A Ukiah man was arrested Tuesday when he was caught filming up a woman’s skirt with his cellphone, the Ukiah Police Department reported. According to the UPD, an officer responded to Walmart on Airport Park Boulevard around 9:33 a.m. Nov. 22 when it was reported that a man had been caught recording under a shopper’s skirt. The victim said she was shopping and looked down to see the suspect, described as a 26-year-old Ukiah man, bent down with his arm extended out. In his hand was a cell phone, and it was faced upward and under her skirt. The woman said she grabbed the cell phone and alerted a Walmart employee that she wanted the man arrested. The suspect was placed under citizen’s arrest for invasion of privacy with a camera, a misdemeanor, and booked into Mendocino County Jail.
Isai Sanchez-Aquilera was later booked into the County Jail on versions of invasion of privacy which makes it a crime to use a camera to look at someone's body under or through clothing. Committed pervs call this “upskirting.” Needless to say, it’s a male crime.
Isai Sanchez went on trial April 11th for peeking up ladies’ skirts with his iPhone while he was on the job stocking shelves at WalMart.
It took a day and a half — almost — to pick a jury. That’s almost twice as long as the trial lasted, which started at 10:30 on Tuesday, April 11th and seemed sure to be over well ahead of schedule by the end of the workday, even though this reporter was called away before all the evidence was in and the jury went into deliberations.
A visiting judge, the Honorable Douglas Mewhinny, formerly of Calaveras County, brought a refreshing sense of style to the tedious rote of the daily courtroom routine, belting out each of the shopworn pro forma statements as though he were auditioning for a role in a blockbuster film. By comparison, our local judges sound like computer-generated answering machines.
Judge Mewhinny, pronounced McWhinny according to Jessica McBride, “Mr. Morimune, call your first witness.”
“Could we have a sidebar, your honor?”
Deputy DA Brian Morimune wanted time to set up his video screen so the jury could see the peep show the defendant had filmed. The judge let the jury go to Schat’s Café across the street for coffee while this was done.
When they came back, an advocate from Witness Protection brought in the victim, Sherrilynn Goates, a tasting room manager. Ms. Goates trembled like she was greeting her spiritual advisor before an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian as she was sworn in.
Deputy DA Morimune, a youth with the fashion-sense and mannered bearing of an undertaker’s apprentice (and — don’t forget — a very effective lawyer), took Ms. Goates back through the sordid indignities she said she’d been subjected to and did it with the aplomb of a prince of gentlemanly decorum.
“Do you remember where you were, on or about November 9th, at about 9:30 in the morning?”
“At WalMart, shopping.”
“Do you often shop at WalMart?”
“Because of what happened November 9th.”
“Remember how you were dressed?”
“Boots, a dress, my jacket.”
The witness’s voice cracked, she tremblingly unscrewed a water bottle and tried to drink, but her throat seemed too constricted. She broke down and started to cry.
The gallant Morimune asked if she needed a break and she said no she wanted to get it over with, then she got hold of herself and identified the defendant, saying he was the one who put an iPhone under her dress.
The video played. It happened very fast. A quick look at the floor of the aisle, some of the shelves, a shadow, and it was over. I saw nothing. Morimune froze an on-screen “still” of the shot up the lady’s skirts. And then — even after the advocate had ushered her (the vic) away the prurient picture remained on the screen…! (As a father, I felt like filing a lawsuit on her behalf!)
Timothy Pitchford of the Office of the Public Defender’s Office started right in on cross-examination with an insinuating line of untoward questions about the nasty weather at the time of the alleged upskirting, and wondered leeringly at Ms. Goates’ decision to wear a lacy dress and (what were described as) “nylons” in November?
Morimune objected — belatedly — and His Honor, lifting his long thin hand as though in benediction, reminded the lawyers of the rules of evidence as eloquently as though he were lecturing at Harvard: “Gentlemen, I cannot object for you. You must do it yourselves.”
For public defender Pitchford, the most casual dresser in the court, to raise queries about other people’s dress, especially a woman’s, is bordering on the hilarious. He has the physique of a dedicated couch potato and a wardrobe to match. But he’s smart with a penetrating legal acumen.
“Objection sustained, Mr. Pitchford, move along.”
“Now, when you turned around, as you said on direct, and saw my client crouched down, with his hand out-stretched under your skirts — gimme some kinda of timing on this: After he walked behind you, and passed out of the periphery of your vision, as you were looking at the granola bars — how long was it before you turned around?”
“I’m not sure. I just noticed the person didn’t continue, so I turned around.”
“Well, was it really quick?”
“I don’t know what you call really quick [sometimes a big guy can move really quick], I just turned around.”
“How long before he made any movement — after you turned around?”
“As soon as I turned around!”
I didn’t see what happened in the video, but I heard it correctly. The vic said (with a snarl familiar to anyone who has seen a cat pin a rat to the floor), “Nice try!”
The perp grunted, “Huh?”
Click click click, of boot heels heard on the aisle then the vic accusingly speaks, “... you keep walking with your phone…!”
Here the video ends, and here we are told the vic grabbed the phone from the perp.
She calls 911 and Officer Chris Donahue soon arrives. He’s handed the phone, takes a look at the video, thumbs through the time-stamp log, skips back an hour or so, and lands where he finds a similar recording (woman's legs and buttocks), and opens an investigation, which eventually ends up in court.
By lunchtime, the prosecution rested, so I got a loaf of day-old bread at Schat’s (Dutch for “treasure”) Bakery, steamed-up the office windows with French onion soup, and having exonerated my corporeal bail, waded through the wind and rain back to the trial of the century, wearing my company tie, the Anderson tartan.
Defense called a character witness, the accused’s wife, Carla Iveth (Yevette, as they say France) Sanchez, recently of her hometown Caparán, Michoacan, Mexico.
Timothy Baird, the Spanish language court interpreter, had been standing by, and he (Baird) escorted Señora Sanchez to the stand.
Mr. Pitchford led his witness through the highlights of her romance with Isai in the Sanchez's lush orchards — arranged by Carla’s devoted sister, she hastened to say — on the Sanchez Ranchero, at a time (as we learned later) when Isai had been visiting his family’s orchards and was injured in a crash; this testimony he later delivered to explain his crouch). Having established as much, the lawyer asked at length about her estimation of her husband’s morals.
“Do you know him well enough to have formed an opinion of his morals?”
“Yes, I do have an opinion. And he’s a very good man. He’s a hard worker, and very faithful.”
“Objection, judge,” Morimune said, rising calmly to his full height of moral rectitude. “The part about his work ethic is irrelevant.”
Judge Mewhiney decorously asked for a moment, bent his head as if in prayer, closed his eyes with every appearance of a man rehearsing a scene in his mind. When the brief pause ended he said, “Objection sustained, and I want the part about being a 'good worker' stricken.”
There were more questions in this vein, but the jury — while not wanting to appear impatient with this newly minted American — appeared to be thinking "you might as well ask Queen Vicky what she thought of Prince Albert."
The ribald Mr. Pitchford — he couldn’t resist asking on cross whether the vic had anything on besides the “nylons” and whether the photo was between the legs shot of the crotch.
Isai Sanchez was found Not Guilty of filming under a woman’s skirt in WalMart, the day after a presidential election that, by inauguration day, had mobilized millions of indignant women to march in hats knitted rebukes to the newly elected President Trump for his unprintable groping maxim, which is to say it was perhaps more than a coincidence that the vic in this case was perhaps a mite too preconditioned to jump to conclusions when Mr. Sanchez crouched down to grab a box (not a Tony The Tiger, but a generic brand) of frosted flakes cereal off the bottom shelf, while Ms. Goates stood nearby in the Breakfast Aisle contemplating a display of granola bars.
Mr. Sanchez was perhaps unaware of the political climate in his adopted country, although he’d been in Ukiah for over 15 years, but his new wife had only been in the country for a little over a year.
When on the stand, Sanchez explained that he’d been in an accident in Mexico, where it was not against the law to ride in the bed of a pickup, and the one he was riding in had been in a crash with a drunk driver, resulting in a serious back injury. He said he crouched down to reach for the box of cereal, and had his hand with the iPhone in it outstretched to keep his balance, and had filmed Ms. Goates’ legs inadvertently; his camera having been left on from an earlier use of it to film the placement of some books and movies in an adjacent aisle.
Sanchez works for Anderson Merchandizing, and it is his job to stock shelves in WalMart with books and movies. Much of his work is done with his iPhone, he explained, and he uses it to clock in and out of work, to show how the shelves looked before and after he restocks them, and other applications also apply, so his camera is going most of the time and it is not uncommon to have people’s legs and other parts of their anatomy show up in the recordings. On this day, he had finished his work and was going to grab a box of frosted flakes for his wife, since he was already at the store, and had neglected to turn off the camera before doing so. He said he wasn’t even aware it was on.
The jury – half men and half women, mostly older people, although the foreperson was a younger man, and a Mexican American – believed Sanchez and came back after a long deliberation at around two o’clock the following afternoon with the not guilty verdict. Sanchez was greatly relieved as Ms. Goates left the courtroom in a flurry of indignation and renewed tears the moment the verdict was read.
Defense attorney Pitchford – who I half expected to belly-bump his client victoriously – merely patted his client reassuringly on the shoulder, while Deputy DA Morimune stood like a deacon with his head bowed and hands folded, as though in prayer.
Visiting Judge Douglas Mewhinny thanked the jury profusely for their service and released them from his injunctions not to discuss the trial with anyone, and further gave them permission to accept any book or movie contracts that may come their way in regards to such dramatic trial.