The daughter and wife of a Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board member accused of domestic violence provided favorable testimony on behalf of his defense, saying they had likely been mistaken when they told sheriff’s deputies he had struck his spouse, causing her to bleed.
In what was a critical moment in the case since the initial incident was first reported on April 12, 2020, Dan Mortensen’s wife and 17-year-old daughter testified in open court that they had not directly seen or could not remember the events that led to Morgan Mortensen regaining consciousness on the floor of their bedroom covered in her own blood.
In the latest appearance by the Newhall-based tax attorney at the Santa Clarita Valley Courthouse before Judge Maria Cavalluzzi, the prosecution presented two of the witnesses, 17-year-old Claire Mortensen and her mother, Morgan.
During the younger Mortensen’s testimony, the prosecution played an audio file of the 15-minute 9-1-1 call she placed during the night in question.
In the call, Mortensen can be heard panicked and Morgan can be heard crying out for her mother, Roxanna Raimey. She said that her mother was saying she had broken her nose, that the bleeding had stopped, and that she had not seen directly what had happened.
This incident, according to her testimony, which would later be supported by her mother’s testimony, was preceded by Morgan Mortensen having a handful of drinks.
According to her testimony, Claire Mortensen assumed when speaking with the 9-1-1 operator that night her father had hit her mother. However, when cross-examined by her father’s defense, on Tuesday, she stated she did not think her mom could have fallen over drunk, but now believes that could actually be what happened.
“I just didn’t think my mom was stupid enough to fall over and do it to herself,” said Claire Mortensen, adding that her father did not seem to be in the room at the time of her mother’s injury and that he did not have any blood on him. “I didn’t know what was going on. I was scared.”
As for her own testimony, Morgan Mortensen said she had come to the conclusion — with her daughter’s help — in the days following the incident that she had overdrank that night and fallen into a piece of furniture in her room. She also stated that she had been confused when speaking with investigators that night and had been “badgered” by them to answer questions.
“Maybe that’s what Claire said, I went with it,” said Morgan Mortensen, discussing why she had told deputies that night that her husband had struck her. “Like I said, I don’t remember it. I can’t imagine him ever doing that. But if I said that it was because that’s what I thought she must have known.”
The defense called their own witnesses to the stand on Tuesday, including a paralegal who works with Mortensen at his tax law firm, as well as his mother-in-law. Both testified to his character, calling him peaceful and nonviolent in the time that they’ve known him, and said they could not believe he would have committed domestic violence.
Both Morgan and her mother testified that she was prone to falling and fainting spells under certain circumstances, such as when giving blood or drinking — something that was not previously made known to the D.A.’s Office or to the investigating deputies.
“I didn’t believe it, I told him I didn’t believe it,” said Paula Rizzo, a paralegal for Mortensen over the last 17 years, in reference to being told that her boss had been arrested. “He never had to say anything to me. I knew that he hadn’t done it.”
Both of the defense’s witnesses were then asked if they had previous knowledge of a 2016 arrest in which Mortensen was reportedly suspected by law enforcement of vandalism at a topless bar in Van Nuys.
Both women said they were aware of the allegation.
“No,” said Rizzo, when asked if learning of that previous arrest had changed her opinion of Mortensen. “Because I knew that he was not involved in it.”
According to all present, Mortensen was never charged in connection with the arrest, and the defense took exemption to the way in which it was presented in court by the prosecution, contending that the introduction of the “impeachable evidence” should have been preceded by a sidebar between Mortensen’s legal counsel and the prosecution.
The trial is set to commence once again at the Santa Clarita Courthouse on Wednesday, with both sides having at least one witness left to take the stand.