Thursday, October 4, 2007

Court Room Drama vs. "Heart-Warming" Story

My assignments today: Whittier Superior Court & Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy visit from Richard Moore

My court assignment was the arraignment of 27-year old Melissa Serrato of Pico Rivera. This is Serrato, coming out of the courthouse after she pleaded NOT GUILTY.
She was in court to face one felony count of (this is MY disclaimer) alleged gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated - i.e. killing someone (running over a 15-yr. old boy on Lambert near Mills, close to Cal High School) while driving drunk.

Well, this was a very unusual morning because I am usually told, prior to the judge coming out, if I have been or not allowed to photograph the accused. The judge came out and the first case was Serrato's. I looked at the deputy in charge and he signaled me to move to the area inside where the jurors usually sit so I could have a frontal view of my subject.

This is Serrato next to her attorney, facing the judge.
My subject was having none of me today because for some reason her hair was mostly down in front of her face when while waiting outside the courtroom, she looked perfectly fine. Dear me, I shot a few photos of her half-covered face and the deputy signaled me that that was enough. I walked out of the court as her proceedings continued. Since I knew I did not have enough pics to give my editor, I planted myself outside the courthouse, near the corner so when this alleged drunk killer came out, I would snap to my heart's content.

After waiting a few minutes, the family of the boy came out, prayed right outside the courthouse entrance and then walked away towards the parking lot.

This is Serrato, second from left, wearing large dark glasses.
Soon after that, the accused walked out with her supporters, family, next of kin. There were maybe some 10 to 15 people. They immeditely spotted me and moved her back behind a wall. One man and a woman walked towards me, and in loud voices told me to GIVE HER SOME PRIVACY, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF SOMEONE DID THIS TO YOU. I'M GONNA GET AN UMBRELLA. To this I thought to myself, "Geeze, Louise, if I got drunk, got behind the wheel and killed someone, I would be so contrite, so repentant and so embarrased that I would know that I deserved the attention. I would only have brought all of this to myself." But, I stayed quiet and did not say anything to them.

I just stood my ground and kept focused on the area where the woman was hiding. If she had just showed her face in the courtroom, I would have had a proper photo for publication, but she chose to hide from the camera. Now, she made my job more difficult because she wanted privacy. The fact of the matter is that she put herself in the public eye by putting herself in this situation. As a bona fide journalist, I have the right to photograph anyone of interest to the public.

After a while, the female relative returned with the umbrella (I think the umbrella was going to be used in an attempt to shield her from me) and her attorney walked past me saying something like "THEY GOT YOU REAL BUSY TODAY, DON'T THEY."

How dare he say this when he is defending someone who, by their own choice allegedly got drunk, got behind the wheel and allegedly killed a 15-year old boy crossing the street. WOW! The nerve!

Anyway, I waited another five minutes or so and then about half of the group walked with the accused one north on Painter Ave., away from the parking lot where they had come from. I think the man who walked past me berating me, drove to some street north of there and picked her up. Anyway, that's what happened and I still got a good shot of her, POW!

Check out the story here:

This is the pain this lady, allegedly, is causing the family of the 15-year old boy. Anyway, to make a long story short, she pleaded NOT GUILTY and must return ot the same WHittier Superior Court on Nov. 26 for her preliminary hearing. If convicted, she faces a minumum of 4 years or a maximun of 10 years in State prison. In the mean time, she is free on $100,000 bail.

Now, for the other side of coin.

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in La CaƱada hosted Richard Moore, an Irish man who at the age of ten in 1972, was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. Moore lost his sight. He now has Children in Crossfire, a non-profit that gives "service of humanity, particularly children around the world who, like himself, have been caught in the crossfire of violence, as well as poverty and hunger."
Moore spoke about his life in Derry, Ireland, and how on his way home from school he was blinded by a rubber bullet fired by a British soldier. Moore said he has since met and forgiven the soldier. Moore fundraises for children in worn-torn countries through his foundation and the Dalai Lama is one of his supporters.
At the end of his talk, many of the girls (girls-only Catholic school) stayed around and asked one-on-one questions, bringing some to tears. Anyway, this was much better and nicer to approach and photograph than the courthouse drama.

Check out the video I did for this story as well.

Last note: Just as an FYI, our website, by far, gets the most hits on stories/photos/video of high school sports and hard news, including accidents, murders and COURTROOM APPEARANCES.

Until next time, keep shooting.


jmail said...

Thanks for the insider point of view! It's always interesting when there is more to the story behind the pictures. I noticed she looked like she was hiding behind her hair in the one photo. Hopefully you can blog at the next Serrato court appearance, too....

... said...

Thanks for the comment. You are right that there is usually a lot more to getting a photo than just clicking the camera. Specially in court, there is a whole procedure that has to be followed. Filling a request to photograph comes first, then we have to show up in court at the time they open. Then we have to wait for the case to come up AND THEN the judge has to make a ruling on wheather he/she will allow us to photograph.

Sometimes the attorneys will object for various reasons, so it is always up in the air. (Suspects still have to go to a line-up, for example). An extraordinary amount of time and effort can be spent in trying to bring the public what may end up being one photo of a suspect.

For example, a colleague was allowed to photogaph a suspect, BUT was only allowed to shooot ONE photo. WOW!

Other times, we can be in the court at 8:30 am only to wait and wait until they break for lunch, then come back after lunch and sit and wait some more.... only to have our request to photogaph denied, after spending some 6-7 hours waiting.

Until next time...

meandering said...

Could I please have permission to use one of your pictures for an article I want to do for The story is so poignant and your side of the lens put things into a perspective few see.