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Coast Copwatch

So I'm sitting in my parked car in Fort Bragg a month ago. I've just finished checking the voicemail messages on my cell phone when someone steps up beside my vehicle and hands me a thick manilla envelope. It wasn't a darkened parking garage and I hadn't put a flag in the flower pot on the porch at home that morning as Bob Woodward did in All the President's Men in order to signal "Deep Throat."

Nevertheless, when you are a member of a Copwatch group and you write for the AVA, something like this is inevitably going to happen. At least it wasn't a hit man with a gun concealed under the envelope.

What was in the envelope? About 25 pages of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Credit has to go to fellow Copwatcher Mick Lovett for quick research that discovered the full petition online. The full petition is more than 250 pages long and was authored in 2005 by Peter Mancus, an attorney living in Sonoma County. Mancus is a graduate of the UC Davis law school who spent several years in the 1970s as a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County.

Mancus' petition for a writ of habeas corpus stems from an air show at the Redding, California Airport on May 4, 2002. The specifics of the incident involve an encounter between Mancus and then Redding police officer Scott Mayberry, who is now the Police Chief of Fort Bragg, here on the Mendocino Coast.

At the 2002 air show, Mayberry and Mancus confronted one another in a narrow roped-off aisle. Mayberry demanded to see inside the two large cases Mancus carried (something like suitcases, one on rolling wheels). Strapped to each of Mancus' wrists were sizeable camera lenses. Mancus, a photography buff with an affinity for military aircraft, refused to open the cases, citing his fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search. Mancus maintained that he asked Officer Mayberry, "Do you have probable cause?" and that Mayberry replied, "No."

Mancus continued a litany of Constitutionally based questions that, in my experience, usually ends with an exasperated law enforcement officer making an arrest simply to shut up the questioner. On the one hand that is little excuse for an arrest, on the other hand, and in Mayberry's defense, the Redding Air Show of 2002 took place less than eight months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. To this day Mayberry swears that Mancus ignored two large signs that warned of possible searches before final entrance into the air show. Mancus says he saw no such signs and maintains that many other patrons with backpacks were not searched.

Mancus continued to question Mayberry, "Upon what basis do you assert your authority over me?"

Allegedly, Mayberry thumped his chest and said, "Because I'm your boss."

"My boss?" Mancus responded. "What makes you think you are my boss?"

Again, according to Mancus, Mayberry pounded a fist into an open palm. "Because I'm a cop."

In words that grew more forceful as he went, Mancus said, "If you really are a cop, that makes you a public servant. You are called a public servant because all public servants in this nation have a public master. Your public master is the US citizenry. And guess what, Officer, I am one of those. I am a US citizen. That makes me one of your masters. That makes me one of your bosses. You are not my boss, not in this country. In this country, I am one of your bosses!"

Mancus reasserted his Fourth Amendment right to privacy and Mayberry ordered him to step back, saying, "Open these bags, or let me open them, or you don't get in."

The two men stood at something of an impasse until, depending on whom you believe, Mancus either made a slight shift in position or he tried to shove past Officer Mayberry, at which point Scott Mayberry twisted an arm behind Mancus' back and dropped him to the ground. At the time Mancus was fifty-five years old, three inches or so shy of six feet in height and what you might call stocky or pudgy. Mayberry was then in his late thirties, six-feet, four inches tall, weighing about 240 pounds, a former basketball star at Fort Bragg High School.

Mancus went to the ground hard and was cuffed. He claimed to have chipped a tooth. He also claimed the cuffs were too tight, cutting into his wrists. His wallet seems to have gone missing during the takedown. Mayberry opened the suitcases, discovering nothing but more camera equipment.

At this point Mayberry had a choice: cite and release Mancus (similar to most motorists who are stopped for traffic violations — they sign the ticket, agreeing to pay or show up in court later) or continue to hold Mancus in custody, charging him with something serious enough to compel a court appearance down the road.

Mayberry called for a squad car to pick up Mancus. While they waited, Mancus stated something to the effect that there was no good reason for his arrest. According to Mancus' petition, Mayberry responded, "This is my country. If you don't like my country, leave! Those are my rules. Play by my rules or else. My rules. My country. Play by my rules or leave!"

Mancus, who had no record of any arrests up to that date, states in his petition that he asked Mayberry to "cite and release" him. Supposedly, Mayberry responded, "Shut up, you're going to jail."

Mancus rejoined, "Why don't you go self-fornicate!"

Mancus was transported to Shasta County Jail where a corrections officer loosened the handcuffs. Later in the afternoon an acquaintance bailed Mancus out and he made his way to the Redding Police Department where he learned that his missing wallet had been booked into evidence and would not be released to him until the following Monday, leaving Mancus far from his Sebastopol home without ID, cash, or credit cards. The Redding PD also refused to release any of his camera equipment.

As most readers might guess, Mancus did not take this lying down. He took the case to court. Which brings us to Shasta County justice. I lived there in the 1980s and 1990s. The word of law enforcement is pretty much taken for granted in a Shasta County courthouse, especially when some smart mouth lawyer from out of the area is trying to make one of Redding's finest look bad.

An aside: When I was first hired to teach and coach basketball and baseball in the Shasta County town of Cottonwood, it was pretty much expected that the basketball coach would play in the local Men's League games. The first time I went up for a rebound in one of those games my chin and neck were unceremoniously greeted by a flying elbow from one of the long time locals. As we ran down the court toward the other basket he smirked and said, "You're in Cottonwood now."

A couple of plays later I blocked him off the boards with equal vigor. He turned, nodded, and grinned. There were no more flagrant elbows, but Cottonwood and Shasta County can be tough on outsiders.

Mancus was charged with misdemeanor violation of Penal Code 148: Resisting, delaying or obstructing a peace officer. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten days labor on a county work farm. Despite Mancus' 250 page petition for a writ of habeas corpus (In Latin it literally means "that you have the body." In our legal system it is an order to bring a prisoner before a court to determine whether he/she is being held lawfully.), his appeals up to and including the California State Supreme Court were essentially ignored.

Coast Copwatch, having examined the entirety of the petition, speaking with Mancus by phone, and listening to Chief Mayberry's present day explanation, is inclined to believe that there were signs warning of possible searches before entering the Redding Air Show that May day in 2002; that Mancus, either inadvertently or purposefully ignored those signs. However, it is equally hard to swallow the idea that a life long law-abiding citizen should be charged to the extent that he would do semi-serious jail time. Mancus did gain a measure of solace at the Shasta County work farm when the guard in charge, upon hearing the arrest tale, assigned Mancus to ten days of reading books while the rest of the prisoners performed manual labor.

What does this have to do with present day Fort Bragg? When Scott Mayberry applied for the position of Chief of Police in 2011, one of the questions asked of him by a panel of citizen interviewers was, "Do you believe more in ‘the letter of the law’ or ‘the spirit of the law’?"

Mayberry responded, "The spirit of the law."

That answer convinced the questioner that Mayberry was the man for the job. Of course, at the time, the local citizen who asked the question had not heard about the Mancus case.

Mayberry's interview response in favor of "the spirit of the law" could mean he had learned a thing or two as a result of the Mancus encounter nearly a dozen years ago. Or has he?

Mayberry succeeded such an unethical Chief of Police in Fort Bragg (Mark Puthuff), that the bar for acceptable performance has been established exceedingly low. Nevertheless, Mayberry's leadership has come into question in the last year as he ardently defended the actions of a young officer, Craig Guydan. In his first year on the job Guydan trumped up charges against a variety of local citizens, shot a dog without good cause, and pulled his handgun from its holster while confronting a group of teenagers playing football by streetlight.

Officer Guydan wins bean bag toss.
Bean bag toss with Officer Craig Guydan (FBPD).

In order to look into questions surrounding Guydan's actions the City of Fort Bragg hired an investigator named Chuck Lebak, who served on the Redding Police Department at the same time as Mayberry. Lebak failed to speak with several first hand witnesses to (and victims of) Guydan's misdeeds. In addition, in conversations with coast residents, Lebak went out of his way to demean the integrity of another Fort Bragg police officer for no apparent reason.

Lebak is a Sacramento Valley resident, who has had occasion to visit Fort Bragg only sporadically. Why and how he would defame another Fort Bragg PD officer (one who has actually received many plaudits from locals, including the ever critical Coast Copwatch) while supposedly investigating the actions of Officer Guydan is almost anyone's guess. A reasonable supposition could be that he was fed those ideas from familar voices in the Fort Bragg PD hierarchy. Let's not mince words here: If Lebak's thoroughly inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical defaming of a Fort Bragg PD officer leads back to similar opinions expressed to him by Mayberry, well, then, that is unacceptable behavior from the leader of a police department.

When Coast Copwatch members finished reading through the Mancus petition and spoke with Mancus by phone we also reached out to Chief Mayberry through a private email. Full disclosure: the email also addressed a question asking whether it was standard practice for Fort Bragg PD officers to ask for passenger ID during standard infraction level traffic stops. At about the same time that the manila envelope was being passed into our hands, Coast Copwatch received a number of reports about FBPD officers requesting passenger identification in incidents as minor as fix-it tickets. The passenger ID demands were seemingly across the board, males and females, old and young, different ethnicities and races.

Chief Mayberry's response to the email was to insist on the questions being asked at the City of Fort Bragg's Public Safety Commission meeting on February 19th. At first glance this might seem like an indication as to how open Mayberry is to questioning. At first glance, Fort Bragg, as part of the Mendocino Coast, might seem like a long way from Shasta County.

Fort Bragg's Public Safety Committee meeting of February 19, 2014 had four items on its agenda. A presentation by a representative from the Coalition for Gang Awareness and Prevention; a discussion about buying body cameras for every Fort Bragg PD officer (a proposal first brought up by Copwatch several years back and ignored until eight months ago); an item entitled "Receive and Respond to Public Safety Questions from Copwatch;" and a discussion of the merits and possible faults in moving the merge lane on Main Street (Highway One) two blocks south.

Readers, want to guess which one of these items was placed under a strict time limit? Do I really need to answer. When it came time for Coast Copwatch to speak, Public Safety Committee Chairman Scott Deitz whipped out a time clock. Before I knew what hit me and cleared my throat I was already under four minutes. At which point I paused, eyes closed for a moment, then addressed Chairman Deitz, "I can't understand why Copwatch's item is under a time restraint when the previous two topics had none."

At this point, somewhat flustered, Chairman Deitz relented for several minutes. Perhaps equally flustered I failed to connect all the dots between Mayberry's claimed adherence to the "spirit of the law" doctrine of policing and his overkill arrest of Mancus, though I did bring up the passenger ID question, which in and of itself linked to a further act of recent inequality by Mayberry's Fort Bragg PD, in that one of those passenger ID stops involved a caucasian middle class couple (if not upper middle class couple), who were pulled over for a headlight out and given a warning. Within a week or so an hourly wage, long time employee of a Fort Bragg business, who happens to be Latino, was pulled over for a taillight out. The Latino gentleman was given a ticket that cost him $25.

By this point Chairman Deitz had reinstated the time clock and it was running... out. I skipped over thoroughly tying together these current failures to honor the spirit of the law and neglected to mention that Coast Copwatch has been asked by "officers of the court" (outside the literal confines of the Ten Mile Court) questions about Mayberry's integrity and further queries like, 'Why does he [Mayberry] keep Guydan? He [Guydan] should have been fired a long time ago.'

After it was clear that Coast Copwatch's time had run out, and I and a fellow Copwatcher sat silent, Chief Mayberry raised his head a bit to offer reply. To the question about asking for passenger ID at infraction level (or even fix-it ticket level) traffic stops, Mayberry said, "It's not a policy, but it is good police work."

He gave no response to the unequal treatment of fining a Latino driver $25 while a Caucasian driver was let off with a warning for a similar fix-it stop. Concerning the Mancus encounter, Mayberry more or less repeated a simplified version of his side of the story. Of course, due to the time limit placed on Copwatch, Mayberry did not have to respond to how his charging Mancus with a jailable offense, or holding his wallet in evidence, fit with the "spirit of the law," nor did he get to hear that Coast Copwatch agreed with him that Mancus most likely did ignore posted signs concerning potential searches. Mayberry concluded by repeating that Mancus had been found guilty by a jury, which Mayberry directly followed with the phrase, "Thank God we live in the United States of America."

One of the five non-Copwatch members of the audience, Judy Valadao, a Fort Bragg Neighborhood Watch block captain, expressed her support for Mayberry then turned to chastise yours truly for writing nothing but negatives about the police department and Neighborhood Watch, her tone and demeanor pretty much conveying, “You're in Fort Bragg now.”

Elaine Ball, another Neighborhood Watch leader chimed in with a comment apparently directed at the Mancus-Mayberry encounter, "Don't cop an attitude."

Chairman Deitz added, "I was taught to do what cops tell you." It seemed as if Dietz was trying to lighten the moment a second later when he added, "After all, they have guns," but no sooner had he uttered those words, Deitz added a remark that made it clear that his, “You should do what a cop tells you,” included allowing law enforcement to search any citizen at any time.

Ms. Ball started to add something, apparently in agreement, but a lone voice burst forth from the far back corner of the conference room. Fort Bragg Planning Commissioner Derek Hoyle had sat silently, apart from everyone else up to that point, when he called-out Chairman Deitz in a defense of the Fourth Amendment and the necessity of "probable cause" before law enforcement is entitled to conduct searches of a citizen or the citizen's property.

Feeling she had been interrupted, Ms. Ball glared at Commissioner Hoyle throughout his impromptu Constitutional lecture. If Ms. Ball or Ms. Valadao had possessed a recording of Lee Greenwood singing "God Bless the USA," I do believe they would have turned it on to drown out Hoyle.

The other Fort Bragg Councilmember who sits on the Public Safety Committee, Heidi Kraut, sat as expressionless as possible throughout. The Committee went on to its last agenda item, an "Update on the Main Street Merge Lane Relocation Project." Chairman Deitz put away his clock and the presentation went on its way, untimed.

Some minutes later Chairman Deitz gaveled adjournment, stating, "Well, that was a lively meeting." Deitz walked more or less straight to this writer and offered some private reconciliatory remarks.

Epilogue: Coast Copwatch extended an invitation to Peter Mancus to attend the February 19th meeting of Fort Bragg's Public Safety Committee. Mr. Mancus has made no reply. The morning after the Public Safety Committee meeting, I left an 8am voicemail for Scott Mayberry to meet for a cup of coffee, without anyone else from Copwatch or Fort Bragg PD present, to talk off the record, if need be, about the meeting, the Mancus encounter, or any other items of interest. As of this writing, three days have passed without any response.

Still to come: The actions of Officer Guydan are an ongoing matter of legal concern. The pending case of The State of California v. Karen and John Brittingham may put Guydan's actions of November, 2012, as much on trial as the two defendants. The Brittingham's attorney has filed motions to examine not only formal public complaints filed against Guydan, but also ones lodged informally with city officials outside of the police department, most prominently, Fort Bragg City Manager Linda Ruffing.

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