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United States v. Houk

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL A. HOUK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AFTER COURT TRIAL (ECF NOS. 30, 31)

         On October 10, 2018, a citation was filed charging Michael A. Houk (“Defendant”) with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(1), Disorderly Conduct, Fighting, Threatening, or Violence. (ECF No. 1.) On July 18, 2019, a superseding information was filed charging Defendant with violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5), Simple Assault within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States, and 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(3), Disorderly Conduct: Unreasonable Noise.

         A court trial was conducted before the undersigned on October 10, 2019. Counsel Katherine Schuh and Rule 180 Prosecutor Taylor Benninger appeared for the Government and counsel Matthew Lemke appeared with Defendant. During the trial, four witnesses testified for the Government: Stephanie Houk, Adam Bree, Ranger Analisa Skeen, and Ranger Elizabeth Dietzen. Defendant called two witness: Stephanie Houk and Adam Bree. Four exhibits were admitted into evidence: a photograph of keys and a keyring and three photographs of the victim's hand. The Court set a briefing schedule for Defendant to file a motion to strike testimony and the Government to provide supplemental briefing on the issue of jurisdiction. On October 31, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to strike the testimony of Ranger Skeen for failure to comply with the Jencks Act and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 26.2. On November 5, 2019, the Government filed an opposition to Defendant's motion to strike.

         Having considered the evidence presented during the trial of this matter, the Court issues the following order finding Defendant Houk not guilty of a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5), Simple Assault within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States, and guilty of a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.34(a)(3), Disorderly Conduct: Unreasonable Noise.

         I.

         FACTUAL FINDINGS

         On June 15, 2018, Stephanie Houk (hereafter “Ms. Houk”) drove to her family's cabin in Mineral Canyon which is in Sequoia National Park from Fresno, arriving around 8:30 p.m. (Transcript of Proceedings (hereafter “T.R.”) 13:2-5, 20-14:2, 14:23-15:4, 19-24.) The key to the cabin is normally kept at the residence, but Ms. Houk removed the key to make copies when she had opened the cabin for the season approximately a month earlier. (T.R. 18:14-23; 45:12-22.)

         Ms. Houk arrived at the cabin after dark and saw a broken window and a lantern on inside the cabin. (T.R. 15:23-16:9.) She looked through the window and saw a woman and child that she did not recognize and yelled that they were not supposed to be in the cabin. (T.R. 16:19-17:3.) At that time, she saw Defendant, who is her brother, come out of the bedroom. (T.R. 17:5-22, 24-25. Defendant appeared to be upset and commented that it would have been nice had she returned his phone calls. (T.R. 17:24-18:6.)

         Defendant told Ms. Houk to pick a bed for the night, but she was worried about staying in the cabin when he was upset with her and told him that she would just camp. (T.R. 19:3-13.) Ms. Houk grabbed a flashlight and returned to her car which was about fifteen steps down the hill. (T.R. 19:14-16, 24-20:12.) Defendant followed her and demanded that she give him the key to the cabin. (T.R. 20:15-16.) Ms. Houk was panicked because she had no cell reception and could not get away from the situation. (T.R. 20:18-20.) She told Defendant to stop following her and tried to go as fast as she could to get in the car and lock the doors. (T.R. 20:20-23.) She got into the driver's seat but before she could lock the doors, Defendant opened the passenger door and started struggling with her for the keys. (T.R. 21:3-9, 18-22, 22:4-8.) Ms. Houk told Defendant to get out of the car and leave her alone. (T.R. 22:9-14.) As they were struggling over the keys, Defendant grabbed Ms. Houk's wrist and pried the keys from her hand, causing the keys to be separated from the fob and injuring her pinky finger. (T.R. 22:12-18, 23:1-7.)

         After Defendant got the keys, he exited the vehicle. (T.R. 27:19-22.) Ms. Houk saw lights from the nearby road and went to get help to get her keys back. (T.R. 28:7-15.) Adam Bree was driving by in his truck with his two-and-half to three-year-old daughter in the vehicle. (T.R. 28:17-22; 71:13-72:2.) He noticed that Ms. Houk was upset and crying and stopped his truck. (T.R. 72:6-9.) Ms. Houk told him that she had been attacked by her brother and asked for his help to get her keys back. (T.R. 30:16-31:22.) Defendant who was on the porch, started coming toward the truck. (T.R. 31:23-32:2.) Defendant was loud, using inappropriate language, and calling Mr. Bree out of his vehicle. (T.R. 72:11-13, 73:2-3; 75:14-21.) Mr. Bree told Defendant to quiet down because he did not want him to use expletives in front of his child. (T.R. 73:4-6.) Mr. Bree went to drop his daughter off, telling Ms. Houk that he would return with his father to get her keys back. (T.R. 34:12-14; 72:13-17.)

         Ms. Houk locked herself in her car and, while she was waiting, Defendant came out of the cabin. (T.R. 34:18-35:4.) He told her to get out of the car to get her keys and that if she would not then he would throw them into the woods. (T.R. 35:4-8.) When Ms. Houk refused to get out of the car, Defendant walked into the woods and then went into the cabin. (T.R. 35:11-15.) When Mr. Bree returned with his father, they looked in the woods for the keys and Defendant came out telling them they would not find the keys there and that Ms. Houk needed to come inside the cabin to talk to him. (T.R. 35:16-11; 73:17-20.) Defendant was still “running his mouth” as if he wanted a physical altercation. (T.R. 73:21-25.) The woman inside the cabin came out and told Defendant to give Ms. Houk her keys. (T.R. 36:13-15.)

         The following day, Ms. Houk went to the ranger station around mid-day to file a report on the incident. (T.R. 38:17-25; 79:13-17.) Ranger Skeen was working at the ranger station and sat with Ms. Houk until a law enforcement ranger arrived. (T.R. 79:9-80:15.)

         II.

         DISCUSSION AND DECISION

         Defendant has been charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 113(a)(5), Simple Assault within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States, and 36 U.S.C. § 2.34(a)(3), Disorderly Conduct: Unreasonable Noise.

         A. ...


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