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River Views

Bruce McEwen’s July 18th article in the AVA detailed the ill-fated trip of Kevin Dirksen and his two children after parking their van near Ukiah’s Walmart on the way to the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in Boonville. As my long haul trucking sister knows, most Walmart stores allow weary travelers to park overnight. In the middle of that particular night one of Dirksen’s children headed for a nearby mini-mart to use the facilities, but instead was apprehended by a night watchman. At that point law enforcement entered the story. Soon enough, Dirksen’s van was towed and his children were taken away by CPS (Child Protective Services). Someone at the towing company found drugs inside a toolbox inside the van and Dirksen was incarcerated.

McEwen’s well written account followed the case to court where Dirksen was held over to stand trial by Judge Ann Moorman for possessing drugs that varied from LSD “hits” to methamphetamines as well as child endangerment. Dirksen’s Public Defender questioned the validity of evidence that was unsecured by law enforcement for a substantial period of time, but Judge Moorman apparently paid this no heed.

According to Mr. McEwen’s article, which is based predominantly on sworn testimony, the drugs were discovered by someone in the tow truck business. Why was a tow truck employee going through the belongings inside Dirksen’s van? Is this common practice for tow truck companies contracted by law enforcement in Mendocino County? If so, as Ricky Ricardo would say, local law enforcement has got some ‘splainin’ to do. Also, did I miss a Civics class that tells every citizen it’s okay for a towing business to rummage through the personal belongings of vehicles it has towed? Can you picture your friendly, neighborhood AAA tow truck driver rifling though your possessions after your car has been disabled by accident or malfunction?

It will be interesting to see how Kevin Dirksen’s case plays out in light of the somewhat similar case of the adult daughter of a Mendocino County supervisor. She recently pleaded “no contest” to possession of more than a hundred marijuana plants as well as child endangerment. She is likely to be sentenced to a fine, community service and three years probation. DA Eyster’s fines for marijuana are typically running somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 per plant.

In the 1920s, when my mother was a small child, her family lived on a homestead in a godforsaken corner of southwestern Utah. One of my great uncles described it as a place so desolate “even jackrabbits carried canteens.” Three of my great-uncles were the breadwinners for an extended family. Much of their income derived from branding “maverick” calves and brewing moonshine. In other words, they were in possession of an illegal drug with the intent of putting it up for sale, the same crime for which Kevin Dirksen stands accused.

Though local and federal law enforcement officers were aware of the “still,” the idea of taking away the children living there was never broached. A gentle hint from a county sheriff’s officer finally convinced the family to move on — and they did, to California, where all the great uncles lived productive, law-abiding lives as did the children endangered by the life of crime around them. If rural deputy sheriffs, 90 years ago, could see the long term damage that might be done by splitting apart a poverty stricken family over relatively petty crimes, why on earth can’t the officer’s of Mendocino County’s courts see the very same thing?

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