MODESTO — An investigator Tuesday detailed tenants' claims that two defendants and a former Stanislaus County sheriff's detective forced their way into their central Modesto home after their electricity was turned off.
The investigator's testimony started a preliminary hearing for Bennie Taylor and his father-in-law, James Abbey, who are accused of conspiring to forcibly enter rental homes owned by their family. The defendants are the husband and father of ex-detective Kari Abbey, who is being prosecuted separately and awaiting trial on four felony charges.
Mike Hermosa testified about an incident that a tenant said occurred in December 2009 or January 2010 at a rental home on Wylie Drive, where a woman and her brother had moved in.
The tenant said she tried to obtain a copy of the rental agreement as proof of residence to have the Modesto Irrigation District restore power, according to the investigator from the district attorney's office. She told the investigator that James Abbey refused to hand over the rental agreement.
During questioning, James Abbey told Hermosa that he didn't want the utilities under his name, so he had the power turned off. He said he did hand over a copy of the rental agreement to the tenants, who had allowed "druggies" to move in with them.
The tenants told investigators Taylor started calling the woman names, and her brother grabbed a fireplace log and threatened Taylor. The investigator testified that Taylor said if the man wanted a fight, he'd give him one, but the man with the log left the home because he was on parole.
Hermosa said Kari Abbey was inside the Wylie home, too, pointing at people and telling them to leave because they were not on the lease. At the time, she still was working for the Sheriff's Department.
James Abbey said he first encountered problems at the home during a January 2010 visit, when he found people everywhere and children in the back yard shooting BB guns.
"I told them I was calling the police, they scattered," according to a note James Abbey wrote about incident. Hermosa obtained the note and testified about it.
James Abbey told the investigator he tells tenants they need to get out if they can't pay the rent "because he has bills, too." He said he doesn't threaten tenants and "just tells it like it is."
The investigator also testified about an incident on May 28, 2010, at a rental home on South Santa Cruz Avenue in Modesto's airport neighborhood. Hermosa said the tenant went home after receiving a call from Kari Abbey about late rent.
He told the investigator that he found Kari Abbey and Taylor already there. "The next thing he knew, he was on the ground," Hermosa testified. "And his wife was yelling that Bennie Taylor had hit him."
The man's wife told the investigator that Taylor hit her husband in the face and he fell to the ground.
Taylor and James Abbey are accused of cultivating marijuana, charges that stem from a March 30, 2011, search of property Kari Abbey shared with her father on West Service Road in rural Keyes.
Investigators found about 100 marijuana plants, ranging from 16 to 59 inches tall, growing in Kari Abbey's home.
James Abbey told investigators he grows the marijuana for himself, his brother, one of Taylor's relatives and several homeless veterans. Hermosa testified that James Abbey said he didn't sell the marijuana, but gave it away to the veterans as a public service, but he wouldn't reveal their names.
James Abbey, however, later told investigators, "I don't sell it for a living," according to Hermosa.
Testimony in the preliminary is expected to continue today and conclude by the end of the week. At the end of the hearing, Judge Ricardo Córdova will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.