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Salt & Foam

Surprising things happen at the courthouse. You may leave a crowded courtroom, to make room for a jury being picked in the morning, and come back in the afternoon, expecting the trial of “The One and Only” (as he styles himself in his Letters to the Editor) Michael France to have finally gotten underway, only to find your neighbor in the dock, and a waiter from Denny’s on the stand. Later, you learn that One-and-Only’s lawyer, a public defender, has declared a “conflict of interest” at the last moment, ending the trial, and the case devolved on down to the Alternate Public Defender, Lewis Finch, who will need several more months to prepare the case for trial.

Having just witnessed another jury trial evaporate at the last moment (the tragic and appalling case of “The Cardiologist Who Gunned Down His Neighbor’s Sleeping Dogs”), you (again, I’m referring to myself, for the sake of modesty, in the second-person, as a lowly hack should) resolve to be content with whatever you can get. 

In this case, it was Michael Grunwald, a salty old Boatswain’s (pronounced Bosun’s) Mate, fighting cancer from extended exposure to Agent Orange. His ship, a fuel tanker, resupplied aircraft carriers in the Tonkin Gulf and Cam Ranh Bay with JP-4 and the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Mr. Grunwald has an obstreperous manner, to put it mildly, as we shall soon see, and I often have overheard him berating people I don’t know for transgressions, real or imagined, that I am equally ignorant of. But his voice is of that somewhat shockingly loud and harsh nautical kind that can be heard from the sally port of a refueling tanker to the bridge of an aircraft carrier in a gale-force wind. 

By way of disclosure, I admit that Grunwald has, once or twice, come over to my place for an evening of Texas Hold ‘Em, Seven Card Stud and Five Card Draw. On one occasion we saw in the rosy-fingered dawn, as the chips fell back and forth, fore and aft, Lady Luck being as impartial as the tides. 

On another memorable occasion we won a round of drinks in a game of pool against a couple of Russian gents at the Forest Club. That is the extent of my acquaintanceship with him.

When I entered the courtroom, the first witness, a Mr. Helm, was just finishing up. Grunwald was standing and pacing about, using a cane, an indulgence the court had granted that had to do with Grunwald’s health. His lawyer, Daniel Moss of the Office of the Public Defender, had just said he had no further questions, when Grunwald stamped the floor with his cane and shouted, “I do! I want to ask him about…”

Judge Keith Faulder runs a pretty tight ship. His Honor has pretty much abandoned his former jocularity, his penchant for puns, and the all around good-humor he was so noted for as a highly successful lawyer. His court clerk is none other than Bonnie Miller, the Sergeant Major of Clerks, and his bailiff is Deputy Mark McNelly, a meticulously squared-away officer whose martial bearing reinforces his polite manner. As Judge Faulder cut Grunwald off in mid-sentence, Bailiff McNelly came to his feet and advanced a few paces into the balliwick.

“Mr. Grunwald,” Faulder said, “You will address the court only through your lawyer, Mr. Moss. If you need more time to consult with your lawyer, you can have it. But you cannot and will not ask the witness any questions yourself. Understood?”

If you can believe Grunwald’s sea stories about his adventures in places like Subic Bay and Olongapo City (in the Philippines, where my older brother, incidentally, was stationed with the Armed Forces Police), then he almost certainly would have had some experience with what, in the Navy, is called “Captain’s Mast,” under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is somewhat similar to a preliminary hearing, though conducted with more discipline than a civilian would think appropriate. 

Once Grunwald grasped how Faulder’s court was run (a USN Captain would have looked on approvingly, and I speak from the authority of having attended courts-martial for marines accused of murdering their officers), he behaved himself accordingly.

Mr. Helm left the stand, cautiously skirting around the cantankerous old seadog Grunwald, and Officer Brett Chapman of the Ukiah PD was called. 

Officer Chapman stated that he’d been dispatched to Denny’s to investigate a disturbance at about 1:05 in the morning of February 23rd. On arrival, Chapman was told by Helm that Grunwald had become rude and confrontational over a cup of coffee. Helm had said he thought Grunwald was going to assault him with the cup or throw the coffee on him. Other customers told a similar story. When Chapman tried to speak with Grunwald “he was very confrontational. He told me – excuse the language – ‘shut the fuck up’.”

Meanwhile, Officer Kevin Murray had procured a signed citizen’s arrest warrant from Mr. Helm. When given this, Officer Chapman then arrested Grunwald and placed him in the back of the patrol car. As Chapman was finishing up his paperwork, Grunwald yelled, “You’re going to die tomorrow – I’m going to see to it.”

When Chapman turned to ask if that was a threat, Grunwald said it was not only a threat, it was “a promise.”

This brutally stupid remark was the basis of count one, PC 69, attempting to prevent an officer from the performance of his duties. 

But on cross-examination, we learned that Grunwald had been what you might call egalitarian in his insults, abusing the other officers with equal venom, and flicking verbal acid on one and all. To his meager reserves of credit, Grunwald hung his head and contemplated what a fool he’d been.

Had this happened while he was in the Navy, his Captain would have busted him down to E-1 and turned him ashore at Da Nang to burn barrels of shit for the Marines.

Mr. Moss argued that Grunwald was at the time incapable of carrying out the threat. “He was just an angry person acting out, as he has been doing all day. As to the charges in count two, calling someone gay is not fighting words now, like it used to be, society has progressed, and to punish Mr. Grunwald for calling Mr. Helm a faggot would do more harm to free speech than it would do any good for gay rights. Looking at count three, I don’t believe Mr. Grunwald actually challenged anyone to a fight. And as to count four, I don’t believe my client used force or a threat of force to ur, uh, uh, prevent Mr. Helm from exercising his civil right [to be gay]. He may have said some offensive things but I don’t think that proves anything.”

Judge Faulder said, “I do find sufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer on count one. The statement he made to the officer is unequivocal. And when asked if it’s a threat he says it’s not only a threat but a promise. As to count two, I find sufficient evidence that he intended it [calling Helm a “faggot”] to cause a violent reaction, and he said it for that purpose. As for count three, I find insufficient evidence to support the charge. Count four: It was clear Mr. Grunwald was bullying Mr. Helm, but the requirements are that he use force or threat of force, and I don’t see that he has.”

Moss then argued to have the two felonies reduced to misdemeanors and Faulder denied the 17-b. motion to do that, although Moss may renew it at a later time. 

The other case against Grunwald was called; but Grunwald wanted a smoke break, and this was granted. On the way back to the courtroom I mentioned to Grunwald, “You sure got yourself into a lot of trouble in a hurry.” 

“Yeah,” he answered glumly. “Didn’t I though…”

The next charge was “Gassing An Officer” and I had to ask Deputy Will Robison what that even meant. Robison showed me a line in his report: “The throwing of urine or feces, or any mixture thereof, onto an officer or any other person.” I’m rarely at a loss for words, but could think of nothing to say.

Deputy DA Tom Geddes called his first witness, the victim of the, well, gassing, Corrections Officer Isaac Sanchez, who said he knew Grunwald as someone who had been in custody at the jail multiple times. On this occasion, he had come to the cell where Grunwald was being held while awaiting booking to give him a drink of Gatorade. Grunwald passed his cup through the slot in the door, and after Sanchez filled it, Grunwald reached out through the slot with his other hand and “threw something on me,” Sanchez said. “On my uniform pants from the belt down. “He [Grunwald] made the statement, ‘It’s piss’.”

Geddes: “Was he laughing?”

Sanchez: “He smiled [somewhat triumphantly, no doubt] about it.”

Geddes: “Have you known Mr. Grunwald to use excrement?” 

Sanchez: “Yes, he uses toilet paper to draw on the walls with it.”

Moss: “Mr. Grunwald was in a ‘safety’ cell?”

Geddes: “Objection. Relevance.”

Faulder: “Overruled.”

Sanchez: “Yes.”

Moss: “And he was there because he is psychologically disturbed?”

Sanchez: “Yes.”

Moss: “And within a day or two he’d been doing artwork with his feces?”

Sanchez: “Yes.”

Moss: “And he’d done the same or similar artwork during previous incarcerations?”

Sanchez: “Yes.”

At this point I resolved to be more discriminating in the people I invited over for poker games. And the same for those I picked for a pool partner.

Moss: “What did you do with your clothing [the pants soiled with urine]?”

Sanchez: “I threw them out.”

Moss: “Were any chemical tests done on the clothing?”

Sanchez: “No.”

Moss: “Did you smell it?”

Sanchez: “I did not.”

Moss: “Nothing further.”

DDA Geddes called Deputy Robison who had been summoned to the jail to investigate the March 3rd gassing incident. Grunwald told Robison he threw the piss on Sanchez because Sanchez didn’t bring the Gatorade in a timely manner. 

On cross-examination, there was a long back-and-forth as to whether the substance thrown on the officer could have been Gatorade, rather than urine, and whether Grunwald’s later claim that the puddle of urine on the floor outside the cell was there because he’d peed there. But the standard flavor of Gatorade served at the jail was shown to be orange, and it had an orange color, so that angle of defense faded away.

Faulder: “There’s sufficient evidence to find that a felony gassing occurred" and arraignment on the information was set for May 7th at 9:00.

Lee Van Zant of the Veteran’s Administration gave Grunwald a ride back to the trailer park, and he hailed me in his nautical voice as they drove by, but I don’t think I’ll have him over for a poker game any time soon. Agent Orange appears to have completely unhinged the salty old seadog.


  1. Harvey Reading May 2, 2019

    To me, the guy sorta looks like Sam Elliott.

  2. Juan Lopez May 6, 2019

    You did not tell us about his two other felony convictions for arson. Those stories are quite good and this guy is nuts out of his mind. You must be too for having him in your home on a social visit.

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