A Petaluma teen and her mother were sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail for their roles in a much publicized resisting arrest case in which they accused a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy of using excessive force but were later convicted of failing to cooperate with him, in part because he is black.
Gabbi Lemos, 19, and Michelle Lemos, 48, were handcuffed in front of a packed courtroom audience including more than a dozen uniformed deputies and ordered by Judge Gary Medvigy to begin serving their sentences immediately. Under state sentencing law, they could be eligible for release in two weeks.
The punishment was handed down after an emotional hearing in which the deputy, Marcus Holton, called for the maximum, one-year sentence.
In a halting speech he read at the sentencing hearing, Holton expressed outrage the women turned on him when he stopped at their Liberty Road house in June 2015 to investigate a domestic disturbance. And the 21-year veteran spoke of his relief to have been wearing one of the department’s new body cameras to document what actually happened.
The video captured the women shouting at Holton and wagging their fingers at him as he tried to question a sister who was drunk. Also, the women were recorded using racial slurs during jail phone calls to each other. Both were played for jurors, who returned guilty verdicts last month for each woman.
“I will tell you, Gabrielle Lemos, you delayed and resisted me throughout this incident,” Holton, 44, said, choking back tears. “I come to find out it was because of the color of my skin.”
Holton said the headline-grabbing allegations of police brutality took a personal toll. His mother died before he could be vindicated. And publicity from the case prevented him from participating in a daughter’s school functions “without parents looking down on me,” he said.
“Mom, I hope you can hear me,” Holton told the courtroom. “They were found guilty.”
Medvigy acknowledged Holton’s suffering, saying it shows police are “just as vulnerable as our citizens in a lot of ways.”
The judge called the actions of mother and daughter particularly egregious given the friction nationwide between law enforcement and citizens.
However, the judge said the womens’ lack of any criminal record coupled their apparent remorse justified leniency. Both issued brief apologies Monday.
“My actions brought us here today and I am very sorry,” Michelle Lemos told the court.
Medvigy handed down the 30 days along with community service and a $1,000 fine after Holton rejected the judge’s suggestion to have the Lemoses and the deputy participate in restorative justice. That alternative sentencing typically has victims and defendants speak pubicly about the crime.
The judge denied a request to postpone the punishment until an appeal could be filed.
“This stands out as a horrible decision-making process by each of you on that night,” Medvigy said. “I’m hoping you really did learn from it.”
The Lemoses’ lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said his clients would post $50,000 bail each so they could go free while the case is appealed.
A separate civil lawsuit filed in federal court alleging excessive force was nullified by the conviction. Lemos, a Petaluma High School graduate, suffered facial bruising when she was thrown on the ground during her initial arrest.