SANTA ROSA (BCN)—A Sonoma County jury this afternoon convicted 19-year-old Gabrielle Lemos and her mother Michelle of misdemeanor resisting and obstructing a sheriff’s deputy who arrested the teen during a rowdy confrontation outside the Lemos’ rural Petaluma area home last year.
The nine women and three men deliberated about 90 minutes before returning their verdict. The defendants face 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine when they are sentenced Sept. 19.
Judge Gary Medvigy denied Deputy District Attorney Jenica Leonard’s request to immediately remand the defendants.
Gabrielle Lemos suffered facial injuries when Deputy Markus Holton lifted her and forced her to the ground when she resisted being taken into custody. Gabrielle Lemos has filed a civil suit alleging the deputy used excessive force.
Defense attorneys said they plan an appeal based on the court’s rulings on pre-trial motions.
The incident began when Holton stopped at the defendants’ Liberty Road home around 11:15 p.m. June 13, 2015 because a truck with an attached racecar trailer was blocking the road.
Holton testified he heard an argument and shifted his focus to an investigation of a possible domestic violence incident involving Gabrielle’s sister Karli.
Michelle and Gabrielle testified Karli was intoxicated and upset because she lost her cell phone but “everything was fine.”
Holton testified when he opened the passenger side door of a truck where Karli where sitting, Gabrielle made contact with the side of his body where he wore his gun as she moved between him and the open truck door.
Gabrielle testified her mother told her to go inside the house and she agreed to help defuse the situation. She testified Holton followed her up the driveway, grabbed her arm to stop her, lifted her two feet above the ground and threw her face down on the gravel driveway. She was arrested and taken to a hospital.
Michelle testified she grabbed Holton’s collar and might have kicked him as he straddled Gabrielle and handcuffed her.
Defense attorneys Izaak Schwaiger and John Houston Scott told the jury in their closing statements they must acquit their clients if they determine Holton used unreasonable and excessive force, even if the force was used to make a lawful arrest.
They told jurors they might consider the defendants’ yelling and rudeness at the scene disrespectful, but their conduct was not a crime.
Schwaiger said the case was about excessive force, and Scott said it was about an officer taking advantage of his police powers because the defendants were not respectful.
“All we ask is for you to do justice,” Scott said.
Schwaiger told the jury Gabrielle Lemos was arrested because she was injured, and that forced the county to “cover their backside.” He showed the jury photos of Gabrielle’s scraped and bruised face and told them to “look her in the eye and tell her the force used was necessary.”
“You may not think their behavior was smart but you’re not here to judge a popularity contest, you’re here to follow the law,” Schwaiger said.
Deputy District Attorney Jenica Leonard said the defendants willfully engaged in verbal and physical conduct to obstruct Holton from performing his duties.
“From the very beginning, this has been a character attack on Deputy Holton,” Leonard said.
Leonard said Holton used his body weight and gravity, not his baton or Taser, to arrest Gabrielle.
During the five-day trial, the prosecution played a recording of a conversation between Michelle and Gabrielle, who was in jail. Both Gabrielle and Michelle are heard making racist comments about Holton, who is black.
During their testimony, both defendants said they regret making the comments.
Medvigy had ruled against playing the recording, but he reversed his decision and allowed it into evidence.
Schwaiger said the defense will appeal based on the verdict and the judge’s rulings on pre-trial motions that were detrimental to the defense, including Medvigy’s decision about the recording.
Jurors declined to comment this afternoon outside court about how they reached their verdict.
Leonard said, “I believe justice was done.”
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement it is pleased with the verdict.
“The verdict rendered today helped reinforce our belief that the deputy was correctly doing his job that night to protect a potential victim of domestic violence,” the sheriff’s office said.