Deputy Gander’s Halloween Party (May 28, 2003)

The two attractive, forty-something women had looked forward to the annual Halloween party at the Gualala Hotel that Saturday night, but when they arrived at the hotel a little after 8pm, the merrymakers who would pack the place an hour later hadn't arrived.

Gina Jimenez, and her good friend Deborah "Debbie" Hicks, long-time residents of Mendocino County's South Coast, didn't feel like sitting at the bar by themselves, so they walked across Highway One to Oceansong to have a drink and watch the sun die in the Pacific.

Three hours later they thought maybe they were going to die at the hands of a controversial young cop named Mike Gander.

Gina Jimenez, a divorced mother of four, somehow manages to home school her three youngest children, hold down a part-time job and attend the computer classes she hopes to eventually parlay into full-time employment. On the rare occasions she can enjoy a night out, her 20-year-old son babysits his siblings, the youngest of whom is 6. That night the young man, who lives only ten minutes from his mother's tidy home, was serving as surrogate mom.

"I never go out," Gina explains, hastening to add, "not that I'm complaining because I'm happy with my kids. Friends were after me to go to this thing for two weeks. I hadn't been out in months."

Deborah Hicks is co-owner of Pacific Woods Video with her ex-husband, Mark Tibke. The couple enjoys an amicable post-marriage relationship. The video store is on the east side of Highway One, across the parking lot from the Gualala Hotel. Like her friend Gina, Debbie's job keeps her so busy she has little time for an after hours life.

Gina is a long-time resident of the South Coast with roots in Mendocino County. Debbie came to Gualala from Sacramento where she was vice-president of Brownie's Reprographs for 17 years. Debbie has lived in Gualala for a little over two years.

Neither woman had ever been arrested or even cited for anything. They were, as police agencies say, "not known to law enforcement."

Deputy Michael "Mike" Gander is a solidly built young man who began his career as a policeman at the Mendocino County Jail. His father was a Mendocino County deputy for many years. Michael Gander has quickly established a reputation in the Point Arena-Gualala sector as quick to anger and just as quick to use force -- excessive force -- where none is required.

The South Coast is also patrolled by a popular young man who grew up in Point Arena named Jimmy Hubert. The two patrolmen are supervised by Sgt. Greg Stefani, a veteran with the Mendocino County Sheriff's Department who enjoys a reputation for even handedness. "It's a tough area for a cop," a Coast attorney says, "because there are quite a few outlaws who live there and quite a few graduates of the state prison system. They stay busy, and they have to deal with a lot of tough people."

Gina Jimenez and Debbie Hicks are not tough people. Think of the most conventional, law-abiding women you know, and you've got Gina and Debbie.

To begin their big Saturday night, the two ladies had one drink each at Oceansong before they walked back across the street to the Gualala Hotel, now jammed with costumed celebrants. It was about 9pm when Gina and Debbie settled in among the familiar locals who'd gathered in the hotel's bar. A live band had just begun its first set, and couples were dancing.

Gina, by nature a conservative person, prudently nursed two drinks between the hours of 8 and 11pm. Debbie, also naturally sedate, had consumed "three or four" drinks over the same period of time. Gina enjoyed a few dances; Debbie was out on the floor much more frequently. The strenuous movement to the fast-paced music canceled the soporific effects of the alcohol.

The cautious pair of revelers had been assured by Debbie's obliging ex-husband, Mark Tibke, that he'd drive them home whenever they called him.

For three hours Gina and Debbie had a good time, talking with old friends and dancing. It was a Halloween Saturday night in a friendly place in a friendly town -- their home.

At a few minutes past 11, the two party goers were ready to call it a night. Debbie left the hotel to call their designated driver, the accommodating Tibke.

"It was too noisy inside the hotel to call him on the hotel's phone so I was going to walk across the parking lot and call him from my store," Debbie would later explain.

But as Debbie made her way through the darkened parking lot towards her video store, she dropped her purse. As Debbie kneeled to recover the spilled items, Mendocino County Sheriff's Department deputy Gander suddenly loomed up over her and loudly announced, "I'm placing you under arrest."

The party was over but the deputy's thrills had just begun.

Gander roughly shoved Debbie towards his vehicle, bent her over its hood and was about to handcuff her behind her back when Gina, alerted that her friend was being arrested, ran out of the hotel and across the parking lot towards Debbie's store to see what was going on. She found Debbie crying and pleading with Gander to tell her why she was being arrested. Gander was fumbling for his handcuffs as Gina began to explain to the deputy that Debbie had been on her way to her store to call her ex-husband for a ride home. Deputy Gander told Gina that if she didn't shut up he was going to arrest her too.

"He seemed very mad," Gina says, suggesting that the deputy was angry out of all proportion to any visible provocation. "I'd never seen him before."

Gina again tried to explain to the deputy that they had a ride home as Gander bellowed at Debbie that he was arresting her for being drunk in public when Gander whirled, grabbed Gina, and threw her across the hood of his cop car where he handcuffed the 41-year-old mother of four behind her back.

As Gander occupied himself getting the cuffs on the astonished Gina and was depositing her roughly into the back seat of the cop car, Debbie had run back inside the hotel to complete the call to the designated driver, Mark Tibke. As Debbie frantically dialed her ex-husband, the relentless deputy Gander charged into the hotel, ordered Debbie to hang up the phone, roughly turned her around, slapped her in handcuffs, and marched her out to the patrol car to join Gina in its back seat.

Neither woman was drunk. No one had complained about them. They weren't even in public, strictly speaking, because no public was in sight. Why not allow one or the other of the women to call their ride, which would end what was a non-problem for law enforcement in the first place?

The scene was not visible to anyone inside the hotel, and there was no one other than the intrepid Gander, a high school police cadet named Eric Grumm, and the two alleged perps in the unlit area of the crime scene.

Cadet Grumm, riding along with deputy Gander to see how the pros do it, got an eyeful -- two eyes full, given what was to transpire.

Gina and Debbie were now totally, irretrievably, under arrest. They did not know why, but...

For the Halloween festivities at the Gualala Hotel, blonde Debbie had donned a sheet and a ghost mask and Gina, in her description, "wore a witch wig and a fake nose, but when I was arrested I had on a small, black tank top and very tight jeans. I would say I was scantily dressed."

The Taliban wouldn't have approved, but tank tops and jeans are the normal attire for millions of American women and street legal everywhere in the land, including Gualala and Point Arena.

Gander and his cadet drove off north, headed for the Point Arena Sheriffs substation with their unlikely prisoners. Debbie was sobbing as Gina alternately tried to calm her and warned the deputy that she intended to lodge an official complaint about his behavior. Gander and his cadet looked at each other and laughed. The boorish deputy and the young slob-in-training laughed often during the 15-mile trip between Gualala and Point Arena, as if distraught, falsely arrested women were a kind of rolling comedy. Their hilarity seemed to intensify every time Gander shouted at the women to "shut up," and his threat to "hog-tie" Gina if she didn't shut up seemed to be just about the funniest remark cadet Grumm had ever heard.

When the chuckling forces of law and order arrived with their terrified cargo at the Point Arena substation -- two bleak rooms to the rear of the isolated Veteran's Building north of town -- Officer Gander ordered Gina to "get out" of the car and "walk." As soon as she was out of the car and walking, Gander, for no obvious reason other than to put his beefy, apparently love-starved hands on his comely captive, "squeezed a compliance pressure point" between Gina's neck and shoulders, as if the handcuffed mom had any option other than deputy Hands-On.

Cadet Grumm didn't have to be told to follow Gander and Gina; high school was never this interesting.

A second deputy, Jimmy Hubert, was also at the substation but remained in an adjoining room; only once did Hubert enter the room where deputy Gander had again grabbed the unresisting Gina and pushed her hard down onto a chair. "Jimmy wouldn't look at me," Gina recalls. "Gander told him to do a check on me and that's the last time I saw him."

Unfortunately for young Grumm, who just been yukking it up with his mentor prior to their arrival at the sub-station, and continued to loiter in the "interrogation room," Gander told Grumm to go home. The cadet got in his truck and drove off, taking away with him a memorable evening's vivid instruction in inter-gender relations.

With Debbie handcuffed outside in the patrol car, Gander kept Gina all to himself in the interrogation room, uh, interrogating her for forty-five minutes.

"I was half-dressed," Gina concedes, giving her tormentor the benefit of a very large doubt, "but it was Halloween. I thought I was going to the party at the Gualala Hotel and then I'd go home. But there I was under arrest in the Point Arena police station with this maniac. I wasn't wearing a bra, I was still handcuffed behind my back; I had no way to cover myself. He was leering at me and laughing at me. He'd tell me to shut up and then he'd insult me by saying something like, 'Don't look this way; your breath stinks.' I definitely felt violated. I think the only reason he took me in there was to scare me and harass me."

And to lust after his prisoner.

When Gina asked Gander not to haul her all the way to the County Jail in Ukiah because she had children at home, Gander demanded, "Who's with your kids?" Gina told the suddenly righteous deputy that her son was with the kids. 'What's your son's name?' Gander insisted.

"He yelled at me like I was an unfit mother, and he was extremely physical with me the whole time I was with him. It was like he couldn't control himself. Everything he did was completely uncalled for. I wanted it to be over, but he kept on and on. He didn't tell me why I was being arrested until we got to Ukiah, then he said it was for being drunk in public and resisting arrest. He also said I was yelling obscenities at him, but I wasn't. I was speaking in a low voice to Debbie, telling her to calm down. It was all very scary."

Gina and Debbie said it was scary driving with Gander and his giggling cadet from Gualala to Point Arena; it was even scarier when they got to the sub-station in Point Arena and took Gina inside for "interrogation"; scarier yet "because he drove like a maniac all the way from Point Arena to Ukiah," when Gander drove Gina and Debbie over the hill to the County Jail; and the grand finale scare in the jail's sallyport when Gander gratuitously slammed Gina face first into a wall, leaving a large black bruise in the middle of her forehead to go with the numerous bruises the deputy had left all over both Debbie's and Gina's upper bodies.

At the Point Arena sub-station, Debbie had asked Gander to change her handcuffs from back to front. Gander did as she asked. When Debbie asked Gander to do the same for Gina, he refused. He told both women "they were going to find out what it's like to spend a night in jail."

Debbie Hicks never was "interrogated" at Point Arena. She sat handcuffed in the back seat of the Sheriff's car while deputy Gander conducted his unique interview with Gina Jimenez, an interview consisting of denunciations of her parenting skills about which he knew absolutely nothing, random insults, and long, yearning looks at the suspect's exposed breasts and legs.

It was now well after midnight. Just before the deputy began his mad dash east to the County Jail with his two prisoners, he allowed Debbie to call her by now very worried ex-husband to tell him she wouldn't be needing a ride home. Gander then grudgingly permitted Ms. Jimenez to call her home to inform her astounded son that she too would not be home any time soon because she and Debbie were apparently under arrest.

Debbie had asked deputy Gander if she was still under arrest. Gander replied, "Don't worry; I'm not going to file any charges against you, but I am going to take down your friend."

Gander loaded both women into his patrol car for a wild, high speed trip to the County Jail in Ukiah. Debbie was handcuffed comfortably to her front, Gina remained painfully handcuffed behind her back. Their captor, er, the arresting officer, didn't tell them where they were going.

"I thought for sure we were going to die," Gina says. "Either he was going to kill us somewhere up in the hills or he was going to drive off the road and kill us all because of his reckless driving."

Gina and Debbie survived the careening, hour and a half ride to Ukiah, and were surprised when Gander pulled into the parking lot of Denny's Restaurant just off Highway 101. The deputy left the women in the back seat to talk with a group of cops chatting nearby. Gina and Debbie could see Gander talking to his colleagues, and they could hear them all laugh at whatever it was Gander had said.

Deputy Gander would testify that he stopped at Denny's to ask a more experienced officer how to defend himself against accusations from the two women confined to his vehicle of false arrest and brutality.

Apologize and drive them home might be the place to start, but his midnight seminar at Denny's complete, Gander drove his prisoners on out to the jail on Low Gap Road just north of town.

It was 3am. Gina and Debbie had been in custody for four hours, but still didn't know why.

As two young night shift jailers were processing Gina into custody, Gander grabbed Gina one last time and slammed her face into a wall.

He got a few parting shots in at Debbie, too. He demanded she extend her arms, the arms the deputy himself had bruised during his rough arrest of her, while he repeatedly asked, "What kind of drugs are you on?"

Wrong bruises, deputy. Too big, too hands-on for dope bruises, and too new to be the telltale signs of shoot 'em up drug use. The deputy, clearly performing for the jailers, was suddenly chivalrous, asking Debbie, "What man's abusing you?"

Perhaps resisting an impulse to respond, "Only you, deputy dear," Debbie replied that no man, no drugs had turned her arms black and blue. "I don't use drugs," she said.

"This woman is lying," the faux-indignant deputy informed the amused coed jailers.

Gina informed the jailers that she was menstruating and needed a bathroom to attend to herself. The gallant Gander said no. And delivered another emphatic no to Gina's request for an aspirin for her migraine. And a final no to any relief for a chronically low blood sugar condition she suffers. Gander instructed the jailers to "hold them as long as possible," and went out into the night to carry on his fight against crime. Gina passed out when she got to the women's side of the jail.

About 4 am, a female jailer peered through their cell door's window. Debbie asked, "When can we go home?"

The jailer answered, "You can go home when you're not drunk."

Gina asked, "How will you know when that is when you haven't even tested us?"

The jailer abruptly walked off.

No sobriety tests to determine the degree of their alleged drunkenness; no reading of their rights to these most unlikely perps; no charges -- nothing but four hours of verbal and physical abuse

Finally, at about one in the afternoon, Gina and Debbie were informed that they'd been drunk in public and that Gina had resisted arrest. Although Debbie had ignited the alleged drunk in public arrests of both women, only Gina was formally booked. She was charged, fingerprinted, photographed and both ladies were buzzed out the locked door to freedom.

Although Debbie Hicks had just spent 12 hours in stark conditions of un-freedom, nobody said sorry for the error, sorry for treating you worse than a 911 terrorist, sorry for falsely stripping you of your inalienable rights as an American. Nobody stepped out from behind the thin blue line to say anything at all. The door buzzed open and the two women walked out of custody.

"We complained to the Sheriff's Department," Gina says. "We just wanted to do what we had to do to get Gander out of here. We don't want anybody else to experience what we experienced. But the Sheriff's Department ignored our complaint."

Gina adds, "I just wanted it to go away, to be over. I didn't want to go to court, but I wasn't going to plead guilty to something I hadn't done."

She didn't plead guilty. Gina pled not guilty, and in March of this year she took her case to a jury in Fort Bragg's Ten Mile Court.

Tom Croak, the Coast's public defender, was Gina's attorney. Meredith Lintott, Assistant District Attorney, represented the unwitting People. The honorable Eric Labowitz presided.

It took a full day to select a jury. The trial took another full day.

The jury was out for little more than an hour when its foreman said they were hopelessly deadlocked, 11-1 for acquittal. "He told me afterwards," Gina says, "that except for that one lady, they all had voted for acquittal right from the first."

The lone holdout, described by a spectator as "a very large hippie-looking woman," refused to even consider Gina anything but guilty on both counts, drunk in public and resisting arrest.

Deputy Gander's vague testimony was, to say the least, unpersuasive. He was unable to recall the arrest site, placing it on the south side of the Gualala Post Office when it was on the Post Office's north side. Tina Dowdy, bartender at the Gualala Hotel, testified that neither Debbie nor Gina appeared to be drunk. And the student cop, cadet Grumm, declared on the stand that contrary to Gander's statement that both women were "falling down drunk," they didn't appear to his virginal eyes to be drunk at all.

Asked why he hadn't arrested either of the ladies earlier in the evening when Gander claimed he'd first observed them so drunk they were "holding each other up," Gander blandly replied, "I don't know."

As for Gina's claims that she was manhandled by Gander throughout her horrendous evening with him, first Gander, then the coed jailers, testified it never happened. But Gina produced photographs taken the following Monday in the presence of a doctor that confirmed both women had been severely bruised by the arresting officer.

District Attorney Lintott did some post-trial huffing and puffing about trying Gina again, but she was just a-woof-woofing. A re-trial, assuming the jury was vetted of the evidence-proof hippie, the jury would be out for ten minutes and the verdict would be unanimous for acquittal.

Again, both Debbie and Gina were going to let it go at Gina's acquittal. But when they were advised that official Mendocino County is a very, very slow learner, and doesn't learn at all unless the lesson costs big bundles of cold cash, the formidable and fearless Andrew Mansfield esq. has sued the county for damages.

Gina sums up her evening with deputy Gander and its aftermath. "We knew he was in the wrong. I didn't want this on my record. We also didn't want him out there getting away with this kind of stuff. It can't keep happening! He scared us to death. It was the first time in my life I felt like my life might be in jeopardy. You should never feel like that when you're being arrested by a peace officer unless you're doing something horrible and threatening. On the stand he said, 'Oh, I questioned Gina for 45 minutes, then I took her friend and questioned her for 45 minutes.' No, he didn't. He didn't question Debbie at all. He totally lied about everything and it was obvious to the jury. And other officers got up and lied too! Their stories were so different it was obvious they were lying. And in court!"

Why any interrogation of either woman was necessary given the charges, let alone an interrogatory lasting 45-minutes, doesn't seem to have occurred to the deputy. Drunk in public is confirmed by testing if there's any doubt. Resisting arrest? Better have a confirming witness, officer, and in this case the confirming witness, Cadet Grumm, said it didn't happen.

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