Officer Craig Guydan left the Fort Bragg Police Department for Cotati over a month ago, but his work has not gone gently or quietly away. Between June 11th and June 18th two cases brought Guydan back to the Ten Mile Court. In many respects the more anticipated case was one dating back to November 23, 2012, in which Karen and John Brittingham of Mendocino were charged with felonies in resisting Fort Bragg police officers, including Guydan. The Brittinghams retained local attorney Mark Kalina and at least one investigator to seek out and subpoena as many coast residents as possible who have had negative encounters with Officer Guydan since he arrived in Fort Bragg in mid-May of 2012. Kalina apparently found quite a number of these citizens. His subpoenas more or less decimated the work force of one fairly good sized coastal business. Guydan, who has recently moved on to the Cotati Police Department, had been the subject of at least three formal complaints while with the Fort Bragg PD.
On June 18th, the Brittingham's preliminary hearing got under way about 11:30am. As soon as Kalina read the name of a Fort Bragg business owner he'd subpoenaed to take the stand, Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen's voice rose an octave in objection. He wanted to strike all references to Guydan's past actions outside of the Brittingham encounter, which was rumored to have involved volatile verbal and/or physical confrontations between Guydan and each of the Brittinghams outside of The Company Store.
Judge Clayton Brennan overruled Stoen's objection with the caveat that he would reconsider the motion to strike later. The Fort Bragg business owner took the stand, out of order so he could return to work at noon. He described a Labor Day, 2012 confrontation with Guydan in an alleyway that included brusque and rude questioning by the officer followed by Guydan repeatedly shouting at the businessman's wife to “Put down the broom.” She had been sweeping up, but Guydan seemingly saw the broom as some sort of weapon or threat.
The businessman stepped down from the witness stand and Judge Brennan recessed until 1:30. Faced with the prospect of a long line of similar negative character witnesses against Guydan, Stoen essentially agreed to drop the charges and the Brittinghams agreed not to sue the City of Fort Bragg or its police department. All charges against Mrs. Brittingham were dropped. John Brittingham took a 24-month deferred entry of judgment on a misdemeanor resisting and obstructing a peace officer charge, which means that if he has no other legal troubles in the next two years the resisting charge will be dropped as well. Neither Brittingham has a past record.
A week earlier, on June 11th, the Ten Mile Court played host to the People v. Billy Ray Doak Jr. Until the early morning hours of St. Patrick's Day, Mr. Doak resided at 1235 N. Main Street, Fort Bragg, with his fiancee/girl friend, Lorrie Kitchen, and her two sons, ages eight and six. In the wee hours of St. Patty's Day, the State alleges that Billy Ray Doak Jr., employing a .45 caliber handgun, shot a hole in the ring finger of Ms. Kitchen's hand.
Officer Guydan was called to the ER of Mendocino Coast District Hospital around 2:30 that morning. The jury of six men and six women heard an audio tape, recorded by Officer Guydan, in which Ms. Kitchen, in obvious and audible pain, refuses to identify herself or where she lives. Officer Guydan did his homework with ER staff and discovered Ms. Kitchen's address. A fresh gunshot wound necessitating investigation, Officer Guydan proceeded, with other law enforcement, to 1235 N. Main St., where he conducted another audio tape interview with Ms. Kitchen's eight year old son. On the tape the boy clearly states that his mother and Billy, whom he often refers to as “dad,” had many fights or arguments. The boy further stated that mom and “dad” had one earlier on the night in question and that he saw Billy with a gun in his hand outside, near the front porch, just a couple of minutes before the gun was fired.
Readers will be thanked and excused for thinking this is a slam dunk, open and shut case of battery with serious bodily injury. Billy Ray Doak Jr. was facing that charge as well as the more serious felony charge of mayhem. Four days of testimony, cross-examination, rebuttal, and deliberation proved that this was far from a slam dunk. The problem rested not in the stars, dear readers, but in a not so little thing best identified as co-dependency. Ms. Kitchen apparently remains gaga for Billy Ray Doak Jr., despite her now recovering ring finger nearly being severed by a .45 that belongs not to Billy Jr., but to his father, Billy Ray Doak Sr.
Billy Sr. seemingly handed off a passel of rifles and a couple of handguns to Billy Jr. last November before going to visit a sick uncle in Arkansas. Billy Sr. lives in a trailer and was fearful that his gun collection could be easily pilfered during his absence. Billy Jr. seemingly was still under the technical constraints of a gun possession prohibition brought about by a divorce from a former spouse some three years ago.
All of that aside, a conviction turns problematic when a co-dependent fiance/girl friend/victim tells the jury that Billy Ray Doak Jr. did not shoot her at all, she shot herself accidentally while sitting on the front porch that St. Patrick's Day morn as she pulled the slide lever back on the .45 and the gun went off. Indeed, there were photos of blood on the porch step below where Ms. Kitchen maintained she sat, admittedly inebriated before the Irish holiday could gain a good head of Anchor Steam. Of course, Billy Ray Doak Jr. repeated a remarkably similar story line when he took the stand. Both admitted their drinking, but both claimed that they had taken a “time out,” during which Billy walked toward either Virgin Creek or the beach and Lorrie Kitchen went inside to cuddle her young sons back to sleep in bed. Both Billy Jr. and Lorrie claim that there was no previous pushing and shoving to the floor as recorded by Officer Guydan's audio interview of Ms. Kitchen's eight year old son.
Billy's testimony had him returning to the 1235 N. Main residence with the .45 in his back pocket, then sitting on the front porch to have a cigarette. At some point he got up and walked out into the shadows to gaze up at his favorite constellations, with the .45 presumably slipping out onto the porch's top step. Lorrie Kitchen's testimony had her coming out onto the front brick porch, sitting on the top step while picking up the handgun, attempting to slide it back, then boom.
Ms. Kitchen's testimony gained momentum and details as it went on under cross-examination from Assistant DA Kevin Davenport. Ms. Kitchen claimed the bullet hole could be seen in a heart shaped piece of redwood Billy had cut for her as a yard ornament. She more or less fawned over the redwood piece when it was introduced into evidence.
Next, Davenport had the misfortune of sitting practically face to face with Ms. Kitchen's eight year old son, when the boy took the stand and recanted the testimony he'd given to Officer Guydan at the time of the shooting. The eight year old said it was his mother he'd seen with a gun that night/morning, that his “dad” had not shot mommy, and that he didn't remember Billy knocking her to the ground earlier.
Mr. Doak's attorney, Ronald Britt, now in his fortieth year of practice, muddied the waters further by getting Officer Guydan to testify incorrectly about tiny details such as the location of the bathroom and how many steps were part of the front porch.
The prosecution looked sunk after the boy's recantation, but Davenport held his top card for rebuttal testimony. Linda Schardt, a woman of retirement age, who has taken over caretaking the eight and six year old boys since early April, who was and is one of the closest neighbors to 1235 N. Main Street. She testified that Billy had physically injured Lorrie Kitchen more than one time in the midst of recurring arguments. She also testified that in a phone conversation with Lorrie Kitchen while the latter recuperated at Howard Hospital in Willits (Ms. Kitchen had refused to have the surgery to her finger take place at Mendocino Coast District Hospital), Ms. Kitchen confessed to Ms. Schardt that Billy had indeed shot her finger.
In her rebuttal testimony, Ms. Kitchen tearfully accused Ms. Schardt of wanting to take possession of her boys so she could be paid for caretaking them. However, while trying to impeach the date of just when a further in-person conversation took place with Ms. Schardt, Lorrie Kitchen gazed longingly at the defendant and told the courtroom that it was he, Billy Ray Doak Jr., who had driven her back from Willits to Fort Bragg. Observers couldn't help but think that an hour's drive together might have given Billy and Lorrie ample time to concoct their story about the shooting.
The jury deliberated all of Monday afternoon, June 16th without a decision on either charge. Upon their return on the 17th, one of them was too ill to continue. A Little River alternate juror replaced the sick woman, making the final composition of the jury seven men and five women. By mid Tuesday afternoon, the jury returned to the courtroom, telling Judge Brennan that they were hopelessly deadlocked on both felony charges, 6-6 on mayhem and 8-4 on the battery with serious bodily injury count.
Separate interviews with five of the jurors after the trial revealed that the panel's 8-4 vote favored conviction. The jurors who spoke also said that none of them believed Ms. Kitchen's testimony that she accidentally shot herself. The jurors believed the eight-year-old's audio tape testimony taken within an hour or so of the shooting. Officer Guydan's confident, yet sensitive handling of that interview seemed to be an example of fine police work. Oddly, some of the jurors who voted not to convict Mr. Doak chided Officer Guydan for not conducting gunshot residue (GSR) testing on Ms. Kitchen and Billy Ray Doak Jr. on St. Patrick's Day. This may be another case of too much CSI television watching. The most recent scientific studies downplay the accuracy of gunshot residue evidence.
Assistant DA Davenport is re-filing the charges against Billy Ray Doak Jr. Davenport appears to be confident enough in his case that he may very well add an assault with a deadly weapon count when the matter goes before a new set of jurors on August 13th.
A final note: During the jury selection process, one prospective panelist was heard contemptuously responding to the defendant's name, Billy Ray Doak Jr., “That's right out of central casting.”
Mr. Doak's ancestors stem from Arkansas and I have to say that having taught and coached another Billy Ray in Cottonwood, CA, an A student and a superior athlete, whose family also hailed from Arkansas, the Mendo Lib mentality behind the “straight out of central casting” comment, displays an ignorance that is appalling in the 21st century.
Billy Ray Doak Jr. may very well be guilty of the charges against him; however, if your vehicle was broken down and you were stranded by the side of the road, I'd wager that Billy Jr. or Sr., or Lorrie Kitchen, for that matter, would be more likely to stop and lend an efficient helping hand than most self-professed liberals along the Mendocino Coast.