Stephanie Hulsey

Judge Stephanie E. Hulsey.

The 18-year-old man arrested on Feb. 9 on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the fentanyl overdose death of 16-year-old Seaside resident Perla Velasco-Cruz will remain in custody as he awaits future hearings, a judge ruled on Feb. 14.

The suspect, James Hanford Davis, was 17 at the time he allegedly sold the fentanyl-laced pill to Velasco-Cruz, so his case was heard in Monterey County Juvenile Justice Court. He was 18 at the time of his arrest and was taken to Monterey County Jail, where he remained throughout the week leading up to his first court appearance.

Monterey County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Hulsey agreed with the Monterey County Probation Department that Davis should remain in custody for the protection of “persons in the community” and because he could possibly be a flight risk.

The probation department also recommended that Davis should remain in adult jail and not be transferred to Juvenile Hall, as Davis’ attorney, James Dozier, requested. Probation officials argued that the “sophistication” and seriousness of the alleged crime warranted jail.

“It just seems to me he’s got no record that I’m aware of and certainly while the outcome of the alleged activities had a very tragic ending, I don’t see it as sophisticated,” nor was there any violence involved, Dozier said.

Dozier also argued that Davis is “a very young, young 18 years old. The chances of him becoming a victim in jail are exponentially higher than if he was in Juvenile Hall.”

Hulsey sided with Dozier, citing the early stages of the proceedings and the limited information available to her at the time. She left the door open for Juvenile Hall staff to determine whether Davis is a good fit there, or if he needs to be returned to the county jail in the future.

Davis is tall and slim with dark, curly hair, and he look younger than his 18 years. He appeared in court in shackles, wearing an orange-and-tan striped jail suit and neon orange Crocs. He had no expression on his face as he was brought into the courtroom.

His mother, wearing a dark dress and black sweater, sat closely next to him at the defendant’s table, although they were not allowed to talk to each other. Two adult sisters sat to one side along the wall; one was in tears as the family walked into the courtroom, and she clutched box of tissues as she watched the proceedings.

Hulsey set the next court date for Feb. 20. She said the Juvenile Hall officials will have the opportunity to share their recommendations at that time. Additional court appearances are scheduled for March 5 and 9.

Davis is also facing charges of child cruelty and selling drugs. An investigation by the Peninsula Regional Violence and Narcotics Team into Velasco-Cruz’s death is ongoing.

Velasco-Cruz’s aunt, Keyla Velasco, speaking on behalf of the family says news of Davis’ arrest was traumatic for the family, still mired in grief four months after the girl’s death. They feel sad not just for themselves, but for Davis’ parents as well.

“It’s sad all around,” Velasco says. “This arrest is not going to bring Perla back. What it should do is shine a light on what’s happening in our community.”

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