After ten years and a million dollars in litigation, Robert Forest of Mendocino has finally cleared his name. Pursued by an untruthful cop, a lying prosecutor and a careless DA desperate to be re-elected, Mr. Forest finally got some justice.
The untruthful police officer, Floyd Higdon, is now working as a cop in Merced.
The bizarrely righteous prosecutor, Timothy O. Stoen, for years attorney to the People's Temple death cult, is a long-time prosecutor for the Mendocino County DA's office although he withheld evidence and made false statements in open court in the Forest matter.
The ambitious politician, former Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott, has had to issue a public apology to Mr. Forest. Ms. Lintott, defeated for re-election, now works in Deadbeat Dad's office across the street from the County Courthouse, Ukiah.
Floyd Higdon, the former Fort Bragg lieutenant and report rewrite man was never charged for altering his sergeant’s report.
And former DA Lintott sails on after publicly accusing her opponent for DA, the current DA, David Eyster, of taking a bribe of $10,000 from Forest so Eyster, if he was elected DA would not prosecute Forest for the same charges she herself had asked Judge Richard Henderson to throw out of court for lack of evidence.
A call to the California State Bar to ask how officers of the court can lie and cheat like this without sanction was met with the usual bureaucratic shuffle. Ms. Laura Sharek tossed the hot Mendo potato to Ms. Laura Ernde whose only response was that it was all too confidential to talk about.
So much for justice among the watchdogs of justice.
Forest’s attorney, Mr. David Kindopp of Ukiah, confirmed that a complaint about Stoen has been filed with the State Bar.
Floyd Higdon didn't like Robert Forest. That's clear. They'd served together in the Fort Bragg Police Department for a time back in the 1980s, Forest as a reserve policeman, Higdon full-time.
By the time of his encounter with the crazy street guy (Douglass), Forest had left the force and was making an enviable success of his Fort Bragg business, Mendocino Jams and Jellies.
Forest had a permit to carry the concealed firearm because he carried cash from his business to the bank himself and, given the number of lurks out on the streets these days, it only made sense that a business man functioning as his own courier would arm himself.
If you are attacked by a violent schizoid who’s gone off his meds, you have the legal right to defend yourself. Robert Forest didn't shoot the street guy, he used his gun to get the deranged man away from him.
There was, however, another element in this case which was later brought up by defense counsel Donald Heller, Forest’s third lawyer. It had to do with Deputy DA Stoen’s liberal political leanings, much lauded by Stoen himself in his recent memoirs. In Stoen-think, and lib-think generally, a white man who pulls a gun on a black man is automatically suspect.
Stoen took one scrap of rather shaky testimony from a drive-by witness and set out after the white man, Forest, although the black man who'd accosted Forest had a long history of violent mental illness.
On page 111 of Stoen's thoroughly fanciful book called "Marked For Death" we read about an unnamed black man who told Stoen about a "honky" who "just had to kill me a nigger tonight." Stoen, and the noble People's Temple, whose inner circle was all white, built their entire murderous edifice around racism, going so far as to erect a gun tower at their Redwood Valley church to beat back imaginary attacks by "rednecks."
Stoen saw the minor Fort Bragg street encounter between Forest and the unhinged black man as racism in action, and by golly he was going to bring the wrath of the entire state down on Forest to show Mendocino County that he, Tim Stoen, wouldn't let it go. Stoen's colleagues, including his supervisors, interim District Attorney Keith Faulder, Deputy DA Katherine Houston, and Assistant DA Beth Norman, not to mention the DA’s Chief Investigator Tim Kiely advised Stoen to drop it because there was no case to prosecute.
And even after DA Lintott had ordered Stoen to let it go, and had herself asked Judge Henderson to dismiss the charges, Stoen refiled a lengthy motion to go after Forest on the basis of the vague testimony of a single witness who got a passing glimpse of "a white man holding a gun to a uh, colored — uh, I mean a African American's head…”
In his self-aggrandizing book, Stoen also tells us where he learned how to exploit white guilt: “The killing of [Martin Luther] King seemed to make Jim Jones, on the other hand, go ballistic. Overnight there appeared a dramatic change in his public demeanor. He was asked to be one of the speakers at a memorial service for King at the Ukiah Presbyterian Church. He proceeded to scandalize many citizens in Ukiah by accusing the entire community of racism.”
Ah, those were the days. Not only were individual white people a bunch of Klan-symps, all of them were!
In the next paragraph, we find Stoen sitting down to dinner at the Oak Park Avenue, Ukiah, home of “the brilliant” (and liberal) Judge Robert Winslow who, Stoen tells us, “was being accused, however, of liberalism and intellectual arrogance.” Despoiling the political landscape were “The avowed right-wing John Bircher, Walter Heady of Ukiah, and Marge Boynton, chairwoman of the Republican Central Committee in Mendocino County.” (Heady was an isolated crackpot and head of a two-person Bircher outfit in Ukiah consisting of himself and his wife. Mrs. Boynton was a kindly and perfectly respectable Rockefeller Republican, a long, long way from the frothers we see in today's Republican Party.)
By the time Deputy DA Stoen got his hands on the Robert Forest case late in 2006, the two-person John Birch Society of Ukiah and the Republican Central Committee of Mendocino County are long-gone. But for this kind of manichaen personality type, a guilt-ridden white people drawn to The People’s Temple, vigilance never rests!
For the record, Robert Forest is no bigot, let alone a racist. He has a long history of community involvement and devotion to liberal causes that have been widely and publicly lauded by unimpeachable pillars of the community. He works with “at risk youth” at Fort Bragg Unified and is a respected instructor at Fort Bragg’s Cypress Street Center for the developmentally disabled.
So it was a desperate Tim Stoen who asked DA Chief Inspector Kiely to go to work and dig something up he could impugn Forest’s character with. He sent Kiely a list of areas of Forest’s personal life that might be mined to doom the man, including Forest’s ex-wife, with whom Forest was in a custody battle. (Straight out of the People's Temple playbook.) All this tax-paid scrutiny was to be applied to Forest, not Forest’s alleged victim, Mr. Douglass.
Fort Bragg police records show that Douglass was considered an “officer safety subject” who suffered what seemed to them to be “paranoid schizophrenia” who could occasionally go off his meds and become very difficult to deal with.
Stoen, however, would contend to the bitter end that Stanley Douglass — whose three days on the stand were nuttier than squirrel shit — was a credible, convincing witness. Even more cunning went into Stoen’s ploy to retain the evidence tainted by Lt. Higdon. Stoen advised the court that it was a waste of time for the court to get mired in the internal affairs of the Fort Bragg Police Department. The supple jurisprudence of Ten Mile Superior Court Judge Jonathan Lehan, himself hardly a paragon of rectitude, saw it Stoen's way.
Keep in mind that Judge Lehan and Deputy DA Stoen worked closely together in their own private little world of the Ten Mile Courthouse for most of the latter years of Lehan’s judicial career.
When the case got to Ukiah, another of Stoen’s like-minded colleagues, the late Superior Court Judge (and former Public Defender) Ronald Brown, who, as presiding judge of the Superior Court of Mendocino County, had sheltered Lehan from verified sexual harassment charges, was set to hear the next installment.
By then it was known that Stoen had played dumb to Stanley Douglass’s mental illness, gang affiliations, drug use, and violent criminal record, as well as his (Stoen’s) having suppressed the log from the 911 dispatcher that showed there were other witnesses, besides the one Lt. Higdon had cited and whose testimony Higdon had altered.
This was the witness Stoen characterized as credible, the only witness who said Forest had put a gun to Douglass's head and called him a motherfucker. The other witnesses all said Douglass was relentless in pursuit of Forest, and had only backed off when Forest pulled out the gun and asked Douglass to leave him alone. Stoen hid these witnesses from Forest's defense.
In cases like this, there is always a lot of meetins behind closed doors as the legal beagles decide what they want to go on the public record. It’s all hush-hush, but you can almost hear Stoen in Judge Brown’s chambers:
“Ronnie, Ronnie, c’mon, man. Even though you’re a full-fledged judge now, you’re still a dyed-in-the-wool public defender at heart, am I wrong? How many black kids have you seen sent up on contrived testimony, suppressed evidence, exaggerated charges and similar shenanigans — all done on a regular basis by the good old boys who used to run this county? Now, how different is that from what I’m trying to pull, here? C’mon, Ron, fer Chrissakes, pull with me for a little payback, in the interest of justice, eh? Whaddaya say?”
Whatever went on in chambers, Judge Brown didn’t toss the bogus case. But District Attorney Meredith Lintott personally took it to Judge Richard Henderson and asked him to dismiss the charges for lack of evidence, which Henderson agreed to do back in 2008.
Stoen, undeterred, and all of it on the County’s dime, soon produced a massive pleading to be allowed to prosecute Forest. (One would think, even in the club-like circumstances of Mendocino County's legal community, a sitting District Attorney could simply order a subaltern like Stoen to give it up.)
Then came election time, 2010, and DA Lintott — who had been originally elected in 2006 on a fluke in the confused aftermath of the unexpected death of legendary DA Norm Vroman — was desperate to keep her job, since she was losing her Fort Bragg house and going into bankruptcy. She dug up the Forest case with the stupendously idiotic idea of saying her opponent, David Eyster, had been bribed by Forest with a $10,000 donation to the Eyster campaign not to prosecute him.
The litigation this monumental stupidity resulted in was finally settled by former Chief Prosecutor and Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequiera in Judge John Behnke’s court, just a few short months ago. The settlement required Ms. Lintott to issue the following public statement:
"Hello. This is Meredith Lintott, former District Attorney for Mendocino County. In 2010, during my campaign to be re-elected District Attorney, I published a political campaign advertisement on the radio which stated or implied that Mr. Robert Forest had felony charges pending against him, that he had assaulted an unarmed man with a firearm, and that he had bribed my opponent to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Robert Forest did not bribe anyone. Mr. Forest did not have any criminal charges pending against him. And he did not commit an assault against an unarmed man with a gun. I personally dismissed all criminal charges that were pending against him more than two years before my campaign advertisement was broadcast on the radio. I want to confirm that I made the right decision when I dismissed the charges that were pending against Mr. Forrest. I apologize for the harm my statements have caused Mr. Forest, his family, and his businesses."
The ordeal for Robert Forest appears to be finally over, once and for all.
After Ms. Lintott’s retraction and apology, Forest issued his own statement:
“The public retraction by Ms. Lintott has finally come, after such a long time, in settlement of my defamation lawsuit against her. No citizen should ever have to go through the undeserved agony that I and my family have endured as a result of her campaign ads. We have suffered for years, trying to right a terrible wrong. Ms. Lintott's defamation statements are only a part of the incredible nightmare of injustice that we've been subjected to, and we will not rest until all of those persons responsible for it have been exposed and held to account for their behavior. I commend Ms. Lintott for finally taking responsibility for having repeatedly made horrible, false statements about me to our community during her campaign to be re-elected. My family and I sincerely hope that the people who believed her will realize that they were grossly misled. I would appreciate my record now being formally and completely cleared. And I look forward to being able to safely return to public life as soon as that happens.”
The sensible Sequiera of the DA's office, and Forest’s lawyer David Kindopp, had signed a stipulation to what the lawyers call an error coram nobis, which is an instrument used to clear your name after it has been sullied by a high-ranking officer of the court. The stipulation was agreed to by Judge John Behnke, and he was about to sign it, when Sequiera had a few words for the record.
“I just want to explain, one of the reasons to do a factual record is so there’s some transparency so someone doesn’t just look at a file and see a signature and wonder how this all happened, especially given the tortured history, both criminally and civilly in this case. And it’s unusual. In fact, it’s the first time in my 31 years that I’ve ever stipulated to a petition for factual innocence… I’ve reviewed in this case many, many hours the District Attorney’s file, and notes including the police reports of witness statements, internal emails, a preliminary hearing transcript and, most importantly Sergeant Lee’s from the Fort Bragg PD and DDA Tim Stoen’s. I’ve read the 2008 decision by Judge Henderson denying the petition for factual innocence as well as the appellate opinion upholding Judge Henderson’s decision. What has changed from 2008 to today is the intervening civil case which produced new evidence, and that’s the basis for Mr. Kindopp’s pleadings.”
Sequiera goes on to call the conduct by Lt. Higdon “unconscionable.”
Sequiera balks, however, at saying the same of Stoen’s actions.
“I would not have handled it that way,” is the extent of Sequiera’s daring when it comes to censuring a fellow lawyer and member of his office. … There were many red flags during the prosecution of this case that were either negligently missed or deliberately ignored. I can’t tell either way. But they certainly were not pursued and the case was not handled very professionally…”
It all finally ended, February 26th of this year, and an entire decade-long ordeal costing in excess of a million bucks for one man to clear his name. How many others are out there who have been ruined in the same way, but without the resources to fight back against a system so appallingly susceptible to the obsessions of petty tyrants like Tim Stoen? Why are (some of) these lawbreakers still in office? It’s all top secret at the State Bar, where lawyers are overpaid to watch each other’s backs.
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Background: Fort Bragg's Smoking Police Story