I am finally un-gagged.
I am Nathan Pinkney’s lawyer. I have years of experience both as a prosecutor and as public defender, and I have spent past years in private practice which is what I do now. I feel my true calling was found in defense work, so rarely do I find myself rooting for the prosecuting side of the aisle. Nathan is the first victim I’ve ever represented (you don’t represent the victim as a prosecutor, a point that Deputy District Attorney Nolan Weber addressed in his closing remarks in this trial).
I chose to take Nathan on as a client because he shouldn’t have been attacked like that over political parody. I know his character better than many other people probably do at this point. Oh, he has a potty mouth sometimes. He definitely offends certain people. He has had *gasp* traffic tickets. But he’d also give his last dollar to someone who is hungry. He loves animals. He doesn’t live in some liberal bubble, in fact many of his close friends are conservatives who just understand that he’s entitled to his beliefs and that he’s never going to go and physically attack someone over it, because you just shouldn’t ever do that. I have also seen the character of most of the people who are going hard against him, and frankly those people engage in behavior that is beyond the pale. Intimidation, threats, intellectual dishonesty, harassment, you name it, they do it. It’s been wild and eye-opening to sit alongside him on this ride.
I’ve watched basically this whole thing unfold. I’ve seen all the horrible comments on social media. I’ve seen the big flashy displays of drama by RWB et al. I’ve seen the quiet intimidation and harassment perpetrated against Nathan, beyond even that which he’s talked about publicly. I’ve sat in on proceedings that jurors couldn’t see, that Doni couldn’t even watch, and all of it while having the legal experience to know why things happened the way they did, but not always being able to share my thoughts (especially once I was formally gagged).
I’ll say, from what I saw, this was a trial run fair and square by a judge who gave the defense many opportunities to be heard and erred on the side of letting in their evidence while excluding some evidence that was helpful to the DA, and admitting evidence that hurt the DA’s case. Judge Burgess never shut down a defense argument without first listening with an open mind, even on issues which some judges might have summarily waved off–and as someone who is primarily a criminal defense attorney just like Mr. Tully and Mr. Birss and Mr. Prentiss, I was glad he was willing to give them the full meaning of due process. Injustice for one person, even a person I don’t relate to or support, is an injustice for all of us. But by that token, I can’t imagine a ‘more fair’ version of this trial in terms of how rulings were made. Mr. Zapata had the benefit of a zealous defense of not one, but two advocates specifically devoted to his cause. Not to mention, there were two other attorneys working for their own clients, who would be able to confer and come up with any additional legal strategies (after all, two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two).
I have found the allegations that the DA is ‘corrupt’ or political to be patently ridiculous. I actually would speculate that if anything, Ms. Bridgett would probably have been unenthusiastic about having the charges filed due to the heavy political overtones and big drama being brought into the case from day one. Elected officials do not generally want to create high-profile enemies. However, the evidence in this case was clear and much of it was on video. I actually think it could have been more aggressively charged–on the theory that the three defendants were trying to bring Nathan outside to beat him up, the amount of force used, and the fact that a CO2 canister was briefly fashioned as a weapon, there’s arguably a theory of conspiracy to commit felony level assault. But they did not file that. Nor did they really hardball Zapata with respect to plea negotiations, when he could have had even just an infraction that was floated and rejected. Even when Mr. Zapata made publicly disparaging comments and encouraged people to call and demand the DA’s resignation, the prosecutors in the case maintained a high degree of professionalism and conducted themselves appropriately in trial.
I remember the day the RPD press release came out and I was on the phone with the investigator who interviewed Nathan. First thing the investigator told me, “I didn’t write that [press release].” He said “Nathan is listed as the victim.” I have my opinions and theories about why that press release was worded the way it was, but even after it was contradicted by later information, certain sycophants kept tracking back to it like it was nothing short of gospel. I’ll never forget how hard it was on Nathan to feel like he was somehow being painted as an unstable instigator when he KNEW what happened–he was there. He desperately wanted the video to be made public. He was afraid it would get destroyed. He knew the defense could (and did) attack him all day, but video evidence can be extremely telling. It was.
I watched Nathan testify for over 7 hours. He had to try to explain why in a video he was angrily swearing about Mr. Zapata (“f Carlos!” he said in anger) without actually being able to explain himself. The reason he was mad was because Mr. Zapata and his buddies had just made a big stink about how he’s the “victim” of an unfair prosecution and how he was offered a plea bargain because the DA doesn’t have a case and they were going to shove the case “down the DA’s throat.” Nathan understandably had strong feelings about that. Nathan was also frustrated because he was constantly being told that it’s not a good idea to talk about the pending case because the defense can use that against him. Sure enough, they played that video out of context, because you can’t talk about plea bargain offers to jurors, so all they heard was this very edited rant that Nathan made, with no explanation that Nathan was allowed to give. Then Mr. Tully suggested, boy, Nathan was sure mad, and this is now months later, you’d think he’d be over it by now, what an angry dude he must be. Sigh.
And it was months later in part because the DA filed this case approximately 60 days after the fact, when two of the three defendants were involved in a new incident, also on video, where an elderly man was hospitalized, and they went to file on that right away, so they also filed Nathan’s incident as a misdemeanor.
Now let’s talk Zapata. I originally could not get a private process serving company to take the assignment because they felt it was some weird ‘conflict of interest.’ I also didn’t have a lot of faith that the SO’s office would actually serve him, (1) because he’s friends with a lot of LE and (2) because SO’s offices typically make a handful of random efforts to serve, but if someone tries to avoid service, it will take a lot longer to get them going through the SO. I also tried another private server who was a retired SO. Same ‘conflict’ issue.
I could tell he was probably going to duck service of process, so then I was going to try to get him at a BOS meeting where he’d be in public and no one would be putting themselves at risk by going to his house. Then I see a status update – no more BOS meetings he says. Coincidence? Sure. Then I find out on the fly from a source that he’s going to be in a public place (shooting an RWB podcast) at a set time — so I send someone Nathan is friends with — a particularly gutsy fellow — to try to serve him. The RWB people started recording/even sort of following Nathan and I, because we showed up and waited across the street, with Nathan ready to record the service on his phone so it could not be denied. (I did not have time to get an investigator out on this short of notice, so we were improvising.) They tried to have Nathan’s gutsy friend arrested. It was very stressful and I actually felt like I was going to be in danger with these people, who were smiling menacingly toward us.
After that, I paid to have a professional server company make a multitude of attempts on Zapata’s work, home, and I had friends trying to catch him whenever we found out where he was likely to be. It was an ordeal for weeks. I knew he knew about the restraining order because he talked about it on his social media. He called me a joke, attacked my professional expertise, claimed I was probably on food stamps, tried to insinuate that this case was going to destroy my career, called the process server who actually got him (a close friend of mine and a fellow lawyer) ‘ugly’ and a classless c-word/b-word. Did I want to serve him at his kid’s graduation? Heck no. While he was busy insulting me I actually offered to send a process server at his chosen convenient time and place, and suggested that he has the right to fight it if he disagrees instead of avoiding process, which is frankly juvenile and petty.
I watched Zapata continue to make juvenile and petty comments on his social media, much to the adulation of his supporters. I became more informed on the childish recall efforts and the ridiculous activities going on at the county political level. The ‘activists’ in this recall are a disgrace. It is a basic constitutional tenet that the right to swing a fist ends at another person’s nose. Meaning, while you have your freedoms, the government can still restrict your liberty as long as it is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling public health interest. The supervisors are not in cahoots with the liberal minority in Shasta County. Moty wasn’t secretly paying me. These recall folks show up to the BOS to create chaos, yelling at the supervisors, dressing up as syringes, pulling dumb stunts like putting up posters of Nathan on the chambers wall, breaking into the damn building when the meetings are cancelled. The first time I attended a meeting I was shocked. These are the civic-minded adults in town? What a circus it was.
Some of the recall folks tried to use me to get to Nathan, emailing me, bringing me up at the BOS meetings like my existence was a scandal. One lady was insistent on continuing to contact me with asinine remarks about Nathan, even suggesting he ought to leave town. I have represented people in serious felonies including homicide and rape and child molest, and never have I felt more intimidation in my community than when I chose to represent a young black man with practically no criminal record and who was the listed victim in an incident as opposed to someone accused of wrongdoing. People who have opposed the recall and been intimidated by its proponents have confided some shocking things to me about threats and doxxing and other reprehensible behavior. I’ve felt like I was on this emotional rollercoaster and can’t even imagine what it must have felt like for Nathan, whose name was actually out there and who people were more directly antagonizing.
But I am encouraged that we have a Doni Chamberlain, tough-as-nails and dedicated to delivering a story with journalistic integrity. We have citizens in this community that actually understand and call out the absurdity of trying to fight state mandates by attacking county level politicians. We have people who are willing to actually make hard sacrifices to protect their neighbors during a health crisis like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As a friend wisely stated not too long ago, WE are the blueprint.
Lisa Jensen has been practicing almost exclusively criminal law since 2012. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and went to college at UC Santa Cruz where she majored in psychology before attending Santa Clara University School of Law. She started a law practice in the SF Bay Area, where she made hundreds of court appearances all over the Bay Area, the greater Los Angeles metro area, as well as many rural counties. She worked as a prosecutor in Southern California for two years before moving to Redding where she worked as a Deputy Public Defender. She has handled more than 25 jury trials. She is well-known in the local legal community in Redding as a conscientious and capable attorney who works hard for her clients, and is known by her clients as someone who will truly fight for them.