Anderson Valley’s resident Deputy Craig Walker has been spending a lot of time in Ukiah lately because, he says, the sheriff’s office is short deputies. Walker was in court on overtime last week, having been on duty close to 24 hours. Two weeks ago, the deputy had been on the Ukiah side of the hill near the Esterlina vineyard when he got a call telling him to hustle over to Gualala where there'd been a shooting. Gualala from the Ukiah side of the hill is a long, long way, at least an hour, but Walker said he'd made the run over Fish Rock Road to the South Coast in record time.
And here he was in court after a very long night sorting out the two Gualala shooters who'd been apprehended at Stewart's Point just over the Sonoma-Mendocino line. Lack of sleep hadn't hurt Deputy Walker's powers of recall, which were full on when defense attorney Catherine Livingstone tried to make a liar out of him.
Ms. Livingstone was defending Arelio Ortiz-Acosta. Acosta needed the assistance of the certified court Spanish language interpreter, Timothy Baird, and it was through Baird that defendant Ortiz-Acosta learned that he was in danger of being deported if it could be proved that he was in possession of a couple of turkey bags each containing a pound of sales-ready manicured marijuana.
He was already on probation for selling methamphetamine.
Deputy Walker took the stand in his stylish new olive drab tactical uniform — the one reserved strictly for K-9 officers. Walker's a fit, crew-cut man in his forties. Walker said he pulled over a Cadillac sedan on the 1500 block of South State, Ukiah at 3pm on January 14th for failing to signal before making a turn. When he approached the vehicle Walker say the turkey bag of weed in an open paper grocery sack on the seat next to the rear seat passenger. This passenger turned out to be Señor Ortiz-Acosta, a guest in our country and a probationer. On the floorboards, next to Ortiz-Acosta's feet was another turkey bag of weed, this one in a Coca Cola box. (Turkey bags are said to contain the distinctive pot odor, hence an annual harvest-time billboard in Ukiah announcing their sale. Anymore, far more dope than turkeys is found in turkey bags.)
Having established that Ortiz-Acosta was in the back of the Caddy alone with the weed, Deputy DA Beth Norman sat down and Ms. Livingstone of the Public Defender's Office rose to cross-examine Walker. Her first question was to ask Walker if Ortiz-Acosta had his seatbelt on.
“Not that I noticed, “ Deputy Walker answered. “He may well have been wearing a lap belt, since he was in the middle of the seat, but I don’t recall seeing a shoulder strap.”
Then Ms. Livingstone wanted to know about the driver.
“A Hispanic male, by the name of Alvarez,” Walker answered.
“Did you get a report earlier in the day to be on the look-out for him?”
“Objection,” Ms. Norman said. “Hearsay,”
Judge Moorman turned to Ms. Livingstone for response. But Ms. Livingstone seemed at a loss to say something, anything.
“Ask your next question, counsel.”
“Was there any clothing on the back seat?”
Walker inclined his head an instant in an attitude of focused reflection before answering, “No, no clothing.”
“A coat maybe? Didn’t you see a coat?”
“No, nothing like that.”
Ms. Livingstone exchanged some whispers with her client, which took a few moments because all communication, whispered or otherwise, had to go through the translator, Tim Baird, a stylish, male-model-looking dude always togged out in nice suits.
Ms. Livingstone asked about the Coke box.
“Did the Coke box have flaps on it?”
“The top had been removed,” Walker explained.
“So you could see the pound of processed marijuana in the box?”
“Did you arrest the other passenger — the one in the front seat — and the driver?”
“I did, yes.”
“Did the front-seat passenger claim the marijuana?”
“One of the persons did claim ownership,” Walker smiled, much to the annoyance of Ms. Livingstone.
“Objection,” she screeched. “Unresponsive! The other person was an unreliable witness. He has a bias.”
“The one who claimed Ortiz was the owner?” Judge Moorman asked.
“He had a motive to lie, your honor.”
Ms. Norman calmly said, “I’m going to object as to the relevance of all this, your honor.”
“Objection sustained,” Moorman said.
Ms. Livingstone put her client, accompanied by interpreter Baird, on the stand.
This may have been a mistake.
Ms. Norman gave fair warning: “If he testifies today, it can be used against him in the future; even by the immigration authorities.”
“Or in any other legal proceeding,” Judge Moorman added.
Through interpreter Baird, and at the promptings of attorney Livingstone, Ortiz-Acosta lamented how he’d recently been hauled to San Francisco by La Migra (Spanish slang for the federal immigration officers, now called ICE or immigration and customs enforcement) on an undisclosed charge “and since I did not have money for bail they gave me the opportunity to have this ankle bracelet put on my leg.”
And that was on December 27th?”
“And did you go to the Mendocino County Probation Office when you got back from San Francisco?”
“And this incident which happened on January 14th — hadn’t you gone to the probation office that same day?”
“So you got up early and walked to the probation office?”
The Adult Probation Office is now on Low Gap Road. It used to be on Standley Street across from the library.
“And you spoke with your PO (probation officer)?”
“Yes. Katie… I can’t remember her last name.”
“And what did Katie tell you?”
“She told me to go to Community Service and sign up for work.”
“And did you do this?”
“Uhh, yes… well, I wanted to. But it costs $40 to sign up, which I didn’t have. So they gave me an appointment for three days later and then I walked over to AODP, but there was no one there. Then Javier [Alvarez, the driver of the black Caddy] called me and asked if I wanted a ride.”
“Who is Javier?”
“A friend; I don’t know his last name.”
“Did you know the other gentleman in the car?”
“Where were they giving you a ride to?”
“To see about a job so I could get the $40 for Community Service.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“Body work and painting.”
(I'm assuming the bodywork was a reference to car bodies, not naked hippies and patchouli oils.)
“And you had a job to go to?”
“I was hoping for some money up-front on a job.”
“And where was this?”
“At somebody’s house.”
“Well, it used to be the Blue Bird Café, but I don’t know what it’s called now.”
It is called Mi Lindo Michoacan (My Heart is in Michoacan) and has been for six months or more.
“And where is that?”
It’s at State Street and Beacon Lane, where the officer pulled us over. In fact I was out of the car when I heard the officer say to get into the car so I got in and put on the seatbelt.”
“Did the seatbelt have a shoulder strap?”
“Did you see a grocery bag on the seat?”
“No. It wasn’t my place to pay any attention to what was there. All I saw was a jacket on the seat. The officer says marijuana was there but I couldn’t look into things that weren’t mine.”
“Did you see a Coke box on the floor?”
“Yes, and there was something in it but I couldn’t see what.”
“Did Javier say anything about being pulled over?”
“No — I never imagined!”
“Then what happened?”
“He took my pulse.”
The other two guys in the Escalade looked like they were on meth.
On cross, Ms. Norman wanted to know how well Mr. Ortiz knew this fellow, Javier.
“Not a lot,” Ortiz answered.
“But he’s a friend of yours, right?”
“Well, he’s a good enough friend to come and pick you up…”
“Well, did he come and pick you up or not?”
“And wasn’t he taking you to sell the marijuana?”
“Then why were you in the car?”
“I do jobs for people. I don’t know their names.”
“Do you have your own tools?”
“Did you have them with you?”
“No. I was only going to give him an estimate. And ask for an advance.”
“Why didn’t you walk?”
“I was not aware of the drugs. I am aware of the consequences of coming in contact with drugs due to my status as a probationer.”
“You were sitting right next to a bag of marijuana — an open bag. And you were not aware of it?”
“Now, Javier says you were selling marijuana; and Mr. Bonocorso [the other passenger, subsequently arrested for tweeking] says you were selling it.”
“And there was a box right next to your feet with marijuana in it.
“I didn’t look into the box. It’s not my property.”
“Why did you get in the car with Javier?”
“I had some errands to run.”
“Oh? I thought you said he was taking you to a job?”
“They were just going to drop me off there.”
“Because I told them I needed to pay the $40 to Community Service.”
“Why is Javier doing all this for you if he is not your friend?”
“He was nearby.”
Ms. Livingstone wanted to clear something up about the defendant’s heart being in Michoacan. On re-direct she said, “You have family in Mexico?”
“Yes, my mother and siblings.”
“And do you want to see your mother?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Then why did you return to Mendocino County from your ordeal in San Francisco?”
“I wanted the opportunity to fix my paperwork; I wanted to comply. I also wanted to sell off my tools and return to my own land… I don’t feel like I have a life here.”
Beth Norman put Craig Walker back on the stand.
“Where was Mr. Ortiz seated?”
“In the middle of the back seat.”
“How far from the bag with the marijuana?”
“It was right next to his thigh.”
“Thank you. Nothing further.”
Judge: “Arguments, counsel?”
Norman: “The marijuana was clearly in his possession; he knew he was on probation and should have never gotten into the car.”
Livingstone: “Whatever was in the car was theirs [presumably she means Messrs. Alvarez and Bonocorso]. He [her client] didn’t know it was there.”
Judge: “The petition says Mr. Ortiz-Acosta was in violation of his probation for the transportation of marijuana and a preponderance of the evidence says he was.”
Norman: “I would like to refer this to probation.”
That won’t be anything but a formality, because:
Livingstone: “He has an ICE hold.”
Which means deportation pending.
Judge: “We’ll set this for sentencing on February 22nd.”
Via con Dios, amigo.