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Zapata & Friends Trial, Day 4: Distracting Shiny Objects

Day Four of the trial known as The People v. Carlos Zapata, Christopher Meagher and Elizabeth Bailey resumed Wednesday in Dept. 4 of the Shasta County Courthouse.

Judge Jody Burgess presided over the Sept. 15 proceeding that seemed to lurch in fits and starts at times, with a delayed beginning, at least a half dozen bench conferences and an afternoon request by Burgess that everyone except the judge, bailiff and attorneys exit the courtroom for what was predicted to last just a few minutes. That break dragged on for more than a hour as some legal matters were addressed by the judge and no less than six attorneys.

This triple-joinder jury trial features defendants Zapata, Meagher and Bailey, each connected to May 4 alleged assaults upon comedian Nathan Pinkney at his place of work, Market St. Blade & Barrel restaurant in downtown Redding.

Zapata and Pinkney have been publicly at odds with each other on social media since spring when Pinkney created and posted parody videos that mocked Zapata’s “Red, White and Blueprint” docuseries.

As R.V. Scheide reported in his Sept. 14 article, Tuesday’s last witness of the day was Elijah Kay, a Red, White and Blueprint videographer. Featured during Kay’s testimony was RW&B’s Podcast Episode 4 of A Patriot State of Mind, during which Zapata demonstrated exactly how deliberately he swiped the glass in Nathan Pinkney’s direction during his “confrontation with another grown man.”

This video podcast, in which Zapata said the backhanded move and Pinkney as the target was intentional, seemed to undermine Tully’s repeated insistence that Zapata’s splashed-drink incident was totally accidental.

How confusing for jurors when a lawyer and his client appear to have two different stories about the same incident.

Was the spilled drink accidental or intentional?

In the RW&B Podcast Episode 4, Zapata said he wanted to set something straight, for entertainment. As he told his story, he re-enacted his version of the event with his right arm, starting close to his midsection above the bar.

On the RW&B podcast, Zapata then followed through with a straight-armed sweep that concluded with Zapata’s right arm high in the air, as if following through with a tennis backhand. His words accompanied his physical movements in the podcast:

“I mean, this is kind of entertainment, I guess, for those watching who haven’t heard the story. There’s a glass of water in front of me. I did this with a glass, I knew where that glass was going, right? I mean, shoo, get away from me. Right? Hey, get the hell away from me. You stand in front of me, things that you’ve said on social media, or whatnot. You know how I feel about that. You know I don’t like it. Shoo, get out of here.”

However, Zapata’s dramatic podcast demonstration of “splashgate” starkly contradicted Wednesday’s first witness, Ken Sciallo, Pinkney’s former line-cook colleague who was also featured in a Red White and Blueprint docuseries episode in which he told his story of what he claims he saw happen between Pinkney and Zapata on May 4.

Spoiler alert: Sciallo does not paint his former colleague Pinkney in a favorable light.

For clarification purposes, note that the Red White and Blueprint podcasts are different from the Red White and Blueprint documentary episodes. Even so, the incident with the glass and splashed liquid is highlighted once in both places, in two different episodes and two different mediums; once by Zapata who talks during his all-male roundtable discussion about it, and once in the RW&B film in which Sciallo answers an off-camera prompt about May 4. Granted, it’s confusing.

On the witness stand Wednesday, Sciallo claimed Zapata’s splashed water was accidental, despite the fact that Sciallo admitted that no, he didn’t actually see the drink incident, but rather, he did see the “aftermath”.

Sciallo said he assumed Zapata’s arms were above the bar, which seemed to mean Sciallo believed that was true, without actually seeing Zapata’s hands and arms.

Ken Sciallo, one of Nathan Pinkney’s former fellow line cooks, answers questions behind an acrylic glass screen.

That didn’t stop Sciallo from expounding upon what happened with Zapata, Pinkney and the drink. He said that Zapata had his arms in front of him, and he opened his arms, and when he did, the water glass in front of him went flying. Sciallo said he didn’t know where the glass landed. As Sciallo spoke, he illustrated, with his elbows to his ribs, then opened his forearms like a gate, not like Zapata’s back-hand tennis swing, as Zapata illustrated in the podcast.

What did Sciallo actually see? Flying water.

Initially, Sciallo described a heated verbal exchange between Pinkney and Zapata, during which he said Zapata’s arms were up, bent at the elbow, palms up, as if to say, “Like hey, what do you want?”

Red, White and Blueprint docuseries featured Sciallo

Sciallo said that on May 4, all he knew of Zapata was that he was a restaurant patron, but someone he’d never met.

Later, he was featured in a RW&B docuseries episode segment called, “Ken’s Testimony” in which, to somber background music and muted lighting, he talked about what happened on May 4 at the Blade & Barrell restaurant. Mostly, he paints Pinkney as the guy who won’t shut up and isn’t where he’s supposed to be.

When asked by one of the deputy DAs how Sciallo went from not knowing Zapata at all to referring to him as “Carlos” in the docuseries, Sciallo said he must have heard the name from the RPD officer. When the deputy DA pointed out that nowhere in the RPD transcript did the officer mention Zapata’s name, Sciallo said he must have heard it on the news, or from RPD’s report that was reported by media.

Asked to describe how Sciallo would characterize Red, White and Blueprint, Sciallo said they’re a small group of patriots and American citizens who are for truth and justice. When asked whether Sciallo shares some of the RW&B beliefs, Sciallo replied, “I share some of them, yes.”

Sciallo didn’t mention water glass to RPD

As much attention as Sciallo gave to the water incident during the RW&B docuseries, under questioning by the district attorney’s lawyers it was pointed out that when Sciallo was interviewed by a Redding Police Department officer a day or so following the May 4 incidents at the restaurant, Sciallo never mentioned anything about the glass.

Asked by an RPD investigator about the May 4 chaos at the Market St. Blade and Barrel restaurant, Sciallo replied, ” I saw the whole dang thing, unfortunately.”

When Tully questioned Sciallo, he asked if perhaps Zapata’s hand gestures at the bar may have accidentally knocked one of the glasses of water over, to which Sciallo said yes.

In later questioning, Tully suggested to Sciallo that he wasn’t watching Zapata’s glass, because Sciallo was busy looking at everything else in the restaurant, to which Sciallo again reiterated that he saw the glass aftermath.

“You saw the windshield wipers?” asked Tully, adopting an earlier Zapata hand-motion term used in relation to the glass.

“Yes,” replied Sciallo.

One of the deputy district attorneys noted that the first time Sciallo mentioned the glass incident was during the Red, White and Blueprint episode, not during his RPD interview.

When asked when the RW&B episode was filmed, Sciallo couldn’t recall anything more specific than some time between May and August, and he chalked up his later water-glass recollection for the RW&B filming to a situation of lapsed time.

When one of the DA’s deputy attorneys asked who from Red, White and Blueprint had approached Sciallo about being part of the docuseries, Sciallo quickly replied, “I wasn’t coached,” to which the attorney clarified that the word he’d actually used was “approached” not “coached”.

No line cooks behind the bar, except some

Sciallo said during his RPD interview that on the evening of May 4, he was surprised to see Pinkney come from the back of the restaurant and go behind the bar.

“Honestly, I have no idea why he’d be down there,” Sciallo told the investigator. When the officer followed up with, “So, there’s no reason why he’d be there?” Sciallo replied, “No.”

Later, when asked to explain why Pinkney shouldn’t have been out front behind the bar, Sciallo replied it’s because Pinkney was a line cook, and line cooks work in the back.

Sciallo’s a line cook.

One deputy DA asked what was the difference between Sciallo going behind the bar and Pinkney going behind the bar.

“We’re not supposed to be behind the bar,” Sciallo said, contradicting earlier testimony about how he’d come from his work station at the back of the restaurant to the front of the restaurant to walk behind the bar to check the crowd, say hi to regulars and ascertain whether things were slow enough start closing things for the night.

The obvious conclusion was it was OK for line-cook Sciallo to come behind the bar, greet patrons and check to see if things were slow enough to starting shutting down the restaurant, but it was not OK for line-cook Pinkney to do the same.

The ever-changing gun saga

While Sciallo was on the witness stand, his replies characterized himself as a hero of sorts. He was the one who came behind the bar to diffuse the argument between Pinkney and Zapata. He was the one who made eye contact with Zapata and asked him to leave after the water incident. He was the one who made eye contact with Pinkney and got the gun from from him. He was the one who told the restaurant manager that Pinkney should be sent home.

However, some of the most confusing details about Sciallo’s testimony had to do with Pinkney’s gun, and where exactly Sciallo was during the course of the evening, what could he see from where, in which rooms did Pinkney have the gun, and exactly what part did Sciallo play with regard to disarming Pinkney of his gun?

When Pinkney testified on the first day of the trial, he described how Sciallo held out his hand to Pinkney in a gesture as if to say, “give me the gun”  – which Pinkney said he did, voluntarily, without incident.

However, that was in contrast to Day 4 of the trial, when Sciallo said he grabbed the loaded, cocked gun from Pinkney. Sciallo said he then hid the weapon in a stainless steel pan in the kitchen for safekeeping, until Pinkney calmed down enough for Sciallo to return Pinkney’s gun to him, about 10 to 30 minutes later, while Pinkney sat on a milk crate in the pantry, trying to calm down.

The big, bad distracting gun

The gun issue loomed extra large as a potentially monopolizing shiny object that could dominate the May 4 assault narrative; focusing jurors’ attention on the tale of Nathanial Pinkney, the angry, African American, gun-toting line-cook, and away from the assaults that triggered the Shasta County District Attorney’s charges against Zapata, Meagher and Bailey in the first place.

At no point during the trial thus far has there been any indication or evidence that suggests that Zapata, Meagher or Bailey were aware that Pinkney had a gun inside a black duffel bag; fastened with a combination lock, stored inside the restaurant’s pantry. The only plausible hint arrived on Day 1 of the trial when Tully posed the fanciful, nearly psychic explanation that perhaps the reason Bailey grabbed Pinkney’s shirt and tried to pull him into the parking lot was that she had a “spidey sense” of something bad inside the restaurant related to Pinkney.

Sciallo said he heard Pinkney exclaim, “I’m going to shoot that motherfucker,” to which Sciallo recalled, “I was like, I don’t know what that was about!” When asked whether he believed Pinkney was serious, or just upset, ” Sciallo said, “It shocked me he would say something like that.”

He described Pinkney’s loaded gun, and Pinkney’s level of agitation, and how all he knew was Pinkney got punched, and then, “The next thing I know he’s coming through the kitchen with the gun.”

That kitchen-location detail appeared new, as previous information disclosed in the trial suggested Pinkney never left the pantry with the gun.

During Tully’s questioning, Sciallo said he was trying to calm Pinkney down.

“There was no calming him down?” prompted Tully.

“No,” replied Sciallo, who added that anytime there’s a cocked, loaded gun, it’s a serious situation. Sciallo agreed with Tully’s line of questioning that described Pinkney as behaving in an unsafe and reckless manner. Sciallo said that Pinkney was very angry, and that having a gun in hand while angry is wrong.

Tully asked Sciallo about his mention of hearing Pinkney and another employee down the block a ways outside the front of the restaurant, yelling, out of view, but within earshot.

Tully asked if Pinkney’s yelling was an angry yell, to which Sciallo asked, “When is yelling not angry?’

Good point, replied Tully.

Not emphasized as yet during the trial is the fact that Pinkney did not retrieve his gun until after the water-glass incident. Likewise, Pinkney did not retrieve his gun until after he’d been converged upon in the parking lot by Zapata, Meagher and Bailey, and after he was grabbed by Bailey, and after he was punched by Meagher, and after he was threatened by Meagher with an overhead-held CO-2 canister.

With all that in mind, the amount of time spent discussing Pinkney’s gun seemed a sensational, irrelevant distraction from the trial’s true purpose.

(Side note: On Day 1 of the trial it was disclosed that at least two other Blade & Barrel workers were also known to keep guns at work.)

The day’s last witness

It was after 3 p.m. when the day’s last witness was sworn in. A weary-looking Ronald Cook, a bartender at the restaurant 1724, took the stand and first answered questions posed by Deputy District Attorney Nolan Weber.

For a point of geographical reference, the restaurant 1724 is kitty-corner slightly north across the street from the Market Street Blade & Barrel.

Cook, who said he’d be waiting in the hallway for five hours to give his testimony, appeared serious, deliberate and soft-spoken. He was urged a few times to speak closer to the microphone. Some information established during Cook’s testimony:

Cook is a full-time bartender with about 8,000 hours of bartending experience.

Elizabeth Bailey was once the manager of the 1724 restaurant when Cook worked in the kitchen before becoming bartender, and during that time she was his boss.

Bailey and her boyfriend Christopher Meagher (pronounced “mayor“) were regular customers at 1724, and were at the bar and restaurant twice on the evening of the May 4 Blade & Barrel incident. Asked if Cook recalled what drinks Bailey and Meagher ordered that night, Cook guessed a vodka cranberry or vodka tonic; perhaps two drinks each. He said neither Bailey nor Meagher appeared to be intoxicated.

There was some brief confusion with Cook regarding the date of the incidents, which he thought was on May 5, when they actually happened on May 4. That was cleared up.

Pinkney was also a regular 1724 customer, and Cook said he considered Pinkney a friend, but only through the restaurants’ connections. Sometimes Pinkney brought over appetizers for Cook and some of the other employees to try, such as when Pinkney walked over some ceviche samples one night prior to the May 4 incident.

Weber sailed through a line of questioning with just a few objections from Tully’s team, and cut quickly to why Cook was a witness.

Cook recalled that Bailey and Meagher were having drinks at the 1724 bar on the evening of May 4. He said they were there about 30 minutes when suddenly they seemed in a hurry to leave. Weber asked if Cook asked them why they were in a hurry.

“I asked why they were leaving so soon,” Cook replied.

Cook said Bailey said, “We have to go,” while looking at her phone screen, adding, “We have to help our friend.”

When Weber asked whether the couple returned, Cook said yes, that Bailey and Meagher came back approximately 20 to 30 minutes later. Weber asked if they said anything, Cook said yes, that they said there had been a tussle. Meagher said he punched someone and someone punched Meagher.

When Weber asked about the couple’s demeanor, Cook first used the word “adrenalin” and then said they seemed pumped up.

“They were energetic,” Cook said.

Weber asked how long Meagher and Bailey remained at 1724 for their second visit of the night, to which Cook said about 20 minutes, with more drinks.

Weber asked Cook if Pinkney stopped by that night, or if he’d heard yelling outside, or if he’d seen Meagher or Bailey on the patio, and to each question Cook said no.

Nathan Dondi questions Cook

Nathan Dondi, a member of Tully’s legal team, followed up with his questions for Cook.

He asked if Pinkney and Cook are friends, and Cook said yes, but just around the bar. He asked if Pinkney ever brings snacks or appetizers to 1724, to which Cook said yes.

Dondi homed in on a statement that Cook was said to have made to an RPD investigator; that he was distracted and busy that night.

“So you were busy and not paying attention?” asked Dondi.

“Somewhat,” replied Cook, adding that he wasn’t so busy to not notice when customers come and go.

Bailey’s attorney approached the witness stand and said that Cook had previously told Weber that Bailey had ordered an espresso martini, but elsewhere he’d mentioned the vodka cranberry and vodka tonics. Cook said he named those drinks as they were in his memory as the kinds of drinks Bailey and Meagher often ordered.

Upon redirect, Weber drove home the point that Bailey and Meagher were especially memorable customers that night for a few reasons: Most notably,  Bailey was well known to Cook as his former colleague and boss. Also, the couple behaved unexpectedly, staying just a short time, leaving in a hurry to go “help a friend” then returning in an agitated, energetic state, talking about a fight in which they’d participated.

The People will call its next witness today. According to Burgess, there’s a possibility that the trial could wrap up soon.

So many questions: Who will testify today? Will any of the defendants testify? Will Zapata’s wife testify? How well are jurors processing this complex trial with myriad surveillance videos, three defendants and twice that number of attorneys?

Meanwhile, inside the court chambers, most of the seats in the gallery remain empty, despite Zapata’s previous social media posts in which he invites his supporters to come “watch him win”. Wednesday was the first trial day that the Red White and Blueprint videographers were absent.

Stay tuned for Day 5.

###

Click here for Day 1 of the trial by Doni Chamberlain.
Click here for Day 2 of the trial by R.V. Scheide.
Click here for Day 3 of the trial by R.V. Scheide.

 

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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