In what was later termed a "misunderstanding," reporters and relatives of a man charged with murdering a California sheriff’s deputy were literally locked out of his arraignment on Wednesday, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Marco Topete is accused in the fatal shooting of a Yolo County deputy during a high-speed chase last week.
Deputies shut and locked the doors as Wednesday’s hearing began, with only family members of the slain officer, Jose Antonio Diaz, and scores of his law enforcement colleagues allowed inside to watch. Afterward, attorneys for both sides told reporters they were barred by a gag order from talking about what went on.
The court’s executive officer, Jim Perry, later said the hearing was meant to be public but, due to miscommunications and spacing concerns, the doors were locked the entire time.
"From the court’s perspective, it was not a closed hearing," he said. Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto said his deputies mistakenly blocked the courtroom on their own accord.
But a private security guard told The (Woodland) Daily Democrat he was hired to keep the public out of the room. In a transcript of the hearing obtained by The Bee, the commissioner asked a bailiff to bring in Topete’s family and the officer said, "We will make arrangements to have room for them at the next court appearance."
Angelique Topete said her husband is entitled to a fair trial, despite the level of charges against him.
"They knew we were here," she told The Daily Democrat. "They were giving dirty looks to us like we were scum. We should have been there first."
Court officials say the defendant’s family, the media and the public will be included in future court hearings.
A Sacramento defense attorney, Stewart Katz, told The Bee that locking out the public was "flat-out wrong. It undermines the system when you have people who are personally involved getting to decide how the system operates."