Desmond Edwards appeared in court for a second time last week as two more witnesses took to the stand for a preliminary hearing. Authorities say Edwards assaulted a police officer by throwing an approximately eight-pound backpack at him after a foot pursuit through the crowded streets of Isla Vista on the Saturday night of the infamous Deltopia disaster. Though he was 17 years old at time of the incident, Edwards, who is a Los Angeles resident, is being tried as an adult. He turned 18 two weeks ago.
On Thursday, Judge Brian Hill ruled the case can proceed, but he threw out the charge of mayhem — physically maiming a victim — which could have landed Edwards an additional four years in state prison. Referring to a California Supreme Court ruling from last year, Hill said the wound is not on par with the ruling’s cited injuries: cigarette burn, laceration from a box cutter, forcible tattoo, and others. Edwards will be held to answer for assaulting a police officer with the enhancement of great bodily injury. His sentence could range from probation to eight years in state prison.
Given Edwards’s recent birthday, the issue of housing adds a wrinkle to the case. Since his April arrest, Edwards has been staying at Juvenile Hall in Santa Maria. For now, Hill spared Edwards from County Jail until the matter can be discussed at a later date. According to the Probation Department, officials are in the process of interpreting current laws governing Juvenile Hall. Each circumstance is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and Juvenile Hall sometimes holds young people until they are 19 years old. But the caveat in this case is that Edwards has been charged as an adult. Prosecutor Mary Barron said she will evaluate her position on housing once she receives the report from probation.
On Thursday, Barron brought two witnesses. First, Sheriff’s Deputy Justin DiPinto answered several questions associated with video stills projected on a screen. DiPinto testified that he saw a fight break out on Del Playa Drive when he was “hanging in the shadows,” a technique he said Foot Patrol deputies utilize because they don’t drive “black and whites.” DiPinto testified that he heard a sound of what he believed to be a stun gun or Taser among the group. The subjects scattered for their own safety, he presumed.
Once DiPinto advanced onto the dispersed individuals, he said he yelled, “Stop! Police!” but Edwards did not reply and ran away. DiPinto said he chased after Edwards and another young man — later identified as Donje Hill, who was faster — in order to “find out who the primary aggressor was.” DiPinto said Edwards was carrying a JanSport backpack, which it was later determined held a driver’s license and U.S. Marine card that belonged to Hill.
DiPinto said his foot pursuit came to a halt when he collided with a young woman. But two other officers continued to chase Edwards. He told the court that he saw Officer Antonio Magaña — who testified on Wednesday — try to physically detain Edwards, but Magaña missed and looked like he was “hugging himself.” DiPinto said Magaña made a second attempt to detain Edwards, which is when Edwards allegedly threw the backpack at the officer.
DiPinto testified he did not see the defendant throw the backpack, but he did see Edwards on the ground afterward. After the backpack incident, he said Edwards ran about 30 feet farther before he was tackled to the ground by an officer. DiPinto testified Edwards was still not cooperating, but he complied after DiPinto delivered a distraction blow, which he said is used if officers are unsure whether or not the subject has a weapon. “The crowd was hostile,” DiPinto went on. “They were shouting at us to let him go and advancing on our location.” DiPinto testified that the presence of the unruly crowd and the throwing of objects heightened after Edwards was arrested.
DiPinto then went on to answer questions about the contents of the backpack that Edwards allegedly threw at Officer Magaña. DiPinto testified that a 1.75-liter bottle of rum — a photo appeared on the screen — was found half-full inside the backpack. He testified that such an object could cause an injury like the one sustained by Magaña. He said he knew this because of his experience as a 32-year-old person and a police officer.
During cross-examination, public defender Mindi Boulet pressed DiPinto about the police report he wrote describing the incident. DiPinto said he wrote the report the evening of April 6 before he had watched any of the video. Boulet wanted to know why DiPinto had not written in his report that he had seen Edwards throw the backpack, but that he affirmed the incident when he was questioned by Barron. “Was it an important fact of what occurred here? Actually seeing the defendant throw the item that allegedly hit Magaña and caused this injury?” she asked. DiPinto said the incident was important, but he did the best he could to write the report from what he remembered. Boulet responded, “So at the time you wrote the report you didn’t recall [that Edwards threw the backpack]?” DiPinto quickly responded, “I’m not saying I didn’t recall it; I’m saying I didn’t write it.”
DiPinto said he was asked to review the video — the cameras were rented by the university, and the footage was viewed by the Sheriff’s department — and write a report about it approximately a month later. Boulet was then asked how her client was detained, and DiPinto said Edwards failed to submit to arrest after leading officers in the foot pursuit. When he was actually being detained, DiPinto said Edwards was pushed to the ground by officers and had his hands under his body before he eventually submitted to arrest. DiPinto recalled that Edwards had blood on his right cheek but that he did not recall his lip being swollen.
Boulet went on to question the deputy about the aftermath, asking DiPinto why there was no perimeter formed made around the crime scene. “There was no possible way to do that,” DiPinto said, adding that thousands of people filled the block and nearly every assigned officer was dealing with putting down the riot. He soon heard about coworkers being attacked at that location. There were no photographs taken of the crime scene until the next day, DiPinto said, when a photograph was taken of the words written in chalk on the cement that read: “Deltopia 2014 First Blood.”
Next, Barron brought an investigator who had interviewed three medics involved. Tom Miller testified that a medical doctor told him that Magaña suffered a complex laceration to his right eyebrow that required plastic surgery. He said that it required 30 sutures — some internal and some external—to close the wound. He testified that Magaña has no long-term brain damage.
Edwards is scheduled to appear in court on July 8.