It took an El Dorado County jury just 45 minutes to acquit Lt. Chris Gold of two felony and two misdemeanor charges related to an off duty altercation he was involved in with his former father in law.
The background of this case includes an ugly divorce and child custody battle between Mr. Gold and his former wife. Things got so bad that Mr. Gold’s ex-wife, as well as his ex mother-in-law and father-in-law began making horrific allegations of misconduct against. Mr. Gold. All of those allegations have been thoroughly investigated and the result has been that Mr. Gold has been awarded full custody of his daughter, and Mr. Gold’s ex-wife is only given very limited supervised visitation of the daughter every week.
On April 17, 2009, Mr. Gold and his mother, Ms. Mary Gold, met Mr. Fagundes in a parking lot for a visitation exchange of Mr. Gold’s daughter. Mr. Fagundes delivered the daughter to Mr. Gold, but at the time he did so he repeated the allegations that he and Mr. Gold’s ex-wife were making against Mr. Gold at the time. An argument broke out which led to an altercation. Mr. Gold put his hands on Mr. Fagundes’ arms, attempted to move him to the other side of the vehicles, away from Mr. Gold’s daughter. Mr. Fagundes pushed Mr. Gold back and shoving continued between them. At one point, Mr. Gold did a leg sweep take down of Mr. Fagundes, holding onto his arms. He placed Mr. Fagundes on the ground. Mr. Gold straddled Mr. Fagundes as Mr. Fagundes continued to fight. Mr. Gold used his hand and knees in an effort to control Mr. Fagundes’ hands. At one point Mr. Gold put one hand on Mr. Fagundes’ upper chest/neck area to hold him to the ground. Throughout this time Mr. Gold and Mr. Fagundes were yelling at each other. Mr. Gold continued to yell for Mr. Fagundes to stop fighting. Finally, Mr. Fagundes stopped fighting and Mr. Gold got up from the ground. Mr. Fagundes immediately followed him and Mr. Gold retreated to his car.
Just prior to the altercation, Mr. Gold asked Mary to call the police. Mr. Gold had been required to call the police on Mr. Fagundes several times in the past because Mr. Fagundes threatened Mr. Gold during child custody exchanges. Mr. Gold, Mary, and Mr. Gold’s daughter left the scene and met sheriff’s deputies down the street for an interview.
There were several eyewitnesses to the altercation. Not surprisingly, each eyewitness saw the case somewhat differently. Some witnesses saw Mr. Gold punching Mr. Fagundes repeatedly in the face. Even Mr. Fagundes agreed that he was never punched by Mr. Gold. Each eyewitness, however, witnessed Mr. Gold with one or two hands around Mr. Fagundes’ neck. Mr. Fagundes alleged that he lost consciousness and requested an ambulance take him to the hospital. As a result of Mr. Fagundes’ complaint and the testimony of the eyewitnesses, felony charges were filed against Mr. Gold alleging that he had assaulted Mr. Fagundes with force likely to result in great bodily injury.
At the start of trial, Judge James Wagoner made key evidentiary rulings that shaped the trial. Specifically, Judge Wagoner excluded any and all references to the allegations of misconduct that Mr. Fagundes and Mr. Gold’s ex-wife had been making about him. In addition, Judge Wagoner excluded any reference to the conversation and argument between Mr. Gold and Mr. Fagundes at the start of their altercation as it related to Mr. Gold’s alleged misconduct. One key piece of evidence that was introduced was the testimony of Mr. Gold’s daughter where she overheard Mr. Fagundes say that he was going to fight Mr. Gold prior to their altercation of April 19, 2009.
Three important factors led to the winning of this case. First, Mr. Gold and his mother, Mary, both testified consistently and effectively regarding how they perceived Mr. Fagundes on April 19, 2009. Mary Gold, in particular, noted how angry Mr. Fagundes was on that day and stated that in all of the years she known Mr. Fagundes she had never seen him in such a state. Next, the defense team was able to exploit inconsistencies in the witness observations and maximize the effect of statements made by Mr. Fagundes that were consistent with Mr. Gold’s theory of self-defense. Finally, Mr. Gold’s defense team was able to effectively cultivate a positive relationship with the jury throughout the course of the trial. The jury liked and believed lead defense counsel and, consequently, believed Mr. Gold, persuaded by defense’s theory of self defense.
Jury trials are often won or lost by the type of jurors selected for the panel. Mr. Gold’s team was lucky to have a pool of smart, analytical jurors who were able to break down and understand specific parts of the evidence and apply their common sense to reach a sensible conclusion.