Dominic Affinito says he didn’t punch Fort Bragg City Councilman-elect Dan Gjerde repeatedly in the back and threaten to kill him Thursday, November 12th in the Fort Bragg City Hall at 1:30 in the afternoon. He says his encounter with Gjerde has been exaggerated, misunderstood. Besides which Gjerde started it.
Six eyewitnesses and the Fort Bragg police say Affinito went after Gjerde for no apparent reason, pounded on Gjerde’s retreating back and threatened the new councilman’s life.
Mendocino County District Attorney, Susan Massini, said Monday she has no reason to doubt the eyewitness accounts of the attack relayed to her by the Fort Bragg police.
We have here what might be called a preponderance of opinion as to what happened. Six witnesses, three cops, one victim. Gjerde 10, Affinito 1.
Affinito, the 63-year-old consensus perp, quickly convinced himself that he is the wronged party. Or at least seriously misunderstood.
Maybe Affinito believes media accounts of the incident, all of which downplayed his physical pursuit of Gjerde, who happened by just as Affinito learned his North Cliff Motel would not be cleared to open for business by the sitting Fort Bragg City Council. Affinito apparently blamed Gjerde for the delay although Gjerde won't be seated as a member of the council for another two weeks.
After the historically unprecedented assault on the 27-year-old Gjerde in Fort Bragg’s civic center, Deputy District Attorney Mark Kalina, charged Affinito with one misdemeanor count of battery. The Fort Bragg police had recommended that Affinito be charged with alleged felony battery on an elected official and two misdemeanor counts — simple battery and issuing terrorist threats. Assistant DA Kalina reduced these charges to one count of simple battery and the volatile developer has been ordered to appear in Ten Mile Court, Monday, December 7th to answer to it.
Affinito refused to talk to the Fort Bragg Police Department following his attack on Gjerde, referring all questions to his attorney. It is believed that Affinito has retained Robert Peterson of Fort Bragg to represent him on the criminal charge and may have hired Jone Lemos Jackson of Mendocino to represent him in the ongoing dispute over his North Cliff Motel.
In Affinito’s version of the attack on the modest and well-mannered Gjerde, Affinito told the Press Democrat’s Andrew LaMar that Gjerde started what the Press Democrat has described as a “scuffle” or a “fracas.” Both terms imply mutual combat which, eyewitnesses agree, was not the case in this single-sided encounter.
“Basically,” Affinito told his Santa Rosa stenographer, “we passed each other on the stairs. He said something unkind to me. He baited me, and I took the bait. At best it was a shoving match. Two little kids would be more physical. I’m an old fart who would have a hard time doing any damage.”
The Fort Bragg Police Department’s assessment of the encounter was less benign.
“Mr. Affinito allegedly struck Mr. Gjerde on the arm and then grabbed him and pushed Gjerde up the stairs into the wall. Gjerde complained about his head and was in shock over the incident. Gjerde then tried to flee Mr. Affinito and Affinito pursued him from the planning department to the finance department where Gjerde had called 9-1-1. Affinito at that point allegedly threatened Gjerde and then left City Hall.”
The claim by Affinito that Gjerde provoked him to violence with a snide comment as he walked past Affinito is dismissed as absurd by the many persons who know the young Fort Bragg politician.
“It would be totally out of character for Dan,” declared Roanne Withers. “Nobody’s ever even heard of him doing something like that.”
Public opinion in Fort Bragg is running heavily against Affinito. The former Sacramento man is widely viewed as a bully who has for at least a decade blustered his way into sweetheart development deals with a suspiciously accommodating Fort Bragg City Council.
The November 3rd elections saw three reform candidates elected to the Fort Bragg City Council. Gjerde received the largest winning vote in the history of the seaside mill town of some 5,000 people. Like Gjerde, councilmen-elect Michelle White and Vince Benedetti also campaigned to end Fort Bragg’s city-sponsored favoritism. The big winning vote for an end to cronyism was at least partly a protest against the domination of the present City Council by Affinito and a constellation of affiliated insider contractors and developers.
Many Fort Bragg residents critical of the town’s cozy deals with Affinito and other developers, suspect Affinito attacked Gjerde simply to establish an ongoing conflict of interest to prevent Gjerde from voting on North Cliff when Gjerde takes his council seat in two weeks.
Others say Affinito is a known hothead who “goes off on all kinds of people all the time.” Still others say that an attack in the middle of City Hall on a work day is an unusual way to establish conflict of interest considering that the penalty could put Affinito behind bars for several months.
Soon after the decision of the present Fort Bragg City Council to hand Affinito’s flagrantly over-large North Cliff visitor’s facility on to the new council, Affinito began posting daily menu insults aimed at his old council pals on the Main Street marquee of his Tradewinds Restaurant. Recent blue plate specials include, “City Council Special — Eggs Benedict Arnold.” Another, “City Council Sundae — Absolutely No Nuts.” Then, “City Council Spaghetti — No Meat Balls.” And, “City Council Special — Teriyaki Chicken, No Backbone.”
In response to these culinary witticisms, a Fort Bragg resident dubbed the fun-loving innkeeper, “Dominic One Story Too Tall Affinito,” adding, “Whose Elevator Doesn’t Go All The Way To The Top.”
Several sitting members of the Fort Bragg City Council are frequent customers of Affinito’s Tradewinds cafe. The town’s mayor, Matt Huber, is a regular customer.
If the sitting council had approved the building as it is, grandly perched above the mouth to Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg might be liable for a large state-launched suit against the town for knowingly permitting the erection of a structure which violates city and state building codes.
Affinito has lived on the Mendocino Coast for 15 years. He has been at the center of development controversies before, but none so intense as the North Cliff project. The day of his now infamous attack on Gjerde, Affinito was in City Hall in anticipation of a city council vote which would have allowed him to seek a final inspection of the just-completed North Cliff. Assuming the structure passed its final inspection, Affinito then would have qualified for a Certificate of Occupancy and opened for business — two days after the unwise assault on Gjerde which has now thrown the North Cliff completely off Affinito’s hoped-for schedule.
The day of the assault the old council, now denounced as testosterone-challenged and spine-free by their old chum, was meeting in a mid-day closed session with a Sacramento attorney specializing in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act. As Affinito lingered in the hall outside the council chambers, waiting for what he anticipated as a green light for his just completed North Cliff, he learned that the council had decided to delay approval of it. Just as he received unexpected bad news, Gjerde happened by and Affinito commenced beating on him.
No permit, and an assault charge. Bad day for bad boy Dominic.
The least serious complaint of misdemeanor assault can result in six months in the County Jail and a $2,000 fine. But DA Susan Massini conceded Monday that the complaint could be amended to the far more serious charge of assault on a public official if her research determines that the law assumes Gjerde is essentially an elected official even though he won’t be sworn in until December 1st. There is widespread speculation that the complaint against Affinito will be amended upwards given both the unhinged ferocity of the unprovoked attack on the popular Gjerde and aroused public opinion condemning it.
DA Massini also said that whatever the final charges against Affinito when he appears in Ten Mile Court on December 1st, his trial may have to be moved from Fort Bragg where both his North Cliff enterprise and his wild assault on the widely-supported Gjerde have made him more unpopular than ever.
Massini denied having anything to do with the charging of Affinito.
“I didn’t want to touch it,” she said Monday, “for fear that Dan would assume I’d minimize it because of our previous contacts. I left it to Mark (Kalina) to make the charging decision. I needed to stay out of it.”
The reference to “previous contacts” between DA Massini and councilman-elect Gjerde stem from responses Gjerde wrote on a jury questionnaire two years ago which the DA recalls as politically hostile to her. Gjerde wrote on the jury sheet that although he’d worked for Massini’s election in 1986 he had since become disenchanted with her because of her failure to prosecute, among other crimes, the famous Fort Bragg fires of 1987.
There is talk of the case being put over until after the new year when Norm Vroman takes over the DA job from Massini. Insiders say Vroman, a law and order type who seems to take the more brazen types of crime personally — assaults on public officials in public places, for instance — is unlikely to give the self-described “old fart” Affinito a free pass on this one.
Assistant DA Kalina is new to the prosecutor’s job and new to the Mendocino Coast. He has not talked about the case to the media. Kalina came to the prosecutor’s job on the Mendocino Coast from the county’s Public Defender’s office in Ukiah. He’s regarded by colleagues as competent and honest.
“He’s a consensus good guy,” a Ukiah lawyer said who asked to remain anonymous. “Mark had never heard of Affinito before this. But this thing is certainly a very strong, high-level misdemeanor — a borderline felony. If Affinito thinks he’s going to skate on this one, he’s probably in for another big disappointment.”