Look back at the tumultuous first week of alleged cop killer Luis Bracamontes' trial
Even for Luis Bracamontes, who has repeatedly threatened to kill officers and displayed his disdain about the death penalty trial he faces, Thursday marked a new low.
Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant from Mexico accused of gunning down Sacramento-area Deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis Jr. in 2014, was removed from court twice Thursday morning after outbursts at Oliver’s partner, as well as at the slain lawmen’s families.
Then he was allowed to return for the afternoon session and capped off the day by hurling the “N-word” and other racial insults at the final witness of the day, an African-American man who said Bracamontes shot him five times in a failed attempt at a carjacking.
“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you,” Bracamontes said as Anthony Holmes left the witness stand.
“F--- you,” Holmes replied as he walked out of the courtroom.
The incidents marked the latest in a series of outbursts from Bracamontes going back months. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White warned him repeatedly that he would wind up watching his own trial on closed-circuit television rather than in court if his behavior continued.
White also rejected yet another plea from defense lawyers to allow them to enter a not guilty by reason of insanity plea, and said he can see the defendant calculating when to erupt.
“These are unforced errors,” White said. “These are things that Mr. Bracamontes does to himself ...
“He goes off when I expect him to go off.”
The first incident Thursday came as Sacramento sheriff’s Detective Scott Brown was approaching the witness stand. The second came later in the morning, after Brown testified that the gunman who shot Oliver – his longtime partner – drove off and ran over the body to get away.
Bracamontes began laughing quietly, “heh, heh, heh,” at the image Brown described, then began shouting after White ordered him removed again.
“F--- you all,” Bracamontes shouted toward the families of the slain deputies. “F--- Danny Oliver, F--- Michael Davis.”
The incident came on the third day of trial. Bracamontes has spewed insults and profanity each of the days he has been in court, only to be admonished by the judge and allowed to return after promising to behave.
For the most part, family members of the dead deputies have sat stone-faced staring back at the defendant, but Thursday’s court session was an emotional one for some in the audience as Brown described Oliver’s ambush slaying on Oct. 24, 2014, in the parking lot of an Arden Way Motel 6.
Brown walked into the courtroom in a dark business suit and approached the witness stand, but before he could get there Bracamontes began mocking him and appeared to call him a “coward,” a comment he also made Tuesday during the first day of trial.
White immediately barked, “Be quiet,” then had the two juries hearing the case against Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, leave the courtroom.
White told Bracamontes he had the right to attend court but could not continue to disrupt proceedings and had him removed.
“Please take him away,” the judge told deputies, who escorted the heavily shackled prisoner away.
After taking a break and allowing the juries to leave at midmorning, White declared that Bracamontes said he would behave himself and was allowed back in to hear Brown testify.
That wouldn’t last long.
The confessed gunman – both he and one of his lawyers have said Bracamontes shot the deputies – remained quiet for all of an hour while Brown calmly recounted the day Oliver was shot.
Brown said he and his longtime partner cruised into the parking lot of the Motel 6 looking for suspicious activity, and eventually stopped near a parked car with two people.
Oliver approached the driver’s side while Brown went to speak with the woman on the passenger side, who was standing near the open trunk of the car and closed it as he approached. Brown said he asked her to sit down in the back seat and kept his eyes on her hands to make sure she was not a threat.
“As soon as her backside hit the seat, that’s when I heard multiple gunshots,” Brown said, estimating at least five shots were fired.
Brown said he could not see his partner standing on the other side of the vehicle. “I was thinking that Danny was shot, and that he was on the ground,” Brown said.
The deputy said he grabbed for his handgun and began backing up at an angle to determine what had happened when he saw a man pop up from the driver’s side of the car.
“The suspect leveled a gun at me and started firing,” Brown said.
Brown, who was in the parking lot with no cover from the shots, said he returned fire at the gunman, who was using his car as a shield while he fired at Brown.
Brown eventually would fire 15 rounds, and said when the initial shooting paused he began walking slowly at an angle to try and see where Oliver was. That was when the gunman popped up again from behind the car with an assault rifle and a tripod on the barrel to help steady it.
“At that point, I knew I was still in the middle of a parking lot with no cover and a handgun …,” Brown said. “I realize I have no cover and I’m outgunned.”
He began running with his gun in one hand and used his other to call for help from the radio microphone on his lapel.
Recordings of his calls were played in court Thursday, with Brown’s shouts of “Officer Down! Officer Down! Officer Down!”
Brown said he still did not know where Oliver was, but feared the worst.
“I knew if Danny wasn’t hit he’d be in the fight, and he wasn’t,” Brown said.
The deputy raced east through the parking lot to grab cover behind five to seven parked cars, he said, then radioed in warnings that the officers responding would be driving into a gunbattle involving an assault rifle.
Then he heard one more gunshot, Brown said. “Holy shit, he just executed Danny,” Brown thought.
Brown said he began maneuvering toward a motel walkway and started running to get closer to the vehicle and the gunman with the rifle. But the car started backing out to get away and Brown rushed it trying to re-engage the gunman or at least get a license plate number.
The car sped off. “I remember watching the car bounce like it hit a speed bump,” he said. “Knowing the motel like I do, I knew there were no speed bumps. I knew the vehicle had ran Deputy Oliver over.”
Authorities believe Oliver was already dead by then, killed by a gunshot to the forehead at the very start of the confrontation.
But Brown’s graphic testimony and a photo introduced as evidence that showed the blood pool from where he fell left spectators in the audience in tears. Oliver’s widow, Susan, cried softly into a tissue.
That was the moment Bracamontes began laughing, then shouting obscenities as he was led away.
No one in the audience said anything. Bracamontes’ wife, who faces up to life in prison, sat at the defense table holding her head in her hands.
Brown maintained his composure for most of his testimony. He finally showed some emotion after Bracamontes had been removed and prosecutor Rod Norgaard asked him to describe how he found Oliver after the gunman escaped.
“He was laying on his back, gun still in his holster,” Brown said, occasionally wiping away tears. “There was blood coming from his forehead, he had a gunshot wound to the forehead. His eyes were open …, and he wasn’t breathing.”
As he left court after testifying, deputies and others lined up to shake his hand, and to give him a hug.
Bracamontes was allowed back in court for the afternoon session, and wasted little time. As victims’ families were brought in, he smirked at them and made lewd faces at the women until a bailiff was asked to block his view of them.
Then came Holmes, who authorities say was the second man Bracamontes shot during his rampage.
Prosecutors believe that after Bracamontes killed Oliver and fled he ended up on Spanos Court, a cul de sac west of Howe Avenue.
There, Holmes was sitting in his burgundy Oldsmobile Alero waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
Holmes testified that Bracamontes walked up to his car and opened the door.
“He said, ‘Give me your car,’ like he’s serious,” Holmes said. “I’m like, Man, I don’t know you. I tried to start my car up and he just shot me in my head, in my ear.”
Holmes was shot five times in his face and hands, and recalled Bracamontes having a smirk on his face as he shot him. “Yep, like he’s got right now,” Holmes said as the two men stared each other down.
Holmes displayed no appetite for courtroom niceties, cutting off public defender Norm Dawson when the lawyer began asking if Bracamontes appeared “off” in any way during the shooting.
“Man, he was trying to kill me,” Holmes said. “Man, he’s not crazy, I’m telling you. He’s trying to act like he’s crazy.”
As Holmes left the witness stand, Bracamontes continued his verbal onslaught against Holmes, then directed it toward the families and members of the two juries, which include African-American jurors.
“Black lives don’t matter,” he shouted. “Monkey,” he added as White glared in silence until the jurors had left.
The judge has made it clear that Bracamontes has a right to be present, but not if he continues to act out, and he asked deputies to come up with a speedier method of removing him from court after each outburst to keep the trial from being bogged down.
The trial continues Monday.