Bay Area news roundup

March 25, 2008 10:30:33 AM PDT
A roundup of Bay Area stories making news today.

Charges were dismissed Monday against a Lafayette voice teacher who had been accused of molesting three teenage boys during private lessons at his home.

Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Satish Jallepalli filed a motion to dismiss the charges against 63-year-old James Toland after a judge Monday morning ruled that a sheriff's investigator had acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" when she made a misstatement and two material omissions in her application for a warrant to search Toland's computer.

The investigator had claimed in her warrant application that one of the alleged victims said that Toland had "grabbed his penis and buttocks and moved it around."

Maitreya Badami, one of Toland's two attorneys, argued that the alleged victim had merely demonstrated in a videotaped statement how Toland had touched his lower back and lower abdomen and adjusted his posture.

Superior Court Judge John Sugiyama made his ruling after watching the investigator's videotaped interview with the boy in his chambers.

Toland had been accused of 10 counts of molesting two 15-year-old boys and one 16-year-old boy, although according to defense counsel, one of the boys had denied that any inappropriate touching had taken place.

Toland, who was accompanied by more than 50 supporters, choked back tears, but declined to comment.

Bruce Haines, a fellow music teacher who has known Toland for 28 years, said that he had known from the beginning that Toland was innocent.

Haines explained outside the courtroom that voice teachers have always corrected their students' posture to enable them to control their breath and sing better. Students have to have their chests elevated and their lower abdomen and groin areas drawn in, a posture known as "the vocal struggle," Haines said.

Certain posture corrections, however, could have been misinterpreted by the alleged victims, Haines said.

Jallepalli said there was still an ongoing investigation into the case and couldn't comment further.

The motion to dismiss the charges Monday does not preclude the district attorney's office from re-filing the charges, but the judge's ruling to suppress evidence obtained from the search of Toland's computer would still apply, Sugiyama said.

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A 21-year-old man wanted for shooting and injuring his co-worker Saturday in Antioch turned himself in to police custody Monday afternoon, Antioch police Sgt. Scott Freier said today.

Demouria Harris reportedly talked on the phone with Antioch police detectives Saturday evening, just hours after Harris allegedly knocked on his co-worker's apartment door at 2201 Sycamore Drive and shot him four times when he answered at about 9 a.m., according to Freier.

Harris "agreed to turn himself in" and was arrested for attempted murder at approximately 4:45 p.m. Monday at the Antioch Police Department, Freier said.

Harris and the 21-year-old victim, who underwent surgery and is expected to survive, worked together at Markstein Beverage Co. in Pittsburg.

Police did not know what led to the shooting, but a fight may have occurred between the men at a Walnut Creek Safeway prior to the shooting, officials said Monday.

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Alleged gang members named in recent civil injunctions by the city of San Francisco may be able to remove themselves from those lists by petitioning the City Attorney's office, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Monday.

According to Herrera, his office has reached an agreement with civil rights groups to establish an administrative "opt-out" procedure for those named in gang injunctions enforced by police in the Western Addition, Mission and Bayview-Hunters Point districts.

The memorandum of understanding -- signed by Herrera and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area -- calls the agreement "fair, transparent, accessible, and recognizes that individuals can and do change for the better."

Herrera said the process "maximizes civil liberties protections for alleged gang members and ensures the effectiveness of civil gang injunctions to protect San Francisco neighborhoods from violence and nuisance conduct."

The process allows both those alleged gang members named in the injunctions, and those the City Attorney's office is seeking to add to injunctions, to voluntarily petition the City Attorney's office for removal and avoid having to go through a superior court process to do so.

In deciding whether to remove an applicant from an injunction, the City Attorney's office said it would consider criteria such as active gang membership, employment, education, and whether an individual is avoiding gang-related activities and known gang members, is removing gang tattoos, and is no longer wearing gang colors.

Gang injunctions have been obtained for the Eddy Rock, Chopper City and Knock Out Posse gangs in the Western Addition District; Nortenos in the Mission District; and the Oakdale Mob in the Bayview-Hunters Point District.

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A 24-year-old Vallejo woman who was found dead in a car Monday off eastbound state Highway 4 in Martinez has been identified by the Contra Costa County coroner's office.

A woman experiencing mechanical problems around noon Monday pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 4 just past Morello Avenue and saw a 2005 Honda Accord with Karmen Knight's body inside, California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Yox said.

The car was about 30 feet off of the roadway.

Yox said Knight must have somehow veered off the road, probably overnight, collided with a tree and died. He said low branches of surrounding trees covered the car, making it hard for passers-by to see.

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The defense attorney for Oakland roofer Earl Stefanson said Monday that three ex-girlfriends who were allegedly attacked by Stefanson consented to be abused.

In his closing argument in Stefanson's trial on charges that he murdered 36-year-old Leslie Lamb, tortured Zeba Wahed and abused Kristen Nielson, defense lawyer Ted Berry said, "Each of the three women who consented to treatment by Mr. Stefanson or somebody else that was harmful to them."

In his rebuttal closing argument, prosecutor Casey Bates said it was "most offensive" to Lamb for Berry to suggest that "somehow she consented to her own death."

Bates said there was no evidence in Stefanson's trial, including Stefanson's full day of testimony, that "she (Lamb) has got to have it, that they were into sadomasochism, that she liked to be wrapped up and kicked -- that's just outrageous."

Bates said he also believes that Berry didn't have any basis to suggest that Lamb may have died from a methamphetamine overdose, noting that a pathologist ruled that she died from blunt force trauma due to being beaten to death.

Stefanson, 43, who has a 1995 conviction for running a methamphetamine laboratory in Butte County, faces life in prison without parole if he's convicted of the most serious of the 18 felony counts he faces, which are murder, false imprisonment and assault.

Jurors will begin deliberating his fate this morning.

Bates said Lamb, Wahed and Nielson were "lost souls" who succumbed to drugs and were taken advantage of by Stefanson, whom he described as "a predator."

Bates said the evidence in Stefanson's trial indicates that "he enjoys the infliction of extreme cruelty on women."

The prosecutor said Stefanson murdered Lamb in a brutal fashion at his house on Coolidge Street in Oakland on Aug. 26, 2006, apparently by striking her repeatedly with an object such as a board or a belt.

Bates said a doctor who has been exposed to numerous brutal cases during 22 years at Highland Hospital in Oakland testified that the injuries suffered by Lamb were the worst he's ever seen because of the nature, extent and distribution of her injuries.

Bates said Stefanson also attacked Wahed and Nielson at least several times each.

He said that on Easter 2006 Stefanson kicked Wahed, bound her in saran wrap and placed her in a dark and wet basement for several days.

Bates said Wahen nearly drowned and suffered extreme pain because Stefanson wouldn't allow her to have any medication or pain-killers even though he knew she was recovering from recent surgery.

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Police are searching today for suspects of three separate shootings in Oakland on Monday that left at least two juveniles injured.

Officers responded to the 8600 block of Hillside Street at about 11:40 p.m. where a male juvenile was found suffering one gunshot wound to his right thigh, according to officials. A suspect reportedly fled the scene in a vehicle.

The victim was transported to an area hospital in stable condition, police said.

At about 8:30 p.m., a male juvenile sustained one gunshot wound to his left foot in the 1500 block of 16th Avenue, near St. Anthony's Church, according to officials.

The three to four suspects of that shooting fled the scene in a vehicle, police said.

That victim was transported to a local hospital and was also listed in stable condition.

Early Monday morning, a person was shot in the chest, according to officials.

Officers responded to the 600 block of East 12th Street at about 1:20 a.m. The suspect had already fled on foot.

That victim was transported to an area hospital and listed in stable condition as well, police said.

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The victim of a Friday night fatal hit-and-run accident in San Jose has been identified as 51-year-old Panfilo Prado, the Santa Clara County medical examiner's office said Monday.

The accident occurred at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Commercial Street just north of Berryessa Road. According to police, Prado was walking across the street but not at a controlled intersection when he was struck by an unknown vehicle traveling southbound on Commercial Street.

The driver fled the scene with the vehicle. Investigators believe the vehicle should have moderate front-end damage. Anyone with information about the case or who may have witnessed the crash is asked to call Investigator Jincy Pace at (408) 277-4654. Those wishing to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at (408) 947-STOP.

Prado was pronounced dead at the scene. He does not have a listed residence, the medical examiner's office reported.

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The state Senate unanimously passed legislation Monday to name the tunnel being constructed on state Highway 1 at Devil's Slide in San Mateo County in honor of the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, state Sen. Leland Yee announced.

"I can't think of a better way to recognize his commitment to our nation and our community," Yee, D-San Mateo/San Francisco, said in a prepared statement. "He was one of our finest champions for working families, human rights, national security and the environment."

The resolution, which was authored by Yee, would change the name of the bypass to Tom Lantos Tunnel at Devil's Slide.

The legislation must pass the state Assembly before becoming law.

Lantos advocated creation of the tunnel and obtained $150 million in federal funds to help build the bypass for the hazardous area of the coastal route, according to Yee's office.

Lantos also helped secure $58 million for emergency repairs and replacement of the highway around Devil's Slide in 1983 and helped expedite federal small business loans to coastal businesses affected by the closure of state Highway 1 at Devil's Slide in 2007, Yee's office reported.

Work on the tunnel began in November and is expected to be complete in 2010.

"For over three decades, many San Mateo County residents and civic leaders have worked tirelessly to see this project become a reality and protect pristine coast land from being paved over," Yee said. "Congressman Lantos fought for us from day one. I'm honored to author the law designating the Tom Lantos Tunnel."

Lantos died in February at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland due to complications from esophageal cancer.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is expected to be partly cloudy today. High temperatures in the 50s to 60s and west winds of 5 mph to 15 mph are anticipated.

Tonight the Bay Area is expected to be mostly cloudy with a slight chance of showers. Low temperatures in the upper 30s to mid 40s and west winds of 10 mph to 15 mph are anticipated.

Wednesday the Bay Area is expected to be mostly cloudy with a chance of showers in the afternoon. High temperatures in the 50s to lower 60s and west winds of 5 mph to 15 mph are expected.