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Zapata Trial, Day 3: A Question of Intent

Some supporters of Carlos Zapata, who’s currently standing trial in Shasta County Superior Court with two other defendants for allegedly committing battery on Nathan Pinkney, have taken to calling the case “Splashgate.”

It’s a play on “Watergate” and refers to one of the pivotal moments that occurred on the night of May 4 at the Market Street Blade and Barrel restaurant where Pinkney worked as a sous chef.

Some facts of the incident are undisputed: Zapata and his wife showed up for dinner and ate at the bar that night. Pinkney came out of the kitchen and made his presence known to Zapata. An argument ensued in which both men became heated. Zapata’s water glass somehow struck Pinkney, soaking him with liquid.

The question before the court on Day 3 of the trial concerned whether Zapata inadvertently knocked his glass into Pinkney, or actually intended to douse the sous chef with water.

Before testimony began, my friend and colleague ANC publisher Doni Chamberlain was once again excluded from the courtroom because Zapata attorney Joseph Tully subpoenaed her to be a witness in the trial.

It turns out a similar subpoena was issued to Record Searchlight reporter David Benda, who was called to the witness stand Tuesday afternoon, and declined to answer any of Tully’s questions about unpublished materials in accordance with California’s Shield Law.

No doubt Chamberlain will cite the same well-established precedents should she be required to take the stand and answer questions about unpublished materials—notes, recordings and similar items used during her coverage of Zapata’s controversial activities during the past year and a half. As for her work product, it’s available online for anyone to freely peruse.

Once these legal maneuvers were completed, Liam Grauel, a Blade and Barrel server who was present the night of May 4, resumed his testimony from Day 2 of the trial. Judge Jody Burgess presided over the proceeding.

During cross-examination by Tully, Grauel noted that both men were angry, and Zapata was gesticulating with his hands. In Grauel’s opinion, Zapata accidentally backhanded the glass into Pinkney, who was standing on the other side of the bar.

The problem with Grauel’s testimony on this issue was it didn’t match the testimony he’d given Shasta County Assistant District Attorney Nolan Weber on Day 2 of the trial, as Weber pointed out to the witness on re-direct.

Grauel originally stated that from his vantage point at the opposite end of the bar, he did not see Zapata’s hands and did not see the glass, only the water flying through the air, because a customer obstructed his view.

“If you didn’t see him touch the glass, then how do you know it was accidental?” Weber said.

Grauel had no ready answer.

Next up was Blade and Barrel bartender Thomas Carroll, also present on the evening of Splashgate.

“Under direct examination by Weber, Carroll testified that Zapata said, “You finally came out to confront me,” as Pinkney approached him at the bar.

The two men have had an ongoing dispute since Pinkney made parody videos of Zapata’s “Red, White and Blueprint” docuseries in April and posted them on Facebook.

(Full disclosure: I have reviewed all five episodes of the RB&W docuseries so far. My reviews have not been kind, but they have been accurate.)

When Carroll opined that Zapata had accidentally hit the glass, prosecutor Weber noted that the day after the incident, Carroll had told a police officer interviewing him the exact opposite; that Zapata had backhanded the glass on purpose. Weber provided text of the interview to refresh Carroll’s memory and played the recording of it for the jury’s benefit.

Tully objected, noting that Carroll had described Zapata’s hand movements as if his arms were “windshield wipers,” implying that Zapata could have easily backhanded the water glass on accident. The objection was sustained, and Weber let it slide without argument.

I’d like to say Weber had a card up his sleeve, but Tully had to know what was coming next, too. As my colleague Doni Chamberlain has written many times, Carlos Zapata is his own worst enemy.

The next witness, Elijah Kay, a videographer for the Red, White and Blueprint podcast, took the stand. At first, it was unclear why. Then Weber opened up a clip on the big screen from RW&B Podcast 4, in which Zapata, in no uncertain terms, says people who say bad things about him on social media deserve to be punished, and he backhanded the glass of water at Pinkney on purpose.

Tully, his co-attorney and the attorneys for Zapata co-defendants Christopher Meagher and Elizabeth Bailey couldn’t make Podcast 4 disappear fast enough.

That’s what I love about trials. Anything can happen.

What happens next? Judge Burgess asked Weber and Tully if they might be able to wrap the case up and send it to the jury by the end of the day Thursday. Both attorneys played possum, but the weight here is on Tully, whose theory of the case appears to depend upon Meagher and Bailey’s participation in the incident.

So far, the foundation laid by Tully for the couple’s involvement has been minimal. No witness has testified that any interaction between Nathan Pinkney and Elizabeth Bailey occurred.

If this trial is going to jury by the end of the day Thursday, Tully has his work cut out for him.

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Editor’s note: The story’s earlier version misidentified the source of this quote: “You finally came out to confront me.” 

The story was revised at 3:40 p.m. on Sept. 15 to accurately attribute Carlos Zapata as the quote source. 

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide has been a northern California journalist for more than 20 years. He appreciates your comments and story ideas. He can be emailed at RVScheide@anewscafe.com.

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