On May 2, 2016, at about 8:25 PM, MCSO Deputies were dispatched to the 76000 block of Henderson Lane in Covelo regarding an assault with a knife.
Upon arrival Deputies determined that Oscar Lopez and Joshua Thomas had forcibly entered a female victim’s bedroom at the residence and started to choke her. The female victim was able to break free of the male suspects at which time she ran towards the front door of the residence.
However, her escape route was blocked by both Oscar Lopez and Joshua Thomas. The female victim started to scream for help, at which time Joshua Thomas came up from behind her with a knife threatening to cut her throat if she continued to scream. The female victim then grabbed the knife, pushing it away from her throat; causing a cut to a finger on her left hand. The female victim was able to escape by running out the back door of the residence.
It should be noted that the female victim in this matter refused medical attention. … Oscar Armando Lopez was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit a criminal act. He was booked into the Mendocino County jail where he is currently being held on $30,000 bail. …
Joshua Michael Thomas was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit a criminal act and an outstanding arrest warrant for fraud. He was booked into the Mendocino County jail where he is currently being held on $55,000 bail.
— Sheriff’s Press Release, May 3, 2016
It was a spooky old Victorian farmhouse with a lot of furniture and boxes piled up in front of the door because the home’s occupants said 400 zombies armed with baseball bats were outside preparing for an all-out frontal attack.
Inside the besieged residence, a secret door opened on a steep, narrow stairway that wound around an inside wall and up to a hidden room, at the top of which stood a man with an axe, poised to repel the intruders.
Mendocino County has seen a spate of crime featuring baseball bats lately, with two bloody murders, Jewel Dyer finishing off his step-father with a bat, and Joshua Ruoff beating a pot pharm coworker to death with a bat. And we have any number of non-fatal attacks involving baseball bats.
And in the present matter, we’ve got the eerie case of a young fellow who held a knife to his mother’s throat and threatened her life because a whole army of zombies armed with baseball bats were coming after him and his significant other.
There had been a series of 911 calls desperate for help at an old two-story farmhouse on Henderson Lane in Covelo, the first from a woman who said her son, Joshua Michael Thomas and his significant other, Isadoro Oscar Lopez, were holding her hostage, and a second from Joshua Michael Thomas, saying there were four men attacking the house with baseball bats — then Thomas called again and said the attackers were inside the house. In another frantic call to 911, Thomas said there were 400 attackers. Lopez quickly corrected his friend by saying that in reality (sic) there were only 80 of the homicidal zomboids attacking them.
I spoke with the lawyers for these two guys, Mr. Al Kubanis, a private attorney (retained by Mr. Thomas) and Mr. Jonathon Opet, a lawyer from the Office of the Public Defender (appointed to Mr. Lopez) and they both assured me that not only were their clients were not only sane, but highly intelligent.
Cue Deputy Elmore, Mendo’s ghostbuster.
Deputy DA Barry Shapiro called Deputy James Elmore to the stand. Deputy Elmore is an old hand in the wild and woolly North Sector of Mendocino County and no doubt inured to outlandish criminality. He testified that when he got to the old Victorian farmstead he found a distraught Melinda Thomas on the porch, managing through her tears to tell the deputy that her son had assaulted her with a knife.
Defense attorney Kubanis objected that the officer was jumping to conclusions and it had yet to proved whether anyone had been assaulted or not. Judge David Nelson agreed and sustained the objection.
Deputy DA Shapiro cut to the facts. “What — if anything — did she tell you happened, Deputy Elmore?”
“She said her son held a knife to her throat, and tried to lock her in the house.”
“Did you try to contact the son, Mr. Thomas?”
“Why is that?”
“He had an active arrest warrant and—”
“I’m going to object again you honor,” Kubanis interrupted.
“Overruled. What were you saying, Deputy Elmore?”
“She gave me a key to the front door, but it was blocked with furniture and boxes piled up in front of it. After we got through, she showed me a door that led up a narrow staircase to a room where Mr. Thomas and Mr. Lopez were located. It was a narrow, steep stairway that wound around an inside wall and when we entered the room — my sergeant and I — we located both Mr. Thomas and Mr. Lopez.”
“What were they doing?”
“Mr. Lopez was holding an axe at the ready, but he soon put in down.”
“Were they both arrested?”
“And did you advise them of their Miranda rights?”
“Yes, and they both agreed to speak to us.”
“Did you ask them what was going on?”
“I did. Mr. Thomas said that 400 people armed with baseball bats were out to harm them, and then Mr. Lopez corrected Thomas saying there were only 80 of them.”
“How many were there really?”
“I didn’t see any.”
“What about Ms. Thomas?”
“Yes. What was her demeanor?”
“She was visibly upset, crying and she told me she did not feel safe. She said she had gathered up her belongings and was going to leave when they — Josh and Oscar — came in and grabbed her and choked her. She said she got away, ran to the door and screamed for help, and that’s when her doting son, Joshua Thomas, held a knife to her throat and told her to ‘Shut the fuck up or I’m going to kill you — and ‘I hope you die!’ Mom said she pushed the knife away and it cut her hand — and then she got away.”
“Was the knife found?”
“What did she do next?”
“She said she ran for the back door and Mr. Lopez threw a candlestick at her which struck her foot.”
“Were you able to locate the candleholder?”
“I did. It was outside on the steps to the back door.”
Joshua Thomas then told Deputy Elmore that his name was Neimann, not Thomas, that he was the (illegitimate) son of a prominent local dignitary by that name.
The court called a time out to sort out a case involving Daniel Taylor who had pled guilty to assaulting a corrections officer and been charged with a strike offense. “However, judge,” Alternate Public Defender Douglass Rhoades explained, “it is not a strike offense to strike a corrections officer, in this case Officer Nick Terravinni”
Judge Nelson turned to Deputy DA Caitlin Keane, and she conceded the legal point. “At this time the People move to dismiss the strike because it is not a strike offense to strike a corrections officer.” Nelson, constrained by the same law, granted the motion.
Nelson recalled the Thomas and Lopez matter and Al Kubanis rose to cross.
“Good afternoon, Deputy Elmore. You said on direct that you arrived at the residence at about 10pm?”
“Yes, that’s accurate.”
“And by then there had been four calls made to dispatch?”
“Did you speak to any of them?”
“Yes, I believe I spoke with Melinda Thomas.”
“You called her, then?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Did you speak with my client over the phone as well?”
“I tried to call him back, but nobody would pick up.”
“But you had heard the call to dispatch, and wasn’t it something to the effect that four suspects were outside the residence with baseball bats.”
“Did Melinda tell you it was his place, that the house belonged to her son, and that she was there at his pleasure?”
“Well, did she at least tell you they both lived there?”
“Were you able to determine that the house was in fact his — my client’s?”
“Did she tell you how long he’d lived there?”
“If she did, I don’t recall.”
“Did you see any indication that he lived there, any male clothing, that sort of thing?”
“Did you have any conversation about it?”
“You mean it was neither asked nor volunteered, don’t you?”
“Drawing your attention to these photographs, Deputy Elmore, see here… Is that the injury to her hand? The one supposedly made by the knife?”
“I don’t know whether it is or not. This photo was taken later, after it had been cleaned up — when I arrived her hand was all bloody.”
“So you conclude from that that she cleaned her hand after you arrived?”
“Looking at this photograph there appears to be lacerations on the top of the hand, isn’t that true?”
“I don’t see that.”
“Did you ask her why her fingernails were dirty?”
“Objection,” Shapiro shouted, springing to his feet indignantly.
“Mr. Kubanis,” Judge Nelson cautioned — “what’s the relevance of her fingernails?”
“Well it’s not uncommon for people who work outside [in a ganja garden] to get cuts and scratches on their hands.”
“I’ll allow it, but only for that limited purpose.”
Elmore said he hadn’t paid any attention to her fingernails.
“Did you search my client?”
“Did you find a knife?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Did you know that at the jail there’s a knife with his property?”
“I did not. I don’t have access to his property sheet at the jail.”
“You said Melinda was upset; was she intoxicated?”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Was she 11550 [code for tweaking]?”
“I did not evaluate her for such, if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, what about Mr. Thomas — I mean, you hear all this transmission about people outside with bats, then they’re inside — did you evaluate him for 11550?”
“I did not put him through the tests but he was showing symptoms, such as sweating profusely, talking rapidly and incoherently.”
“I see. Let’s go back to the photographs, for a moment. May I approach the witness, your honor?”
“You may, Mr. Kubanis.”
“The injury I’m pointing to right here, do you see it?”
“It’s the same injury as in the other photo, only taken from a different angle.”
Prosecutor Shapiro stalked up to the witness stand where Al Kubanis was hovering over the Deputy and glowered at the photo over Kubanis’s shoulder.
“Did you notice any injury to Melinda’s throat?”
“Do you see any in this photograph?”
“Did you ask her why?”
“I don’t believe I did — but probably not.”
“Did she try to contact the sheriff’s office after this incident?”
“If she did it was never related to me?”
“Did you ever go there to investigate a marijuana rip-off?”
“Did you have any conversation about Mr. Thomas’s father?”
“He gave me that name, Neimann.”
“Did he say that was his biological father?”
“He may have said something to that effect, but not specifically in those exact words.”
I missed Mr. Opet’s cross due to conflicting obligations in order to cover another case, the prelim of the famous Bear Lincoln, which as it turned out was put over so Mr. Lincoln and his lawyer, Brian Gregory, could go over a settlement offer from the DA. (Mr. Lincoln’s charges have been reduced to a single count of felon in possession of a firearm.) Next day I learned Mr. Thomas had been held on all charges (assault with a deadly weapon, and false imprisonment) except the false ID. Mr. Lopez was held for participating in the false imprisonment.