There were many times in the last few months when it seemed the Shasta County District Attorney’s case against Carlos Zapata, Elizabeth Bailey and Christopher Meagher would never end.
Although the trial featured many obstacles along the way, presiding Shasta County Superior Court Judge Jody Burgess ran a tight ship, and kept the cumbersome trial on course through sometimes choppy waters.
A sample of the case’s challenges included Proud Boys who showed up early on for Zapata’s arraignment; three defendants sharing one “joinder” trial and one jury; a team of four defense attorneys and two deputy district attorneys; two continuances, a COVID outbreak among jurors that put the trial on hold, and a nearly hung jury that was averted a day later after the court-assisted departure of one particular juror. Furthermore, two journalists were presented with subpoenas; one to Record Searchlight reporter Dave Benda, served by the District Attorney’s office; the other to this reporter by Joseph Tully, Zapata’s attorney.
By the time the verdict was finally reached, the jury that had begun with 12 seated jurors and four alternates had eventually whittled down to the bare-minimum 12 jurors.
Thursday, despite three of the defense attorneys’ motions for a new trial for their defendants, Judge Burgess proceeded with the latest sentencing date of the three defendants who were found guilty of five of the six charges related to Nathanial Pinkney’s assault.
Before the hearing, outside the courthouse it was a classic fall Redding day with crisp blue skies, angel-hair clouds and colorful trees on the Shasta County courthouse grounds. Inside the courtroom, about a dozen people, including four media representatives, sat upon wooden seats inside the third-floor gallery for the late-afternoon sentencing.
Nearly two hours later, Burgess read the sentencing for each defendant. All three defendants will be on probation for 12 months. All three defendants must stay at least 100 yards away from Pinkney, his home and workplace. All three defendants must obey all laws. Finally, all three defendants must attend a 16-week anger management class.
In addition to the above sentencing, co-defendant Christopher Meagher, found guilty by the jury on one count each of battery and disturbing the peace by fighting, must serve serve 30 days in jail (he has a 17-day credit for time served). Additionally, he is subject to a mandatory 10-year firearms prohibition.
Likewise for Elizabeth Bailey, Meagher’s girlfriend and co-defendant, who the jury also found guilty on one count each of battery and disturbing the peace by fighting, in addition to the above sentencing, she, like Meagher, is subject to a mandatory 10-year firearms prohibition
Finally, Carlos Zapata, found guilty of disturbing the peace by fighting — but acquitted of the battery charge — must report to the Shasta County Jail within seven days to be booked and released, and must report to the Shasta County Probation Department by Nov. 1.
All through the trial, Zapata was the triple-joinder trial’s star defendant. He’s a big-cat fish here in our quasi-rural North State pond as the founder of the Red, White and Blueprint docuseries. The RW&B movement was designed in the spring by some dissatisfied ultra-right-wing citizens ostensibly as a “blueprint” to illustrate for the rest of ‘merica how to “take back” the county and create a patriot’s paradise.
Their idea was to first remove via a simple recall three conservative Republican supervisors, accused by the Recall Shasta folks and friends of being RINOs and kowtowing to the “tyrannical dictator” Gov. Gavin Newsom. After that, and the surely successful recall, then the rest of the bad kowtowing actors would fall like dominos.
It turns out the blueprint had some flaws, and the plan was more difficult than they’d anticipated. Consequently, RW&B is struggling with their penciled rough draft, let alone a full-on blueprint.
Back to the trial.
Throughout the trial Zapata’s co-defendants Elizabeth Bailey and Christopher Meagher played second and third fiddles, respectively, as Zapata’s lawyers fought frequently and aggressively for their client, while Bailey and Meagher’s attorneys were far less verbose.
Thursday, once again the team of masked lawyers sat at the long table that faced the judge.
It’s been a circuitous legal slog with many twists and turns along the way. The sentencing was originally scheduled for Oct. 7, but instead, on that day Zapata’s lead attorney Joseph Tully arrived in the courtroom with a request for a continuance. He wanted more time to interview the jurors who’d rendered the trial’s verdict. Oh, and by the way, Tully mentioned the possibility of filing a motion for a retrial in the event he learned something from jurors that might warrant it. Judge Burgess granted the request for a continuance, with the caveat that he expected no further delays. After all, the charges were misdemeanors.
Thursday the sentencing hearing began a little after 4:30 p.m. Judge Burgess opened by saying there were a few “issues” to start with. First, Burgess said he’d received three motions from the People for sanctions related to possible conduct violations by Tully’s investigator with regard to his contact with jurors. Burgess said he wouldn’t take up that matter now, but would address it at another date.
Second, Burgess said he’d received motions from defense attorneys Tully, Nathan Dondi and Ryan Birss to continue the sentencing hearing to yet a third date to allow for a new-trial motion to be filed.
After listening to Zapata’s attorney, Dondi, for a few minutes, Burgess denied the request for a new trial after offering local legal rules and statutes that led him to that decision.
“I’ve sat through this trial,” Burgess said. “I can see where the jury got what the jury got.”
With those “issues” addressed, the sentencing hearing began in earnest when Pinkney read his two-page, single-spaced victim statement.
His statement described how the tension between Pinkney and Zapata accelerated.
He talked about the night of the assault, and how he was fired the next day after Zapata called Pinkney’s employer. Pinkney described how his life changed after the assault.
“I received many hateful messages, everything from simply calling my honesty and credibility into question, all the way up to racial slurs, stalking, attempting to dox me, and creating fake profiles impersonating me.”
Pinkney told how Shasta County Supervisor Patrick Jones, from the dais during a supervisors meeting, referred to Pinkney as a domestic terrorist, and how Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh put false and negative information about Pinkney on his Facebook page.
He concluded his statement by thanking his attorney, Lisa Jensen, as well as Judge Jody Burgess, Deputy District Attorneys Nolan Weber, Anthony Miller and Sarah Murphy, and the jurors.
“As difficult as this has been, the end result is in my mind an overwhelming victory for myself, for the integrity of this county, and for the freedom to have a dissenting opinion. Thank you.”
Then Shasta County Deputy District Attorney Nolan Weber read his prepared statements with regard to each of the defendants. He characterized Zapata as the ringleader, and said that what happened at the Blade and Barrel restaurant was not a garden-variety fight, and that Zapata acted with “calculation and deliberation”.
“Mr. Zapata crossed a line of aggravation by using physical intimidation to, in his mind, correct his political opponent,” Weber said, adding that not only did Zapata use physical intimidation, he inspired Bailey and Meagher to do the same.
“He wanted a confrontation,” Weber said of Zapata.
As Weber spoke, Zapata shook his head often.
Regarding Bailey, Weber characterized her as someone who initiated the fight, and advanced upon Pinkney as he was retreating.
Birss, Bailey’s attorney, defended his client and said that actually, it was Pinkney who was the instigator, not Bailey. He said that Bailey’s involvement with the case was a “one-time intense situation that got out of hand”. Birss said he could not think of a lower-level battery charge than grabbing someone’s shirt.
He said Bailey had been a law-abiding citizen her entire life.
Prentiss, Meagher’s lawyer, said that Weber’s use of the word “heinous” to describe the Zapata, Bailey, Meagher case was inappropriate. He repeated what he’d said during the trial about Meagher, that his client was only protecting his girlfriend, Bailey.
When it was time for Tully to speak about Zapata, Tully returned to some former trial arguments about his assumptions regarding the 1724 bar and restaurant, and his belief that something happened there between Pinkney and Bailey, but the defense lacked surveillance videos to prove it.
Tully conjured up a sympathetic image of Zapata as a 42-year-old family man; husband, father, business-owner and community member.
Tully’s version of Zapata’s involvement at the back door of the restaurant on May 4 said that Zapata was actually helping Pinkney by helping break up the fight.
In a surprise move by the defense, Rebecca Zapata was called as a character witness for her husband.
She described him as generous, compassionate and active, and cited such examples of civic engagement as the Red Bluff Chamber of Commerce, giving to charities, helping 4-H clubs and the rodeo.
“To paint him as somebody who’s going out … picking fights with people, is just ridiculous …” she said. “This whole thing has been really appalling.”
But perhaps even more surprising than Rebecca’s presence on the witness stand was when Carlos Zapata was sworn in, beginning with a statement, then answered a few questions from Deputy DA Weber.
Zapata appeared amped up, and routinely spoke with his mouth so close to the microphone that it interfered with the audio quality, which caused the judge to stop Zapata several times with a reminder to please pull back a bit.
Zapata spoke as if his words were spring-loaded. He took exception to Pinkney’s victim’s statement, and said he “100 percent disavowed” any threats made to Pinkney; that he had not encouraged anyone to go after Pinkney, and it was never his intention to hurt Pinkney.
“In fact, I can show messages where I have told people to leave him alone; do not say anything to him, do not go after him,” Zapata said.
Zapata described Pinkney as a misguided young man “with a lot of issues”.
Referring to the night of May 4, Zapata said he was called “by a friend” (Bailey) multiple times for help. As Zapata set the scene of what happened that night, he then dove into uncharted waters in which he expressed regret that he’d not testified during the trial. He also cast doubt about the accuracy of his original story, and characterized Bailey as the damsel in distress who Zapata rushed in to save, solely to help avert a fight.
“That’s why I left my wife in the car; it’s why I walked back,” he said. “I didn’t tell the truth about this, and I should have testified when I had my chance. I should have told the truth. Because who you have made me out to be is not who I am.”
This portion of Zapata’s testimony begged multiple questions. Which parts of Zapata’s former story weren’t true, and why does he now wish he’d told the truth? Did his team of attorneys recommend Zapata not tell the truth, or not take the witness stand?
Either way, Zapata’s new version put much of the onus on Bailey, almost as if it weren’t for Bailey sending repeated messages to Zapata asking for assistance, the assault upon Pinkney would never have happened.
Had Bailey testified, it’s anyone’s guess whether she would have stood by the 1724 bartender’s story of how Bailey dashed out of the restaurant after the bartender received a message “from a friend” (meaning Zapata) who needed help, or if she’d agree with Zapata’s story that he only got involved to help Bailey, not the other way around.
It’s all a moot point because Bailey never testified, nor did her boyfriend/co-defendant Meagher.
Zapata concluded his statement by saying, once again, that he 100-percent disavowed any violence upon Pinkney. With than, Zapata thanked the judge, and rose to leave, but not before Weber thanked Zapata for his service to the community, and then asked a few questions.
Weber asked why Zapata posted a May 15 Instagram meme with the words: “Let’s make a deal. You don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say in person and I won’t whip your ass when I see you. Easy as pie.”
This question triggered a long response from Zapata in which he began speaking more quickly, with a raised voice, sometimes talking over Weber, which resulted in the judge admonishing Zapata a few times to allow Weber to finish a question. Again, Zapata leaned in too close to the microphone, interfering with the audio, until Judge Burgess reminded Zapata.
“When you talk, you’re so close it’s like popcorn going on,” Burgess told Zapata.
Weber, a night-and-day study in contrasts between his first tentative days prosecuting this case and his current genteel bull-dog/Columbo style, followed up with yet another follow-up question about Zapata’s philosophy about violence. This prompted Zapata to share a detailed story about a childhood trauma at the hands of a big bully named Milton who tormented the young, small Zapata daily, until he took his father’s advice. Zapata said that the day he followed the elder Zapata’s instructions and punched Milton in the mouth as hard as he could was “the best day of my life”.
Zapata said that was the end of the bullying, and in fact, Milton and little Zapata became friends.
Weber asked one final question: Was Zapata innocent, to which Zapata, blinked, nodded, leaned in his chair and replied, “I am, 100 percent.”.
That exchange prompted Tully to ask Zapata to expound upon the claim of innocence.
“All I did that night was go to dinner with my wife and stop a fight,” Zapata said.
Zapata said that all he wanted to do was make sure that Pinkney’s issues with Bailey and Meagher at 1724 didn’t escalate into anything else, and it didn’t, thanks to Zapata.
What’s more, Zapata said that when he returned to the car, he told his wife that he was glad he went, because the situation with Bailey, Meagher and Pinkney didn’t escalate in the way Zapata had imagined it could; again, all because Zapata was there to keep things from getting out of hand.
“I should be getting an award, not a punishment,” Zapata said, starting to put his mask back on, as he prepared to exit the witness stand.
But first a somber Tully asked Zapata to tell about his military service, which Zapata did, adding that he’s not one of those guys who uses his service as leverage.
With that, Zapata’s testimony was over.
He placed his mask over his face — complying with the court rules — and walked back to his seat, where Meagher nodded at Zapata.
Tully capitalized upon the military line of questioning by springing upon the judge an unexpected request to take Zapata’s military record into consideration in the sentencing. Burgess denied Tully’s request, because it’s a motion that required paperwork, which Tully hadn’t provided. Even so, Tully pushed the point a bit further with Burgess, and deferentially mentioned that was one of the other reasons Tully requested a continuance, to give his team time to get the required military paperwork together.
Burgess didn’t buy it, replied sharply, and said there was nothing in Tully’s declaration about the military issue.
“I can’t possibly consider that,” Burgess said sternly, as Tully nodded quickly.
And that was that. No more testimony. No more questions.
Burgess had the last word as the presiding judge.
First he thanked and complimented the attorneys for being professional and for complying with the judge’s wishes, such as by wearing masks.
Then he turned his attention to the defendants.
“Where I struggle is, you three grown adults find yourself in an area you do not need to be in — period,” Burgess said. “That’s the issue. So what if a word was said. Walk away. That’s the issue.”
Burgess said he needed a 10-minute recess to go over his notes and read the character reference letters.
After the recess Burgess said he’d had a chance to read the letters submitted on behalf of Bailey and Meagher. He said Bailey had five letters, while Meagher had one, written by Nadine Bailey, Elizabeth Bailey’s mother.
Burgess then handed down the sentences, and after reading each sentence to each defendant, asked if they agreed. All defendants replied yes, they agreed with their sentences.
Court was adjourned.
It was dark outside when the Zapatas exited the front of the courthouse with attorneys Tully and Dondi. I asked Zapata if he would like to say anything. Zapata initially said yes, but then Tully quickly said to Zapata, “No, don’t do it.” The group walked a short distance away to chat. Then Zapata returned and said he’d speak with me after all.
What did he want to say?
“I do stand by what I said before, that I disavow violence, and the use of violence against political opponents,” he said as his attorneys crowded next to him.
“I hope we can put this all behind us and live peacefully with each other.”
He made a similar statement to a KRCR reporter.
After that, attorneys Joseph Tully and Nathan Dondi walked with their client Carlos Zapata and his wife Rebecca Zapata down the sidewalk, into the clear fall darkness and away from the Shasta County Courthouse.
Meanwhile, Nathanial Pinkney, the line cook/comic whose assault resulted in the District Attorney filing charges against Zapata, Bailey and Meagher, reflected upon the trial and the sentencing.
Pinkney said he’s glad this part of his legal journey is over. Now he’s gearing up for the restitution phase.
“I guess personally I feel like the justice worked for me as intended,” Pinkney said. “I would want any citizen to have the same experience. I felt that the DA did their job of protecting and fighting for me. Nolan Weber was honestly amazing, and I feel the judge was very fair and honest.”
And how does Pinkney feel about Carlos Zapata?
“I believe Mr. Zapata is a misguided young man,” Pinkney said. “I hope he gets some help, and I wish him the best in Texas.”
Photos and videos by Alan Ernesto Phillips.