San Fernando Courthouse, Google MapsUPDATE 4/29: Corrected dates, spelling, clarity
I can't imagine a worse nightmare for a parent. You check on your child around 1AM, and everything is fine. You hear a noise in the house and you get up to check on your child again at 3:40 AM and they're not in their room. You do a quick search of your home. Your 10-year-old daughter is gone. This nightmare happened to one Northridge family in the early morning hours of March 27th. The young girl with long red hair was discovered about 12 hours later in a Woodland Hills strip mall with cuts, bruises and in shock. In my opinion, the parents are lucky their daughter is still alive. This nightmare could have been far worse.
Tobias Dustin Summers, 30, (described in many newspaper reports as a transient) and his accomplice Daniel Martinez, 29 are charged with the 10-year-old's alleged kidnapping and rape. Newspaper reports indicate the pair had planned to rob a house. It's my understanding Martinez waited in the car when Summers entered the home they were going to rob, saw the child and decided to kidnap the young girl.
Martinez was arrested March 31st. Summers was caught in Mexico and returned to the US on April 24th. One media report indicated he was identified by the Superman tattoo on his chest. He made his first court appearance April 25th in a San Fernando Valley courtroom. Martinez is facing felony kidnapping of a child under 14 and first degree burglary. His bail has been set at 1 million. Summers is facing 37 charges and bail has been set at 19 million.
April 25th, 2013
In the morning, I got the announcement that alleged kidnapper Tobias Summers would be arraigned in the afternoon at the San Fernando Courthouse, Department S, in the city of San Fernando, CA. I had never been to the San Fernando Courthouse and I didn't have any commitments going on, so I thought I would see if I could get a seat at the arraignment. I don't often get to see arraignments since I usually pick up a case before or after the preliminary hearing.
San Fernando is a tiny city in the northeastern section of the San Fernando Valley that is completely surrounded by the city of Los Angeles. The city was established in 1885 and currently has about 24,000 residents, the majority being Latino.
The first thing I notice when I reach Third Street is the media presence. Local media trucks take up the entire block in front of the courthouse on both sides of the street. I'm able to find street parking a block up and walk towards the courthouse.
As I get closer, to the entrance, I can see it's an older building with Spanish influences. Because of the full growth trees I can't get a good sense of how tall the building is.
San Fernando Courthouse, Entrance
When I clear security I keep going straight towards a wide, arched hallway. The hallway walls are that bland ivory color with a hint of yellow. The floor is brown, eight-inch square Spanish tiles. I don't get far when I see some familiar media faces on very long, low wood benches. I note the name of the judge on the plaque outside the courtroom, but I overheard someone say that a different judge is on the bench today.
The first person I recognize is well known sketch artist, Mona Edwards and I also see Eric Leonard a well known reporter for local radio station KFI 640. I've been a fan of Leonard's long before I first met him at the Robert Blake trial in 2004-5. OCWeekly named him Best News Anchor in 2009. He does have a web page, but he doesn't post to it much.
Mona, who is there at the request of ABC Ch. 7, asks me if I'm going to the Jackson family civil case that is about to start. I tell her that I usually only cover murder cases or cases involving children. Mona tells me she's been drawing the Jackson family ever since '95 or '96, when a production company (Smith-Hemion Productions) sued the family in a case known as Jackson Family Honors. There are other reporters here that I don't know, that are probably assigned to the San Fernando Valley.
Several of the TV faces show up dressed in their on-air suits. Patrick Healy from NBC Ch. 4, and a familiar face from CBS Ch. 2. Mary Hearn from the Superior Court's Public Information Office (PIO) arrives. She will be the liaison between the court and the media's request to film the defendant when he's brought out. I also wave to Claudia Peschiutta from KNX1070.
While we wait for Dept. S to open, I politely listen while one reporter tells another about a famous incident from 2003 involving Judge David S. Wesley. Apparently, an individual who was supposed to be arraigned that day but was freed committed a murder a month later.
When Dept. S opens, the reporter's fan out to where ever they want to sit. In other arraignment courts, usually there are specific areas designated for the media. The courtroom has three sections separated by two aisles. There are about 42 seats in each of the side sections and about 30 in the center rows. The center front row is blocked off from seating. Trying to get the best seat to see the defendant, I sit in the center, last row.
The wood paneled courtroom is almost a much smaller version of Dept. 30 in downtown Los Angeles. The small name plaque on the bench says Michael O'Gara, Judge. There are large green signs on several of the walls outlining court rules about no talking to detainees in custody. There are several court staff in the well, all looking like they are busy doing 'something' and a couple of mid-level looking managers just standing, watching the gallery. Sheriff deputies come and go, but there are at least two or three in the room most of the time.
The defendant "fish tank" or cage is on the far right. It's about five feet by 10 feet. Hanging from the ceiling inside the cage is a microphone. The ends are wood paneling. The front is a mixture of glass at the top and screen and the bottom half. The detainee entrance is not on the far left, (like in Dept. 30) but the far right.
A child cries out from the back left of the courtroom and a bailiff tells the mother to take the child outside. PIO Mary Hearn sits in the row of seats in the well, against the low wall. There are several long tables in the center of the well for the defense and prosecution.
A video camera and still photographer are setting up in the well of the court to photograph the defendant. I see Hearn speak to a few people in the media. Mona tells me she will still do a sketch. Mona asks if she can sit in the well to get a better view of the defendant and her request is granted.
Court is finally called to order. Several other cases are heard first. A few defendants plead guilty. Those of us in the gallery wait. Some reporters leave and come back. Waiting for one case, Judge O'Gara impatiently taps his pen while holding his chin in the palm of his left hand. Looking behind me to my right, a black reporter with an ABC 7 pin on his lapel appears stretched out in his seat, his eyes closed.
Some of the defense attorneys who wander in and out of Dept. S look like characters themselves and I recognize at least one face I previously saw in Dept. 30. It's 2:40 PM an a DDA enters that the pretty young reporter next to me recognizes. She thinks its DDA Laura Jackson, who is prosecuting Summer's co-conspirator, Daniel Martinez.
2:44 PM The judge steps off the bench for about 15 minutes. Even though there are lulls in the proceedings, the court reporter needs a break, too.
2:58 PM The judge retakes the bench. I hear him say, "Ms. Lambert (sp?), Ms. Jackson. The judge states something about having a long discussion at the bench with the prosecutor and defense. The defendant is not currently present in the courtroom. There are a number of media requesting (to photograph and video record the defendant) including the LA Times. All will be granted. "Have the defendant brought out," Judge O'Gara tells the bailiffs.
The defendant emerges from the back area. He's in street clothes. When he comes out, he keeps his head down. You can't see his face at all. Earlier, a few reporters did talk about how the defendants often try to stand behind their defense attorneys, to avoid being photographed.
Tobias Dustin Summers, first US court appearance.
The judge states that this matter would be "..put over to Dept. H, May 2nd for continuance and arraignment." The defendant's 19 million bail stands. The people then request a protective order for the victim and that the defendant be prohibited from any contact with the victim by his person or a third party. The defendant will be served with this protective order. The prosecution asks that the protective order be under seal and I believe that is also granted. The defendant is taken back to the holding area.
And that's it. The reporters leave the courtroom back to their news trucks to get their copies of the video and the on air suits to file their video reports.
Just when I think I can take a leisurely drive back home and write up my story, I get a call from Mr. Sprocket. He tells me the new door is in for the bakery's Turbo-Air refrigerated displace case. Since I'm so close to the distributor, I get to go pick it up.
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Suspect Charged in Northridge Girl's Kidnapping Assault