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Triple Joinder Trial Begins for Newly Masked Carlos Zapata and Friends

A masked Carlos Zapata, left, sits beside co-defendant Christopher Meagher Thursday inside a Shasta County Superior courtroom. Photo by Doni Chamberlain

For more than a year Carlos Zapata has mocked those who’ve worn face masks as an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Meme source: Facebook

He called the mask-wearers weak and compliant. He called them sheep, pussies, pieces of shit and unworthy of Zapata’s respect. He said the solution to “tyrannical” face-mask requests was found in one word: No.

Zapata boasted during one of his frequent selfie-while-driving videos that he got around wearing a face mask on a flight to Florida.

“I landed in Tampa, Florida, today. I did not wear a mask one time, the whole way across the country. PM me. I’ll tell you how I did it. It has something to do with the word no. If you want to get out of this mess we’re in, if you want your kids to grow up in a better world, teach them how to say no. Teach them the power of the word no, and teach them that it’s okay to punch a bully in the mouth sometimes and not do what they tell us to do. That’s how you get somewhere. Have a good day, guys. I’m going to get some work done out here. Enjoying my time. I’ll see you guys here real soon.”

Just say, ‘Well, sure!

Thursday morning, inside the Shasta County Superior Courthouse, Zapata wore a mandatory face mask, as did his wife and extended family.

Even so, Zapata first made a fuss about the mask requirement inside the courthouse entrance where a diminutive courthouse employee held a small cardboard box of blue paper facemasks that she offered to everyone who entered the building. She told Zapata that he was required to wear a face mask.

“And you must wear it everywhere inside the courthouse,” she added with a smile.

Zapata scowled and frowned.

“You don’t have to be so rude about it!” he said, well, rudely, in a loud outburst that left confused expressions upon onlookers’ faces.

Who’s the rude one?

Nevertheless, upstairs on the third floor, Zapata mostly wore the mask as directed, although he sometimes pulled the mask down below his nose, perhaps when the judge wasn’t looking.

The trial backstory

It’s been nearly three months since the assault upon Nathanial Pinkney (aka Nathan Blayz), a Redding cook and online comic at his former restaurant workplace that left him injured, unemployed, homeless and seeking a temporary restraining order against Zapata.

And it’s been more than two months since Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie A. Bridgett filed criminal charges against a trio of Shasta County citizens for their part in the Pinkney assault: outspoken alt-right veteran and Shasta County recall-proponent Zapata, his former Palomino Room Bar and Restaurant employee Elizabeth Bailey, and her boyfriend Christopher Meagher.

The same day as the DA’s announcement about the May 4 charges filed against Zapata, Bailey and Meagher, Bridgett also filed charges against Bailey and Meagher for an assault unrelated to Pinkney’s upon an elderly Redding man at the Tropics Bar. The attack left the man unconscious and requiring CPR and hospitalization.

Regarding the Pinkney assault, Bridgett filed misdemeanor charges against Meagher and Bailey with battery and disturbing the peace by fighting in connection with the May 4 assault upon Pinkney at the Market Street Blade and Barrel Restaurant in downtown Redding. Bridgett charged Zapata with battery and disturbing the peace by fighting in the same May 4 incident.

Triple Joinder

Here in Shasta County, where one degree of separation is common among well-connected North Staters, it’s challenging enough to select a jury for one defendant. But in the trial known as The People v. Carlos Zapata and Elizabeth Bailey and Christopher Meagher, Shasta County Superior Court faced a triple challenge: one jury, one trial and three defendants with a host of potential individual outcomes and rulings. What I wouldn’t have given to have watched the jury-selection proceedings.

The long table reserved for lawyers was jam packed with men in suits, including two attorneys for Zapata, one attorney for Bailey, one attorney for Meagher, and two representatives from the Shasta County District Attorney’s office representing the people. It looked like a miniature version of a Men’s Warehouse Last Supper.

Originally, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Daniel Flynn was slated to oversee the proceedings. Flynn was who suggested at a hearing last month that if all parties agreed, that a joinder trial would be practical, since Zapata, Bailey and Meagher were all present at the same Blade and Barrell Restaurant in which two separate alleged incidents occurred the same evening: Zapata’s thrown/spilled/splashed pint glass event, and Zapata, Bailey and Meagher’s back-door ambush and assault of Pinkney.

Typically, a “joinder” is implemented when two or more defendants’ cases overlap and are merged for the sake of efficiency.

However, Flynn’s involvement was short-lived, as he was removed as the trial judge after Bailey’s attorney, Ryan H. Birss, requested that Flynn not be the trial judge, as Birss believed that Flynn would be prejudiced against Bailey. Within seconds Flynn was replaced by Shasta County Superior Court Judge Jody Burgess, who happens to have been the judge in the Pinkney/Zapata temporary restraining order case, too.

Thursday, Burgess made it clear he’s a no-nonsense judge who runs an extremely tight ship and that he will not tolerate any malarkey, disobedience or shenanigans, especially any attempts to influence the jury. Likewise, Burgess imposed a gag order that extended to everyone from attorneys and witnesses to defendants. That means there will be no social media posts related to the case from Pinkney or Zapata until it’s all over but the shoutin’, and they get the green light to post at will again.

“Everyone in this courthouse wants a fair trial,” Burgess said. No signs, not even T-shirts with messages that could possibly taint a jury would be allowed in Burgess’s courtroom. When a woman ambled into the courtroom with a large colorful poster board with writing on it, Burgess ordered her out of the room and asked a bailiff to escort her out of the courthouse so fast that most people never saw the sign’s words. (I didn’t.) When a Zapata attorney mentioned seeing someone outside the courthouse with a No Recall sign, Burgess asked the bailiff to follow up and ask the anti-recaller to leave the courthouse property immediately. Burgess insisted everyone in his courtroom wear masks, and said that those who didn’t comply would be asked to leave. Men were required to remove hats. And during testimony by one witness, Brenon Odell, co-owner of Blade and Barrell, who acted irritated to be called as a witness, Burgess harshly rebuked Odell for using profanity during an answer, and ordered Odell to not use that kind of language in the courtroom again.

Burgess told the jury that they were banned from not just discussing the trial with anyone, but they were forbidden access to all kinds of information sources, from the internet to even a dictionary.

He pointed out that jury tampering is a crime, something that Zapata’s militia buddy Woody Clenenden and his associates might keep in mind since they engaged in social media discussions about “jury nullification” and the disbursement of specialty “pamplets (sic)”.

It’s hard not to wonder how much better Shasta County could have weathered the pandemic storm if its Shasta County Board of Supervisors chair was more like Burgess and less like Supervisor Joe Chimenti. Another topic, another day.

People first

Once Judge Burgess laid out the ground rules, Deputy District Attorney Nolan Weber, who joined the Shasta County District Attorney’s office in February of 2020, presented his opening statement first. He told Pinkney’s version of what happened on May 4, starting with when Rebecca and Carlos Zapata arrived for dinner, to the parking-lot assault; versions that were consistent with what Pinkney has asserted here on ANC.

Weber often made visual reference to a large foam-core city map of the area in which Market Street Blade and Barrel is located. Weber used a red laser to point out miniature front doors and back doors and alleys and sidewalks, all of which could not have been that easy for jurors, attorneys and defendants alike to see. Weber slogged through painstaking details in the surveillance videos, and made certain that nobody doubted the fact that the restaurant’s time stamp was three minutes off.

The visual learner in me wished that Weber had a power point text on the big screen to coincide with his spoken words. Weber’s voice is soft and low, and he sometimes spoke rapidly. For example, his opening statement included a no-doubt riveting Zapata quote that, in part, contained the words –“don’t let your Facebook self … ” — which Weber repeated a second time, but I still missed the entire quote.

A number of times Weber placed on the overhead screen images of cell phone text messages, but they were blurry, and he didn’t always read aloud for jurors the contents of the texts, many of which did not paint Zapata in the best light, and might have provided jurors with valuable insight about Zapata’s professed love of violence and history of threats and intimidation.

 

Tully’s turn

Zapata’s lead attorney, Joseph Tully, is an obvious fan of power point presentations, which he clicked through rapidly to illustrate Zapata’s version of what happened on May 4. Tully quickly characterized Pinkney as someone with a “consummate victim mentality” who lied in the course of getting a temporary restraining order and lied to press criminal charges against Zapata. One of the most preposterous – but clever – claims was that Pinkney wanted to “punish Zapata for being conservative.”

Now, let’s just pause for a moment and consider that here in Shasta County, 65.41 percent of the registered voters chose Donald Trump in the 2020 election, versus 32.28 registered voters who selected Joe Biden. If we look at the 12 jurors, and four alternates, it’s likely that well more than half — maybe more — of those jurors are conservatives, too, which could plant that tiny seed of a thought in the majority of those jurors’ brains: Well, I’m conservative, too … ”

Tully mentioned Zapata’s military experience, carefully walking that mine field that contained accurate descriptions as Zapata as a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War, without activating the trip wire upon which Zapata claimed to be a combat veteran, which was telling, since that false claim was foundational to Zapata’s earliest viral videos.

Tully painted the picture of Zapata as just a regular guy, married with four children, a modest business owner. No mention of strip clubs or blood in the streets or anger issues. No mention of his propensity for unloading upon women, whether it’s slamming his hand upon a Palo Cedro restaurant table to verbally assault a woman whose social media posts he disliked, to publicly berating a journalist and even tossing in personal details about her ex-husband’s infidelity, to mocking a well-respected Redding woman on his Red White and Blueprint podcast in which he called her an unattractive cow.

Some of Tully’s most creative storytelling surrounded his characterization of Bailey’s part in the assault. She’s the meek, mild victim, someone scared and upset because she claimed Pinkney called her a bitch. What’s more, in Bailey’s version, Pinkney challenges her to a fight, something so upsetting that of course, she contacts her boyfriend, Meagher, for help. All that Meagher violence that we know about; the punch to Pinkney’s face so hard that Pinkney’s hat flies off, the lifting of the CO-2 canister over his head, all that was just Meagher being a good boyfriend, rushing to defend Bailey’s honor. And that’s when Bailey, so upset about how Nathan allegedly yelled at her, contacts Zapata, her former employer, and asks him to “come fix this”. At that, according to Tully, Zapata returns to the restaurant to “de-escalate” the situation with Pinkney.

In Tully’s tale, that part of the video in which Zapata, Bailey and Meagher converge upon Pinkney is just Zapata leading the way to speak to Pinkney. There was no intent for any physical confrontation. Come on, see for yourself!

In fact, Tully’s spin had Zapata, Bailey and Meagher the ones who were afraid, because it was really Pinkney and his colleague who were trying to challenge Zapata, Bailey and Meagher to a fight. Furthermore, that part of the video in which Bailey reaches out and grabs and rips Pinkney’s shirt, that was just Bailey’s “spidey” sense telling her to NOT allow Pinkney inside because, as she now knows, Pinkney had a gun inside and wanted to SHOOT them!

“Lured – to be shot!” proclaimed the text on Tully’s overhead image.

Tully pointed out that Pinkney “roughly pulled away” from Bailey, which seems a bizarre accusation, because who wouldn’t roughly pull away from a solid young woman a head taller than you who’s grabbed you by your shirt, which rips, in an attempt to drag you back into the parking lot where her boyfriend and Zapata, the jujitsu instructor, await.

“At doorway, Bailey senses something not right about Pinkney,” proclaimed Tully’s power point image.

As Tully described his version of what was happening in the silent surveillance video, it was like watching The Beach Boys “Get Around” Shred, in which the movements don’t remotely match the words, and the result is a lot of loose-stringed tinny sounds and fleshy flapping hand claps.

According to Tully, the reason Bailey grabbed Pinkney was simply because she sensed harm to herself and others if she allowed Pinkney to return to the restaurant. Almost as if she were a hero, not someone who initiated the assault, much as she did a few weeks later upon a veteran bar patron with his dog on a leash. And that night, once again, just like the May 4 assault upon Pinkney, Bailey was the instigator, and her boyfriend Meagher followed through with a violent, physical assault.

Zapata’s the party planner. Bailey’s the party starter. Meagher’s the clean-up crew.

When Weber asked whether Pinkney was angry that night, Pinkney replied that he was mostly scared.

“I thought he was coming to harm me with his friends,” Pinkney told Weber while on the witness stand where he answered questions behind reflective Plexiglass.

Victories

Weber unearthed a few gems as he interviewed witnesses. One piece of novel information surfaced when Weber asked Pinkney to walk him through the surveillance videos (over and over and over again). There’s one interior view of the restaurant’s darkened back-door area, in which Pinkney can be seen holding his cell phone and scrolling through it. This was after Zapata’s accidentally/maybe intentionally spilled/splashed/thrown drink incident, and when the restaurant’s chef, Wes Matthews, told Pinkney to clock out early and cool off.

Weber directed Pinkney’s attention to a stopped portion of the video in which Pinkney can be seen preoccupied with his phone. Weber asked Pinkney if he noticed a faint image through the glass on the right side of the frame. At first Pinkney isn’t sure, but When Weber asked Pinkney to look closely, and then asked what the image resembled, Pinkney replied that it looked like Meagher standing on the other side of the glass. How this discovery is significant remains to be seen, but no doubt Weber has something in mind.

Objections galore

If there’d been a drinking game where everyone took a shot whenever Zapata’s lawyers claimed an objection, or whenever the clot of lawyers had to rise from their seats and approach the bench to confer – again and again and again – the courtroom would have been filled with seriously drunk people.

One especially vociferous, simultaneous objection by both of Zapata’s attorneys happened after Weber had talked Pinkney through a series of questions about Zapata’s, Meagher’s and Bailey’s sizes and weights. First, Weber asked for Pinkney’s height and weight, to which Pinkney responded, 5’8″, 160 pounds. When Weber asked Pinkney to guess Meagher’s height and weight, Pinkney replied 6′ or 6’1″, and about 200 pounds. And Bailey’s height, asked Weber, to which Pinkney guessed Bailey might be nearly as tall as Meagher. And Zapata, asked Weber?

Pinkney guessed Zapata was maybe 5’11” and weighed around 230 pounds.

Finally came Weber’s question that resulted in a cacophony of objections: “If you had to fight them, do you think you’d win?”

Pinkney replied before Judge Burgess sustained the objections.

“No,” Pinkney said.

Of course, the jury must disregard that answer.

Three restaurant witnesses: Pinkney, Brenon Odell, Wes Matthews

Another Weber victory arose regarding the topic of the gun that Pinkney retrieved from inside a heavy black bag secured with a padlock.

Pinkney said the weapon was legally registered, and he’d sought his gun after the back-door assault upon him by Zapata, Bailey and Meagher. He said first he unlocked the satchel that had a combination lock, then he inserted a magazine into the weapon. Pinkney said at that point, one of his colleagues extended his palm, as if to accept the gun, which Pinkney handed over to the co-worker. Pinkney said his colleagues told him there was no need for a gun any longer, since Zapata, Bailey and Meagher had left. Because Pinkney’s firearm was in a bag in a room divided by a wall, Pinkney said there was no way for Zapata, Bailey and Meagher to have known he’d extracted the gun from its hiding place in another room.

Weber asked a follow-up question: Was Pinkney the only employee with a firearm at work? Pinkney said no, he was not the only one to have a weapon at work. When Weber asked for names, Pinkney replied that he knew of at least two others who had weapons at work: Wes Matthews and Thomas “Tommy” Carroll.

Brenon Odell didn’t disguise his displeasure at being on a witness stand and having to answer Weber’s questions, which initially concerned irregularities in the surveillance videos’ time stamps. Odell, who said he’s a manager and owner of the Market Street Blade and Barrell Restaurant, sometimes offered smart-aleck replies, such as when Weber asked how long it would take to go from his restaurant to the neighboring 1724 Market Street restaurant, Odell said he could leave, go to his restaurant, count the steps and return. Asked for a guess, Odell said maybe 10 seconds, and if you crawled, then 2 minutes.

Former Blade and Barrell owner Wes Matthews said he’s now a regular employee who’s responsible for the kitchen, line cooks and other employees. Weber asked if Pinkney appeared under the influence on May 4, to which Matthews said no, he didn’t believe so.

Matthews said he’s remained social media friends with Bailey, and on the night of the assault, she apologized to Matthew for what happened at the restaurant.

“She was sorry,” Matthews said. “It was a mistake.”

Matthews said he told Pinkney to clock off early and cool off.

“Nathan was scared,” Matthews said. “He was bleeding out of his head. He’s a little guy.”

Weber guided Pinkney in the story of his and Zapata’s acquaintance, and how in the beginning things were rough online because of their pollical differences, but how eventually, they had a meeting of the minds of sorts during which they found common ground. ‘

A December 2020 photo illustrated the former adversaries’ newfound relationship based upon mutual respect. Note the Bailey photobomb image behind Zapata and Pinkney.

Weber asked what caused things to sour between the men. Pinkney described the parody video he created to satirize Zapata’s Red, White and Blueprint docuseries.

Then came the series of text messages in which Zapata threatened to come by Pinkney’s workplace to tell Pinkney how much Zapata “liked” the parodies.

He contradicted Tully’s statements that claimed Pinkney goaded Zapata, Bailey and Meagher into a fight.

Pinkney was the day’s final witness, and he’ll continue his testimony when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

More and more, Zapata stands alone

Prior to a number of Zapata’s various court hearings, he’s taken to social media to boast that he’ll win, and to invite his followers to show up en masse as a demonstration of support for Zapata and to celebrate his legal triumphs.

Wednesday evening he once again urged people to attend the next day’s opening statements at the Shasta County Courthouse.

“Come watch us win!,” he wrote.

But there were no crowds in support of Zapata outside the courthouse Thursday before or after the day’s trial proceedings. Inside the courtroom there were many empty chairs, although there were a few regulars who appear at many alt-right events, such as a character I’ve dubbed as Captain America. And I recognized from Board of Supervisors meetings the man who presented supervisors Joe Chimenti, Leonard Moty and Mary Rickert with intent-to-recall papers. And behind me sat a small woman who brought a tiny dog on a leash that sat quietly through the day’s proceedings.

After the lunch break, the courtroom was down to a few media people, some legal folks, and a couple of Zapata family members.

When the jury was dismissed Thursday for the holiday weekend, unlike the large gathering that collected after Zapata’s arraignment last month — at which he predicted he’d be fully exonerated — there were no cheering fans and Proud Boys to greet Zapata.

Likewise, there was barely a baker’s dozen of Red White and Blueprint regulars who made a paltry appearance on Aug. 20 at Zapata’s request outside the courthouse.

Who can say why the number of Zapata zealots is dwindling. Perhaps it’s because people aren’t as gullible as he once assumed, and they’re weary of paying money for RW&B merchandise and $100-a-plate fundraisers that were supposed to share a blueprint for true freedom and a better way of life.

Maybe even some of his most loyal former fans are beginning to question whether Zapata, the former strip club owner, and Zapata, the man who calls for violence, is truly the person they wish to follow. Maybe it’s dawned upon them that Zapata is asking things of them, such as quitting their jobs in a show of protest against COVID-19 mandates, that he’s not doing himself.

Easy for him to say: He owns multiple businesses. If anything, he’s brought in more money since the pandemic.

Maybe the disillusioned former Zapata followers have seen too many videos like this one that suggest a major disconnect between the hero Zapata they thought they knew, and true Zapata who’s emerging before their very eyes.

Either way, come Wednesday the people v. Zapata and Bailey and Meagher trial will continue. Presumably, this trial will be these jurors’ first full exposure to Emiliano Zapata. The trial’s outcome depends upon how successfully the District Attorney’s office can pull back the curtain on Zapata, and expose his lies.

We can just hope the enlightenment arrives before jury deliberations.

 

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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