If I had a shiny gun, I could have a world of fun.
— Dorothy Parker
The jury trial for Harry Miller, accused of trying to murder his neighbors, went into limbo in the middle of last week, the post-holiday week, when Miller’s lawyer, Monty Hansen, ever in a dither it seems, declared a doubt as to his client’s mental competency. This means that Miller will have to get a psychological evaluation to see if he’s sane enough to be put on trial or be placed in a state hospital until he is.
The mental strain must be pretty awful for Harry Miller because there’s a video of him pulling a shiny little snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .357 S&W out of his pocket in a homicidal rage and shooting his neighbor in the chest at point-blank range, then whirling around and cranking off a few more shots at his neighbor’s wife as she scrambled for cover.
But it’s hard to gin up any worry for poor old Harry, although he’s an elderly, wild-haired eccentric, tall but bent over, who stalks around on a pair of ski poles because he’s a well-off South Coast hill-muffin, as they say, out on bail all this time, with only a feigned desire to hurry along a trial that will almost certainly end in a prison sentence. (Assuming, of course, our local judicial system, the envy of the world, isn’t skewed to favor the well-to-do, as has been sourly insinuated by aforementioned envious foreigners.)
What did Harry’s neighbors do to deserve the vengeance of his shiny gun? Why the low down pole cats were filling pot-holes with gravel on a bit of easement road, a deliberate and intolerable provocation, as any self-righteous property owner will promptly inform you, dare you ask.
* * *
But easements are not the only means of provoking a neighbor into a bloodthirsty frenzy, and later in the week we had a prime example when Benjamin Meyer came in for a preliminary hearing on charges that he’d gone to a neighbor’s house with a shotgun and blasted two sleeping dogs to dog heaven as they lay in their separate doghouses. What kind of person could do such a thing? Well, apparently it takes a doctor, a learned medical man, of all things. Yes, it’s “Dr.” Benjamin Meyer, it turns out, a Ukiah cardiologist, a heart specialist, although the officers of the court were careful to call him “Mr.” Meyer — a courtesy to other Medical Doctors, it seems, since it is a given that MDs are the most eminent members of society and a certain reverence attaches to their personages. So it would be most unseemly to taint their collective prestige with the crazed antics of a low, mean and, presumptively, singular exception.
It probably would have gone unmentioned that the culprit was a medical doctor as apparently planned by the judge, but I’m just at that age where I get into everything, and so when high-profile Sonoma County defense attorney Chris Andrian came in with the defendant, a familiar bell dinged faintly somewhere down the dim halls of my memory, because Mr. Andrian has acquired the appellation, deservedly or not, as “The Doctor’s Advocate,” which I followed up by snooping around online where I found out the good doctor’s practice is in Ukiah.
Deputy Christian Denton lives in Potter Valley. So he was familiar with “Mr.” Meyer and the woman who owned the two dogs Meyer shot, a Ms. Chris Slingsby. So it was Deputy Denton who investigated the shooting of the dogs, a Great Pyrenees and a border collie-mix.
The Great Pyrenees has been bred to protect caprine livestock, and his temperament, as well as his size, reflects greatness upon him, for he is fearless and confident in defense of his charges (usually kids and lambs) against all comers, be they suburban coyotes, timber wolves or mountain lions; yet he is affectionate, patient, gentle. The border collie’s temperament typically is delightfully energetic, he is ever so keen to do his duties, always alert, responsive, and highly intelligent. Both these dogs are handsome, not to say beautiful, creatures, both with many noble aspects; far removed from your muscle-bound, dull-witted, pug-ugly pit-bull, bred for fighting in pits and made — not so much popular, per se, but made locally ubiquitous by our thuggish dope-dealer personalities.
Deputy Denton said that when he got to the Slingsby residence — both Slingsby and Meyer owned adjoining 40-acre spreads in Potter Valley — the Great Pyrenees was dead, obviously dead, killed by a point-blank shotgun blast; and the border collie-mix appeared to be dead but in fact was still breathing. Deputy Denton collected four spent shot-shells, noting that the doghouses were also peppered and splintered from the shot.
Ms. Slingsby told Deputy Denton she heard the shooting and ran out screaming at “Mr.” Meyer to stop and get off her property. The gentlemanly medical man then butt-stroked the grieving Ms. Slingsby with his shotgun, knocking her to the ground, turning the business-end of the gun on her, and said, “You could be next, you stupid fucker.”
We will stop here to wonder if that’s what the doctor says to his obese patients as he removes his icy stethoscope from enlarded chests, and leers into their faces.
Perhaps it’s his stylish deference to the medical coves that makes Chris Andrian Esq such a favorite among doctors with criminal tendencies — he’s been retained by several recently, including the late Dr. Peter Keegan, and before Keegan a Santa Rosa healer who claimed his wife had drowned in a bucket of water, plunging her head into the container ostrich-like until she was dead.
Andrian began his cross-examination of Deputy Denton by suggesting that Ms. Slingsby had no cause for alarm just because his client had blown away her sleeping dogs, knocked her down, put a gun barrel in her face and said, “You could be next, you stupid fucker.”
Andrian: “Did you note anywhere in your report where she said she was scared?”
Denton: “No, just that she was visibly upset.”
Andrian: “Did a neighbor provide you with any information about the dogs?”
Andrian: “And Mrs. Meyer told you the dogs had been terrorizing the horses?”
Prosecutor Dale Trigg objected as to the relevance and Andrian asked Judge John Behnke to take judicial notice of the section of the Food and Agriculture Code that gives a livestock owner leave to shoot dogs in the act of attacking their animals, and the judge ruled that to be relevant it would have to have been recently; but no, it hadn’t been recent.
“What had been recent was Mr. Meyer was walking his dog and the [Slingsby] dogs had barked at him, causing him to throw rocks? Well, didn’t he tell you that, Deputy?”
Denton: “That’s what he said, yes.”
The deputy answered with understandable reluctance. Excuse my dogma (and pardon the pun) but consider the liberties Mr. Andrian has taken with the verb transitive ‘to cause’: Does the Israeli Army “cause” Palestinian boys to throw rocks at armed soldiers? Did French President Macrón cause the Yellow Vests to throw rocks at the gendarmerie on the Champs Élysées?
Andrian: “And Mrs. Meyer said the dogs chased the horse previously?
Andrian: “Now, where was this horse? … I was advised it was at Ms. Slingsby’s?”
Denton: “I believe you know the answer to that, sir.”
Andrian: “Yes, it was the Meyer’s horse, but do you know how it got there?”
Denton: “I do not.”
Andrian: “Was there a fence?”
Denton: “Only a hot-wire.”
(A look at Dr. Meyer’s property on Google Earth shows he had no fencing, stables, or paddocks; only the “hot-wire” (not visible) Deputy Denton mentioned, which is a single bare wire strand pulsing with electric current.)
Andrian: “Do you know when it [Meyer’s horse] ended up in the cattle-guard?”
Denton: “It had to be in the evening or early morning.”
Andrian: “How far from the Meyer’s property was it?”
Denton: “I would estimate a half-mile, as the crow flies.”
Andrian: “Mr. Rizzolo, a neighbor, told you the dogs came after him and that he had discussions with her [Slingsby] about her dogs”
Trigg: “Objection. Hearsay.”
Andrian: “Did Slingsby tell you how she secured the dogs?”
Trigg: “Objection. Relevance.”
Behnke: “I’ll allow it.”
Denton: “With lengths of chain attached to blocks of wood, which she used to keep them around when they were out of their pens.”
Andrian: “Mr. Meyer told you he shot the dogs?”
Denton: “He inferred that.”
Andrian: “He also said he had complained to her [Slingsby]?”
Andrian: “And he had asked her to build a fence around the cattle-guard?”
Denton seemed not to understand, unable to reply. Perhaps, like me, he was picturing the absurd notion of a fence around a cattle-guard in his mind’s eye, like one of those M.C. Escher concepts.
Andrian: “Perhaps you could check your report?”
Denton: “That would be correct. That’s what he said.”
Both the lawyer and the doctor seemed to think a cattle-guard with a fence around it was a perfectly reasonable and practical piece of work that Ms Slingsby ought to finance for the convenience of Dr. Meyer’s strayed, pet horse.
Andrian: “Did Mr. Meyer tell you the dogs chased him two nights before?”
Denton: “I believe he did, yes.”
Andrian: “And that Mr. Rizzolo had found one of the chains attached to a block of wood in a fence?”
Andrian: “When you found the horse in the cattle-guard, there was blood around it?”
Denton: “Yes, where the horse had been [thrashing] its head.”
Andrian: “And it was cold to the touch?”
Andrian: “You don’t know when it first came to be in the cattle-guard?”
Denton: “I do not.”
Andrian: “That’s all I have.”
Andrian: “For the purposes of the prelim, I’ll submit.”
Judge Behnke: “At this time the court will find sufficient evidence for count one, willfully killing an animal, and find the special allegation, the use of a firearm to be true; also, count two, willful cruelty to an animal in the case of the border collie-mix and the special allegation of the firearm, true. As to count three, assault with a firearm resulting in injury [Ms. Slingsby had a blood-blister on her arm where the good doctor butt-stroked her with the shotgun] to Ms. Slingsby, and the third special allegation that he pointed a firearm at her and threatened her life or great bodily injury, true.”
December 11, 9:00 a.m.was set for arraignment on the information.
* * *
A Free Lecture follows, no additional payment necessary, but donations always welcome, refreshments may be forthcoming, for those who wish to stay a moment longer on the subject.
If “Mr.” Meyer were not a doctor, he would have been charged with a fourth count of cruelty to animals, regarding the horse. I have worked for people with horses for the better part of my life, having been brought up on a farm, then hiring out as groom and stable boy for show horses and race horses since I came to California when I was 14, subsequently worked on ranches as a cowhand in Montana and Wyoming, and I can assert with some authority, that it is criminally negligent not to provide a horse with a stable and a paddock, at the very least, and it should certainly have a properly fenced pasture as well because horse fencing needs to be strong, highly visible and free of hazards, such as wire, which horses get their feet in and try to get loose by main force, which results in the animal being crippled and thence destroyed.
To let a horse run free may be picturesque, but it is negligently impractical, and had this horse had been owned by someone of my meager social standing, I would have been charged accordingly, even if somebody else’s dogs had run it into a cattle-guard — which in this case is merely implied by the defense, not proved. But even so, it was unacceptable negligence on the horse owner’s part — especially since this animal was at large after dark, a huge no-no for livestock in general, and horses in particular, especially around roads and highways.
The Bureau of Land Management, in its adoption program for mustangs, will not allow you to adopt one of these animals if you do not have a suitable place to keep it, and even a regular net wire fence with barbwire strands on top, which one often sees used for cattle and sheep, would not qualify, because it’s too dangerous for horses.
However, there’s not much anyone can do about people with more money than sense, like “Mr.” Meyer, who apparently wanted a horse to beautify his landscape (made popular by the Alice Walker title “Horses Make A Landscape More Beautiful”) and bought one commercially, then fenced it behind an electric wire instead of proper rail fencing, or an adequate paddock made of Powder River panels.
A final point: A horse, properly fenced, or even on the open range, is not in much danger from canines; in fact, the dog is in mortal danger from a lethal kick when chasing a horse; and if brought to bay, the horse will “paw” the dog, that is, crush its skull with a downward blow from a forefoot. The danger is being chased into a wire fence, or some other hazard, such as a cattle-guard, as may have happened in this case. Had Meyer properly provided for his horse, it could have defended itself against the dogs.