Monday morning, after three days of negotiations (and it is with studied reluctance that I’ve not said “intense negotiations”) the District Attorney has crafted a deal with the three Bay Area desperadoes who robbed a Willits pharmacy for a cache of Oxycodone (synthetic heroin) and several vials of pure, operating room-grade morphine, and then led local police on a high-speed chase southbound down Highway 101 last winter, when Dejoa Rayshan LaRue, Jakell Malik Watts and Eural Strickland were finally taken into custody on February 16th.
Strickland and Watts have been ready to go on this deal from the “get-go,” but Mr. LaRue has a couple of prison-priors, a strike-prior, and he’s looking at a parole violation on top of his other legal troubles.
Strickland and Watts were offered five years each, a strike on the books, 15 percent credit for time served. They appeared eager to take it. District Attorney David Eyster however wouldn’t let Watts and Strickland bite unless Mr. LaRue took the harder knocks of 12 years and eight months. We can imagine the dynamics of what’s called honor among thieves taking shape in this case. For it stands to reason that the much more experienced LaRue had, by means of his charisma, recruited the more prosaic criminals, Watts and Strickland, to assist him in this caper; and so the DA — in his infinite wisdom — had put the two younger fellows in a position of confronting and pressuring the oldster (LaRue) into going along with the program.
Pure speculation, yes; but, still, there were some good theatrics in the courtroom.
On Monday, LaRue’s lawyer called in sick. Since LaRue’s lawyer was the Assistant Public Defender, who happens to be best friends with the Public Defender, Public Defender Jeffery Aaron very graciously offered to take on LaRue’s case.
Also on Monday the Assistant District Attorney called in sick, and his best friend, the DA David Eyster descended to fill the breech. Time, however, would be needed to familiarize themselves with the case. So it was set to come back the next day, on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Watts’s lawyer, Doug Rhoades of the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and Strickland’s lawyer, Macci Baldock, the Third Tier Conflict Appointee, counseled their clients to hold fast, everything would work out – or so one would imagine from the reassuring smiles and brief consultations they bestowed on their young clients.
On Tuesday another scene erupted. Judge Keith Faulder had at last called the case, after a confused morning of trying to assemble all the lawyers, and during the disposal of an unusually busy calendar, so as not to allow the reader to suppose the courthouse is staffed by slackers who hide and neglect their duties. At last they were all together and the plea forms, the Tahl Waivers (for a jury trial), were all filled out and DA Eyster was checking them through. Everyone was doing fine with a keen anticipation in the air — until LaRue asked for another day to think it over.
Eyster shot to his feet, snatched up the plea forms, rattled them menacingly at the three men in the dock, and said, “That’s it! The offer’s off the table. Judge, I just got an email this morning from Mr. Trigg, the attorney handling this case and it is unequivocal.” Eyster then gathered up his files and headed for the door.
Mr. Aaron bustled over to his client, LaRue, and began an (dare I say intense?) discussion. Discussion involves two people, though, and this was more like a lecture, what my Uncle Dutch used to preface with, “We should-a just knocked you in the head and give the milk to the pigs…”
All LaRue did was nod his head occasionally and make small signs of, if not consent, at least that he was paying attention.
Judge Faulder called Eyster back, pleadingly, almost. With a show of what I can almost describe as a man with better things to do elsewhere, but determined to be polite to a judge in any case, Eyster paused at the door, where he at last, after more pleading from the judge, relinquished a promise to come back the next day.
On Wednesday morning there were more delays; nothing to do with Watts and Strickland (they both still seemed ready to go); all to do with LaRue. This battle of wills between the DA and Mr. LaRue went on until other pressing matters were called, and everyone was ordered back at two o’clock — everyone. However, Judge Faulder said he was only “teasing” in ordering the DA back. Eyster replied that “teasing” didn’t look good on the record.”
Faulder gulped down a pained blush and swore (beneath his breath) he'd never do it again.
So nobody was shocked when Eyster came nonchalantly in at a quarter past two, while everyone else had come early and waited… patiently (?). From then on the agreed-on sentences went as planned.
Strickland and Watts both pled to PC 211/212.5 (Second-degree robbery through force or fear), took their five years each, and their strike, all with a good grace; and when it came to LaRue it seemed the fight had gone out of him: He knew the deal offered was the best he could hope for, and he bravely bit the bullet for 12 years and eight months.
Also, he’s facing a violation of his parole.
Watts and Strickland will go to probation for pre-sentencing evaluations and recommendations, and considering how young they are, their lack of any criminal fame and glory, they could even get off.
Judgment and Sentencing is set for June 6th at 9:00 a.m.
Correction: Mr. Trigg was not sick on Monday; in fact, Deputy DA Luke Oakley told Judge Faulder that Chief Prosecutor Trigg was absent for “Training Exercises.”
Clarification: The pleas of all three defendants were accepted in “exchange” for the DA’s gift of dropping the Reckless Evading charges in all three cases. Since only one of the culprits could have been driving, two of these “gifts” were mere empty boxes, all wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with silly tinsel bows.
Bait Bike Hooks Minnow
Travis Edward Alvarez took the bait: “The Bait Bike,” that is, a really nice touring bicycle donated to the Ukiah Police Department by Dave Metzinger of Dave’s Bikes on Gobbi Street in Ukiah, to help get a handle on all the bike thieves running the streets of Ukiah. The Bait Bike is valued at $650, but it also has accessories, such as a little pack attached to the seat worth $25, and a $25 headlight/taillight; not to mention a $400 GPS tracking bug hidden under the seat (by the police), bringing the total value of the Bait Bike up to $1100.99, well above the petty theft-grand theft threshold of $950.
Mr. Alvarez was not the first person to bite on the bait bike. Others have gone before and have come to court. As a result the defense bar has learned that the way to challenge the case is to argue that the thief would not have taken the bike if he or she had known it had a GPS tracking device hidden under the seat.
In an earlier case, Judge Cindee Mayfield granted a reduction to petty theft, a misdemeanor, because of the sneaky way the price had been jacked up on the bike with the hidden GPS. And in Mr. Alvarez’s case Judge John Behnke said he would be open to such a reduction as well.
It would seem that the Ukiah PD needs a more expensive Bait Bike.
The last time we posted up a story about the Bait Bike we got a comment concerning the rash of bike thefts in Ukiah, and how one senior citizen had a very expensive bike stolen from the senior housing apartments: Douglas Coulter lost his on March 26, 2019 at 9:39 am
"Eight bikes stolen from Sun House Senior Apartments in one year! And police have done nothing but take reports. Mine, a Gary Fisher Napa was worth $2,000. Steal a car and no question they will look and charge felony, even for a junker."
Mr. Coulter will be happy to hear that the police have finally apprehended one of these bike thieves, Michael Paul Jones who was in court last Tuesday trying to get released so he could go back to work as a tree trimmer.
Our valiant DA however, argued eloquently for a very high bail, stating that the professed tree trimmer (Jones), was not to be trusted on his own recognizance -- “And by the way, Judge, what would a tree-trimmer be doing in a senior housing area? [If not casing the joint, Eyster seemed to imply.] He [Jones] took this bike from outside the office at the senior housing complex, where it had been parked while he [the old guy] was in the office, and this guy [Jones, again] comes in and steals it practically right out from under him [the old guy].”
Judge Keith Faulder: “This wouldn’t by any chance be the same bike we’ve heard so much about in some other cases, the notorious Bait Bike, would it, Mr. Eyster?”
DA Eyster: “No, Judge. It’s a very valuable bicycle given to this older gentleman because he [the old guy] has trouble getting around. When the police apprehended Mr. Jones he told them he took this old guy’s bike because somebody had stolen his bicycle. [Eyster laughed mirthlessly, a kind of dismissive grunt, at the irony of it all.] Also, Judge, this defendant has a prison prior, a strike prior for a violent crime, and a long history of meth abuse cases, so we [the People] would be asking for the bail to be imposed as scheduled, at $115,000.”
Judge Faulder, a bicycle enthusiast himself, denied the OR as requested by Jones’s lawyer, Daniel Moss of the Office of the Public Defender, and imposed the six-digit bail as scheduled for a repeat offender. The case will be back for prelim in two weeks – about the same time Mr. Alvarez comes back to see if he can get his Bait Bike theft reduced to a misdemeanor, May 21st 1:30.