Happy Camp man served 2-year sentence while awaiting trial. Here's why

Bill Choy
Siskiyou Daily News

A 30-year-old Happy Camp man was sentenced to two years in county jail on Thursday for resisting arrest and assaulting two Siskiyou County Sheriff's deputies in December of 2019, although after considering time already served, Eric Eugene Counts was released from custody.

Eric Eugene Counts

Counts' trial had been delayed more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After jurors were unable to unanimously decide his guilt or innocence in the case, Judge John Lawrence called a mistrial. However, Counts decided to plead guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor after prosecutors announced their intention to retry the case, said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus.

Andrus noted the trial was held as the Derek Chauvin case, regarding George Floyd's death, was beginning in Minnesota.   

“This is a time in our nation when many are hypersensitive to the use of force by peace officers,” said Andrus. “The Counts case is a fairly typical situation in which an agitated individual assaults a citizen and local peace officers respond. The suspect, rather than submitting to an investigation, is combative and eventually violent. Counts did what no citizen is allowed to do, he used force to resist peace officers who were engaged in their duties.”  

Andrus said "this is the type of danger that peace officers face every day just for doing their jobs. Walking away was not an option for these deputies, who were doing their sworn duty to keep the peace. We appreciate their service and are grateful that this incident did not escalate further.” 

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What were the charges?

Counts' trial began on March 29 in front of Judge John Lawrence. The charges were two counts of resisting an executive officer by force and violence, one count for each officer – Samuel Woods and Samuel Kubowitz. The case concluded on March 30, and the jury began deliberations. 

On April 1, the jury informed the court they were deadlocked in their deliberations, Andrus said. The judge sent the jury back for one last attempt at reaching an agreement, but they returned and confirmed that they remained deadlocked.

"When asked, the jury explained that they had reached near unanimity as to the resistance on Deputy Woods (11 guilty votes to 1 not-guilty vote)," Andrus said. "The vote as to the resistance on Deputy Kubowitz was 6-5" – although he noted this was odd given there were 12 jurors.

Siskiyou County's current courthouse will soon be replaced with a new, state of the art courthouse on Fourth Street in Yreka.

After the deadlock was confirmed, Judge Lawrence declared a mistrial because the jurors had not achieved unanimity as to a verdict of guilty or not guilty. 

"After a mistrial, the prosecution has the option of retrying the case," Andrus explained. Deputy District Attorney Theo Balboni said he intended to retry the case directly.

Later in the day, Counts admitted guilt in the two charges, one as a felony and one as a misdemeanor," said Andrus. "He was sentenced to two years in county jail and given credit for time served, which satisfied the sentence."

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What led to the charges?

Andrus explained the circumstances under which Counts was arrested on Dec. 8, 2019.

Deputies Woods and Kubowitz were flagged down at about 5:30 p.m. by two Siskiyou County residents off of Indian Creek Rd. in Happy Camp, Andrus said, who reported an assault and battery that had occurred about five minutes prior to their arrival. The man responsible reportedly left the scene on foot, wearing dark clothing.  

A short time later,  the two deputies found Counts traveling North on Washington Street. When they questioned him, "Counts began to swear, raised his voice, and moved his hands about wildly," said Andrus. He became more agitated, Andrus said, when the two people who reported the crime arrived to complete a citizen's arrest.

"Woods attempted to detain Counts in handcuffs to diffuse the situation," Andrus said. The police report says Counts pulled away several times and punched Woods in the face, after which both deputies took Counts to the ground, attempting to place him under arrest.   

Andrus said both deputies sustained injuries to their hands and knees after struggling with Counts for four minutes. Woods used his taser on Counts' lower back and then were able to place him in handcuffs.

Counts was charged with two felony counts of resisting an executive officer with force, one misdemeanor count of delaying an officer, and battery against one of the reporting citizens. Although his trial was originally set for Feb. 24, 2020, Counts' attorney declared a doubt as to his competence to stand trial, Andrus said, so the case was suspended and a mental health evaluation process began.

And then, the pandemic struck, but Counts was eventually certified competent to stand trial and his was one of the first in Siskiyou County to be heard since March of 2020.

“It enhances justice for everybody from the accused to the victims to finally be able to slowly reopen jury trials,” Andrus said. “Mr. Counts was in custody long enough to satisfy his entire sentence prior to his trial. This is obviously not an ideal situation for anybody but it is good to begin to work on the backlog of cases waiting for justice.”