Tuesday, November 24, 2020

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Jailhouse brawl could have devastating consequences

Two men who did not know each other prior to a jailhouse fight in March are both facing stints in state prison for violating the terms of their probation.

Nicholas Lee King, 31, of Colusa, is facing felony assault charges related to the March 4 fight in the Colusa County Jail’s housing unit that sent Ryan Dearman, 38, of Arbuckle, to the hospital with serious facial injuries.

King was in jail awaiting trial on domestic battery charges at the time of the fight. Dearman was in jail for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Both testified at King’s five-hour preliminary hearing, on June 19, about what happened in Cell 10 that day, but their stories differed significantly.

Dearman, who was declared by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey A. Thompson to be an evasive witness, stuck with his original story that he slipped and fell, and claimed to have very little memory of the incident.

It was also the story Dearman told jailers on the way to the hospital after the fight to avoid “going to prison in a green shirt,” or protective custody status, typically reserved for jailhouse snitches and other high risk inmates, said Colusa County Jail Sgt. Kristopher Cooper.

King, who took the stand in his own defense, told the same story as two other men who were incarcerated in Cell 10 on March 4.

All three men said Dearman was the aggressor and that King was only defending himself.

Although the eight or so inmates in the cell that day, including King, initially adhered to jailhouse culture and the inmate “code of conduct” by telling the correctional staff that they saw and heard nothing, Colusa County District Attorney investigators Sara Martin and Chris Liston discovered during the course of their investigation that Dearman became agitated while using the phone and repeatedly slammed the receiver against its base, to which King called out to him “don’t break our phone.”

The two former inmates who testified said they only told investigators what really happened that day after King was slapped with felony charges for being the aggressor.

“It didn’t go down that way,” testified one of the men.

According to multiple testimonies, an agitated Dearman eventually hung the phone on the receiver, and then walked passed his own bunk directly toward King and put both hands around King’s throat and began choking him.

Although King and the two witnesses had different vantage points, their testimonies were fairly consistent in that the two scuffled a bit before King pushed Dearman away from him.

All three testified that after being pushed away, Dearman regained his balance and again rushed to attack, at which time King said he struck one forceful blow to Dearman’s nose with his fist.

“I had to put a stop to it – to stop him from attacking,” King said.

According to testimony of former inmates, no noise-activated alarm sounded to alert jailers during the 10-to-15 second fight, nor did anyone call out for help.

Correctional Officer Alvarado said he only discovered Dearman was bleeding profusely from a badly broken nose and cut lip when he returned another inmate to the cell.

King was discovered during inspection to have redness around his neck and slight injuries to his hand. All denied a fight occurred, Alvarado said.

King’s private attorney, Tedd Mehr, contended during the hearing that King had a legal right to defend himself and “acted as a reasonable person against possible deadly force.”

Deputy District Attorney Winston Welch disagreed, and said King was the larger and stronger of the two men who used far more force that was reasonably necessary for an imminent threat, even if Dearman was “posturing aggressively.”

Thompson ruled there was sufficient evidence for criminal proceedings against King to move forward.

King will be arraigned on the assault charge with a special allegation of causing great bodily injury on July 22.

Both King and Dearman have lengthy criminal histories, including drug-related offenses.

King was in jail at the time of the fight on domestic violence charges, which violated the terms of probation on a 2019 conspiracy conviction, court records indicate. Dearman was in jail at the time of the fight for violating the terms of probation for a 2019 battery conviction by being a felon found in possession of a shotgun.

Dearman was released from jail and reinstated on formal probation in that case in April, but was arrested again on June 16 by the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly being in possession of methamphetamine, officials said. He is currently awaiting a probation violation hearing and is facing three years, eight months in prison in the firearm case, if convicted of violating the conditions of his probation.

King could be facing four years on the assault charge if convicted as a felony (less if convicted as a misdemeanor), with additional time if convicted of the special enhancement of causing great bodily injury.

King and Dearman are being housed in separate units at the Colusa County Jail, pending court proceedings.

Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker
Susan Meeker is the Editor and Reporter for the Pioneer Review. She started her position with the Pioneer Review in January 2017 as the Advertising Manager. Susan specializes in local crime, government reporting. She also loves covering the various topics and events in our county. You can send her a message at susan@colusacountynews.net

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