Courtroom Roundup

Courtroom Roundup

By Chris O'Neal , Michael Sullivan 07/17/2014


Fillmore & Western Railway evicted
After a drawn-out court battle, the Fillmore & Western Railway lost its bid to remain on the Santa Paula Branch Line when a Ventura County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Ventura County Transportation Commission on Friday, July 11. On Wednesday, July 16, the judge stayed the eviction order pending the appeal that Fillmore & Western filed last week.

The Fillmore & Western Railway was given notice in April 2013 that the lease giving access to the Santa Paula Branch Line was to be terminated by the transportation commission on Dec. 1. The commission, however, decided not to enforce the lease termination and the company was allowed to continue usage of the line through December. December became January, and January became July — and up until July 3, when Ventura County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Riley ruled in favor of the commission, a formal eviction notice hadn’t been produced.

Now, the railway will continue operations through Saturday, July 19, with its Murder Mystery dinner train, but afterward its fate is unclear.

Speaking to the Reporter in January, Railway President Dave Wilkinson said that if all else fails, buyers nationwide have expressed interest in the classic railway cars and movie props.

“We’ve spent 20 years putting together one of the best examples of American railroad,” said Wilkinson. “I enjoy doing what I do, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy retirement, too. It would be a huge disappointment to see this go away.”

This story will be updated online Thursday at after the appeal hearings, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30 a.m., are completed.

Case of Santa Paula man involved with SPARC 17 continued
In March of this year, 17 dogs were taken from a home in Santa Paula after reports of dog fighting. The dogs, mostly pit bulls or pit bull mixes, were transferred to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center, also known as SPARC.

On April 11, at a post-seizure hearing, Lt. Cesar Perea of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles, who also works with SPARC, found that the seizure of the animals was justified.

A month later, Santa Paula resident Silvano Duran, owner of the dogs, was arraigned and a date for a disposition conference was scheduled for July 8; but a motion by Duran’s defense for a continuance was granted. The disposition is set for July 31.

At the disposition, the defendant will enter a plea, the defense and the prosecution will exchange information, put forward motions and prepare formalities ahead of the trial.

Duran has been charged with multiple city municipal code violations such as an excessive number of animals, a failure to license the animals and running an unlicensed kennel. Duran is also being charged with tethering an animal and failure to provide proper care, according to SPARC Administrative Liaison John Brockus.

The VCReporter will continue to follow this case.

Federal court denies injunction for Harbor Church of Ventura
Harbor Community Church in Midtown Ventura was dealt another blow regarding its homeless services program known as Operation Embrace on Wednesday, July 9, as a federal judge denied a request for a temporary injunction against city efforts to close it. This decision comes on the heels of the church filing a religious freedom lawsuit in May to keep the operation going, shortly after the Ventura City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the church a conditional use permit to operate.

Since the Harbor Community Church began offering services to the homeless, the surrounding neighborhood has experienced unwanted elements, including used hypodermic needles on lawns, vandalism and burglaries. The church, which is located next to an elementary school, a park and a daycare, has been a bone of contention with neighbors who recall a safer neighborhood before Operation Embrace was established in 2009. Ventura Police Department, as of August 2013, said crime had increased by 60 percent.

The religious freedom case against the city to keep Operation Embrace open is still pending.

DA findings reveal shooting of Alfonso Limon justified
It was the worst possible place at the worst possible time for Alfonso Limon Jr., 21, of Oxnard, specifically in the La Colonia neighborhood.

Gunned down by police in the crossfire with a wanted parolee and due to a terrible case of mistaken identity, Limon, an innocent bystander, was shot between 10 and 16 times, leaving 21 wounds, according to the district attorney’s investigation. The district attorney found that the police did not act outside the scope of their training, that the shooting of Limon was justified.

The district attorney’s report revealed the cataclysm of events that led to Limon’s death.

According to the report, Limon and his brother were on their way home after jogging at a local high school when they approached the shootout between officers and a wanted parolee, Jose Zepeda, 24. Zepeda had fled from a car that police had pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Zepeda was the first to shoot at officers. As shots were exchanged just a few feet away from Limon and his brother, as documented on a video camera overlooking the scene, his brother ran across the street while Limon walked into the line of fire and was struck in the leg by a bullet from an officer who had returned fire with the suspect, who was directly behind Limon in a parking lot. As more officers came onto the scene, aware of the armed Zepeda and the fact the police had been alerted earlier that day of a shooting involving a suspect wearing clothing similar to that of Limon, the situation derailed quickly; the exchange lasted one minute and 46 seconds.

In the final seconds of the shootout, one of the first officers had run out of ammunition, leaving him vulnerable. Officers who had just arrived on the scene heard the one officer shout out, “Red,” meaning he was unarmed and that the suspect still had a gun. At this point, Limon, who was lying on his back, had moved and the officers new on the scene were unable to see the suspect who had taken cover behind a car. Within seconds, the officers believed Limon to be the suspect and shot him several more times. In total, 63 casings were recovered from the crime scene, including four from Zepeda’s gun.

After the district attorney held a press conference regarding the investigation, about 10 of Limon’s close family and friends as well as Oxnard activists against police brutality held a quiet protest outside the government center, which they later moved to the Oxnard Police Department. Their signs read, “No Justice, No peace,” and “Killer cops off our streets.” Limon’s mother told a photographer on the scene, “Puras excusas,” meaning nothing but excuses.

Earlier in the month, the Limon family had been awarded $6.7 million in the wrongful death suit over Alfonso. Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams said she is conducting an internal review to see whether any policies or procedures should be changed and, in particular, those applicable when police are in a densely populated area.


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