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Anderson Valley’s Beverly Hillmuffins

Mr. Meant-To has a comrade,
And his name is Didn’t-Do;
Have you ever chanced to meet them?
Did they ever call on you?

— From The Book of Virtues by former Drug Czar Wm. J. Bennett

Anthony & Jacqueline Witt
Anthony & Jacqueline Witt

Jacqueline and Anthony Witt are Anderson Valley’s reps from glamorous Beverly Hills – Anthony Witt’s father is the celebrity screenwriter Paul Junger Witt.

Late last March the cops called on Mrs. Witt at her Holmes Ranch, Philo, home. They weren't there to talk about movies.

“Hello, Ma’am. We’re the police. What’s the story with all the marijuana plants?”

Witt: “Oh, they’re nothing — just starts.”

Sergeant Bruce Smith: “A plant’s a plant. Do you have a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana?”

Witt: “Yes, it’s in the car with my husband.”

Smith: “How many plants do you have?”

Witt: “I don’t know anything about it.”

Smith: “You’ve grown tons of weed here every year — I’ve flown over and seen it, so what’s the story?”

Witt: “I don’t know, honestly — I don’t even smoke marijuana.”

Smith: “So your doctor’s recommendation is a fraud?”

Mrs. Witt is heard groaning in the realization she’d put her foot in her mouth.

Smith: “What do you do with all this marijuana then?”

Witt: “I don’t know — you’ll have to ask him [Mr. Witt]. I’m kind of freaking out right now.”

Smith: “Well, you must have known this day was coming. What do you do for a living?”

Witt: “I’m an artist. I work in fabrics.”

Smith: “What does your husband do?”

Witt: “He’s a farmer.”

Smith: “What does he farm — besides marijuana, I mean?”

Witt: “I don’t know — we’re going through really hard times right now.”

Mrs. Witt sounded a little like Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres, a 1970s parody of a rich couple who moved from a penthouse to a hardscrabble farmstead. Mr. Witt might be a secretive dude, but a major pot grow out back would be hard for the wife not to know about.

The cops, Sergeant Bruce Smith and Deputy Jeremy Mason, arrived without a search warrant, although they may have meant to, so last Friday, October 30, the case went out the window.

This business of driving up to some hillmuffin’s house and introducing yourself is what law enforcement calls a casual “knock and talk.”

The Witts had enough pot plants to put them in the same income bracket as grandpa down in Hollywood. Mendo’s pot raiders (County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team, COMMET) had flown over the Philo hills and knew the Witts were farming a lot of love drug.

While Sgt. Smith asked about all the plants, his road dog, Deputy Mason, had sniffed around and turned up more weed and some hard drugs, assault weapons and, well, a baby. The Witts could have gone to prison while their first-born was held hostage by CPS for child endangerment.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees us against unjustified incursions into our private lives. The Fourth Amendment indemnifies us against unreasonable search and seizure (please stop, I’m getting giddy!).

One has to wonder what Smith and Mason thought they were doing. No warrant?

Mrs. Witt’s lawyer, Jona Saxby, argued that the initial entry onto the Witt property on March 31st by the officers was a warrantless search conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the fruits of which must be suppressed. That meant all tangible and intangible evidence collected, including the search warrant (which was later obtained through recently promoted Sgt. Peter Hoyle) and any statements Mrs. Witt made to the officers during the encounter could not be used as evidence against the Witts.

On June 9th, Mr. Witt, through his lawyer, Saxby’s husband, Keith Faulder, filed a written joinder in the motion to suppress.

Judge Ann Moorman granted the motion last Friday.

The parties were supposed to be in court Friday to comment on the ruling, but Deputy DA Dan Madow, the prosecutor in the case, couldn’t make it.

“Because his team [Miami Dolphins] lost last night,” DA David Eyster explained. “It’s his day off and he’s probably home crying in his beer.”

As the Witts were leaving the courtroom, Ms. Saxby played a game of charades with her client, Jacqueline Witt, who was separated from her by the milling crowd. She made a pair of half-moons with her hands, moving them together and apart to compress and expand the idea of a circle, or concentric circles. She may even have mouthed the word “target.” Then Saxby turned and reached over her shoulder to indicate a spot on her back between the shoulder blades. Saxby arched her brows to ask whether her client got it.

Mrs. Witt’s elation at having won the case suddenly vanished, as she nodded acknowledgement. Mr. Witt began tugging at his wife’s sleeve.

“What is it,” he asked urgently. “What’s she saying?”

“Come on, Anthony. Let’s go. We’ve got a target on our back.”

What follows is some pertinent excerpts from Judge Moorman’s written ruling.

“The officers did not possess a search warrant … their decision to go to the property and onto it, was without any prior notice or consent. These officers were following up on an investigation. Sgt. Smith testified that the only reason he and Mason were in the area that day was to do an investigation … Law enforcement had conducted three separate overflights and had seen marijuana growing. The most recent had been in the fall of 2014.

“Getting to the Witts’ property is not a casual undertaking. Photographs admitted as Defense Exhibit A show the property located in a remote, marginally populated area of the county. The property is only accessed using unmaintained, dirt roads that take a circuitous route to the Witts’ gate. It is clear from these photographs and Exhibits 1 and 2 that the closest paved road is several miles away. Smith Hills Road itself was described as a dirt road which dead ends just past the Witts’ residence. The closest neighbor was a considerable distance away and all rational inferences from the testimony was that no one had a bird’s eye view into the property either from the road or a neighboring property.

“The driveway used to enter the property had a wooden gate and wooden fencing that extends in both directions to the side of the gate. The materials used prevent anyone seeing into the property in the unlikely event someone is driving by. Even if the gate is open, one can only see a few feet down the driveway…

“Both Sgt. Smith and Deputy Mason testified that they drove into the property and down the driveway to the Witts’ residence. …after driving approximately 800 feet down the driveway, they observed marijuana plants in the rear camper shell of a pickup truck parked near the garage. They also saw marijuana plants growing near the truck.”

The judge then goes on to cite case law, specifically, Florida v. Jardines: When “the Government obtains information by physically intruding … a search within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment” has “undoubtedly occurred.”

“In Jardines, the Court stated based on the facts before it that the officers were gathering information in an area belonging to Jardines and immediately surrounding his house – in the curtilage of the house, which we have held enjoys protection as part of the home itself. And they gathered that information by physically entering and occupying the area to engage in conduct not explicitly or implicitly permitted by the homeowner.”

Judge Moorman quotes Chief Justice Antonin Scalia from Jardines: “while law enforcement officers need not shield their eyes when passing by a home on public thoroughfares, an officer’s leave to gather information is sharply circumscribed when he steps off those thoroughfares and enters the Fourth Amendment’s protected areas. When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals. At the Amendment’s very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”

Moorman notes that “this right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity; the right to retreat would be significantly diminished if the police could enter a man’s property to observe his repose from just outside the front window.”

Prosecution had argued that since the gate was open – and it was the Witts’ word against the officers’ that it was open – that the officers had “implied license” to enter the property for a “knock and talk,” just a friendly or neighborly chat.

“In examining whether the officers’ conduct is reasonable in this case, some common sense must be used. In rural areas, where ‘no man can set his foot upon his neighbor’s close property without his leave’ … Missionaries, girl scouts, and door-to-door salespersons would be foolish to think that an uninvited entry onto such property were anything other than plainly rude, culturally unacceptable, and potentially risky.

“Strangers just do not show up at a house so situated. The sheer concept of “private property” in this context means “do not enter.”

“In this case, law enforcement went to the property to further their investigation of marijuana manufacturing … seen from the air … six months previously. On this day the officers only wanted to gain entry to see if they could see marijuana plants. They did not need only special tools, they only needed a vantage point. Unfortunately they acquired their vantage point from within the residential curtilage.

“Even if the gate was open, that did not give the police license to enter given the other indications to the contrary and the purpose of their visit. … The officers here did not possess any new information since the last overflight. There was no testimony that any other investigation had been conducted. They simply were looking for a way to get onto the property to look for plants; but they needed a search warrant for that.”

“Law enforcement conducted a warrantless search within the residential curtilage on March 31, 2015. Their initial observations of marijuana plants as well as all observations made and evidence collected during this unlawful and unreasonable search must be suppressed. Since this information was used to later acquire a search warrant for the same premises, that warrant must be declared an unlawful fruit of that search. All evidence gathered under its authority is suppressed from use in the prosecution’s case in chief. … Suppression of the evidence flowing from this unlawful, warrantless search leaves the court without sufficient evidence to hold the defendants to answer on the charges in the complaint.”

Now the question arises as to droits of the winner – those plants should be ready to harvest by now – will they be returned to the Witts? And what about the other drugs, and the firearms? With the targets on their backs, maybe the Witts don’t really want the stuff back… Maybe they’ll be content to sue for restitution instead.

14 Comments

  1. David Gurney November 8, 2015

    “Ace” reporter Bruce McSkew’em seems to have mixed his TV sitcom metaphors: Wasn’t it “Green Acres” where the rich folks moved to the hills and didn’t fit in, not the Beverly Hillbillies?

    Though McSkew’em’s profound a grasp of the Fourth Amendment rivals that of Lafe Crick, quoting compulsive gambler William Bennett’s “Book of Virtues” is beyond funny:

    “in one two-month period, Mr. Bennett wired one casino more than $1.4 million to cover his losses…”There’s a term in the trade for this kind of gambler,” says a casino source who has witnessed Bennett at the high-limit slots in the wee hours. “We call them losers.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/03/national/03GAMB.html

    For the above story, using the Keystone Cops cliche would have been more appropriate, but what can we expect from the AVA’s courtmuffin, a psycho ex-marine gun nut?

    • Mike November 8, 2015

      REPOSTED from tvruckusdotcom; There’s a potential reality tv show idea in this thread here, I think. Hope the scenes between David and Bruce don’t require too many takes!
      “There are a couple of trends in television right now that do not seem to be on their way out anytime soon. The first is, of course, reality television. For all of the complaining people do about it, the viewer demand for it is high, so it certainly will not be going anywhere in 2015. And, related to reality television: Alaska.

      Alaska is, as many people view it, the final frontier in the United States. And, it is a mystery that many viewers would like to explore. Most will never find themselves hiking to the outhouse or defending themselves from moose, but that doesn’t mean reality television cannot take them there—and in 2014, it did. These were our Top 10 Alaska Reality Shows of 2014:

      GOLD RUSH (Discovery Channel): Like him or not, Todd Hoffman is king of Alaska reality television. Some fans love to watch him struggle for gold with his team, others—most—just love to hate him. But, whether you like Todd or not, there is no denying the hold this show has over fans. And, okay, we concede: This show has been OUT of Alaska as much as IN Alaska (right now, all of the miners are in the Klondike). But, as fans since Season One, we’ll always see GOLD RUSH as an Alaska show overall.
      DEADLIEST CATCH (Discovery Channel): Crab fishing is one of the deadliest occupations in the world, and fans of this show watch week after week, breath held, to see if these fishermen will make their quotas and get home safely. The show celebrated its 10th season in 2014!
      ALASKA: THE LAST FRONTIER (Discovery Channel): The Kilcher family lives and works on a homestead in Alaska that has now been home to four generations of Kilchers, following the birth of baby Findlay, introduced to viewers in 2014.
      ESCAPING ALASKA (TLC): The show’s premise is not difficult to figure out from the title of the show: Five young people from Alaska decide to leave their homes and try something different in San Diego, California.
      YUKON MEN (Discovery Channel): If you ever thought you might want to move completely off the grid, you may just change your mind when you watch the residents of Tanana, AK, struggle through the winters.
      BERING SEA GOLD (Discovery Channel): These gold dredgers fight the Bering Sea each summer before the ice freezes—then go UNDER THE ICE when it does. Sometimes there is a lot more drama than gold, however.
      ALASKA MONSTERS (Destination America): Are there monsters in Alaska? Well, if there are, we have not seen them yet, but these guys have a lot of fun trying to find them. And, fans who take it in the right perspective—this is a reality TV show about finding monsters, let’s keep in mind—have a lot of fun watching.
      WILD WEST ALASKA (Animal Planet): Interesting, if a bit sporadic. This gun show cannot seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to focus its business in Alaska, or make a move to Las Vegas.
      RAILROAD ALASKA (Destination America): Some people rely on planes to get around in Alaska. Some have snowmobiles. This show features the stories of those who rely on the Alaskan Railroad for transportation.
      EDGE OF ALASKA (Destination America): We were introduced to the residents of McCarthy, AK this season–talk about out on the edge of the world! Since a reader reminded us that ICE ROAD TRUCKERS (History Channel) actually was filmed entirely in Canada this year, we made a change to reflect the next show on our list.
      In 2015, old favorites will return, while new shows will begin. In the near future, ULTIMATE SURVIVAL ALASKA begins on National Geographic on January 4 at 9 p.m. ET/PT; ALASKAN BUSH PEOPLE returns on Discovery Channel on January 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT; and all-new series, ALASKA: BATTLE ON THE BAY premieres on Animal Planet on January 8 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It just does not seem that the viewer hunger for more Alaskan lifestyle is waning—and networks are happy to supply the demand.”

  2. Bruce McEwen Post author | November 9, 2015

    Mike, you left out Building Alaska, and Moving To Alaska on the country music channel. These shows feature yuppies like Mr. Gurney moving to Alaska and bringing their yuppified lifestyle w/ ’em. All these shows might better fit under one title, however: Trashing Alaska, since they all involve taking along the consumer/disposable trash-and-run concept that has ruined the Lower 48 these people all hope to get away from when they move way up north. That being said, the next question is who is marketing “the last frontier” so feverishly to nasty little wretches like Gurney, and why? As satire, the absurd juxtaposition of hillbillies in Hollywood mansions was instructive in that it showed that while you can take a trout out of a mountain stream and put it in an aquarium, it remains a trout. A hillmuffin is an altogether different species of animal, however; one used to many hours of leisure amid creature comforts like drugs without any wolves at the door, demanding the rent and other overdue bills. Hillmuffins such as the Witts pay for their expensive real estate by pottering around in the garden and selling the pot to their friends in Beverly Hills. The picture of the Clampets adds a readily recognizable icon to the overall mental picture, but the quote from the Drug Czar, aas it redounds on the COMMET officers, creates a clangor of irony, which has upset our sour old friend Gurney; who, in his need to imitate, responds with an awkward smear of sarcasm (the witless sod’s version of irony); and, rather than taking the time to pick the flyshit out of the pepper that has somehow stung his nostrils, he delves into Bennett’s gambling addiction. It is a common theme w/ arch liberals that a foible in a Democrat, such as Bill Clinton’s philandering can be forgiven as an all-too-human flaw, but Bennett’s gambling is an indictment of incurable perfidy. And with that colorful mix of metaphors, I’ll sign off and wish you a happy afternoon’s employment in sorting it all out.

  3. David Gurney November 9, 2015

    Bruce McSkew’em is a journalistic bully, who uses his position of court reporter to belittle defendants caught in the Mendocino County criminal system. He thinks it’s funny to make sport of defendants facing years or decades of suffering in California’s prison system, the largest incarceration complex on the planet.

    What gets McSkewem’s dander up more than anything else is someone who, against all odds, is actually found not guilty. Since his main source of information outside his cushy seat in the peanut gallery, is brown-nosing crooked cops over beers, it’s completely out of the question he would ever question their methods or motives.

    His writing style and ethical standards are ripped directly from his sponsor, mentor and role model, Big Brucie Anderson, but little Bruce is nothing more than a spoiled bully, who if questioned by one of his victims, true to form, resorts to fabricated liable. In my case, little this little pyscho apparently got drunk and started accusing me in print of killing his grandkids.

    The AVA, “America Last Newspaper” – last, that is, in terms of journalistic courage, accuracy and integrity.

    • Mike November 9, 2015

      All anyone has to do to fact check the characterizations and assertions by you (David) is to visit the writer’s archive of articles.

      I don’t know why he (that would be Bruce, but could be David also) doesn’t write a book or two. Just upload the contents to createspace! And, collect royalties.

  4. Mike November 9, 2015

    Looks like Neil Darish (rich guy who came in some time ago) won over the town of McCarthy, Alaska for his large scale development ideas for tourism. And, that long time homesteader (and initially close buddy to Neil) Jeremy lost out on that battle and now they’ve had at least one tourist season with a massive influx of people. The same dynamic has just played out also on the Yukon Men show, featuring families and individuals who trap and raise dogs for sled races, the latter the basis now for developing that little town there. OTOH, with the Kilcher’s on Alaska: The Last Frontier, Otto installed an indoor toilet/septic system the other day, the biggest and most major “development” on THAT show. If any out of character developments were to threaten that area, I’m sure Atz Lee Jr’s wife Jane could take care of that situation.

    I wonder now if this energy of outside money people will now change the face of Lake County with perhaps these folks bringing their out of character imaginings also?

  5. mcewen November 9, 2015

    Mike, I present you with the fruits of a few minutes’ leisure stolen from the short intervals of the business of the courthouse, a job quite alien to such amusements as this, the poor product of some time which has lain heavily on my hands during a lull in the proceedings of some minor criminal or other, a great dearth of sensational murder trials, and a tedious fit of rainy weather.

    Sure, ‘twould be of incalculable satisfaction to add to the verily stupendous number of books already in print, to throw in my own bails of printed paper on top of that mountain of books in an age wherein only one or two individuals out of countless billions ever bothers to read at all, let alone essay to penetrate any more than the most superficial surface of that vast tonnage of reading material, of which only one or two specimens will survive our age and go down to posterity, while the rest will be sunk into oblivion, plugging up some Alaskan landfill or clogging the currents of the Bearing Straits.

    Never before has the world enjoyed such widespread literacy; and at the same time suffered so much apathy toward reading. Anything beyond the quick-fire bursts of thought, mostly knee-jerk ejaculations of received opinions like our Mr. Gurney’s, which may happily remain in The Cloud for all eternity — I say, anything more in-depth than that is a waste of paper and thereby the resources that go into the production of books, magazines, newspapers, brochures and whatnot… which will never be read.

    As for Gurney’s on-going vituperation, he is but one small specimen of a genus who have had their misadventures displayed in the pages of the AVA and will undoubtedly nurse the resentment for the rest of their lives. When I used to read the AVA in places like Minneapolis, Denver, and Missoula I thought the people portrayed therein couldn’t possibly be as petty, snippish and silly as they were painted; then I came here and met some of them and found out how much worse they actually were in person. It was a sobering experience, to put it kindly. But, fortunately, the place produces such excellent beer and wine that the ailment is readily cured; also, the Gurneys are outnumbered by the Mikes by a long, long way; and I have more fans and friends among the defendants than our Gurney thinks — the only defendants he refers to with that overly broad term is his own demographic: the Pot Pharm Yuppies.

    • Mike November 9, 2015

      Well, I can’t argue with your points about the regard given these days to books but what you could offer might just be like a non-engineered seed that could sprout from those landfills and touch others. It’s just that those touched may not be apparent or visible to you. And, you’re right…..it will “only” be a “few”.

      But…..could be the children of The Millenials might usher in an era of Bookworms. You never know. That pendulum dynamic, repulsion from the ways of one’s parents. Who nowadays are glued to glowing tiny screens on their phones.

  6. mcewen November 9, 2015

    Gurney talks a lot of shit about what he calls the defendants and accuses me of thrashing them in my column; but hey, I’ve lived in his hometown, Ft. B and I don’t remember him hanging out under the Noyo bridge with the catch & release crowd; whereas most of them know me quite well — well enough to say I would no more of report on them to the cops than repeat what a bailiff said about a certain judge. So, Mr. Gurney, keep it up: The people who really suffer from the judicial system are also the people who suffer from the opportunistic exploitation of your class, Gurney, the For-Profit Pot Pharmas.

  7. mcewen November 9, 2015

    People on the street know how vulnerable we all are; people like Gurney, in the fastness of their tony apartments where they wish they had a bike just to go to the john, tend to forget it.

    • Mike November 10, 2015

      In the Reno of 2009, during the economic Fall, all sorts of folks ended up homeless. That spurred what became a highly organized operation of “volunteers” of people, few of whom were moved by self-conscious do-gooderism but by the fact of recognizing this universally true fact of vulnerability.

      And, the Mayor then just negotiated with Reno’s catch and release people, when they refused to use the over flow shelter. “They refuse to give up their candy”, he would tell anyone who would listen, “so we set up this safe grounds place”. (He had them form a committee, and the city provided a security guard.)

      Housekeeping website note for web guy at AVA; getting this again after login. (Works only rarely now.) “503: Service Temporarily Unavailable
      Too many IP addresses accessing one secure area!
      Please contact Support if you need assistance.” Nothing he can really do about it, my internet is via a t mobile wi fi device and there are variable IP addresses.

  8. David Gurney November 11, 2015

    In coming to the defense of Jacqueline and Anthony Witt and the Fourth Amendment, I naturally knew I’d be up for more skewed fabrications from McEwen. But “yuppie, toney apartments, For-Profit Pot Pharms”? As usual this idiot doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and when he doesn’t know, he just makes stuff up.

    Mike – Re a book from Little Bruce : Though it’s common for a psychopath to have delusions of grandeur I’m afraid no one, even if they were forced to listen to it read aloud in a cigar-rolling factory, would want to hear Bruce McEwen’s useless stenographs of vile court proceedings against the losers unfortunate enough to have gotten caught. Even though little Bruce wants to parrot another of Big Bruce’s famous diatribes – about nobody reading anymore – you can’t blame a lack of market for no-one wanting to read his crap in the first place.

    I never liked bullies as a kid, and I like them even less an adult. I don’t like the sadistic glee McSkewem’s writing. He attacks defendants in trials who have no way of defending themselves, since all defendants are told by lawyers not to discuss their case, even if attacked by a sociopath in a four-bit column. Worst of all, if McEwen doesn’t have the facts, which he seldom does, he has no qualms about making it up, and never bothers to ask his victims for their side of the story. Why? Because he’s a chickenshit coward, that’s why. Instead, you get bogus accusations and stories he has either made up or gleaned from his crooked cop buddies. McEwen himself is as crooked as a bag of snakes, with no regard for the truth or the results of his actions.

    Bullies hate it when anyone stands up to them, and though McSkewem likes to wear his homeless experience like a crown of thorns, I don’t buy it. To me he sounds like cry-baby whiner, grandstanding his misery as if no-one else in this world has ever suffered. He’s a total phony, and there is no doubt the homeless folks around here who do remember McEwen, remember him for the creep that he actually is.

    I guess I should be grateful – “yuppie,” “tony apartments” “Pharma-pot,” etc, is a lot better than McSkewem’s previous accusations of threatening to kill a cop’s family and accusations of killing his own grandkids. But it is a little disconcerting to think this psycho seems to be fixated on me to the point he again conjures up weird and erroneous labels and accusations. I guess I should just knock it off and quit reading the AVA, like so many others already have.

    I sure hope Big Bruce doesn’t regret hiring his evil Mini-Me.

  9. Neighbor of the producer August 25, 2020

    So this is old, came on it looking for something else….but Anthonys father was not a screenwriter, he is a producer. His mother is a screenwriter. And while it’s mostly irrelevant to the story, any “journalist” too lazy to look that up is suspect in my book.

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