When Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry comes to the Ten Mile Court and stays for over an hour and his name isn’t on any witness or subpoena list, then something is up. When Judge Clayton Brennan speaks to defense attorney Mark Kalina in open court mentioning “the articles by Malcolm Macdonald,” you can’t help but take notice.
Such were circumstances at the Ten Mile courthouse, Wednesday morning, November 6, 2013. The case: The State of California v. Karen and John Brittingham. The Brittinghams were arrested on November 23, 2012 outside the Company Store in Fort Bragg, and charged with a felony violation of California’s Penal Code 69. The key phrase in Penal Code 69 is: “Every person who attempts, by means of any threat or violence, to deter or prevent an executive officer from performing any duty…” This can be read to mean that the Brittinghams got into some sort of physical altercation with one or more Fort Bragg Police officers.
In court, two Fort Bragg police officers were seated immediately behind Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen: Sgt. Brandon Lee and Officer Jonathan McLaughlin, whose name is on the booking log for this case. But there was another officer at the scene, whose name was barely mumbled by Stoen when he began the day’s proceedings, but the officer’s name was pronounced clearly and repetitively by Kalina. That third officer, not present in court, is none other than Craig Guydan, who has been on the force since May of 2012, and has already been the subject of numerous articles in the AVA (see March 6, 13, and 20, June 19, and October 9 issues). Briefly: Guydan was the only Fort Bragg Police officer to discharge his gun while on duty in 2012. That December 21, 2012 shooting of a dog occurred after ten seconds of barking outside a Walnut Street house. The event became the subject of one Fort Bragg citizen’s formal complaint against Guydan. Coast Copwatch (of which I am a member) filed another formal complaint against Guydan based on the dog shooting as well as a January 7, 2013 incident in which Guydan drew his gun while pursuing what turned out to be a group of youths playing football by streetlight, and several other incidents in which Guydan falsely accused coastal citizens and business owners of a variety of crimes.
The November 6 Ten Mile Court proceedings last week were scheduled as a preliminary hearing in the State v. Karen and John Brittingham case, but that was put off until late January, 2014. What ensued on the first Wednesday in November were arguments over Stoen’s motion to quash Kalina’s subpoena directed at Fort Bragg City Manager Linda Ruffing.
Astute readers will remember that Ruffing was also a subject of the October 9 AVA article regarding the investigation into Guydan’s actions. More background: The investigation was conducted by Chuck Lebak, who served on the Redding, CA, police force at roughly the same time as current Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry. That conflict of interest aside, Lebak failed to interview three key, first-hand, witnesses to Guydan’s wrongful actions. During his investigation, Lebak went out of his way to verbally denigrate two other Fort Bragg Police officers to local citizens; two officers who had virtually no connection to Guydan’s actions. The October 9 AVA piece detailed how another member of Coast Copwatch and myself met with Ruffing in August about the woeful nature of Lebak’s investigation. At the end of the hour-long meeting, Ruffing promised to look into the matter herself. Her response time was not quick. After two months and many unanswered messages went by, Ruffing finally responded with an email on October 16 that said: “The Police Department has a process for investigating complaints and the details of internal investigations are confidential personnel records. While I cannot divulge any information regarding internal investigations, I can assure you that Chief Mayberry has established high standards of conduct for our police officers. The command staff at the Police Department work very hard to train our less experienced officers and to help them develop the ‘soft skills’ that are necessary in community-oriented policing. Since Chief Mayberry took the helm at the Police Department, we have hired six new police officers. From my vantage point, each and every one of these officers is an asset to the Department and to our community.”
Ruffing also responded, kinda-sorta, to Coast Copwatch’s questions about investigator Lebak: “In the course of our conversation, you expressed concerns about Chuck Lebak, an independent investigator who has performed services for the Fort Bragg Police Department. The concerns were about Mr. Lebak’s independence given that he worked for many years at the Redding Police Department, as did Chief Mayberry. You also expressed concerns about specific comments that Mr. Lebak made while interviewing you. I have passed these concerns along to Chief Mayberry. The Chief and I believe it is a good management practice to rotate investigators and, should additional internal investigations be needed in the future, other investigators will be called upon.”
Though Ruffing acknowledged that Lebak needs to be replaced as an investigator, she failed to mention anything about the next logical conclusion: that Lebak’s investigation into Guydan’s actions needs to be performed anew with a truly independent investigator or investigators.
In response to Coast Copwatch’s call for a Citizen’s Oversight Committee, Ruffing offered the same old same old: “The City Council has a ‘Public Safety Committee’ comprised of two Councilmembers. The Committee meets monthly and provides a forum for community input into Police Department activities. I would encourage folks who want a greater voice regarding public safety matters to attend the Public Safety Committee meetings or to communicate directly with Councilmembers Deitz and Kraut, as well as Chief Mayberry and me.”
Ms. Ruffing must think that Coast Copwatch members are all afflicted with some sort of short-term memory loss. Coast Copwatch members have attended the Public Safety Committee meetings and City Council meetings, calling for citizen oversight boards, committees, and/or panels at both — with no response whatsoever from City Council members, the Police Chief, or the City Manager, not even to bring up the matter and vote it down.
The last sentence of City Manager Ruffing’s Oct. 16 response to Coast Copwatch — “I would encourage folks who want a greater voice regarding public safety matters to attend the Public Safety Committee meetings or to communicate directly with Councilmembers Deitz and Kraut, as well as Chief Mayberry and me” — is telling and it will bring us back to the Brittingham case and their attorney, Mark Kalina. By the time of Copwatch’s August meeting, Ruffing was aware of some of the citizens who investigator Lebak failed to contact concerning Officer Guydan’s wrongful actions. These citizens may have also talked to Mayor Dave Turner. Keep in mind other citizens have called and emailed Chief Mayberry about Guydan’s misdeeds, but the catch is that only two written complaints were ever formally lodged. Thus only two exist in Guydan’s personnel records. The further catch is that the only “investigation” conducted about Guydan was the entirely inappropriate, unprofessional one done by Chuck Lebak.
The Brittinghams’ attorney, Mark Kalina, included Linda Ruffing on a list of subpoenaed witnesses. Assistant District Attorney Stoen presented a motion to quash such a subpoena stating that Ruffing’s testimony about citizen complaints would only amount to hearsay, adding that other complaints against Guydan did not involve the physical confrontation that occurred in the Brittingham case. Kalina cited the dog shooting as evidence of Guydan’s overly aggressive policing methods. Stoen called Kalina’s subpoena of Ruffing “a fishing expedition.”
Judge Brennan sided with Stoen, quashing Kalina’s subpoena of Ruffing, but he did leave the door open for Kalina to file a Pitchess Motion.
What is a Pitchess Motion, you ask? Peter Pitchess was the Sheriff of Los Angeles County in the 1970s. The California Supreme Court case that derives from his name established the right of a defendant to access a law enforcement officer’s personnel records when the defendant alleges that the officer used excessive force and/or lied about the events that led to the defendant’s arrest. Of course, a law enforcement officer, like any employee, has the right to assume his/her personnel files will remain private. Therefore, a defendant must write and sign an affidavit that details specific facts establishing a plausible foundation for an allegation of officer misconduct.
Whether Kalina can establish a compelling enough link between the Brittinghams’ seemingly violent confrontation with Officer Guydan and the complaints of citizens passed along to City Manager Ruffing remains to be seen. What Kalina’s legal maneuvering makes clear is that Ruffing, the so-called Public Safety Committee, with two City Council members, and Police Chief Mayberry have inadvertently, or not, created something of a shell game for anyone questioning the authority of the Fort Bragg Police Department. If you complain about police misconduct to a council member or the city manager, the Police Department can say, “You didn’t complain formally.” If you complain formally, another complainant won’t know about your complaint unless you hire a lawyer and file a successful Pitchess Motion.
Another difficulty in getting to the bottom of police officer misconduct is the fear factor. Some of the Fort Bragg citizens contacted by Coast Copwatch are in a similar boat with the people who sent Copwatch this email message earlier this year: “While we would be happy to sign a petition or otherwise be part of a united citizen's complaint about Guydan such as what you have been organizing, we are a bit reluctant to be singled out as the point people attacking him because once that fact became known in the police department, it could make it very uncomfortable for us… [driving] around town in a very distinctive [business] car that could become an easy magnet for extra police attention.”
Whether the Brittinghams are guilty or not, what their case demonstrates is that Officer Guydan’s misdeeds may still come home to roost, not just for him, but for the leadership of the Fort Bragg Police Department and the city government that has done everything it can to ignore and cover-up not only his misdeeds, but their own preposterous investigation.