The broadest exposure most of our readers have to the court system is jury service. Our Court Room Diary feature allows readers to gain insight into the day-to-day working of our court system from the viewpoint of a bystander, rather than as a prospective juror, plaintiff or defendant.
Our first Court Room Diary follows the case of People vs. Brinda Sue McCoy, case number 10CF3399.
This article is the fourth on case 10CF3399.
The case was assigned to Judge F.P. Briseño in Department C45 of the Central Justice Center of the Superior Court of Orange County.
According to the Office of the Orange County District Attorney, “McCoy is accused of firing [a] gun twice at police officers [from the City of Cypress] who were stationed behind two parked vehicles outside the defendant’s home. SWAT stopped McCoy using a bean bag gun.” The case summary lists fourteen separate counts of assault with a semi-automatic rifle, discharge of a firearm and grossly negligent discharge of a firearm.
She is currently out on conditional release with bail set at $250,000.
The defendant is represented by Lew Rosenbloom.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivieri of the Special Prosecutions Unit is prosecuting this case.
The trial was originally scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 9.
Jumping into the middle of the trial
Initial plans called for me to observe case 10CF3399 from the first day of jury selection through the trial itself right up until the verdict was read.
However, the trial was delayed twice. When the trial actually started, I could not attend due to obligations at Orange County Breeze World Headquarters involving production and distribution of our first print edition.
Today was the first day I was able to peel away to Santa Ana. The trial was expected to last for two weeks, so I was surprised to find Rebecca Olivieri calling witnesses for the prosecution rather than Lew Rosenbloom wrapping up testimony in defense of Mrs. McCoy.
But the first thing that happened once court was convened was Judge Briseño announcing that Juror #11 had been excused. Alternate #2 was instructed to seat himself.
I counted the remaining number of jurors. Even using the fingers of both hands more than once, I counted only twelve — no alternates left. No explanation for the excused juror. I don’t know whether alternate #1 was excused, or replaced a juror.
Setting the stage
Television court rooms always have full audiences.
Department C45, the honorable Francisco P. Briseño presiding, was mostly empty.
Four or five people clustered on the defendant’s side, mid-way to the back. Three or four others were scattered at the rear of the court room.
The front of the court room, on the far side of the railing, was much more crowded.
From the audience and looking towards the judge, the jury box was on the left.
Ms. Olivieri and Mr. Rosenbloom addressed witnesses from a free-standing wooden podium between the lawyer’s table and the jury box, just past the railing.
Seated at the lawyer’s table, left to right: Ms. Olivieri; a male assistant; Mr. Rosenbloom; and the defendant, Brinda Sue McCoy. Today she wore a black dress with an orange dickie and black high heels. Her red hair was long and worn down, with bangs.
Sometimes the prosecutor displayed a map or photo or diagram using a digital projector that sits at the center of the lawyer’s table.
The image displayed on a retractable screen at the right side of the courtroom, between the bailiff and the court clerk.
A second monitor next to the witness stand spent much of the morning on the fritz. A display easel was shoved into a corner. Mr. Rosenbloom used a flipchart to establish a time line during testimony.
The lawyers and the defendant stand whenever the jurors enter or leave the court room.
Members of the Cypress Police Department made up today’s witness list.
Patrol Officer Carlos Pryor was the first to testify. He stated his name for the record, then was asked his job (Cypress Police officer) and for how long (seven years). He stated that he was on patrol that day with his K-9 partner, Sem, and responded to the call, arriving at the scene of the incident at about 7:15 p.m.
The prosecutor had him describe his uniform, his patrol car, the K-9 officer and the general area of the incident.
Officer Pryor stated that Sem stayed in the patrol car.
The prosecutor established that three vehicles were parked in front of the subject house. The vehicles were later identified as a Mercedes sedan, a Prius and a Nissan Titan truck. Police officers stayed behind the vehicles, using them for concealment and cover.
Officer Pryor was behind the truck when it was hit by a round fired from inside the house.
A second round shattered the window of the Prius.
Mr. Rosenbloom was keen to expose a joke made by Officer Pryor after that first shot. The joke was in poor taste, and at Mrs. McCoy’s expense. It was also recorded — standard protocol for the Cypress Police Department.
Officer Pryor admitted on the stand that the joke displayed unprofessional conduct.
Ms. Olivieri then called Thomas Mellana to the stand. He stated his name and that he is a four-year veteran of the Cypress Police Department.
Similar ground was covered concerning what he was doing that night (standard patrol), wearing (patrol uniform) and whether he was alone in the patrol car.
For most of the duration of the incident, Officer Mellana was stationed in a neighbor’s back yard, observing the rear of the McCoy residence over a brick wall with his service weapon pointed at the house. He stated that he saw Mrs. McCoy several times, that she let two dogs inside the house, closed the blinds and turned out the lights.
He also stated that whenever he saw Mrs. McCoy, she was carrying a black semi-automatic handgun in her right hand, pointed down.
Officer Mellana spent ost of his time in the back yard until Mrs. McCoy was taken into custody around 10:25 p.m. With him was Officer Sorensen from Los Alamitos Police Department.
Before he took up his observation station in the back yard, Officer Mellana interviewed Diana Orr, who lived directly across the street. According to his testimony, Ms. Orr told him that Brinda Sue was depressed and upset about family problems, and wanted police to come shoot her.
On cross-examination, Mr. Rosenbloom made a big thing out of Officer Mellana not saving the field notes used to write his official report. He also tried to make hay out of there being no audio recording of the interview with Ms. Orr. Officer Mellana stated that his audio recorder wasn’t working, and that he never kept field notes after writing up a report.
The last witness I heard today was Officer Thuan Tran, then a trainee patroling with his field training officer, Rebecca Matthias. It was Officer Tran who named the car models, and it was his patrol unit that provided a spotlight to allow clearer observation of the McCoy residence.
Tran stated that he kept the front of the house under observation from behind the Mercedes sedan, armed with an AR-15 rifle. His field training officer, Rebecca Matthias, attempted to engage Mrs. McCoy in conversation, to convince her to put down the gun and come out of the house.
Mr. Rosenbloom made much of errors in Officer Tran’s official report that included typos, misspellings and incorrect times for his own arrival on the scene, and the arrival of West Orange County SWAT. He also tried to build up something from Officer Tran’s description of what he saw when the first shot was fired, attempting to show an inconsistency in Tran’s report as compared to later testimony at a preliminary hearing and today.
The defense also emphasized that dispatch relayed Mrs. McCoy’s demand that the truck be moved and the spotlight be turned off, or she would shoot at them.
The prosecution worked to lay out and clarify the incident from the viewpoint of the three patrol officers.
It’s hard to read the defense’s strategy in today’s activity.
He seemed to make an energetic and partially effective stab at rattling the police officers and exposing problems in their testimony — but the goal of his attack is not obvious.
No attempt at all was made to deny Mrs. McCoy shot from inside her house. The defense wanted to insist that she was shooting at the vehicles, not the police officers.
- Court Room Diary: People vs. Brinda Sue McCoy, March 12, 2012 (oc-breeze.com)
- Brinda Sue McCoy trial starts (oc-breeze.com)