James Pasco and Patrick Johnson had an enviable little dope op going on Guidiville Road, Ukiah, featuring nearly 500 marijuana plants, 31 pounds of processed bud and almost a full pound of hash. It was a tempting stash any time of the year, but especially during home invasion season, which is now. Consequently, Pasco and Johnson rightly assumed that somebody just might come along and try to relieve them of the valuables.
Given the large potential for loss, Pasco & Johnson sensibly kept a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun and a .410 gauge/.22 Ruger handy. Those were the weapons that Deputy Orell Massey found when he responded to a report of an attempted robbery at Pasco & Johnson on July 19th of 2012. The eagle-eyed deputy also discovered 474 pot plants, 31 pounds of bud ready for sale, 440 grams of hash, which is a lot of hash.
Johnson hadn’t waited around for the long arm of the law to snatch him up. He apparently had pressing business elsewhere, so Pasco took the fall, even though he had a medical recommendation for his "acute hypochondria," which could only be effectively treated by the miracle plant. His recommendation said Pasco needed to possess “99 plants” at a time in case he had a sudden attack of the heebie jeebies.
What everybody knows and nobody talks about is the Green Fever. Green Fever can attack anyone when there's a lot money at stake, especially when one party thinks the distribution of profits unequal. Anyone who has ever been on a grow can read between the lines and see what happened, as in the following report from the UDJ:
“Three people were arrested on suspicion of cultivating and selling marijuana early Tuesday morning after one of them called 911 from a neighbor’s house to report their home was being robbed… The caller reported his neighbors were being robbed at gunpoint … deputies responded and the three — James Pasco, Mark Weatherly and Amanda Northrup — told them at least two men tried to rob them at gunpoint … nobody got hurt and nothing was missing. The deputies suspected it was a commercial grow” and everybody got busted.
Everyone but Patrick Johnson.
Mr. Pasco hired Robert Boyd to defend him. Boyd had taken the case to preliminary hearing for no reason evident in his questions to Deputy Massey.
“Did you go there because of a robbery investigation?”
“Did you make any arrests on the robbery?”
Judge David Nelson asked, “Do you have any defense evidence, Mr. Boyd?”
“No, your honor.”
“Would you like to argue your case?”
“No, your honor.”
The judge turned to DA David Eyster.
Eyster, who had already established that Pasco told Massey the grow belonged to him and Johnson, said, “We’re asking for a holding order on count one, possession of marijuana for sale; count two, cultivation of marijuana; count three, possession of concentrated cannabis; and a special arming allegation for protection of the operation.”
Judge Nelson said there was sufficient evidence to form a reasonable suspicion that the allegations were true and held Mr. Pasco to answer.
The arraignment on almost zero information was set for March 12th at 8:30.
* * *
E.D. Lerman and Rebecca Mendribil are a much better choice in pot lawyers. A certain “Mr. Smith” hired the capable pair when he got pulled over in Willits with nearly 50 pounds of pot and a case of butane, which is used for making honey oil out of weed. Smith was driving through late-night Willits in a Cadillac with no taillights, which is like driving through a six-mile tunnel with nobody else but 100 cops at each end,
A hundred cops all dressed up with nothing else to do but watch your big ol' Cadillac with no taillights move slowly on through. Smith might as well have had a big neon sign mounted on the top of the Caddy: "Attention Law Enforcement. Please Stop Me. I'm Transporting a Big Load of Dope."
But will the real Mr. Smith please stand up? The Caddy guy's for reals name has not been confirmed, as the Smith in custody faces an extradition hearing which threatens to send him back to Texas where he [or some other Smith] is wanted. The extradition hearing will determine whether Mr. Lights Out Cadillac is in fact the same Mr. Smith Texas wants back home. Until then, Mr. Smith's true identity is a matter of dispute.
A rookie Willits cop, Kevin Leef (sic), pulled Smith over and soon found the leaf.
If Mr. Smith really is a Texan, that might explain why he’d drive around in Willits in the middle of the night with his tail lights out with pounds of weed in the trunk. Texans leave their the state of zero tolerance and arrive in Mendopia with the attitude they’ve died and gone to Heaven — everyone’s loaded, dope is practically free, and drug fortunes are to be had for the taking.
Ms. Lerman closely cross-examined Officer Leef on the details of the stop, and it soon emerged that there were some serious questions about the legality of Leef's ensuing search. But the prosecution, DA Eyster, pointed out that this was not a hearing to suppress the evidence and Judge Ann Moorman agreed that because it was not a 1538.5 (motion to suppress evidence), so the question was irrelevant.
Lerman: “How many times had you seen the vehicle that night?”
Leef: “Just the one time.”
Lerman: “Did you write a report on this incident?”
Lerman: “Did you review it before coming to court today?”
Leef: “Yes, that’s right.”
Lerman: “So if there were discrepancies between what is in your report and what you have said today, you would be more likely to refer to the report than your memory, is that fair to say?”
Lerman: “Did you have your recording equipment on at the time of the arrest?”
Leef: “I don’t recall.”
Lerman: “Was the driver’s door locked?”
Leef: “No. I opened the door and asked Mr. Smith to step out of the vehicle. Please.”
Lerman: “When did the K-9 officer come?”
Leef: “Right after. I had just been with him at another traffic stop, so he was right there.”
Lerman: “And Deputy DeMarco and Deputy Vasquez just happened to be right there at Hazel and Highway101?”
Leef: “Yes, that’s right.”
Lerman: “Did you smell any marijuana?”
Lerman: “Is there any way to smell butane bottles?”
Leef: “I don’t know.”
Lerman: “Did you ask the dog handler to authorize a K-9 search of the vehicle?”
Leef: “No, but I heard one of the other deputies ask. It was Deputy DeMarco, and he said yes.”
Lerman: “The sole reason you searched the vehicle was… what?”
Eyster: “Objection, judge. This is not a 1538.5 hearing.”
Moorman: “Objection sustained.”
Lerman: “Did you personally look at the marijuana?”
Eyster: “Objection, relevance.”
Moorman: “I’ll allow it.”
Leef: “Yes, I did.”
Lerman: “And the quality was…?”
Leef: “It was very poor. What is referred to as ‘shake,’ I believe.”
Lerman: “Were you there when the trunk was opened?”
Lerman: “Did you smell marijuana at that time?”
Leef: “No, I couldn’t smell it.”
Lerman: “When did you finally smell it?”
Leef: “After the bags were opened.”
Lerman: “Did the warrant out of Texas suggest there was some indication my client was” —
Eyster: “Objection. That goes back to the 1538.5, judge.”
Judge Moorman: “Sustained.”
Lerman seemed pretty sure her client (or his vehicle) had been profiled, but the judge wouldn’t allow her to pursue it since the hearing was not a motion to suppress the evidence.
She tried a different approach.
Lerman: “Where were you standing during the search?”
Leef: “Near the back of the vehicle.”
Lerman: “Could you see the whole search take place?”
Lerman: “Did the dog scratch at the back door?”
Leef: “Yes, that’s right.”
Lerman: “Was there any marijuana in the back seat?”
Leef: “Yes, a little in a jar. We didn’t even bother to take that, though.”
Lerman whispered with her client.
Moorman: “Anything further Ms. Lerman?”
Lerman: “No, your honor.”
Moorman: “Mr. Eyster?”
Eyster: “No, judge.”
Moorman: “As for the holding order on the transportation charge, I’ll find that there is sufficient evidence. We’ll set March 5th for arraignment on the information and the extradition matter will trail.”
* * *
Defense lawyers in Mendocino seldom win acquittals — with one notable exception: Keith Faulder. He got his client Pete Richardson off a slam-dunk DUI last week, got Pete off on a technicality, really. Richardson was pulled over for a failure to signal a turn. But Faulder won his acquittal by pointing out that in California, if you are in a dedicated turn lane, you don’t have to signal. It's assumed you're turning left if you're in the left turn lane. Pete might have been drunk, but stopping him for an unsignalled left turn was not the reason for pulling him over.
Later in the day, I saw Pete down at the Water Trough as he was polishing off a fifth of Jameson Irish Whiskey. He was so pleased with his acquittal on the DUI that he came very close to buying the house a round.
The Trough will be closed by May 1st, by the way, so now’s the time if you want to deliver a farewell toast to that fine old institution. The liquor license is up for sale, but the building will have to go as a liquor venue because of the nearby Grace Hudson school Richardson himself built. The kids, you see, might get the idea that drink is desirable, an idea they usually don't get in Ukiah until they're about 12, having begun smoking weed in T-Ball.
Faulder won another case last week. It was a court trial involving a Mr. Mark Donnegan, charged with striking a child with a cane. We're not talking 7-year-olds here. We're talking feral children of 12 or so. The incident happened at one of the crowded apartment buildings on Laws Avenue — Ukiah’s low-rent ghetto. It seems the boys were pestering the invalid, as badly raised children will do. The charming little fellows were spitting and throwing rocks at this old guy and one of the little wolves came too close. The corrective cane lashed out and found its mark. The kid ran to get Daddy, a three-time felon, and the cops were soon on the scene. The guy in the wheelchair was arrested and charged with assaulting a child.
Judge Moorman heard the case as opposed to a jury trial for the old guy in the wheelchair. The judge said she didn’t believe the story either side told her. “But I did believe the neighbor who watched the whole thing from her window, and I therefore find the defendant Not Guilty.”
* * *
As a man who traveled all over, mostly alone and mostly on foot, Robert Lewis Stevenson said the worst part of it all was the boys he encountered with their spitting and rock throwing. I would heartily concur from my own experience, but I would add that in Mendocino, at least, you gotta watch out for the women as well. Women here don't exactly seem to revere the single male. Scott Lanier, another Texan, who came here to visit his grandsons, found that out the hard way.
Mr. Lanier was driving his grandsons to a ball game when a woman suddenly pulled out in front of him on the Willits Grade. Lanier braked and backed off, slowed down as the woman frantically motioned him to drive around her. Lanier was instinctively aware he was dealing with a motorized mental case. His failure to obey the nutball's instructions seemed to infuriate her, and she commenced flipping Lanier off and mouthing all manner of insults at him that he couldn't hear. The crazed motorist, whose name was not mentioned in court, is said to maintain an “intimate relationship” with someone in the DA’s office, which accounts for charges being filed against her victim, the visitor from Texas, Mr. Lanier.
When Lanier came to court with his lawyer for a pretrial conference, the Deputy DA, Ms. Jessa Lee Mills, said her office was piling on new charges against him. Mr. Pierson, Lanier’s lawyer, objected. Judge Jeanine Nadel overruled the objection and allowed Ms. Mills to amend the charge, at which point Pierson complained that the DA had only provided the defense with a very sketchy amount of discovery.
Apparently three different deputy DAs are handling the case, and Mills said her colleague, Deputy DA Boyd, had emailed Pierson informing him that his discovery request was “overbroad.”
Welcome to Mendoland, Mr. Lanier.
The case was set to resume on March 6th at 10:00 am.
* * *
Another Mendo woman called 911 on April 7th last year at about 7pm saying that she had barricaded herself in her bedroom because from four to seven hostile men were in her house “threatening” her. What was going on in the house, we’ll probably never know because the deputies, upon arriving, found a big sack of meth in a vehicle parked outside and arrested Jamiu Arogundade, 25, of Goodyear, Arizona.
Mr. Arogundade’s lawyer, Ms. Patricia Littlefield of the Office of the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, tried to find out why the deputies had stopped to search her client’s vehicle instead of going in the house to rescue the distressed woman who'd called 911.
Deputy Hank Stolfi was on the stand. He said Deputies DeMarco and Brixie were already there when he arrived at the residence on Sherwood Hills Drive in Willits. DeMarco and Brixie had found Arogundade outside and had taken him to the ground and handcuffed him.
Littlefield: “What was your assignment?”
Stolfi: “We just acted in cohesion (sic). I didn’t really have an assignment. I could hear Deputy DeMarco yelling for someone to show his hands. There was a Ford Expedition in the driveway and I could see movement. I also thought I heard a door open and shut. I swung wide to cover DeMarco and saw the top of someone’s head in the vehicle. There was a lot of movement in the driver’s seat. As I came around the vehicle, I hear Demarco order him to stop — he was already out of the vehicle by then and walking toward the house. Then DeMarco grabbed his shirt and pulled him to the ground where he was detained. DeMarco and Brixie were focused on the house and I checked the vehicle real quick to see if a weapon or somebody else was hiding in there.”
Littlefield: “Was there anyone else in there?”
Stolfi: “That’s when Willits PD showed up and advised they could see a male figure running from the backyard. I opened the door (of the vehicle) and popped open the console where I observed a bag full of a white crystalline powder.”
Littlefield: “Any weapons?”
Littlefield: “How dark was it?”
Stolfi: “Just dusk.”
Littlefield: “And the windows were tinted?”
Stolfi: “Yes, some of the windows were tinted. The back were, I believe.”
Littlefield: “Were there any dome lights?”
Stolfi: “I didn’t notice.”
Littlefield: “You were looking for people in the vehicle?”
Stolfi: “I was looking for weapons as well.”
Littlefield: “So you opened the console… when?”
Stolfi: “Uh, lemme see… I looked under the dash, then the passenger side, then the console, I think.”
Litltlefield: “But you could see there weren’t any people in it — how high was the backseat?”
Stolfi: “It was high enough I had to get halfway in to look over it.”
Littlefield: “So first and foremost, you were looking for people.”
Stolfi: “In conjunction with weapons, yes.”
Littlefield: “Did you measure the console?”
Stolfi: “No, but it was longer than it was wide.”
Littlefield: “Did you take any photos of the console?”
Stolfi: “I didn’t; I don’t know whether anyone else did or not.”
Littlefield: “Anything else in the console?”
Stolfi: “I think there were some loose papers, napkins, trash, things like that.”
Littlefield: “During the time you were sweeping the car, where was Deputy Brixie?”
Stolfi: “I don’t recall.”
Littlefield: “But my client had no weapons, correct?”
DDA Paul Sequiera: “Deputy Stolfi, this search of the vehicle, is that the way you were trained to do it?”
Littlefield: “Where were you trained to do this?”
Stolfi: “Oh! Well, it’s more of a mindset, just the way we go about it.”
Littlefield: “I see. Did dispatch inform you that the person who made the call ran back in the bedroom and barricaded herself in?”
Stolfi: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Littlefield: “Nothing further.
The deputy with the lab report on the meth was out on call so the hearing had to be postponed. The defendant, however, had to catch a flight back to Arizona that afternoon. He also had a right to an uninterrupted preliminary hearing. Some scrambling around ensued and the lab reports were admitted into evidence before the plane left. Judge Moorman issued the holding order. No one seems to care what was going on in the house, but close to a pound of meth was taken off the streets of Willits, so maybe the poor woman can finally get some sleep without hostile men roaming her house. Funny thing is, she might really have been imperiled. Put it together. A pound of tweek, a bunch of wired mopes pacing around, erotic illusions rebounding off their empty skulls. She was right to call for help.