Tuesday Jan 25 2011
Trial begins for deputy accused of firing gun
By: Jon Brines Gold Country Media
Lt. John Savage facing $1,000 fine, jail for Rocklin incident
ROSEVILLE — The criminal trial of a Placer County Sheriff’s officer, Lt. John Savage, accused of firing his weapon outside his Rocklin home in October 2009, began in Roseville Monday. Prosecutor Matt Block said the incident all began when motion lights were activated on the defendant’s Lakebreeze Drive home in Rocklin. He said a witness, named Danielle Wonder, would describe how she saw Savage run to his car pull a gun and fire it into the air. Savage is accused of gross negligence in discharging his firearm. In his opening statement, Defense attorney Tim Balcom described the trial as a case of mistaken identity that was botched by the Rocklin Police Department who failed to follow all leads. “My client did not fire his weapon that night,” Balcom told the jurors. “He heard the shots from inside the house. He came out with other neighbors.” Balcom told jurors the only witness who allegedly saw Savage fire his weapon in the air had an axe to grind. Wonder is good friends with Savage’s landlord, who after the incident evicted him, and her brother worked for Rocklin Police, according to Balcom. “The Wonders don’t like my client. She’s changed her story as the days went on,” Balcom told the jury. “The Rocklin Police thought they had an eye witness and they pursued my client.” Balcom described some of the doubt in the case, which includes the possibility that the noise came from kids shooting at a passing train. Or that a man matching a description unlike Savage was walking around with a gun further down the street from where Savage lived. He said when police questioned the neighbor matching this description he said he didn’t hear the shots. More than two-dozen fellow neighbors are expected to testify what they heard that night. “The officers did not follow-up at all,” Balcom said. “They thought they had their man.” Balcom said Savage’s firearms were checked by investigating officers and found not to have been fired. He said officers didn’t even knock on doors in a neighboring street even though they originally got reports of shots fired from that location. The prosecution brought three witnesses to the stand, neighbors of Savages, who all said between three to five shots came from the direction of Savage’s house. Today more witnesses will testify including Savage who will take the stand in his own defense, Balcom said “My client is going to testify that he is innocent,” Balcom said. “He believes in his innocence and I think the jury wants to hear that.” While the case is before a jury of his peers, Savage’s former neighbors on Lakebreeze Drive have mixed emotions about the case. Francisco Perez heard the shots that night and wanted to grab his children to shield them from a potentially deadly bullet that could come through the wall. “Even if you are inside you are not safe. It can go through the roof,” Perez said. Perez said Savage should not be held to a different standard because he is a Placer County Sheriff’s officer. “I think he is supposed to be treated like anyone else,” Perez said. “Just because he is able to carry a gun doesn’t mean he can start shooting anytime he wants.” If Savage is found guilty Perez said he should be punished. “If you give him a slap on the hand, he’ll do it again,” Perez said. Another neighbor who did not want to be identified for this report said the whole thing has been blown out of proportion and Savage should be let off. Savage is facing a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. Savage is currently a watch commander for Placer County Sheriff’s Office working in Auburn. Day two of the trial begins today at 9 a.m. in Dept. 32 of Placer County Superior Court. The trial is expected to last until Wednesday.