A Tuolumne County Superior Court judge will allow a California Highway Patrol - Sonora area officer, the first-responding officer to a triple-fatal La Grange Road collision in October 2016, to be questioned on the stand about the details surrounding a 2008 no-contest misdemeanor plea during an upcoming trial for a Sonora-area doctor who is accused of causing the accident.
Officer Joelle McChesney, who took statements from the defendant Dr. Danny Anderson at the accident scene and prepared a collision report of the triple-fatal crash, pleaded no contest to three counts of misdemeanor accessing a computer to alter, destroy or use data for a criminal purpose, following an arrest in Yolo County while she was stationed at the CHP Academy in West Sacramento in 2008.
That information, said Judge Donald Segerstrom, as well as a misdemeanor vandalism charge in Placer County associated with the incident, would be relevant to a jury seeking to evaluate her credibility.
“I think it mattered, it’s relevant, it relates to her credibility. It is somewhat remote,” he said.
During much of the hour-long hearing, Danny Anderson arched his head and squinted toward Segerstrom. He occasionally took notes on a pad or whispered to his lawyer, Tom Johnson of Sacramento.
District Attorney Laura Krieg had sought with her own competing motion to exclude McChesney’s misconduct from the trial. The decision to impeach McChesney, she said, would “create a trial within a trial.”
Krieg argued that McChesney’s conduct did not equate to moral turpitude.
“Mere access doesn’t equate to dishonesty,” she said, noting that there were no subsequent claims of of misconduct or any witnesses that alleged misconduct in the La Grange Road collision investigation.
Johnson asserted the critical importance of McChesney’s misconduct being known to the jury as an accurate gauge of her character.
“It goes to the heart of who she is as a CHP officer,” he said. “I don't see a trial within a trial at all.”
Kreig said McChesney’s actions were related to a personal relationship, she was not on duty, and did not falsify a report.
Johnson said McChesney had waited until CHP administration left, entered her information into another person’s computer to find a woman’s address, then drove to that person’s house, about 25 miles away. While there, she vandalized the woman’s car amounting to more than $4,000 in damages, he said, and was arrested on a felony vandalism charge. She ultimately pleaded to a misdemeanor.
Johnson said that if McChesney was honest in her responses about the situation, he would not have to call the victimized woman, or McChesney’s former boyfriend to testify.
“All of that is unnecessary if McChesney tells the truth on the stand,” he said.
Segerstrom emphasized that the defense’s examination of McChesney would have strict guidelines. The questions could pertain only to the reasons she accessed the computer and if she knew it was wrong, her intent on what to do with the information she garnered from the computer, if she surveilled a woman, if she inflicted the vandalism on the car, and if she lied to an investigating officer when she at first denied committing the vandalism.
In a separate motion, Johnson asked to examine other CHP officers about whether they knew of McChesney’s previous misconduct, and alleged deliberate deception by the Sonora CHP office to withhold the information from the defense.
Without naming anyone, Johnson called for the lieutenant commander of the Sonora CHP office be called to a hearing to inquire whether they had known about McChesney’s misconduct.
Segerstrom clarified with Johnson that he would be requesting the acting commander at the time McChesney’s report was completed, and that she had been transferred to the Sonora office, not hired directly hired by the office.
Current Lt. Commander Shane Ferreira began at the Sonora CHP office in February 2017 following the retirement of Lt. Commander Scott Clamp in December 2016.
Segerstrom denied Johnson’s motion as “speculative,” though he noted that information had been withheld from the defense, albeit by the CHP’s policy of purging personnel records after five years. Segerstrom also reinforced that McChesney’s personnel files would not indicate that anyone in the Sonora CHP office was aware of the previous misconduct.
“You’re painting me into a corner,” Johnson said.
Segerstrom responded, “they wouldn’t prove the point you're trying to make.”
Segerstrom also denied a prosecution motion to allow for an accident site visit by the jury, which Krieg said would emphasize elevation changes that were not as clear with images and satellite photos.
Segerstrom said the “advent of modern technology” gave a “pretty darn accurate view in the courtroom of the scene.”
Johnson had argued that site visits were “messy” and that “all things go wrong” when the jury is in an “uncontrolled environment.”
The trial is expected to take 12 to 15 days, which will be held Wednesday through Friday following the jury selection, which may take up to 3 days.
Both parties agreed to the use of a jury questionnaire to locate jurors.
A trial readiness conference is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. June 11.
Danny Anderson, who has a scheduled trial date of June 20, has been charged with three felony counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence with enhancement charges of fleeing the scene, one count of hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of six people, one count of reckless driving causing specific injury or death for the three fatalities, and misdemeanors destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing a police investigation.
Diane Anderson, who was not present on Thursday and will be tried separately from her husband, faces one count of felony hit and run resulting in death or serious injury of the six involved parties, accessory after the fact to the vehicular manslaughter charge, and misdemeanor charges of destroying or concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation.
Both have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.