The latest home invasion for pot – and after legalization, who’d a-thunk it? Yet here we have another trio of armed stoners, with several more of the white boy bandidos still on the loose who came up to Mendo to grab some buds and/or cash at gunpoint. We just got one trio processed through the courts and sent off to prison when here comes another! True, the most recent trio of dope thieves hit a Rite Aid in Willits for opioids, but still, those three came right on the tail of the three who pulled the Brooktrails pot job, and those three were right behind the Branscomb Road canna-bandits.
What really set this current threesome apart was race – these guys are white, glaringly white, so white they hurt your eyes, and just to keep the count straight, that makes a dozen, nine black and three white.
Why make an issue over race?, you ask. Fair enough, here’s why: We pride ourselves, regionally, on our egalitarian mores, our widely professed desire to “embrace diversity,” to not only preach racial inclusion, but to put it in practice, and live by it. So, here’s the deal: We at the mighty AVA, the sentry at the gates of public good, will vigilantly be sure there’s no favoritism masquerading as justice as this latest trio of home invaders goes through the motions of justice.
So far, I think we can clear the sheriff’s deputies who made the arrests of any show of favoritism. In the Branscomb case, the defense lawyers cast some pretty foul aspersions on both the Willits police and Sheriff’s deputies – and, remember, that case had a lot in common with this one, in that they both featured a “heavy” with a shotgun and charges of false imprisonment, with an implied threat of execution-style murder. Both the Branscomb gang and these guys ended in a high-speed chase, the perps run to ground on foot.
Wait a sec – not so fast – I might have overlooked one… Lemme see, we had Eural Strickland, Jakell Watts and Dejoa RayShan LaRue in the Rite Aid Trio; then there was Michael Bradford, Christopher Taylor and Diontae Wright in the Brooktrails Trio; there was D’Wan Porter-Walker, Johnny Lee Walker and James Richardson in the Branscomb Road Trio; and – oh, yes – James Earl Lovely, Willie Devan Samuels and Golden T. Venters in yet another Willits pot job, who we’ll call the Willits Trio. So, actually in the last year or so we’ve had five trios of dope thieves and only this latest batch, the Low Gap Trio, was white.
Last Friday the white Low Gap Trio was brought into court for arraignment. Only one, Nathan Kurtz, the designated “heavy” had a lawyer. The other two, Shane Christian Waier and Azuriah Paul had none. Kurtz had his parents and his girlfriend in court; Waier and Paul had nobody.
Mr. Kurtz’s lawyer, the five-star rated Patrick Michael Ciocca of Santa Rosa, had been retained by the Kurtzes and his first order of business was getting the bail reduced. Judge Keith Faulder had set the bail at schedule, which for Kurtz meant $385,000; and for the others, $250,000, each, as they were charged with robbery in concert; while Kurtz was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon, use of a firearm, false imprisonment, and stealing a car.
Mr. Ciocca had his client’s mom and dad stand up and told the court they, the Kurtzes, would be posting the bond. “They’re laying their entire financial lives on the line, your honor.” Ciocca stressed to the court that his client had absolutely no criminal record and therefore he asked the court to set the bail “slightly” below the schedule.
Deputy DA Thomas Geddes objected to any reduction in bail. “The defendant was dressed as a security officer. He pointed a shotgun at the victim and bashed the victim up against the head with it [the shotgun]. He then took the victim’s vehicle and fled, which resulted in a high-speed chase.”
Judge Faulder set the bail at schedule and as the Kurtzes were leaving the courtroom, the girlfriend paused to give the defendant a long, a wistfully long, last look. We might add here that in the Brooktrails pot job the guy accused of using a shotgun, Diontae Wright, also came to court with no criminal record; which means that, so far, we can detect no favoritism or prejudice. The entry of a plea was put off until next week when the other defendants, Shane Waier and Azuriah Paul, are supposed to have lawyers. Mr. Ciocca didn’t want to enter a plea on Kurtz’s behalf until then because the moment he does so certain legal clocks start ticking, such as the one with a 10-day limit for a prelim.
The 10-day limit is crucial, as was seen a few minutes later when the case of Peggy Aullman was called for prelim and the prosecution’s witness, a Highway Patrol officer, was not present. The officer had been injured and was on medical leave. DDA Geddes wanted the prelim continued for three weeks, but Ms. Aullman was in custody and her lawyer, Daniel Moss of the public defender’s office, objected. Judge Faulder therefore denied Mr. Geddes’s motion to continue and ordered the defendant discharged. The DA will now have to re-file the charges.
There was also a competency issue in regards to the defendant, Ms. Aullman. In fact, several of these kinds of cases had been called Friday morning – cases wherein the lawyers for defense had declared a doubt as to their clients’ mental competency to participate in their own defense, listed as 1368 through 1370 in the Penal Code. Two of these types of defendants, Ambrose Fallis and Michael Grunwald, were being held at the jail in the “safety cells” – what we used to call “padded cells” – and both had committed additional crimes notwithstanding the special cells; they were both charged with “gassing” a correctional officer, which means throwing feces or urine on the guards.
Mr. Moss wanted his client, Grunwald, present for the setting of a new date, July 29th, for the receipt of Dr. Castle’s report. It turns out that Dr. Goodwin can’t do a competency report, so Dr. Castle had to be brought in. Judge Faulder said it was a problem for the court and the transport officers to bring Grunwald to court and he wasn’t going to do it.
“I can see there’s a practical logic to what the court is doing,” Moss said. “But my client has a right to be here.”
“We are vacating the date that should have been vacated before – nothing is going to happen today and I’m not going to have a show for Mr. Grunwald.”
Mr. Grunwald does so love a show, too. What a pity he couldn’t have one. But the upshot of all these 1368 cases was that the new order of drill is that the courts will no longer be sending the mentally incompetent to the Napa State Hospital – it’s insanely (sic) overcrowded, and there’s a four-month waiting list to get anybody in there – but will, instead, from now on, be conducting these competency restorations at the jail. What this crisis of overpopulation in mental wards says about the sanity of our way of life we’ll leave to the pundits, but it appears that more and more we are forced to face the specter of craziness here at home.
Footnote: On a more censorious note, the word “appropriate” must have been used a dozen times or more during the judge’s announcement that all further competency restorations will be done at the jail, and the subsequent discussion between his honor and the lawyers. In one instance "appropriate" was used in a context where “advantageous” was what was actually meant; in the next, it was clear that “judicious” was intended; in still another it signified “fortuitous”; and in a great many cases it was hard to tell exactly what was meant by the decorously vague term “appropriate” and this is no doubt the main reason it has enjoyed such universal adaptability among people who more and more would like to blur their meaning, and at the same time find acceptance among the Nice People who wouldn’t, in my Aunt Maude's aphorism, say shit if they had a mouthful of it.