It was cold and the light was barely beginning to fade when I reached the encampment nestled behind Sausalito’s Dunphy Park. The wind carried the faint scent of fennel weeds which grew in raised clumps around the tents. As children, we had sat in the same approximate clump of fennel weeds to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, not long after the end of the Vietnam War, and now it was a homeless encampment. Maybe that was a metaphor for crumbling American empire, but we couldn’t see much of the fireworks through all the fog back then, so the encampment was arguably an improvement.
I had come back to Sausalito to talk with witnesses of the April 2, 2021 SWAT raid on Paul Ray Smith, Jr., a mentally ill, 53-year-old man, on an anchor-out boat, conducted by the Marin County Sheriff Office. The raid occurred on Good Friday, and to mark the holy day, the Marin County Sheriff Office (MCSO) deployed and/or enlisted:
A “Crisis Negotiation Team”; a “Special Response Team”; two local fire department jet skiis; two armored MCSO boats; a Coast Guard boat; two mobile command centers; a K-9 unit from Novato with its own SUV; at least one ambulance and one fire truck; an armored Humvee (comically ill-suited for a raid conducted on a sailboat); two drones which hovered over the occupied boat like giant mechanical dragonflies; a large but unspecified number of law enforcement personnel from various agencies; flash bangs; multiple canisters of Baffled CS smoke; multiple canisters of 1.33% Capsaicinoid spray; bean bag bullets; a fireboat; a helicopter of so-far unspecified agency (possibly Coast Guard); and, best of all, the Sheriff’s own gleaming, bisque-colored portable toilet stations, which were pulled on a wheeled chassis by a truck, like the least-loved float in a Texas homecoming parade.
The price tag for all this, with or without the Sheriff’s fancy portable toilets, remains undisclosed. (The most common guess amongst Sausalito residents was approximately $100,000, unless some of the deputies were on overtime.) The subject of the raid, Paul Ray Smith, Jr., had three misdemeanors, but no history of violence, and little to his name. But he did have a much-beloved dog, one he had reared along with others from the same litter. She had been the runt of the litter, and while he had given away the rest of the litter’s puppies, one of which belonged to a young family in the anchorage, he kept the rust-colored pup, and he called her Runt Girl.
From all available evidence, the MCSO’s SWAT team appears to have acted in a manner that was likely to kill the man, and most certainly the dog. But to date, the MCSO has provided no clarity on why it was necessary to conduct a SWAT raid against a severely mentally ill man in a boat, when they could just as easily have arrested him when he went ashore to buy a sandwich and dog food at Mollie Stone’s.
I had not visited Dunphy Park for a while. The encampment had its genesis in the violence-prone evictions from the anchorage enacted by Harbormaster Curtis Havel of the Richardson Bay Regional Agency, one of those alphabet-soup, supposedly regional agencies that makes accountability by ordinary citizens nearly impossible. My last visit was a month ago, when several young Black community leaders from neighboring Marin City had come to show their support for the efforts of a young organizer, Robbie Powelson, who had knitted together homeless and barely housed people into a loose alliance from Sausalito to Novato, and who was currently engaged in a legal battle on behalf of unhoused residents against the City of Sausalito. In doing so, Powelson had done something unusual in Marin County: he had demanded accountability from those who held power. It was stunning, if nerve-wracking, to watch this particular high-wire act.
But the tension in this particular drama was due primarily to RBRA Harbormaster Havel, who was appointed in August 2019 after Harbormaster Bill Price retired. Price’s gentle oversight had miraculously resulted in no encampments, no SWAT raids, and killed no dogs. Price had, however, raised the ire of many new and powerful people in Southern Marin who considered the anchor-outs (a feature of the region since before the City of Sausalito was incorporated, and possibly before California achieved statehood in 1850), a blight on the views afforded from their increasingly valuable properties.
Toward the elimination of the poor, the rich had enlisted Marin Audubon Society President Barbara Salzman. Salzman’s raspy voice has all the guttural charm of Jimmy Hoffa’s presumably bog-like resting place, and she has routinely used that voice to argue that the anchor-out boats are a threat to Richardson Bay’s eel grass, to great, if unintentional, comic effect. Salzman’s eelgrass claim has been rightly questioned by many longtime Sausalito residents, but to little avail: if the rich and powerful desire something, there is no end to the bizarre and sundry claims that can be made against the poor.
Since my last visit, the multicolored tents had grown in number and in variety, and they looked surprisingly festive set against the shimmering water of the bay. Someone called out to Mike Ortega to “come and talk to a reporter”, and the gentle, blue-eyed young father ambled out from behind a sea of tents, followed by several other young men who were eager to tell what they knew. In the background behind them, Mike’s wife balanced their baby on her hip, and called out commentary in the pauses when her husband, a man of few words, fell silent. For example, when I asked whether Mr. Smith loved his dog, she was adamant: “It was his baby.”
Mike’s wife is small and very pretty, her long chestnut hair frames dark eyes and a wide mouth. Her baby is enormous and also beautiful, with a crown of white-blond hair, and wore an adult’s wool sweater, which on him was more like a dress. You rarely see children or babies in Marin wearing ill-fitting clothing anymore; even the poor are expected to dress their children in properly fitted new clothes, to be disposed of before the next Instagram moment. But for those who remember an earlier, less ostentatiously wealthy Marin, the baby in the oversized sweater might strike a chord of recognition, a reminder of an era both more humble and more carefree.
An anchor-out named Tim Logan, who in many ways is a key player in the unfolding of the Good Friday raid, dutifully appeared from the scrim of tents when the young men called out to him. Mr. Logan is the man whom RBRA Harbormaster Havel allegedly nearly killed, when Havel pinned Mr. Logan and his skiff against an anchor-out’s boat in mid-March, two and a half weeks before the Good Friday SWAT raid. (The MCSO website reports that this occurred on March 18, but other records indicate that it occurred on March 17.)
Regardless of the 24-hour disparity in the date, all parties agree that the boat in question belonged to Paul Ray Smith, Jr., and that it was one in a long succession of anchor-out boats seized by RBRA and quickly crushed at the Army Corps of Engineers, a fact that further traumatized the already traumatized Mr. Smith.
To say that Mr. Smith, or Paul Ray to his friends, suffered from mental illness would be an understatement. Smith announced frequently that he was an Admiral, although an Admiral of which naval fleet, no one ever knew. He announced that he owned a large silver mine, which of course failed to explain his poverty. And so on.
Smith was well known to several of the older, silver-haired Sausalito homeowners who walked their dogs along the promenade at Clipper Yacht Harbor, where the raid took place. Of Mr. Smith, they testified to three things: that he was crazy, that he was in no way dangerous, and that he loved his dog. Like many longtime residents of Sausalito, these women saw the anchor-outs as a necessary part of Sausalito, an integral part of history.
Smith’s non-violent but erratic behavior was tolerated amongst the anchor-outs mostly because he lived on the anchorage. As Mike Ortega put it: “The person you hate the most in the world? You’ll still come to their aid. Because you have to - we all rely on one another.” This particular environment, with sudden storms and a hostile trinity of enforcers (the MCSO, the Sausalito Police, and the dreaded RBRA), leads to a certain solidarity that is difficult for many of the rest of us to understand. The precarity builds the solidarity, and the solidarity in turns makes the precarity more bearable, even meaningful.
On the day in March that RBRA Harbormaster Havel came to seize Smith’s boat, Logan was faced with two bad choices: to try to block Havel’s much more powerful boat from seizing Smith’s boat, or to let Smith’s boat be taken and swiftly crushed at the boatyard by Havel’s team. Logan chose the former by getting in his small skiff and placing himself between Smith’s boat and Havel’s boat. Instead of backing off, Havel allegedly pinned Logan and his skiff between the RBRA boat and Smith’s boat, and proceeded, recklessly, to drag Logan in this fashion to the Army Corps of Engineer’s boatyard where it was almost immediately crushed.
Sometime before or during the pinning of Tim Logan by Harbormaster Havel, Smith fired a flare gun, which Havel insists was pointed at him. The question of whether this was actually aimed at Havel has gone unanswered by the MCSO, which holds but refuses to release the videotape. What is clear to many, both in the anchorage and on shore, is that Smith’s home was being seized under dubious terms, that Smith possessed no other home, and that Smith fired a flare gun as a distress signal. Smith may be severely mentally ill, but it is not at all clear that he intended anything other than a distress call, an act which is not uncommon within the waters of San Francisco Bay.
Tim Logan was subsequently invited by MCSO personnel to report Havel’s assault to the MCSO substation in Marin City, which Logan dutifully did on March 23, 2021, whereupon the Sheriff had Logan arrested for “obstructing a public officer, operating a watercraft recklessly, and interfering with marine regulators.”
It was unclear to almost everyone why Tim Logan was arrested when it was Harbormaster Havel who had pinned and nearly killed Logan with his boat. This is but one of many legal questions, lawsuits, and costly settlements which have followed in the wake of Havel’s disastrous 20-month reign as RBRA Harbormaster.
Logan’s case was taken by Charlie Dresow, one of Marin County’s premier defense attorneys, who was unsparing in a recent critique of the actions of the RBRA and the MCSO. In this manner, the quiet and clean-shaven Tim Logan, all 38 years of him, came to be named in the local paper, which is the first time most of the county had heard of him. With his curly hair and blue eyes, Logan looks less like a feared anchor-out than a paramedic back in Suffolk County, a good and trusting friend to Smith’s troubled soul. On the day I met Logan, he was wearing what looked to be a mechanic’s jumpsuit, it was clean and unwrinkled, despite the fact that he has been living in a tent.
Logan related what he had experienced and witnessed not with rancor, but with a kind of boyish puzzlement at what had transpired. From all of the anchor-outs I heard real frustration, but I saw nothing resembling any anger proportional to the extreme abuse and harassment most of them had received at the hands of RBRA. (Under the aegis of Robbie Powelson, the encampment has temporarily won the right to stay, via a ruling by Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District.)
On the day in March that Havel crushed Smith’s boat, Paul Ray had no choice but to be onshore. Despite the claim that Smith had fired a flare gun at Havel, no one in law enforcement seemed to think he was a serious enough threat that he required arrest. So Smith, traumatized by the loss of his boat home and having no place to go, moved onto a boat owned by Mike Ortega, who was then living at Dunphy Park with his wife and baby. According to Ortega, he permitted this usage of his boat to Smith, given the circumstances of Havel having crushed Smith’s boat.
During this time, Havel and, separately, the MCSO, continued to harass Smith on the new boat. This included boarding the new boat and insisting Smith talk with them, which terrified the traumatized Smith. It is difficult to imagine what sort of response a gang of bullet-proof-vested Sheriff deputies thought they would incur by boarding the boat occupied by a desperately poor man whose boat home had just been crushed by authorities. But this baiting of Smith, whom one female anchor-out described as “the most vulnerable person on the anchorage,” allowed the MCSO to claim, accurately or not, that Mr. Smith waved a pistol at them. (Video of this incident has also not been provided to the public by the MCSO, and no pistol was retrieved according to the MCSO’s own statement.)
It was apparently this phantom gun incident that the MCSO used to justify their SWAT raid on Good Friday. The MCSO openly concedes that “Special Response Team (SRT) members on-scene deployed less-than-lethal weapons a multitude of times… We then utilized distraction devices, bean bag rounds, Conducted Electric Weapons (taser) and CS gas….”
From the evidence at hand, it appears that the Sheriff SWAT team used flash bangs, 1.33% Major Capsaicinoids, bean bag rounds, taser rounds, and multiple 5230B Baffled CS smoke canisters on Smith inside the cabin, before they sawed through the cabin to remove him. The CS smoke canister that was used by the MCSO is indicated by its manufacturer as being designed for use in multiple rooms with minimal risk of fire. It does not indicate whether the same “minimal risk of fire” can be maintained when the canister is used in a single room (which is actually larger than the size of the small cabin Smith was occupying.) Neither does the manufacturer indicate the risk to the subject if more than one canister is used. Nor does it indicate what synergistic effects it might have when combined with the very strong 1.33% Capsaicinoid Spray (the MCSO SWAT team left evidence indicating they had likely used multiple canisters of the 1.33% Capsaicinoid Spray, as well.)
But those are merely the potential risks of combined use of the chemical agents used against Smith. His dog was also needlessly under assault by the Sheriff SWAT team. Given the small size of the cabin, the taser shocks and the bean bag rounds could likely also have injured Mr. Smith’s dog, which the MCSO SWAT team knew was on board the boat with Smith. But when considering the overall chemical agents used, it is worth noting that Mr. Smith was reportedly 175 pounds at last count. His dog was approximately 50 pounds. The notion that the dog could have survived that amount of either the CS gas or the 1.33% Capsaicinoid Spray, or the combination thereof, and in such a small enclosed space, does not seem credible.
The MCSO’s ever-evolving press release claims that after they pulled Smith out of the tiny cabin, the boat mysteriously caught fire. A fireboat was summoned, and from its hoses came a cartoonishly small trickle of water, so the boat continued to burn. After the fire was finally extinguished, deputies discovered that the dog, which they had declined to remove from the boat along with Smith, was dead. Predictably, the MCSO blamed Smith for both the fire and the death of his own beloved dog. But the MCSO apparently did not then remove the dog for an autopsy; they left the dog’s corpse on the boat. And the MCSO then left the boat unattended at the dock where they had towed it from the anchorage, which seems a curious way for a law enforcement agency to secure evidence which they have already permitted to be severely damaged by fire.
Sometime later, the MCSO contacted Mike Ortega, the owner of the boat, and informed him that he could retrieve the boat they had irreparably damaged. But when I spoke with Ortega a week after the raid, he told me that he was unable to retrieve many of his belongings because the tiny space was still so contaminated with the CS residue left by the raid and toxins released by the burnt fiberglass.
I spoke with Curtis Havel a week after the Good Friday Raid. He asked if he could call me back “at 13:30”, which I thought was sadly amusing: In corresponding with a civilian, Harbormaster Havel insisted on using military time instead of simply asking for a 1:30 pm call. Like Paul Ray Smith insisting he was the Admiral of some invisible navy, or Walter Mitty in Thurber’s classic tale, Harbormaster Havel apparently fantasizes he is at war. But what prompted this most recent battle? The opening “shot” of the recent skirmish was the claim that Smith had fired a flare gun which, so far as we know, had come nowhere close to hitting Havel, but which Havel imagined was a threat serious enough to involve the MCSO.
When at “13:30”, Havel called me back, I asked him basic questions about the raid. But Havel insisted he could not answer because there was an active investigation, and because the raid was conducted by the MCSO, not the RBRA. I then asked Havel whether this incident had raised questions about his continued viability as the RBRA Harbormaster. Havel stated that he refused to answer the question on the basis that it was “antagonistic” and “not factually based.” I pointed out to Havel that the question was factually based, since it was a question that many people in Sausalito had asked based on the facts of his liability-producing job performance, including a $2 million lawsuit from a wealthy family in Tiburon when Havel improperly crushed their boat.
I further explained to Havel that my question was not “antagonistic” but rather a valid and reasonable question that should be asked of anyone with his level of authority after such a series of events. He repeated his statement that the question that it was antagonistic, I repeated mine, and this went on for another round until I was required by politesse to indicate that I accepted his non-response as some manner of response, and to thank him for the call, whereupon I gratefully hung up.
Last summer, I had very gently and timidly suggested to Havel that his goals were made more difficult by his obvious contempt for the anchor-outs he had been hired to remove. If he could only accord them the smallest measure of respect, I suggested, his task might be easier. But like a machine set to a singular, angry function, the notion of empathy or respect for the poor was rejected. And it’s only now that I understand why Havel continues to thrive in a role he keeps blundering in.
Havel’s role isn’t to evict a finite number of anchor-outs. His role, assisted by the increasingly unhinged Marin Sheriff Bob Doyle, is to generate enough fear and anxiety amongst the impoverished people who call the anchorage their home, that one of them finally does strike back with physical force. That’s what Havel was trying to get Smith to do, but even Smith didn’t want to be forced into using violence against authority. For Havel, the cruelty isn’t merely the point, it’s a strategy. And at the moment when someone within the anchorage does crack, the massive force already witnessed against the most vulnerable member of the anchorage, Paul Ray Smith, Jr., will be multiplied against all of the anchor-outs.
It’s worth noting that the violent, costly, and cruel SWAT raid against Paul Ray Smith, Jr. occurred at a time when the MCSO might have focused on something constructive. Marin’s small Asian-American population hasn’t been exempt from the recent spate of anti-Asian violence and anti-Asian hatred. During this time, Black residents of Marin City and Latino residents from the Canal District publicly condemned anti-Asian hatred and violence and pledged their support for Asian-Americans. But in a county where the stabbing of Eddy Wu by a white supremacist still haunts some memories, the MCSO declined to send out even a press release condemning anti-Asian violence, nor did it demonstrate any public willingness to reach out to the Asian-American community.
I confirmed this omission by checking the MCSO website on April 11, 2021. While doing so, I noted that a claim that even the MCSO had deemed meritless, that of a teen jogger being assaulted by a Black man, was still on the MCSO website, even though Sheriff Doyle’s assistant had left a voicemail for me on February 22, 2021 confirming that the press release was in error, and would be promptly removed. Seven weeks after that assurance, the false claim about the supposedly violent Black man remains on the MCSO website.
Which is to say: the Marin County Sheriff Office isn’t just telling you who they are; they are screaming it. The MCSO facilitation of the Trump car caravan into Marin City on November 1, 2020, which terrorized Black residents and resulted in provable election interference, is not even being internally investigated. Nor is the unnecessary MCSO-supported SWAT raid on Marin City in 2019. The MCSO’s racial arrest demographics, which show the MCSO has arrested Black individuals at a rate over eight times their demographic population in the County, also remain uninvestigated, either internally by the Sheriff, or by the District Attorney.
Meanwhile, Paul Ray Smith, Jr. sits in the County jail at taxpayer expense. God only knows how much worse his psychological condition is after the pointless attack wrought on him by both RBRA and the MCSO SWAT team. Was it just sport for the Sheriff deputies to terrorize a man and kill his closest companion? Or was the larger point to instill fear in residents who have grown increasingly questioning of their own law enforcement agencies?
And in the mostly male Marin County Sheriff Office, are the deputies all so small and so cowardly that not one will step forward and condemn their own Sheriff?