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The trial of Parthenia Carr, and the Riverside Police Department

by mary shelton Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2001 at 5:29 PM

As both sides survived jury selection, and prepared to present their cases, one burning question arose. Who was on trial here, the defendant or a police department under consent decree?

errorJury selection in the case of The People of the State of California v Parthenia Carr was a study in contrast. Prosecutor John Aki, chose to address the jury as a single body, using the Socrates method. Defense Attorney Blankenship chose to focus on each juror, asking questions one-on-one. Those styles continued throughout the trial, from opening statements to closing arguments with a few detours in between. And more than occasional disagreements. The two sides entered into the trial with a cordial relationship. By its end, they would barely be speaking to each other.

Before the trial begun, the lawyers, along with presiding Judge Paul Zellerbach discussed the logistics of the testimonies of both Claude Carr, currently a resident at Ironwood State Prison and his half-brother Steve Woodruff, who was awaiting trial for capital murder in relation to the shooting of Riverside Police Department Detective Doug Jacobs. At issue was the Fifth Amendment, and the right of each person not to testify to anything that might incriminate them in terms of separate criminal cases. Claude Carr had been on parole when the shooting occurred and after giving his statement to the police detectives, his parole was violated and he was sent back to prison. He also faced charges of resisting arrest in connection to Jacobs, but had not been arraigned in misdemeanor court yet.

Blankenship wanted to call Claude Carr to testify for the defense and potentially Woodruff as well. Zellerbach wanted both men to come into court outside the presence of the jury, and state on the record, if they did intend to testify. He also dictated that a public defender would be assigned to council Claude Carr to determine whether he should testify. Woodruff was discussed next, especially since Blankenship said at a couple points, the more this cooks on, the more likely I am to call him.

As to what they could testify to, in relation to the shooting itself, which Parthenia was not charged with, was also discussed. Zellerbach said that he would allow testimony about the shooting, but only a limited amount. After all, he said, the people as well as the defense have the right to a fair trial.

Another issue arose, during pre-trial motions when Blankenship tried to enter a document into evidence, that was signed by both the city of Riverside and Attorney General Bill Lockyer, concerning reforms that were mandated involving the police department. The document stated that after investigating the patterns and practices of the department, it was found that both had resulted in violations of the California Constitution and other state laws. Lack of proper procedures, supervision and training had caused the department to violate the civil rights of the people of Riverside. Over a period of five years, the department was required to implement a series of long-lasting reforms or face a messy court battle, so the city, upon the urging of many civic leaders, and community activists signed the agreement, two months after Jacobs shooting.

In the courtroom, only Blankenship seemed familiar with the document. Aki looked puzzled and finally said, he felt it was irrevelent to the case. Zellerbach signed, and said, he needed to read it first. I want to be aware and informed of its contents to make rulings on its relevance, he said, adding that it did not appear at the time to have any bearing on the pending case. He said, the document could only be mentioned in sidebar and never in the presence of the jury.

Aki also nixed the introduction of any evidence from the defense alleging that race played a role in this case. There is no evidence that race placed a role, he said, Race should not play a role in this trial at all. Blankenship countered by saying, Im not playing a race card in this place. Zellerbach said, he didnt know if race played a role in the case or not. Black civilian, White police officer, a combination that had been deadly in the past in the city of Riverside

I sat and watched the events unfold, as the deputy decided not to kick me out of the courtroom that day. So did a group of prosecutors as the traveling band of deputy district attorneys, making too much money to be sitting in a courtroom doing nothing but snicker, reassembled, as did members of the families of Ben Baker and Doug Jacobs accompanied by their assigned Victim/Witness advocate from the District Attorneys office, to help them through the traumatic experience of a trial. I didnt begrudge them that, but couldnt help thinking, where was this victim/witness advocate when the family of Tyisha Miller grieved after her death, at a cold, dark gas station as officers misbehaved around them. Where was she, when Antoinette Joyner and her cousin had to live through the experience of watching four officers discharge their weapons into Millers body? The only people receiving paid bereavance counseling after that shooting, were the officers who did the shooting.

As the trial unfolded, it became clear that there were victims all around. The families of the deceased, but also the family that would be subjected to no less than three prosecutions. Only in the All-American city, the pain, and grief of only one family mattered, but life is in its good and bad is never so simple.

(to be continued)
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