Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.
— Mormon Proverb
“How are the children?” We see the poster asking this question everywhere in the greater Ukiah area, from the boutiques fantastique, to the upscale restaurants with sidewalk dining tables, right on down the streets to the esoteric massage spas, the glitzy nail and hair studios, and even the seedy little tattoo parlors — “How Are The Children?”
Fatter and dumber every year, according to national statistics, but asked in Ukiah the question implies that our community is concerned in the usual way local liberals are concerned — symbolically. Hey! We care about the kids, ok? So lighten up and relax, get yourself a pedicure, throw in a foot massage, maybe a new tattoo, down some sushi, and shop ‘til you drop. Do something for you. Don't worry your busy little head about the kids. The kids are fine, although Mendocino County is among state leaders in child poverty.
Smack in the middle of all these printed reassurances about Ukiah's devotion to the young is Alex Thomas Plaza, a nice little downtown park and memorial to the late pear king, complete with lovely lawns and walkways, an attractive pavilion, a sometime hotdog stand, and public restrooms. But guess what? Children don’t play there and the restrooms are closed most of the time. Why? Because the Plaza is full of petty criminals recently turned out of the state prisons under the governor’s realignment program and the notoriously deceitful Proposition 47. One more public space lost.
Sure, there are times when, prior to a scheduled event, the cops will chase off the drunks, dope heads, miscellaneous lowlifes, and unlock the restrooms. But other times, especially at night, you risk a confrontation from a convicted felon in need of your spare change if you cut through the park. Or worse.
Fronting the plaza we find a row of businesses designed for children, places like Round Table Pizza and Psaras Outrageous Playland, a games arcade popular with the electronic young. Mostly, the lurks from nearby Alex Thomas Plaza confine themselves to the adjacent park, but....
Enter Jerome McMurphy, a career felon with more than three tours in the state pen to his credit. One day a couple of weeks ago Jerome strolls into the arcade and makes himself comfortable in a kiddie ride, a stationary roller-coaster simulator which was then out of service. Half a dozen little girls are enjoying the arcade as their grandparents watch over them. We're decades past the halcyon days in America when the safety of children in public places was assumed, and Jerome is about to demonstrate why.
Once seated in the roller coaster simulator, Jerome whips out the old wangdoodle and starts wanking away. In the throes of some undoubtedly evil vision, the man is so transported he doesn't know or care that he's rocking the machine so vigorously, the arcade's astonished owner, Valerie Psara, looks over and shouts, “You have got to be effing kidding me! I’m calling the police.”
“The gentleman, Mr. McMurphy,” Detective Isabel Madrigal would say, “was found in the nearby park, having fled the arcade when the owner called 911.”
Detective Madrigal, who is visibly pregnant, has a personal as well as a professional stake in making Ukiah a suitable place to raise children. But her bias, if that's what we're legally compelled to call it, must not be shown or defense lawyers will interpret it as prejudice against their innocent-until-proven-guilty clients. Hence the detective's reference to this flagrant perv as a “gentleman.”
Deputy DA Johnna Sack wanted Gentleman Jerome charged with a felony, Penal Code 314, since he has a prior 314 in Marin County, five prison priors, among them a strike offense. This could put him away from children for 11 years, although even if Jerome is packed off to prison rather than a few weeks out on Low Gap Road at the County Jail, state and local time out rooms are so over crowded that almost everybody gets “an early kick” — and, anyway, you only have to serve half of most sentences — 80 percent for a violent offense — and still you get the kick. Gentleman Jerome will soon be back pounding off in public.
It seems that Governor Brown thinks places like Alex Thomas Plaza are better suited to housing criminals than the state pens which, due to free enterprise racketeering by prison contractors — guards, services suppliers, et al — have become too expensive to operate without cutting into retirement obligations for former politicians and bureaucrats.
But Alternate Public Defender Doug Rhoades thought state prison was much too harsh for a man masturbating in front of little girls. Even if it only amounted to five and a half years or less, with the early kick, he thought his client should only have to serve 180 days (90 actual) in the County Jail before resuming his life of ease at Alex Thomas Plaza.
“It should have been charged as a misdemeanor indecent exposure,” he told the judge, “a 647a.”
The difference between a felony indecent exposure and the misdemeanor charge had to do with whether or not Gentleman Jerome was intentionally trying to draw attention to himself. Deputy DA Sack said he obviously was because if he wanted to do it in private he could have hid in the bushes instead of entering a business full of people. It might also be assumed that he finds children sexually interesting, that Gentleman Jerome's next adventure with the kids might.... He's clearly a dangerous person, and if we're willing to risk the welfare and safety of children we have truly lost our way in this country.
At this point prosecutor Sack was interrupted by a truly startling occurrence. Gentleman Jerome was seated next to his lawyer. The bailiff had taken off one of his handcuffs so he could write notes to his lawyer on a legal pad. But the Gentleman wasn’t taking notes, and Bailiff Jeff Courtney suddenly came up behind Gentleman Jerome, grabbed his pumping elbow, and pulled his free hand out of his pants and snapped the handcuff back on. Deputy Courtney then availed himself of a bottle of sanitizer, as Gentleman Jerome glowered at the judge.
Gentleman Jerome had found something so irresistibly erotic about the proceeding he simply couldn't help himself!
Judge David Nelson told Ms. Sack to finish her comments, but the prosecutor was so discombobulated she could only stammer. I imagined her arriving at home that afternoon. "How was your day, honey?" Well, I, ah, something happened and, er, please stop talking and open the Parducci Jug Red."
Rhoades for the defense took advantage of Ms. Sack’s discomfiture to suggest that there was no proof any of the kiddies or grandparents had seen what his client was doing and, also, Ms. Psara had had to walk over there before she got the proverbial eye-full.
Judge Nelson apparently found the matter perplexing. He'd need some time to sort things out, but odds are that Gentleman Jerome will soon be back at home in Alex Thomas Plaza.
* * *
Across the hall Judge Ann Moorman was sending a docket full of failed probationers to their punishment. Would they have to go stand in the corner at Low Gap…? No, not even that because the jail is full of overflow from the prisons with no room for our everyday fuck-ups.
“One more chance, your honor? How about one more chance?”
“Okay, over the objections of the District Attorney and the Probation Department [since the prison will only send him right back, anyway], I’ll grant another term of probation. But you must apologize to your probation officer, however. I can’t order him to supervise the unsupervisable — understand?”
“Oh, yes, fully — I fully understand [tee-hee-hee]…”
The cop who busted this guy and had come to see him sentenced after blowing off a dozen chances to go straight, sighed, and perhaps said to himself, "Talk about rolling rocks up hills...."
“What about Jacob Breuner?”
“Yes, your honor, Carly Dolan of the public Defender’s office for Mr. Breuner who is present and in custody.”
“Luke Oakley for the People.”
“Are we ready to proceed?”
“Yes, your honor, the People call Officer Shelly Wilson of the CHP.”
“Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under penalty of perjury?”
“Officer Wilson, where do you work?”
“For the California Highway Patrol, at the Ukiah Branch.”
“Were you on duty on or about June 5th at approximately 7pm?”
“Yes, I was dispatched to see about a disabled vehicle on Highway 101 north of Uva Drive.”
“What, if anything, did you see when you got there?”
“There were four gentlemen in and around a white Ford Mustang. One of them said the problem was a dead battery and that someone was supposed to came back and give them a jump. It was in a bad location, so we — a Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputy came in for back up — and we decided the vehicle would have to be towed. The deputy asked if there was any contraband or weapons in the vehicle and the defendant, Mr. Breuner, said there was a rifle in the trunk.”
“Yes, there was a rifle an AR-15 [assault rifle, like the one used in the Orlando and San Bernardino massacres] in a back pack.”
“Did you ask the defendant where he got it?”
“He said he found it behind some bushes.”
“Did you do a records check on it?”
“Yes, and it came back stolen.”
“Did you do a check up on the defendant?”
“Yes, and it turned out he had a criminal protective order against him with a no-firearms clause.”
Ms. Dolan on cross-examination:
“You approached my client rather than the others — why was that?”
“He was the one who had been driving.”
“And your concern was getting the vehicle off Highway 101?”
“But wasn’t someone coming to jump-start it?”
“Possibly. But it was in a bad place and we, the deputy and I, decided to have it towed.”
“So that’s why you asked about contraband and weapons?”
“For officer safety.”
“And the rifle was in a backpack?”
“Yes, it was one of those you can detach the barrel, but it can be put together and ready for use very quickly.”
“Did he tell you where these bushes were where it had been found?”
“He said they stopped on the Redwood Highway to go to the bathroom [sic] and when they went behind the bushes, they found it.”
“Was there a trigger mechanism that attaches to the rifle as well?”
“I don’t recall.”
Dolan for the defense said her client should have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor because of his tender years, only 22, and his cooperative attitude and gosh there was no proof the rifle was operable since the officer couldn’t remember the status of the trigger mechanism.
Deputy DA Oakley held out for the felony. The law proscribing firearms in cases of domestic violence convictions, which was the case with Mr. Breuner, was initiated in the 1980s when there was a nationwide epidemic of men shooting their spouses (and an occasional judge) over divorce terms and custody battles.
Judge Moorman said, “I’m going to grant the 17b. [motion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor]; here’s why: The defendant had only recently found the firearm, and it was not certain it was operable, and also, he is very young and has no other offenses, so the motion is granted.”
O hell yes. Only a kid at 22. Found a thousand dollar gun in the bushes. Clear case for mercy.
The judge didn’t mention that sending Mr. Found Gun to prison on the felony would have entailed a lot of bureaucratic expense and only resulted in the prison sending him right back to the County Jail where he would serve the misdemeanor term, anyway, so why not give it to him in the first place?
The Devil is in the details, as they say, and Satan designs the most intricate Hell he can think of for each sinner, so that even judges cannot escape damnation and torment.