crestline at 9:14 p.m. on July 11, 2019.
Through his artful cross examination of Ogaz, Striker sought to turn the tables on Deputy District Attorney David Starr Rabb and demonstrate to Judge Charles Umeda that the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s narrative outnumber, outweigh and offset the inconsistencies Rabb and the detectives investigating the case allege riddle Opmanis’s version of events. Whether that will convince Umeda, who was once himself a prosecutor, that an adequate prima facie showing of guilt against Opmanis to bind him over for trial has not been made will be revealed, most likely, next Thursday, February 20, when the preliminary hearing is to resume.
The preliminary hearing has, so far, progressed in fits and starts, beginning in earnest on January 31, with testimony taking place only on Fridays, as Striker was tied up in a trial on another matter Monday through Thursday previously, though the court did squeeze in a short hearing with regard to the availability of discovery material in the early morning of February 3.
On January 31, Rabb had called detectives Gerardo Moreno and Kevin McCurdy, as well as Deputy Victor Ruiz, to the witness stand. Each was cross examined by Striker after offering testimony elicited by Rabb with regard to their compartmented knowledge about the case. On February 7, the prosecution’s main witness, Ogaz, began his testimony. Striker had begun his cross examination that afternoon but had not completed it. Ogaz returned to the witness stand this afternoon, and Striker resumed his cross examination.
Ogaz testified that elements of the investigation were overseen by Homicide Sergeant Joseph Steers. Ogaz said that he had undertaken a “walk-through” of the crime scene the night of July 11, but did not know the exact time he had done so. In his testimony, he clarified what was an apparent typographical or other error in the report relating to the walk-through that said it had taken place on July 10.
As Striker sought to explore the issue, Rabb lodged an objection, stating the inquiry fell outside the scope of what had been covered on direct examination. Judge Umeda overruled the objection allowing Striker latitude to deal with the issue at that point in the hearing rather than later.
There followed some confusion in the testimony as to which side of Goodwin’s Market the parking lot in which the shooting took place is located, with references changing to both the east, west, south and north.
Striker commended Ogaz’s attention to a photograph of the parking lot taken during daylight hours on July 12, which showed Opmanis’s Mercedes SUV in a parking stall facing the market, adjacent to a shopping cart corral and near Sammy Davis’s parked motorcycle, together with sheriff’s department placards placed on the ground proximate to the Mercedes. Ogaz said he or someone in his department had run the license plate on the Mercedes and learned that it was registered to someone with the last name Opmanis. In response to Striker’s questions, Ogaz said the placards marked the locations of where a bullet casing and a spot of blood were found close to the Mercedes. Another photo, Ogaz testified, showed Davis’s motorcycle helmet, jacket and backpack. Ogaz said the photos essentially depicted what he had seen the evening of July 11.
Ogaz said he had briefly viewed the Goodwin’s Market surveillance video which depicted the shooting sometime shortly after he had arrived on the scene. Striker asked Ogaz if he had obtained the video. Ogaz responded by saying he had not, and that the video available to him on the night of July 11/12 was contained on Detective Eric Dyberg’s laptop computer, and that Dyberg was “already looking at it when I walked up.”  Ogaz indicated that the video on Dyberg’s laptop was not continuously running but rather already fragmented into “approximately 12 second clips.” Ogaz then stated that the video consisted of “86 12-second clips or 5-second clips.”
Striker asked Ogaz if he had taken the opportunity at that time to move the laptop inside to view it there, and Ogaz said he had not because he had “just arrived. My responsibility that night was the [crime] scene.”
Striker asked Ogaz if he had interviewed or interrogated Opmanis that night. Ogaz said he had not interviewed Opmanis that evening or early morning but that detectives McCurdy and Dyberg had.
Ogaz said he had not watched the entire video that night because doing so at that point would have entailed waiting for each of the clips to download before they played, and that he had watched it in its entirety following day after it was sent to the department’s high tech crime “so we could watch it all together.”
Ogaz confirmed that the video camera that captured the moving images of the shooting was directly facing Opmanis’s vehicle.
Ogaz said that all elements of the various detectives’ investigations made their way into the multiple reports on the shooting, with the most relevant parts put into the reports’ summary.
Ogaz acknowledged, after he reviewed the narrative he had compiled on July 17, 2019 laying out the facts related to the shooting and the events leading up to it, that the narrative stated that Davis had approached Opmanis, was striking him with his closed fist and that Opmanis, fearing for his safety, used his firearm.
Striker asked Ogaz if both of Davis’s companions, Robert Shuey and Shane Codman, had “fled the scene” that evening, leaving their childhood friend, Davis, mortally wounded on the ground, to avoid being questioned by the investigating detectives. Ogaz, while resisting use of the term “fled,” acknowledged that the pair had left and did not present themselves for questioning that night. Ogaz acknowledged that it was what Striker termed “best practice” to conduct the interviews of witnesses immediately. Striker pursued why the interviews with Codman and Shuey were not conducted until July 25 and July 29, respectively. Ogaz said he and the investigating team were “informed” that Codman and Shuey “had an attorney and wanted to wait to speak with us.” His department had accommodated Codman’s and Shuey’s lawyers’ schedules, Ogaz said.
Ogaz said that after the shooting, Shuey had gone to Codman’s residence and then returned to his own home that evening.
“They chose to stay at home and not go to the scene and cooperate [with investigators]?” Striker asked.
“Correct,”  Ogaz said.
To Striker’s question, Ogaz said that despite Shuey claiming to having known Opmanis for a couple of years and being friends with him up until an incident in January 2019 when Shuey had assaulted Opmanis, which resulted in Opmanis being hospitalized and undergoing facial reconstructive surgery, that Shuey did not know Opmanis’s last name.
Ogaz testified that Opmanis’s and Shuey’s mutual use of alcohol had preceded their January 2019 fight. Ogaz said Shuey had claimed to have sustained injuries in that fight, but that he had not followed up to verify Shuey’s statement.
Striker pursued with Ogaz a line of questioning to determine the credibility of the assertion that Shuey, Codman and Davis were not aware of Opmanis’s presence either in the market when they were also inside nor of Opmanis’ presence in the parking lot after they emerged from the store and had gone back to remount their motorcycles, and that they had not known Opmanis was there until just before the shooting occurred.
Striker had Ogaz verify photos of Shuey, Codman and Davis entering Goodwin’s Market at 9:04:24 p.m. and at the checkout counter when they were purchasing the hamburger and beer they had come in to buy.
Striker asked Ogaz if he had questioned Codman and Shuey about their drinking that night, and if he had asked if they had been using drugs. Ogaz said he had not inquired into whether they were using drugs. Striker then asked if Ogaz was aware when he interviewed Shuey that Shuey had a conviction for trafficking in methamphetamine. Ogaz acknowledged that he did.
According to Ogaz, Shuey said he had poor vision, irrespective of the consideration that he was riding a motorcycle at night, and that he had not noticed that he was driving past Opmanis as he was riding out of the parking lot.
Striker asked Ogaz if he could see on the video of the incident Shuey “flipping off” Opmanis as he rode out of the parking lot. Ogaz said he did not detect that on the video.
Referencing what can be seen n the video and Shuey’s July 29, 2019 statement, Striker asked Ogaz if Shuey, upon returning to the parking lot after Codman and Davis had done so, came up on Davis and Opmanis in a confrontation when he reentered the parking lot. Ogaz acknowledged that was the case. Striker asked about Shuey’s representation that he was not himself confrontational with Opmanis, had attempted to shake hands with him, and just wanted to be friends again. Ogaz said it appeared on the video that Shuey did extend his hand toward Opmanis. Ogaz acknowledged that the video did show Opmanis by his vehicle with the three bikers, if not surrounding him, closely arrayed before him on the driver’s side of his vehicle.
Ogaz testified that based upon Opmanis’s, Shuey’s and Codman’s statements and the visual and audio evidence on the video, Opmanis did not threaten, point a gun at nor invite Davis to fight prior to the shooting. Ogaz said that Shuey said he was not really sure whether Opmanis had been hit by Davis or whether or not Opmanis had been assaulted, and that he did not see a gun prior to the shooting but that “he felt he [Opmanis] had a gun.”
Ogaz acknowledged that prior to the shooting Davis had aggressively approached Opmanis.
“Did Mr. Davis charge toward or powerwalk toward Mr. Opmanis?” Striker asked.
“Yes,” Ogaz said.
“So, he made a confrontational move toward Mr. Opmanis?” Striker pressed.
“You could take it that way,” Ogaz said.
“This is all while Mr. Opmanis is surrounded by three people on motorcycles – two off their motorcycles?” Striker asked.
“Correct,” Ogaz replied.
Ogaz said he was not able to verify a report that Shuey was a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle gang, but that his research did not entail much more than consulting the sheriff’s department’s Central Name Index with regard to Shuey. Ogaz in response to Striker said that Opmanis said he was fearful of Shuey because of his Hells Angels association, that Shuey had previously assaulted him and that Shuey had been to prison, the last two of which Ogaz acknowledged were true, and that Shuey had been arrested for multiple assaults causing injury.
“He [Shuey] has an extensive record?” Striker stated as a question to Ogaz.
“I believe so,” Ogaz replied. Ogaz further testified that Opmanis had told him he had been badly beaten by Shuey in January to the point of needing hospital treatment, and that the sheriff’s department investigation had corroborated that.
Striker then focused on Ogaz’s interrogation/interview of Opmanis that took place on August 13, 2019 in the presence of Opmanis’s attorney, Jeffrey Lawrence, at the conclusion of which Opmanis was arrested. Last week, Ogaz had stated that Opmanis had been invited to the interview and that he had not been under arrest and that he was free to leave at any time. Today, however, Striker elicited from Ogaz that on August 9, 2019, an arrest warrant for Opmanis had been issued. Starting off, Striker asked Ogaz about whether Opmanis had been “Mirandized,” that is, informed of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination prior to his questioning on August 13. It did not appear that Opmanis had been given that warning.
To Striker’s questioning, Ogaz acknowledged that given the existence of the arrest warrant for Opmanis, that if Opmanis had refused to cooperate in the interrogation/interview, he would have been arrested. Striker pointed out that Ogaz’s earlier assertion that Opmanis was free to leave during the August 13 interrogation/interview was therefore untrue. “So he couldn’t leave,” Striker said. “One way or the other, he was going to be arrested.”
“He was given an opportunity to make a statement,” Ogaz responded.
There ensued a palaver between Judge Umeda and Striker, during which Rabb was peripherally involved, as to whether Striker was going to make a Miranda motion, which would seek from the court the exclusion of any of the statements Opmanis made during his interrogation/interview. While Striker did not make that motion today, there was the suggestion the Miranda motion would be forthcoming on the final day of the preliminary hearing, anticipated next week, or perhaps at trial.
Striker was able to get Ogaz to confirm that Opmanis had difficulty with both his short and long-term memory, and that he had metal plates in his head, which Opmanis’s attorney, Jeffrey Lawrence, had Opmanis show him during the course of the August 13 interrogation/interview. Ogaz said he could not be certain that one of those plates had been installed as a consequence of Shuey’s beating of him in January 2019, since Opmanis had indicated that his skull had been outfitted with the plates as a result of head trauma he had suffered when he was assaulted at the age of 16.
Striker asked Ogaz if Opmanis having been assaulted by Shuey previous to the July 11 incident and that Shuey being in the company of Davis at the July 11 shooting could be relevant to the case.
“It could be, yes,” Ogaz responded.
In response to Striker’s inquiry as to whether Opmanis had told him he was still experiencing pain from the January assault, Ogaz said that Opmanis had “stated he has to practice to smile again.” In response to Striker asking if the detective knew about Opmanis’s facial reconstruction surgery following the January 2019 assault at the hands of Shuey, Ogaz confirmed that he had the medical report the department had obtained for the report on the assault.
Striker then sought to dismantle the prosecution theory that Opmanis had been lying in wait for Davis and his companions. The defense attorney established from Ogaz that Opmanis had gone to Goodwin’s to purchase groceries and that it was essentially a coincidence that Shuey, Codman and Davis arrived there after he did, and that Opmanis had no idea they were going there.
Striker delved into Opmanis’s use of his horn as he was at his vehicle and while the three bikers were in the parking lot. The prosecution has suggested that Opmanis was honking the horn to draw their attention and lure them to him so he could use the gun to exact revenge upon Shuey for the January 2019 assault.
In his questioning of Opmanis when he pursued that line of questioning, Ogaz said, Opmanis had a “hard time” remembering why he had continuously honked the horn, and in additon to saying that he could not remember why he had done so, he had given three different reasons. In one version, Ogaz said, Opmanis said that he was trying draw attention to himself so that others in the parking lot would be watching him if he was assaulted by Shuey or his cohorts. At another point he said he might have honked the horn accidentally. A third reason the defendant gave, Ogaz said, was that he was trying to get someone else’s attention.
Ogaz said that Shuey and Codman told him they had not heard the horn blares. Codman said he had circled back to stop next to Opmanis as they were leaving the parking lot because Opmanis had waved at him with his arm as he was departing, Ogaz said.
Ogaz said in his examination of the video he was unable to see Shuey and Opmanis flipping each other off as Shuey was headed out of the parking lot, but that he did see Opmanis wave his arm at the time in question.
Ogaz in his testomony indicated there were contradictions in the statements between Opmanis, Shuey, and Codman as well as with what is visible in the video as pertains to Opmanis’s statement that as the three cyclists approached him they were at first being friendly but that he did not trust them. Ogaz said that Opmanis told him that Davis walked along the driver’s side of his vehicle, approached him and then hit him multiple times in the head, at which time Opmanis shot him out of fear for this life.
When Striker suggested in one of his questions that Opmanis had not pointed his gun at Shuey, Ogaz stated, “I think he pointed his gun at him, telling him to get back.”
Ogaz confirmed that it was just after that point that Opmanis called 911 and thereafter cooperated with the authorities while Codman and Shuey, respectively, left within in three and four minutes after the shooting.
Striker got Ogaz to acknowledge that Opmanis said Davis had grabbed his sweatshirt. Striker asked if an effort was made to examine the sweatshirt to see if Davis’s DNA was on it to verify Opmanis’s statement. Ogaz did not know, but said that he believed a test was done on Davis’s shirt to see if there was any gunshot residue on it.
Striker then played in the courtroom an extended portion of the video that had been reconstructed into a continuous format from the clips that had been alluded to earlier in that day’s testimony.
Upon doing so, Striker elicited from Ogaz an acknowledgment that there were missing segments of the video.
In a critical exchange with Ogaz, Striker obtained what came across as an acknowledgment that the video had been altered. Within the portion of the video played in court, that there had been excisions from the video was clearly apparent, as while two of the market’s patrons were seen walking toward the store’s entrance they disappered entirely from the video, an indication the video had been altered. This further controverted an assertion by Ogaz that the video camera was tied to a motion censor, since the two disappearing patrons seen on the video were moving at the time they disappeared.
Striker maneuvered in for the coup de grâce, asking Ogaz if he remembered when he first noticed that there were sections of the video that were missing. Ogaz responded that he had not taken stock of the missing elements “before it was sent out” for enhancement by the department’s technical experts. It was after receiving the video back from the department’s scientific investigations division, Ogaz said, that he first noticed and discussed with Detective Dyberg that there were portions of the video that were missing.
Striker endeavored to document the precise time on the video date time stamp when the shooting took place.
Focusing on what Striker tallied as a 13-second gap on the video that occurs just two to three seconds before the shooting occurs, the defense attorney drew out from Ogaz that he had confronted Opmanis about the discrepancy between Opmanis’s claim that he was being assaulted just prior to and as he fired his gun and that the video did not clearly show the assault.
“If he was assaulted, that would be in the 13 seconds missing?” Striker asked.
“If he was assaulted,” Ogaz said.
Striker also asked about that portion of the video in which Shuey appears to reach down near to where Davis was and pick something up before he gets back on his motorcycle, dons his jacket and helmet, and then rides off.
“Did you see someone pick something up?” Striker asked.
“I see someone bending down,” Ogaz said. “I couldn’t see what he was doing.”
Striker then confronted Ogaz with regard to his representation, in his questions to Opmanis during the August 13 interrogation/interview, that the video was inconsistent with his claim that he was being assaulted just before he shot Davis.
“Did you explain this missing time was not shown to him on this video?” Striker asked. When Ogaz deflected the question without giving a clear answer, Striker pressed the issue further.
“Despite that, he continues to tell you he was being assaulted and that’s why he fired the gun?” Striker stated as a question.
“That is correct,” Ogaz acknowledged.
On redirect examination, Rabb obtained from Ogaz that Shuey had told him that it was Opmanis vomiting on Shuey while Shuey was asleep in his bed that triggered the confrontation between Shuey and Opmanis in January 2019, and it was, according to Shuey, Opmanis then throwing a marijuana bong through one of Shuey’s home’s windows that escalated that incident into fisticuffs.
Rabb further obtained from Ogaz that Shuey said that the shooting had taken place very quickly once the three motorcyclists had engaged with Opmanis in the parking lot, that Shuey had never been in a circumstance where he had seen someone shot right before him and that he was “terrified,” and had left rapidly for that reason.
Rabb questioned Ogaz about Opmanis’s statement with regard to the actual shooting, eliciting that Opmanis said he “shot underneath his arm” feeling “the blast by his elbow.” The video contradicted that, Ogaz said, showing that Opmanis held the gun extended in his right arm outward from his body when he shot.
Judge Umeda adjourned the preliminary hearing until 8:30 am February 20, indicating  he intends to view the video in the interim. The indication was that the prosecution would call no further witnesses and it was resting, for the purpose of the preliminary hearing, at this time. There was an indication from Spiker that he would offer some further information to the court next Thursday together with a motion or motions he did not specify.
In what may be an indication that he is leaning toward binding Opmanis over for trial, Judge Umeda said he would consider a bail reduction or recognizance release motion at that time as well.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply