They’re Here, There and Everywhere, the proliferation of gangs in Mendocino County. Our headline writers decided this sweepingly inclusive distillation would just about cover all the bases.
But it turns out to have been something of an understatement.
Now, it seems, that even the widest-angle view of the problem is too narrow, especially in gang-infested Fort Bragg, where the local paper has for so long turned a blind eye to any issue that might cast a shadow on the sunshine tourism the Mendocino Coast depends on the shootings, beatings, bullying, and intimidation that has taken hold there goes unreported.
Fort Bragg is small, rural and remote from the big city, but Fort Bragg, like Ukiah and Willits, also small and remote from the city, suffers from the presence of organized bands of criminals, mostly Spanish-speaking but increasingly now including disaffected white youth. It seems to be news to local educators and parents that some of their students and children are involved in attempted murder, drive-by shootings, witness intimidations, and savage beatings.
The parents of a juvenile being tried as an adult in a gang-related series of crimes, Alex Hurtado, begged us to pull a story from our website before the gang leaders saw it and ordered a hit on the Hurtado family. We left the story up but excised the family surname until we realized that we, too, had been manipulated.
Next, a confidential source informed us that the principal of Fort Bragg High School, when presented with the article in newspaper form (apparently gang-bangers don’t read newsprint) was so surprised at the extra-curricular activities of some of his young scholars that he made copies* for the parents of the delinquents in question.
The parents, predictably (some will say), went into paroxysms of denial.
“There must be some mistake! Besides — they can’t print the names of our kids in the paper!”
This is true to the extent that the case stays in juvenile court, which is closed to the public. But these defendants are being tried as adults, and their names have been revealed in open session of the Superior Court of Mendocino County. Gang shootings and group beatings by 15, 16 and 17 year olds are not the work of young people making childish mistakes. Childish mistakes was the old idea. A kid would get in misdemeanor trouble but grow up and away from a life of crime. But with so many criminalized adolescents committing adult crimes, we think the public, for its own safety and welfare, has the right to know who's doing these things in their communities.
In another gang-related case — these cases are all related DA David Eyster says — a Fort Bragg couple was chased into their house, savagely beaten and told if they called the cops they would be killed. Eyster and Chief Scott Mayberry of the Fort Bragg Police Department have decided that the kiddie gloves are coming off.
A Fort Bragg cop named Mark Bradford testified last week in the matter of Jose Bermudez, 17. Bermudez is being tried as an adult:
Bradford: “When I approached, he got up off the other person, who was down on the ground, and ran into the alley. Then he stopped and threw something. I heard something metallic hit the ground.”
Deputy DA Ray Killion: “Did you search the area?”
Bradford: “Yes, after I cuffed him.”
Killion: “Find anything?”
Bradford: “Yes; a set of metal-type knuckles covered in blood.”
Killion: “Had you had any prior contact with the defendant?”
Bradford: “Yes, I’ve known him for years.”
Killion: “What did you do then?”
Bradford: “Placed him in the car and recovered some other things: shoes, a hat, an iPhone. He refused to answer any questions, so I transported him to the station and returned to the scene in front of the Golden West, where I spoke with some passers-by.”
Killion: “Who were they?”
Bradford: "Steve Jahelka. He was there with Dylan Lastinger and Elise.... Steve Jahelka’s nose was cut and swelling; he claimed he’d been punched by one of the parties.”
Killion: “Did Mr. Jahelka tell you how this all got started?”
Bradford: “He said they were standing on the sidewalk when the others came by and words were exchanged. Victor Soria and Victor Viscenzio, Gabriel and Victor Hernandez, along with Jose Bermudez, then attacked them. Soria punched Lastinger and Jahelka stepped in. Viscencio punched Jahelka in the nose. Then Bermudez attacked Lastinger — Bermudez had a beer bottle in his hand and hit Lastinger in the head with it.”
Killion: “Did you contact Dylan Lastinger?”
Bradford: “Yes. He was bleeding from several cuts on his head and face. He said he’d been standing with Elise Brumbeloe when the others came along and he said, ‘you guys are looking kinda shysty.’”
Killion: “Do you know what ‘shysty’ means?”
Bradford: “Shifty, or something like that, I think.”
Killion: “Then what happened?”
Bradford; “Victor Soria came over and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ — like he was pretty important.”
Killion: “Then what?”
Bradford; “Soria threw the first punch. Lastinger pushed him away and then Bermudez attacked and hit him with the beer bottle. Bermudez then wrestled Lastinger to the ground and hit him several times.”
This is the point when Officer Bradford arrived. Bermudez got off Lastinger and tried to ditch the brass knuckles.
Killion: “Did you compare the injuries on Lastinger’s face with the metal knuckles?”
Bradford: “Yes. It looked like the cuts on his upper cheek bone would have been caused by the knuckles.”
Killion: “What was Mr. Bermudez’s condition?”
Bradford: “There was dirt and blood on his face.”
Killion: “Was there any blood on his hands?”
Bradford: “Yes. There was blood on his hands.”
Killion: “Did you search him?”
Bradford: “Yes. He had a blue rosary and a blue bandana.”
Killion: “What was he wearing?”
Bradford: “Black pants and , uh… I don’t recall what color a shirt he had on.”
Killion: “Nothing further.”
Attorney Thomas Mason of Ukiah has been tasked with defending many of these gang cases, and he began his cross on Jose Bermudez’s behalf.
Mason: “How long did you spend interviewing Steve Jahelka?”
Bradford: “About 10 or 15 minutes.”
Mason: “Was the interview recorded?”
Bradford: “I believe it was.”
Mason: “Did you provide a copy of the recording to the DA?”
Bradford: “I believe it was attached to the report.”
Mason: “So you say Brumbeloe and Lastinger started yelling at these guys?”
Bradford: “Lastinger was yelling.”
Mason: “So Lastinger was yelling something to the effect, ‘You’re looking kinda shysty’—had he been drinking?”
Bradford: “He had.”
Mason: “How much?”
Bradford: “I don’t know.”
Mason: “Did he tell you he’d been drinking?”
Mason: “Then how do you know he’d been drinking?”
Bradford: “I’d seen him earlier on a walk-through of the bars.”
Mason: “Which bar did you see him at?”
Bradford: “I don’t recall. I do a walk-through of those bars a couple of times a night. They’re all right there together.”
Mason: “In your report you say Soria was seen running with a sack of beer; how do you know what it was in the sack?”
Bradford: “Mr. Jahelka said it looked like a sack of beer.”
Mason: “How did he know?”
Bradford: “I don’t know.”
Mason had Bradford draw a diagram of the area, showing that the businesses in question were all within easy walking distance of one another — the Top Hat, the Welcome Inn, Corral West.
Mason: “So Steve Jahelka said Victor Soria were running from the Welcome Inn — running west — or walking at a fast pace.”
Bradford had to check his wording for the correct wording: “He said they were running.”
Mason: “What about the others?”
Bradford: “I don’t believe he stated they were running.”
Mason: “But he did say they had beers in their hands?”
Mason: “And this is when he says they’re looking ‘kinda shysty’?”
Bradford: “Steve Jahelka said it was just meant as a joke but they were taking it the wrong way.”
Mason: “And he said Soria was the one to throw the first punch?”
Bradford: “Yes, at Lastinger.”
Mason: “Then Steve gets between them?”
Mason: “Did he ever say he saw my client hit him with the beer bottle?”
Bradford: “I don’t believe he said he actually saw it…”
Mason: “You said he did!”
Bradford: “I’d have to check my report.”
Mason: “Please do.”
Bradford fidgeted in the hot-seat, paging through his report. Finally, he found the passage and put the report away. “Steve did not say he saw him hit him with the bottle. He said he saw him approach with the bottle in his hand.”
Mason seemed satisfied with this answer. He said, “So after the exchange of words, the fight immediately broke out?”
Mason: “Now, Dylan — is he… “You got a statement from him?”
Mason: “And he refused medical attention?”
Bradford: “Yes. I advised him that he needed stitches, but he decided not to seek medical attention.”
Mason: “So this is all caused by Dylan mouthing off, isn’t it?”
Killion: “Objection. Defense is making light of somebody getting nearly beaten to death.”
Mason: “Well, the defendants are not coming after these people until Dylan says something, right?”
Mason: “Then he says Bermudez hit him over the head?”
Mason: “Did the bottle break?”
Bradford: “I found a broken bottle, yes.”
Mason: “Did you take it into evidence?”
Bradford: “”Uh, no.”
Mason: “Now you examined Dylan’s injuries. Did you examine my client?”
Bradford: “Jose Bermudez?”
Mason: “Yes. Didn’t he have lots of gravel in his face?”
Mason: “Sort of like he got his face rubbed in the ground?”
Mason: “Was he bleeding?”
Bradford: “Yes, he had some abrasions.”
Mason: “Did you examine him for injuries?”
Bradford: “He became very agitated with me.”
Mason: “That’s not my question. Did you examine him for injuries?”
Mason: “Did you know he went to the hospital?”
Mason: “But it says in your report he was transported to the hospital!”
Mason: “So you did know he went to the hospital!”
Bradford: “I didn’t understand your question, I guess.”
Mason stared at the officer. Finally he said, “Now, Elise — she was walking on the sidewalk by Golden West, right?”
Mason: “Now she says my client hit Dylan with the beer bottle, correct?”
Mason: “And she says the bottle broke?”
Bradford had to check his notes again, but didn’t find anything about the bottle breaking.
Mason: “Now, you say my client was wearing black pants — any gang clothing?”
Bradford: “Yes, the blue bandana.”
Mason: “Yes, but he wasn’t wearing that.”
Bradford: “It was folded and arranged so it was hanging out of his back pocket.”
Mason: “So he wasn’t wearing it!”
Killion: “Objection. This is how these gang members signify their gangs.”
Mason: “Was it taken into evidence?”
Mason: “Did Dylan see any brass knuckles?”
Mason: “Nothing further.”
Brass knuckles are hard to see, they appear as only rings on a closed fist. The co-defendants Victor Soria, Victor Viscencio, and Vincent and Gavriel Hernandez were offered reduced charges in exchange for pleas. Jose Bermudez was bound over for trial, but his lawyer Mr. Mason said the case was likely to be resolved before it went that far. He seems to be getting the message that the DA and the Fort Bragg PD are playing hardball.
Note: Nancy McGinty, the Willits woman who set fire to her Brooktrails house with her crippled son inside, has pled out to attempted murder and arson. She faces 18 years in state prison.