Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gerhard Becker Preliminary Hearing Part V

Continued from Preliminary Hearing, Part IV...

UPDATE 8/27/13: spelling
Monday, November 26th, 2012
I arrive on the third floor of the downtown Criminal Justice Center a little after 1 PM. The City of Los Angeles building inspector, Brad Bescos is sitting on a hallway bench directly opposite me.  His gray suit jacket is off, his fingers are interlaced and his eyes are closed.  He's wearing a dull light blue shirt and geometric patterned blue and gray tie. I note his black shoes are have slight wear patterns on the tips.

There are a few people scattered throughout the hallway. There is a very weathered looking man in a wheelchair a few feet from me. There is a heavily patched, worn duffel bag stuffed to the gills on the bench beside him. The words "B'OAK" are spray painted on the back of the wheelchair in block lettering.  The man is writing something on white, unlined paper.  Uniformed officers start to arrive for different courtrooms. 

The old wood benches on this floor are quite low to the ground. Interspersed between them are squares of ceramic or stone with a hole cut out.  I get the impression they used to hold ashtrays, back when smoking in public buildings was still allowed.  There are red placard signs with white lettering everywhere that say "NO SMOKING."

1:22 PM
I take a trip up to the fifth floor snack bar for a bottle of water.  When I return Gerhard Becker and his attorney, Donald Re are at the other end of the hallway.  Eventually, Re heads this way with his rolling cart filled with files.  Becker and Re take a seat across the hallway about four benches down.  Becker is wearing a dark suit with a pink shirt and contrasting pink tie.  The man in the wheelchair is still intently writing.

1:24 PM
Detective Greg Stearns arrives with his rolling cart. He greets Bescos and a few minutes later heads down the hallway to the men's restroom.

1:26 PM
Dept 42 is unlocked by Judge Tynan's bailiff.   Someone asks if the courtroom is open, and I respond, "Yes, it's open."  Re and Stearns return along with the prosecution's staff to set up the projection screen.

1:30 PM
I get a call from Matthew who is just clearing security on the main floor.  I head inside Dept. 42.  Judge Tynan's clerk is an adorable looking young woman. She has an upturned nose and reddish auburn hair cut short in a type of pixie haircut.  I want to ask her name but I'm too shy. My thoughts are stuck in my throat.

1:35 PM
Judge Tynan comes out from his chambers. He doesn't have his robe on yet. He's wearing a dark blue shirt and tie.

1:40 PM
DDA Frances Young arrives. She's wearing black slacks and an emerald green jacket.

1:45 PM
There is an off the record side bar with Judge Tynan.  I'm hearing snatches of the conversation.  Counsel appear to be arguing about a witness.  Now something about a firefighter paramedic who was assigned to an engine.  Judge Tynan is asking about the assignment.  Someone states. "It's changed. ALL firefighters are paramedics."

DDA Carney tells Judge Tynan he does have a diagram of the 15 ft trough device in lieu of bringing in the device itself to court.  Someone else offers that 70% of fire calls are medical.  Glenn Allen was hired back when they just hired firefighters.  Now, when they need a paramedic for rescue, they hire a paramedic.

1:47 PM
Judge Tynan takes the bench, and the case is back on the record.  Mr. Bescos has returned for continued cross examination.

3. BRAD BESCOS - cross examination continued

The witness is presented with People's exhibit 47, a computer print out of his notes on Becker's house project.  The document is put up on the screen but the font may be too small to read.

The witness is now presented with Defense exhibit A, a photo of the unfinished construction of the fireplace/pit area, with the yellow flex gas line visible, coming up out of the center.  Bescos states he had not see that at that location.

D Re: Is it your testimony you never saw the yellow piping or never saw any construction in ... ?
BB: Never remember seeing yellow (pipe). ... Never remember seeing the header ... the solid piece of wood just above the opening.
D Re: Can you tell from this photo when this was ... ?
BB: That would be at rough framing stage. ... I believe that would be in August.
D Re: You were there in September?
BB: According to this record, (the printout) September 30th.

Bescos states he doesn't remember what the construction was like at that time.  Re describes the construction.

D Re: This is the same location as to where a fireplace was indicated on the plans?
BB: Yes.
D Re: Is this construction consistent with a fireplace?
BB: I don't understand the question. As to what type of fireplace?

Re asks another question as to whether he knew this was the place where a trough fireplace was planned.  He then asks Bescos about the number of days he was at the building location.  "I don't know," Bescos answers.  I believe Bescos states there could be other dates that he was there beyond what is listed on the computer record (of his notes).  Carney objects on the fact the witness doesn't know when he was there.

Re asks Bescos how many times he was at the location in August.

BB: Two times.
D Re: What are those dates?
BB: August 5th. August 19th.
D Re: How many times in September?
BB: Approximately two times. September 7th. September 30th.
D Re: Those would have been the minimum number of times you visited the residence?
BB: Yes.

More questions about the fireplace construction and what he remembers seeing.

D Re: Is it your testimony that you never saw ... ?
BB: I don't remember seeing a back wall or a front wall.
D Re: Is it your testimony that you could have seen but you don't remember?
BB: I do remember asking if there was going to be a fireplace at some time. ... If I'd seen a gas pipe, I would have asked him what he was doing in that location. ... I don't remember asking about that specific construction.
D Re: ... your testimony is that in final inspection there was no fireplace anywhere in the residence?
BB: Yes sir.

Defense exhibit B, outside photo of house.  Re asks if the inspector can tell at what point in the construction was this photo taken.

BB: It was taken before the guardrail was installed.
D Re: At what point in time ... when that was installed?
BB: I don't know.

DDA Carney states he can't see the photograph.  Someone adds that the photo depicts a point in time before the exterior doors and windows were installed. It looks like roof framing installed.  It would be when the roof diaphragm was installed. July 22nd, there was a partial approval, okay to cover diaphragm.

BB: I don't know when they did it. I know that was when I approved it.

I believe there is an objection by the state. Judge Tynan states, "I don't see ... only a rough estimate..." Carney continues with his objection. "H didn't take a photo. He wasn't there. He didn't build it."  Judge Tynan sustains the objection.

Re asks the witness to look at the materials in the photo and the construction.

D Re: Based on the state of construction, can you give us any date that was taken ... before that was, not later?
BB: On July 6th, I approved the pour of the top floor concrete. ... July 15th, on top level (had?) .. up wood framing. They had steel frame that (was) holding up the wood.
D Re: So that would be between July 15th and July 22?
BB: After.
D Re: You have no idea when photo was taken?
BB: I have no idea when photo was taken.
D Re: Is there anything about (the) lower level ... that tells you about lower level ... ?
BB: I can't see into (the) lower level. (Via that photograph provided. Sprocket.)
(I believe Re then asks about the computer print out.)
D Re: Anything about when windows installed?
BB: No.

From the inspectors notes, on July 15th he approved rough electric and HVAC on the lower level. Still, there's nothing to date the photo.

D Re: When you went on September 30th, was there still this rough wood railing?
BB: ... can't remember when guardrails were installed.

More questions about the glass guardrails and when they were installed and if Bescos remembers seeing them on an inspection.

SC: Objection! Argumentative!
JT: I'll let him finish questioning and them Mr. Carney will pounce again.

BB: I believe this photo was taken before final inspection, yes sir.
D Re: When did you see the guardrails.
BB: I don't remember.

Defense exhibit C, a close image of Exhibit B, before.

D Re: Do you recognize what is depicted in Exhibit C?
BB: Recognize in what way? ... Recognize as a house under construction.

(Note here about the photo. Lower level, of cut out of an area into the wall an a yellow line coming down from the ceiling. There's construction in the center of the photo.)

D Re: ...that area  is consistent with a fireplace.
BB: I don't know what kind of fireplace that would house.
D Re: (You) object to the term "fireplace?"
BB: Yes. ... This construction is consistent with what we saw when we cut open wall and looked at the inside walls of the fireplaces.

DDA Carney objects again on foundation. This witness did not take photos or (photo shop?) them.
Re goes back to Defense exhibit B and asks Bescos whether he can see vertical wood.

BB: Yes.
D Re: Horizontal wood?
BB: No.

Re is now asking the witness what he saw during this stage of construction.

BB: I can't remember what I saw. I don't remember walking through that level.

Defense exhibit D, tentatively marked for the record. Photo of inside finished walls.

BB: Looks like the bottom level.

There appears to be a structure beside the pole (a pole in the photo).

BB: There appears to be a structure ... what we found after the fire.

This photo didn't have a floor.

D Re: Do you know when this was in the construction?
BB: It was after July 15th ... after the electrical and HVAC installation on the first level.

On the November date (in the building inspection notes) all Bescos remembers on that date is walking through the first floor (top level).

D Re: When did you do the final (inspection)? Did you walk through ... ?
BB: I believe we did partial inspection on each of the levels.

Re asks question after question about when Bescos walked through the first level.

Defense exhibit E is presented.

BB: I'm saying sometime in September I approved the lower level.

DDA Carney objects. Foundation! Judge Tynan responds, something to the effect of, 'I'm kind of stuck here. This man inspected the place.

JT: Did you see that construction?
BB: I remember a shelf at that level.
JT: Did you ever see those brick .... ?
BB: I don't remember.

There are questions or answers about "niches" built out of drywall.  Bescos states, "It could have been. ... I don't know."

Defense exhibit F, close up of photo of brick construction of the first floor (lower level) fire structure.  There's also a question about plastic covering up the fireplace.  Another question about the 'niche' and if it was a fireplace.

D Re: When you went back, did you see brick construction?
BB: I don't remember.
D Re: When you did the final, did it have a floor?
BB: I don't remember.

A finished floor is not required for final inspection.  Re asks another question about Exhibit F, pointing out what looks like a gas valve to the witness.

BB: It looks like a gas valve.
D Re: And you never saw that either?
BB: No, I did not.
D Re: Did you say that fireplace could have been there in September?
BB: I may have. ... I didn't write the note (In the computer records; I believe it was another inspector. Sprocket.), so I can't say which fireplace that was referring to.

So Bescos is saying that 'one' of the fireplaces could have been there in September.

BB: But you could have put a wood or tile over that and you have a shelf.
D Re: Is it your testimony that it  could have been there and (?) covered it up?
BB: Yes.

Someone could have put tile stones...

BB: I have no recollection of any fireplace in this building.  ... I do remember rocks in the top level in that area in a shelf.  ... I do remember rocks and tile. ... I believe there was some in that shelf there. (Referring to the 15 ft trough space built into the wall. Sprocket.) ... What I remember is, there was a drywall niche with tile and pebbles.
D Re: Didn't you tell the police and fire department that it was drywall over ... ?
BB: No, I don't believe I said that.  I believe there was a niche with tile and pebbles. A shelf.
D Re: During one of the inspections, did you turn to Mr. Becker and say, "What is this with the stones over here?"
BB: No.

People's exhibit 11 is presented to the witness.

D Re: When you say this was covered with drywall ...?
BB: Meaning that (the) top part (was) covered.
D Re: Are you saying the open niche was like this?
BB: No sir. ... I'm saying there was tile and stones in that niche.

Question after question about what he said to whom about this niche.  Often, Bescos answer is, "I don't remember."

It's 2:50 PM 
I'm hoping for the afternoon break at this point.

D Re: Did you tell the DA you talked to them about the upstairs fireplace?
BB: Yes.
D Re: You talked to them about telling the police about the drywall?
BB: Yes. ... the fireplace is covered with drywall.
D Re: Did you tell the DA that you were assuming that Mr. Becker tried to cover everything up?
BB: I don't remember saying that.
D Re: Was it your intent to convey to the police after the fire that the opening was covered with drywall?

There are questions by Judge Tynan to verify that what the witness mean by "covered with drywall."

BB: People do that all the time. They build niches and put artwork in them.

More questions about whether he remembers the specific statements he made to the DA.  Bescos stands firm in his statements.

BB: I don't remember telling them about drywall.

Now there are questions about when he spoke to the police and firemen on what he saw and when.  DDA Carney objects on foundational grounds.  Carney tells Judge Tynan, "I don't have those questions in my statements.  Re responds, "It's not in your documents." Judge Tynan asks Re where is the origin of the statement and Re states he doesn't want to divulge this at this point.

3:00 PM
The afternoon break is called.

Detective Stearns and Bescos chat in the gallery.  Matthew leaves the jury box to visit the restroom and Carney, Stearns and the witness whisper in the gallery.  Frances Young munches on a snack at the prosecution table while she reads documents.  Becker goes through a large binder at the defense table.  A casually dressed man in a pink shirt and no tie enters carrying a standard "reporter's spiral notebook" that he sticks in his back pocket. When Carney, Stearns and Bescos leave, the reporter leaves with them.

I take some notes on Frances's outfit today.  She's wearing a matching greet blouse under her emerald jacket with beautiful gold buttons. She's also wearing a large white pearl necklace.  Her nails are painted clear or a cream color.  There is a gold band on her right ring finger. I often notice women's polished and finished nails, since I've never been able successfully keep my nails up. I gave up on that years ago.

Up high on a ledge in the corner over the clerks desk, I notice a very old or early era military looking action figure. I want to say "GI Joe" but it's not.  It's wearing a uniform.  It looks to be a three inch ledge that separates the first eight feet of wood paneling wall with the next eight feet to the ceiling.  I point out the figurine to Matthew.

3:15 PM
Judge Tynan takes the bench. He pours a soda into a cup after he sits down.

Re continues his cross examination of Brad Bescos.

Re is asking Bescos about what he now says (happened) on November 30th, and what he saw after the fire.

D Re: Was construction of the cubicle the same after the fire?
BB: The height, depth and width was the same before and after.

There is a question about the 'niche' or fire trough area.

BB: It was a shelf; drywall.
D Re: What was the vertical construction behind?
BB: I don't know. It could have been slate tile. It could have been wonder board (to attach tile to).

It was a wall. No penetrations of any kind.

D Re: And after the fire, did you examine what as on the back wall?
BB: Yes.
D Re: Did you report to inform authorities that the first floor (lower level) fireplace appeared to be installed after the inspection?

I believe Bescos answers, 'Because the enclosures were built in front of, taped and finished drywall.'
D Re: Over finished and enclosed walls?
BB: I believe I might have said something.
D Re: With regard to bottom floor construction, the one with brick or stone... ?
BB: I don't remember if the stone was there or not.  (The testimony is about a lower level where there is drywall cut out in one area. Sprocket.) ... I don't remember seeing any penetration. It's not uncommon to have niches with cabinets later.

Re is now asking Bescos about whether the finished covered drywall and electrical happened before final inspection.  Then a question about when Bescos saw what on the bottom floor in his inspection.  Judge Tynan, looking at the photo, Exhibit F.

BB: Somebody built a niche on top of a finished drywall with electrical outlets in it. ... That box is built out from the wall.
JT: Was that construction there during the inspection?
BB: I don't remember it.

Another photo, possibly Defense exhibit G.

D Re: Is this the middle floor?
BB: I don't remember stone being there.
Becker is motioning to Re that the witness is right about the floor of the photo.

Re moves onto questions about the gas lines inspection and what his notes would reflect.

Looking over the computer printout Bescos responds.

BB: If there was a correction, that would be noted. ... If you look at August 13th, Rick Morales (sp?) approved the final gas.
D Re: What are there for Bescos and gas (inspection) for July?
BB: Rough plumbing; partial approval.  ... Rough plumbing approved on August 5th.

Re asks if that's the only reference.

BB: Plumbing September 30th would have been gas. ... Final would be drain waste and water and gas.

The note for August 19th states okay to drywall top level, except for gas pipe to water heater.  There's something about fire blocking (around the water heater?) for concealed horizontal to vertical space.  Re asks Bescos about hand written notes verses his notes in the computer.

BB: Handwritten notes are for the next inspector that comes out to look at (so have better understanding).
D Re: Do you look at handwritten notes (in the file) before you go out to a location?
BB: Yes.
D Re: Do all approvals go into the computer (records)? ... Should all approvals go into the computer?
BB: I don't know.

In the hand written notes, there is an entry for September 30th.   Re asks if there are any other hand written notes in the file.  "No," Bescos responds.  Then there is a long explanation about notes copied. There are two certified copies of the notes in the file, and there are other permits in the file.

D Re: Do you have any recollection of writing any hand written notes between September 30th and November 30th?
BB: No.
D Re: You're saying the gas reference (on a specific note in the computer records) is referring to the water heater?
BB: Yes.

Re asks about the water heater note in the records. It doesn't appear to have been written at the same time.  Bescos believes he wrote that for Rick Morales for his next inspection.  The November 30th inspection was to inspect the appliances.

D Re: Did you write any hand written notes for November 30th?
BB: I don't see any.

Bescos mentions a flaw or 'glitch' in the computer software system that stores all the inspections, approvals and notes on a particular project.   There is a long list of things for November 30th.  All have to be approved or they can't issue a certificate of occupancy.  The computer system automatically asks the question and he has to input approved or partially approved.

3:45 PM
I'm so tired. Only fifteen more minutes.

I believe Bescos now states that on November 30th, he saw loose stone,s tile, in the bottom of where the fire trough ultimately was.  Bescos is asked about fire stops and their purpose.

BB: It's to slow down the fire, yes.

Re asks if there are any notes on the fire stops.  There aren't any.  Bescos recalls a conversation with Becker about using insulation for fire stops. There's nothing in the notes but it would have gotten past the second level.

BB: You're asking me about August 2010. I can't remember if the sun was out.

Bescos explains why he would have told Becker where he could drywall.  Question after question about his notes, what's missing from his notes and when Bescos did what inspection.  Now Re asks about fire stops and what he approved and if that request or approval is reflected in his notes.

D Re: Did you tell the authorities that the origin of the fire was "covered over" with drywall?
BB: I did  mean, was a solid wall. ... If I said that, I meant that the construction was drywall.
D Re: Isn't it a fact that you stood by the fireplace and spoke with Mr. Becker (that) the installation was okay?
BB: No.

Cross ends and redirect begins.

DDA Carney asks Bescos about a "follow-up" report by Detective Stearns.  Page 4 of 6 report.

SC: Did you write a report of your observations of the fire that day (March 23rd, 2011)?
BB: Yes sir.
SC: In this report, did you say that the exposure (?) of the .... evidence of this is revealed by painted and finished drywall and electrical outlets?  (On one of the lower floors, when the broke into the back wall of a constructed fireplace, there was another finished painted wall with outlets and electrical switch plates. Sprocket.)
BB: Yes sir.

There are more questions about Detective Stearns report, and if he wrote a particular statement.

BB: No.

Carney shows the witness the report. The report also details that the fireplaces on the first (lower) floor also were installed "after final inspection."  It's not included in Bescos's report, but in Detective Stearns report.  But what Bescos observed when he opened the walls behind (some) fireplaces, were finished walls inside finished walls with electrical outlets.

A photo of a lower level fireplace.

SC: Is that rock?
BB: I believe so. ... I believe it's a veneer of solid stone.
SC: How thick is that?
BB: Three quarters of an inch.
SC: And it is not made of brick?
BB: It's a stone veneer.
SC: What would it be applied to?
BB: Many surfaces. I believe it was adhered to drywall.

SC: If the bottom of the trough area was drywall, what would that say to you?
BB: Niche.
SC: It was similar to construction to other houses you'd see n that area?

Now a question about the 15 foot fire trough, and sections of the drywall that appeared to have been cut out with a "saws-all' (a reciprocating saw) and patched over. There were saw marks observed in the wood behind the drywall. They are describing the part of the construction where the trough was laid in.  Bescos talks about how drywall is usually cut with an Exacto knife and then you "snap" the drywall and install it where you want it.  Bescos states you can't cut drywall in that manner. It has to be free, (unmounted).

SC: Did you see an all metal trough in the alcove?
BB: No.
SC: If you had, what would you have done?
BB: Investigated further. ... I would have written a correction and have it removed.

And that's what was done after the fire.

Defense exhibit A is presented again. Carney asks about the yellow hose sticking up out of the floor in the middle of the photo.  There was a hole in the concrete. It could have been threaded wrong.

SC: Was that construction consistent with a decorative alcove or niche that you've seen in other houses?
BB: Yes.
SC: You never made any other surprise inspections beyond the one mentioned?
BB: No.

On the November 30th inspection, Bescos doesn't remember going down to the lower floors. Only the top floor.  There is a question about what Bescos would have approved by November 30th on the lower levels.

Another exhibit, Bescos hand written notes.  These were customary to be in the file. The computer notes are not kept in the file.  Typically, Bescos would look at hand written notes before going to inspections. Now a question about whose notes are whose in the hand written notes.

SC: Where was the water heater?
BB: Second middle floor.

The gas meter was on the outside of the building. It went straight down to the utility room.  The gas line was fifteen to twenty feet from the meter through the exterior wall. It went straight down to the kitchen area, then the water heater. The water heater vent would have been in that area. The top floor gas line was attached to the line in the water heater area. It ran on ceiling through soffits then through the lower level ceiling. Bescos describes it. "It's a stainless steel, flexible gas line" There was a manifold in the laundry area.  There was a gas line that ran out under the slab to the pool deck for a future BBQ.

That's it for testimony today.  Everyone is ordered back tomorrow at 11 AM.  Exhibits are marked for identification.  Judge Tynan asks to speak to counsel informally.  And that's it for today.

To be continued in Part VI.....