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People v. Eulian

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fifth Division

June 29, 2016

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
IAN EULIAN, Defendant and Appellant.


          Order File Date June 7, 2016

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BA416446 Jose I. Sandoval, Judge.

          John Steinberg for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Margaret E. Maxwell, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, William H. Shin, Deputy Attorney General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


         It is ordered that the opinion filed herein on June 7, 2016, be modified in the following particulars:

         On page 3, the first sentence of the first full paragraph reads: “The parties agree that Fontaine was in her Jeep in the alley behind the four-plex, for the purpose of feeding the feral cats, one week before the incident resulting in the charges against defendant.” The sentence should be replaced with: “The parties agree that Stafford was in her Jeep in the alley behind the four-plex, for the purpose of feeding the feral cats, one week before the incident resulting in the charges against defendant.”

         On page 7, the third sentence of the second full paragraph reads: “Stafford awoke her roommate at 3:00 a.m.” The sentence should be replaced with: “Stafford awakened her roommate at 3:00 a.m.”

         On page 7, the fourth sentence of the second full paragraph reads: “Stafford was dazed and unsure if she had been beaten, knocked out, or hit her head on something.” The sentence should be replaced with: “Stafford was dazed and unsure whether she had been beaten, knocked out, or hit her head on something.”

         On page 21, the first full sentence reads: “We conclude both that the instruction did not improperly affect the verdict, nor is it reasonably probable defendant would have obtained a more favorable result had CALCRM No. 3472 not be given.” This sentence should be replaced with: “We conclude both that the instruction did not improperly affect the verdict, nor is it reasonably probable defendant would have obtained a more favorable result had CALCRIM No. 3472 not been given.”

         There is no change in judgment.

          KRIEGLER, J.


         Following a hung jury and mistrial, a second jury convicted defendant and appellant Ian Eulian in count 1 of battery with serious bodily injury (Pen. Code, § 243, subd. (d)), [1] and in count 2 of assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (§ 245, subd. (a)(4)), with a finding that defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury on the victim (§ 12022.7, subd. (a)). Defendant was placed on probation for a period of three years on various terms and conditions, including 180 days in county jail.

         Defendant contends the judgment should be reversed for the following reasons: (1) the trial court committed prejudicial error by allowing a detective to express opinions that defendant and defendant’s mother were lying about the charged incident based on the detective’s observation of a video recording of the event; (2) it was prejudicial error to instruct the jury pursuant to CALCRIM No. 3472 (“Right to Self-Defense: May Not Be Contrived”) because the instruction misstates the law of self-defense as explained in People v. Ramirez (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 940 (Ramirez); (3) the cumulative effect of the court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence requires reversal; and (4) the prosecutor committed misconduct by intentionally introducing inadmissible opinion testimony after failing to obtain a conviction in the first trial.

         We affirm. In the published portion of this opinion, we hold that CALCRIM No. 3472 is a correct statement of law, the instruction was properly given under the facts in this case, and the reasoning of Ramirez has no application where the party claiming a right to self-defense did not use deadly force. In the unpublished portion of the opinion we reject defendant’s remaining claims of error and prejudice.


         The charges in this case stem from an altercation between three residents of the West Adams area of Los Angeles: defendant (a 39 year-old off-duty firefighter for the City of Los Angeles); defendant’s 70 year-old mother Lionetta Fontaine; and 48 year-old Rebecca Stafford. Stafford routinely fed feral cats in the alley behind where defendant and his mother resided in the mother’s four-plex building. According to defendant and his mother, the cats created a host of problems, including defecating in the flower beds, dying under their residence, attracting flies, and attacking Fontaine’s blind dog.

         The parties agree that Fontaine was in her Jeep in the alley behind the four-plex, for the purpose of feeding the feral cats, one week before the incident resulting in the charges against defendant. Ronald Richard is another resident of the four-plex owned by Fontaine. A community center is located next to the property. Richard saw Stafford’s Jeep and had interaction with her regarding the feeding of cats at that location. Defendant arrived, at which point Richard stood inside the doorway of the house.[2]

         Defendant told Stafford the cats were defecating in his yard and one had attacked his mother’s older dog. According to Stafford, she said she would feed the cats down the alley. Defendant had a different recollection of the interaction, testifying that Stafford yelled and directed profanity toward Richard. Defendant tried to explain the problems caused by the cats, but Stafford yelled at him. Defendant told her to calm down. Stafford’s temporary solution was to feed the cats at a location up the alley, but defendant said it would eventually have to stop because that was not a solution to the problems.[3]

         Shortly after midnight on September 14, 2013, Stafford again parked her Jeep in the alley behind the four-plex. The community center next to the property had surveillance cameras in the alley which produced a particularly clear video record of what transpired. There is no audio on the recording. The trial court permitted extensive questioning regarding exactly what was said, what witnesses were thinking, and what the video showed. For purposes of a statement of facts on appeal, it is sufficient to summarize the content of the video, which we have reviewed on multiple occasions, and note the material differences in the testimony of the witnesses at trial.

         Stafford testified she was in the alley looking for an injured cat when she heard defendant loudly yelling that he thought he had told her not to feed the cats there again. Stafford told defendant that she was looking for an injured cat to take to the veterinarian. Defendant testified that the argument escalated, with Stafford insisting she could do whatever she wanted and directing profanity at him; defendant responded in kind.

         One video recording from the community center cameras depicts Stafford parking her Jeep in the alley. She opened her car door, placed one foot outside, and directed comments at someone who is not yet depicted in the video. Stafford became more animated as she appears to be yelling while gesturing.[4] About one minute into the video, defendant is seen walking quickly toward Stafford’s car, pointing at her while appearing to yell. Defendant leaned into Stafford’s car, repeatedly poking his finger close to Stafford’s face. Stafford and defendant engaged in a heated argument, with each gesturing at different times.[5] As defendant continued to scream at Stafford, she reached to her right and made a throwing motion four times, throwing cat kibble toward defendant. Defendant tried to grab Stafford’s arm, but appeared to lose his grip. At about the same moment, Stafford’s leg is raised as if to kick or push defendant, and defendant moved backward by one step.

         The video then depicts Fontaine walking to the Jeep, where she pulled defendant away by the arm. Fontaine tried to close the door to the Jeep, but Stafford held it open. Fontaine spoke briefly to Stafford, who continued to argue and gesture toward defendant. Defendant moved to the outside of the open car door, yelling and pointing at Stafford. Stafford slapped defendant through the open car window. Fontaine moved forward and traded slaps with Stafford. Defendant moved to a position between the open car door and Stafford, with his mother on his left. Defendant threw two powerful punches at Stafford as she sat in the Jeep, leaping off his feet as he delivered the first blow. Defendant had his left arm on his mother’s right shoulder at the time defendant punched at Stafford in the car. At the same moment as the punches, the video shows the movement of Stafford’s foot toward Fontaine, [6] who was propelled backward either by a kick from Stafford, a push from defendant’s hand on her shoulder, or a combination of the two actions.[7] Defendant forcefully grabbed Stafford and yanked her from the car, threw her to the ground, and delivered two more punches toward Stafford’s head. A woman is seen walking into the alley just as defendant is striking Stafford outside of the Jeep. Stafford remained motionless on the ground for approximately two minutes before stirring.

         The video depicts Stafford being helped to her feet by defendant and his mother. Stafford testified that she woke up on the on the ground, bleeding from the back of her head and crying. She was assisted into her vehicle by defendant. Stafford asked what happened. Fontaine said Stafford had tripped, fell, and hit her head on the pavement. Fontaine testified that she gave Stafford that explanation, but she had not actually seen what happened. Stafford asked defendant if he was sure he did not hit her, which defendant denied, explaining that Stafford was “acting like a crazy woman” and running around her car, hitting and kicking his mother when she tripped, fell, and hit her head on her car.

         Fontaine testified that Stafford seemed to have been trying to antagonize defendant. She confirmed trading slaps with Stafford after Stafford slapped defendant in the head through the open car window. Contrary to Stafford’s testimony, Fontaine maintained she was kicked very hard in the sternum by Stafford, causing her to fall backward to the ground. Defendant testified that he told Stafford to just leave, and there was nothing to prevent her from doing so, but she remained. Defendant did not simply walk away because the problem with the cats would continue. He had walked 40 feet to get to the Jeep for the purpose of impressing on Stafford the need to leave, and not for the purpose of making physical contact.

         Defendant explained in his testimony why he pulled Stafford from the car and punched her. He testified that he kept his composure and was under control during the incident. After Stafford had slapped and kicked defendant and Fontaine, and taking into account the amount of crime in the area, defendant assumed Fontaine had a weapon of some sort, [8] so he punched her to protect himself and his mother. He did not hit Stafford after she was subdued. Defendant testified that the punch he threw at Stafford inside the car did not land, and he only connected with one punch.

         An anonymous caller to 9-1-1 reported that she had heard screaming and walked in the alley and did not get too close. The caller stated that “somebody has jumped on the, the lady and knocked her out. She feeds the cats, next to the school right here now.” The lady’s head was bleeding, she was knocked out, and was out of her truck. The caller asked the 9-1-1 operator to “hurry up, cause she’s knocked out her truck is....” When asked if somebody assaulted the lady, the caller replied, “Yes, they have to. Her head is bleeding, she’s knocked out. She’s out of her truck....” The caller was asked if the lady was breathing. She replied that she could not get close and then described a male who lives next door to the school and a female, both of whom met the description of defendant and his mother. Later in the conversation the caller stated, “But, the keys are in there. I seen that. I walked by you know, but didn’t get too close.” After further discussion, the caller told the operator, “I heard some screaming and hollering as I was coming towards... [coming] east. And I went to see.”

         Stafford was unable to drive home. She did not recall defendant asking her questions regarding how she felt or examining her, but defendant testified he asked her standard questions to determine her condition based on his firefighter training. After being assisted into the Jeep, Fontaine drove Stafford home, following directions give by Stafford. Defendant followed in a separate vehicle. Once parked at Stafford’s home, she again asked defendant again if he was sure he did not hit her. He again said that she tripped, fell, and hit her head.

         A casual acquaintance of Stafford saw her sitting in her vehicle at her home, crying with her hands on her face. The acquaintance saw defendant exit from another vehicle; she described defendant as having a nervous look. Stafford awoke her roommate at 3:00 a.m. Stafford was dazed and unsure if she had been beaten, knocked out, or hit her head on something. The roommate saw that Stafford had marks on her face and a cut on her head. She told him she thought she had been hit but was not sure. Stafford said that people told she hit her head on the car door, but it did not seem right to her, and she was pretty sure she was knocked out.

         Stafford went to the hospital on the evening of September 14, where she was treated and released. She had a black eye, injuries to her left jaw, swelling to the lips and cuts inside her cheek. A physician’s assistant testified that if Stafford struck her head and that caused her to pass out, that would be classified as a concussion.

         On September 15, 2013, Stafford decided to make a report to the police at the urging of her friends. Stafford told the desk officer that a female and male had expressed their disapproval of her feeding cats at their location, the male approached her vehicle and opened her car door, she really did not know what happened, and at some point lost consciousness. Both suspects told her she fell and hit her face on the driver’s door. She came to the police station because her injuries made her think something else had taken place.

         Defendant presented four character witnesses, including the mother of defendant’s children, a Los Angeles City firefighter paramedic, and two captains with the Los Angeles Fire Department. Each witness expressed the opinion based on years of knowledge that defendant is honest and a non-violent person. Their opinions of defendant’s character were not changed by what they saw on the video of the incident.

         Called by the defense, Detective Alfredo Reyes testified that he gave both Stafford and Fontaine a fair opportunity to explain what happened. He took notes during his recorded interview of Stafford, which was conducted in a police vehicle outside of her home, to avoid the noise from the animals in the home. Stafford told Detective Reyes that defendant and Fontaine told her she had fallen and hit her head.

         Detective Reyes telephoned defendant on September 18, 2014, after he had interviewed Stafford and watched the video. He was unable to record the call because he did not have the adapter for the recording device and it was not his intention to conduct an interview. The purpose of the call was to let defendant know he was conducting an investigation and to confirm defendant’s phone number. He asked no questions about the incident. Defendant voluntarily stated there was a confrontation by the art center and Stafford slipped and fell to the ground. The detective knew the video does not show her falling on loose gravel.[9] He took no notes, but immediately input the information from defendant into a follow-up investigation report. Defendant came to the station but declined to be interviewed on the advice of counsel.

         Defendant presented a different view of the September 18 call from Detective Reyes. Defendant testified Reyes asked him if there was anything he would like to say. Defendant explained there was an argument, Stafford threw cat food at him, and slapped and kicked defendant and his mother. Stafford ended up on the ground in reaction to her conduct. Defendant did not tell the detective ...

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