Former YouTube software engineer pleads not guilty in drug-fueled Bodega Bay violence
Seated in a wheelchair in a Sonoma County courtroom Tuesday, a San Francisco man pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder, carjacking and seven other violent felonies he’s accused of committing while hallucinating and out of control on July 4 in Bodega Bay.
What began as a weekend getaway for YouTube software engineer Betai Koffi and his friends turned into a frightening ordeal that briefly terrorized a seaside neighborhood on the Sonoma Coast and would change the trajectory of his life. Investigators said Koffi attacked his friends and a security guard before stealing the private patrolman’s truck and crashing into three strangers out for a stroll.
Koffi, 32, remains partly paralyzed from being shot multiple times in the head by a sheriff’s deputy, his lawyer said. The deputy fired his weapon when Koffi began driving a stolen security truck toward him, the Sheriff’s Office has said. The shooting was captured on the deputy’s body camera video and published by the Sheriff’s Office a month after the shooting.
Tuesday, Koffi sat before Judge Chris Honigsberg in his first court appearance since he was arraigned on 10 felony charges in a proceeding held at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. His lawyer, Steve Gallenson, told the judge his client had partial paralysis on his left side and was still in a critical phase of recovery from the trauma to his brain.
“He still is very much in the acute stage of recovery from gunshot wounds he received,” Gallenson said.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Henning didn’t object to allowing Koffi to remain out of jail and under medical care because of the seriousness of his injuries, noting the man was not likely to flee.
The lawyers will return to court Dec. 10 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.
Koffi was accompanied in court by his family. Outside the courtroom, his parents declined to comment.
Gallenson said he does not yet have the sheriff’s reports from the incident, and does not yet know key details such as whether investigators had Koffi’s blood or any remaining LSD doses at the vacation house tested to determine what he ingested.
Gallenson said doctors told him that Koffi is working very hard in his recovery and making improvements but remains months away from being ready for a neurological examination to begin evaluating the extent of his brain injuries.
But Gallenson said he is sure his client didn’t intend to kill anyone and was likely unable to form that intent because of the degree he was incapacitated, ostensibly by drugs, although he noted that has not been confirmed.
“This just doesn’t feel like a LSD experience to me,” said Gallenson, who added the hospital only tested his blood for alcohol.
Koffi’s longtime friends called 911 seeking help for him after he began acting out and threatened to kill himself, according to audio and a transcript of the emergency call.
The friends told investigators Koffi had taken two doses of LSD at the home they’d rented together for the holiday and began acting strange, sheriff’s officials said. He took another two doses of the drug and then spiraled out of control, lashing out at his friends, claiming to be already dead. His friends had taken much smaller doses of the drug, officials said.
Koffi had left their rental on foot and wandered up the driveway of another house where he attacked a private security guard with a landscaping light he’d pulled from the ground, according to sheriff’s reports and surveillance video from the home.
He drove away in the guard’s pickup, plowing into three different pedestrians and knocking them off their feet, the Sheriff’s Office said. The pedestrians, one of whom was hospitalized, suffered injuries that weren’t life-threatening.
When a sheriff’s patrol deputy and a CHP officer stopped their cars near the idling security pickup, Koffi began driving slowly and turning the wheel, according to the body camera video. Deputy Jason Pasero fired multiple rounds at him and the vehicle stopped.
The deputy pulled Koffi out of the vehicle and onto the ground, the video shows. They called for an ambulance, handcuffed him and Koffi began to speak.
“Please kill me, please kill me,” Koffi said in the recording.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.