Last Wednesday evening, my good friend and colleague A News Cafe publisher Doni Chamberlain sent me an urgent email.
Chamberlain is covering the triple joined trial of Emiliano Carlos Zapata, Christopher Meagher and Elizabeth Bailey on charges that the trio allegedly assaulted Market Street Blade & Barrel sous chef Nathan Pinkney at his place of work on May 4.
Chamberlain was concerned because she’d caught wind Wednesday that she might be subpoenaed as a witness in the trial. Such a move would exclude her from covering the trial. Could I step in if Tully actually followed through with such a novel and possibly unconstitutional maneuver?
Certainly, I could.
The next morning found me outside of Department 4 at the Shasta County Superior Courthouse looking for Chamberlain. I found her standing in a rather packed anteroom outside the courtroom.
Many of the Red, White & Blueprint crew — including Zapata, Woody Clendenen, Terry and “Rally” Sally Rapoza and Jeremy Edwardson — was on hand, waiting for the proceeding to begin. Shasta County’s leading anti-maskers were for once all masked up, as mandated by the courthouse.
Several minutes later, the always-dapper Joseph Tully walked out of the courtroom, and I buttonholed him. I’d first met Tully while covering the long-running James Benno & Sons medical marijuana trial. He’s a formidable attorney who managed to exonerate the Bennos and other high-profile marijuana defendants in Shasta County. I said hello again and told him I’d bought his second book, “State of Coercion.”
He said hello back and thanked me for buying the book. He was wearing a cloth gaiter mask, but smiled back with his eyes. He disappeared through a door.
It was stuffy in the anteroom, especially since it was jam-packed with anti-maskers and anti-vaxers, so Chamberlain and I stepped out in the hall.
Five minutes later, Tully walked up. Saying he was sorry to do it, Tully handed Chamberlain a subpoena calling for her to appear as a witness in the trial.
The subpoena called for Chamberlain to testify on Sept. 14. It also called for “all published material regarding statements made by Nathan Pinkney to A News Café, and all its agents, made between January 2021 and present.”
Tully implied that Chamberlain couldn’t attend that day’s hearing, which may turn out to be incorrect. Stay tuned to ANC on that matter. In any case, it was a moot point since I was there to fill in for Chamberlain if Tully actually followed through.
Score 1 for Chamberlain and Scheide.
The thing about trials is that anything can happen, especially when the stakes are high.
The charges alleged against Zapata, Meagher and Bailey — battery and disturbing the peace by fighting — aren’t especially legally egregious. In general, a first offender who pleads guilty to such charges could serve, say, 200 hours of community service and have the charges expunged. The stakes are high with this trial because of its cultural implications.
If someone says something funny or nasty about a public figure on social media, should the public figure have the right to beat that person up?
We were ushered in the courtroom before the jury was seated. Zapata, Meagher and Bailey sat next to each other behind Tully and three other attorneys on the right side of the courtroom. Zapata wore a plaid shirt, gray slacks and dress shoes. He remained mostly stoic during the day’s proceeding.
The RW&B gang sat directly behind them. Jeremy Edwardson and a member of the production crew took turns filming the day’s events.
After the 12 jurors and two alternates were seated, Judge Jody Burgess asked if any of them knew Doni Chamberlain. No one did, and the trial, on its second day of proceedings following jury selection, resumed.
Nathan Pinkney, also known as Nathan Blaze for the sometimes funny and sometimes emotional rants he posts on local social media, returned to finish his testimony from the first day. He wore a charcoal suit jacket, blue business shirt, diagonally striped tie, skinny jeans and brown dress shoes.
The witness stand featured a plexiglass box that permitted Pinkney to testify without a mask. It was 9:45 a.m. Except for a short intermission and a lunch break, he’d remain on the stand until 4 p.m.
Shasta County assistant district attorney Nolan Weber began his direct examination of Pinkney with the now familiar (at least to ANC readers) security video featuring Zapata, Meagher and Bailey converging on Pinkney and a co-worker near the backdoor of the Blade and Barrel.
The video begins with Pinkney standing outside the back of the restaurant minutes after Zapata, according to Pinkney, threw a glass of water at him, dousing his upper body with water. Pinkney appears to be texting on his cell phone. He testified that he called Zapata twice and texted him numerous times with no response.
The text messages were insulting and threatening. Pinkney testified that he was very upset from the water-dousing incident and described his texts as “the yapping of a small dog.”
In the video Pinkney and a coworker walk south down the alley, disappearing behind a building. Later video revealed they walked down to the back of Cascade Theatre and then out to Market Street without incident. They then walked back again and stood in the parking lot behind the restaurant.
After a couple of minutes, Zapata, Meagher and Bailey appear in the upper left corner of the frame. Pinkney testified that, “I noticed they were walking up behind me.” Pinkney testified that he thought, “I don’t want to get beat up … I recognized Zapata with two friends and thought that it was a good idea not to be in the parking lot.”
As Pinkney and his coworker enter the backdoor, Bailey grabs Pinkney by his T-shirt, halting his retreat. The scene, projected on a large screen on the left side of the room, shifted to a security camera focused on the hallway and the backdoor. Meagher can be clearly seen punching Pinkney in the head hard enough to make the cook’s ballcap fly off.
As Pinkney and his coworker continue to retreat, Meagher picks up a CO2 canister, hoists it over his head and appears to threaten the two restaurant employees with it.
And that is when Pinkney ran to get his handgun.
Seeking to get the jump on the Tully, assistant district attorney Weber brought up Pinkney’s handgun first. Pinkney testified that his licensed handgun was “safely secured” in a side room in a locked backpack. He said it took him 35 to 40 seconds to unlock the backpack, insert the magazine into the gun and put a bullet in the chamber.
By that time, Zapata, Meagher and Bailey had left the scene. A coworker, Ken Sciallo-Becker, asked Pinkney to hand him the weapon; Pinkney testified that he willingly complied. In Episode 5 of the RB&W docuseries, Sciallo-Becker claimed Pinkney said, “I’m going to shoot this mother fucker!” immediately after Zapata threw the glass at him.
Pinkney repeatedly denied making the statement throughout the day.
Pinkney’s handgun may have been safely secured, but there could be some question as to whether it was legally secured. In California, it’s legal to carry an unloaded handgun in a backpack in the trunk of a car or in plain sight in the vehicle.
In fact, Pinkney admitted he’d been pulled over before and cited for the unloaded gun in the locked backpack, which at the time was stowed in the trunk of a friend’s unregistered automobile. Pinkney was cleared of any wrongdoing, and he testified that he believed he wasn’t breaking the law.
But does the law apply to Pinkney when he is on foot? What if the locked backpack with the unloaded gun is stowed away in a room at work? Pinkney testified that two other coworkers carried guns to work, but that doesn’t necessarily make it legal.
It’s a gray area in the law, and a worried Pinkney recently emailed assistant district attorney Weber; worried that he might self-incriminate himself with testimony about his weapon, or be smeared by the RB&W documentary producers filming the trial, who he predicted would take his testimony out of context.
The email was entered into the trial record, which is why Weber brought it up. Tully would later use it to grill Pinkney on the stand.
After he gave his gun to Sciallo-Becker, Pinkney once again fired off a salvo of rude, threatening emails to Zapata.
“I was upset, emotional, my head was injured, I was angry,” Pinkney testified.
Weber then projected a text message exchange between Zapata and Pinkney on May 29 on the screen. Responding to Pinkney’s false bravado, Zapata states, “You had your chance to be a man. Too late.”
He projected Zapata’s “Let’s make a deal” meme on the screen, in which Zapata warns if you can’t say it to his face, standby by to get your ass kicked when he sees you.
It’s well known locally that Zapata is a Jiu jujitsu master of some renown, and Weber attempted to ask Pinkney if that scared him. Tully, who won many of his objections to Weber’s direct examination, won again. The fact that Zapata has the skills to kill someone with his bare hands was withheld from the jury.
Tully’s performance on cross-examination was effective at times and befuddling at others. He front-loaded his attack on Pinkney’s character and credibility with transcriptions of texts Pinkney sent on the night of the alleged assault, bludgeoning the jury, comprised of six middle-aged men and six middle-aged women, with a barrage of foul, provocative language.
“You come in again and you’re going to get fucked up.”
“What a pussy little bitch!”
Tully played a video Pinkney posted on Facebook on July 28, almost three months after the alleged assault, in which Pinkney proclaimed to Zapata “I’m the fucking victim you dumb ass!” It seems like he used the f-word at least a dozen times in the angry rant.
In one text, Pinkney called Zapata a “tiny little man.”
Later during the cross-examination, Bailey’s attorney asked Pinkney if he said anything to his client when she grabbed his shirt. Pinkney said he may have used the b-word or the c-word. The attorney managed to get Pinkney to say “cunt” out loud in front of the jury.
It was a tidal wave of profanity and it’s hard not think some members of the jury were offended by the depths to which social media has taken our society.
But then Tully went off course. Where the assistant district attorney presented the various videos taken on the night of the incident singularly on the big screen, Tully went avant-garde with nine videos divided into three columns and three rows projected as a large rectangle on the screen.
The result was that it was very hard to discern what Tully was trying to illustrate, because each screen was too small to really see from across the room where the jury was sitting. For some reason Tully asked Pinkney to time him with the stopwatch on his cell phone as he switched back and forth between the nine screens with a laser pointer.
At the end this dog-and-pony show, Pinkney’s stopwatch said approximately 5 minutes, 31 seconds. That’s the amount of time Pinkney spent outside, from when he was doused by Zapata at the bar to when he was allegedly assaulted by Zapata, Meagher and Bailey at the backdoor of Blade and Barrel.
Why the time was significant was not explained by Tully. Perhaps he’s trying to make space for Bailey’s apparent claim that Pinkney yelled at her and got in a scuffle with her near 1724 Bar and Grille, across the street from Blade and Barrel restaurant, right after he was doused. This allegedly caused Meagher and Zapata to come to her defense.
The problem with this theory of the case is there’s so far scant evidence for it. There’s no video of Bailey and Pinkney getting in a scrap before she, her boyfriend and Zapata allegedly assaulted Pinkney, live on camera.
Tully successfully prevented the jury from hearing the fact that no member of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office was willing to serve Zapata the temporary restraining order Pinkney filed against him after the incident.
But when Tully accused Pinkney of seeking to punish Zapata with the restraining order, Weber objected. For once Judge Burgess sustained him.
Tully then brought up Pinkney’s parody videos featuring “Buford White,” a satirical character based on Zapata’s worldview, which is pretty much straight-up cowboy death cult fascism. The Buford White videos are fairly funny and sparked the original beef between Pinkney and Zapata in April.
This part of the story is more favorable to Pinkney, so it’s not clear why Tully is telling it. He posts a reply Pinkney made after Zapata complained about the Buford White videos.
“You’re making big moves on the internet so I’m countering it,” Pinkney said.
Next Tully brings up Zapata’s veiled threat to Pinkney:
“I will let you know how funny it is next time I see you.”
The next time Zapata saw Pinkney was on the night of May 4 at the Blade and Barrel restaurant where Pinkney worked.
Tully and the attorney for Meagher and Bailey made some headway questioning Pinkney’s credibility. When Pinkney was interviewed by police the day after the alleged assault, he told the officer interviewing him that he had a concealed carry permit. Pinkney does not, but insisted it was a misunderstanding because he’d been previously cleared by the police for carrying the backpack in an automobile.
Pinkney at first said he hadn’t had any drinks on his shift that night but was forced to concede to Tully that he’d had two drinks on his shift, as he had told the physician who examined him after the alleged assault. Pinkney testified that he wasn’t drunk.
When Pinkney’s testimony was over at 4 p.m., assistant district attorney Weber noted that Pinkney had answered 111 questions, 60 of them unrelated to the alleged assault. Tully’s cross-examination did damage, but it did not change the prosecution’s fundamental theory of the case: As seen on video, Zapata, Meagher and Bailey assaulted Pinkney, apparently because Pinkney made fun of Zapata on the internet.
One of Pinkney’s coworkers, a server whose name I couldn’t catch (the construction of the new courthouse and trains passing by create a lot noise) took the stand for the last 20 minutes of the day.
The server testified he heard the argument between Pinkney and Zapata from the opposite end of the bar. He saw water flying through air. He heard Zapata invite Pinkney to “settle this outside.” He heard Zapata call Pinkney a “faggot.”
He described Pinkney as a “deer in the headlights” after his confrontation with Zapata. As Pinkney passed him on his way to wipe the water off his face, he heard him say, “I’m going to shoot that mother fucker!”
Thus, last Thursday’s testimony ended. The trial convenes again Tuesday morning, and you can count on A News Café to cover it.