(This is the final segment of our interview with Mendocino County’s only and probably last black deputy, Orell Massey.)
AVA: What’s your experience with domestic violence cases and the current state of the domestic violence law?
Massey: When you have two people involved in some kind of domestic issue, the law does not really provide much discretion about what law enforcement can do. It's pretty clear in California that when two people are involved in a domestic issue — 273.5, which is a domestic violence felony, or 243(e)1, which is domestic violence with no visible injuries, a misdemeanor — it says the police "shall" determine who the primary aggressor is and make an arrest. There is no wiggle room at all. All the discretion has been taken away from the police. You cannot say something like, Go outside and cool off anymore.
AVA: We always take notice when a diminutive woman is arrested for domestic violence.
Massey: There are these cases where a small woman is involved. Often the woman starts the problem but then they end up getting the worst of the injuries. Frequently the man will claim that she hit him first. You have to try to determine the primary aggressor. For example, you might get a small woman who goes in and slaps her husband upside the face. Then the husband will beat her up and claim to the police that she hit him first. But if she has visible injuries then the primary aggressor will be the man. But sometimes that's not so easy to determine. Some guys know that they can try to claim that the woman started it to avoid any culpability or to avoid being implicated as the primary aggressor. If a small woman attacks a large guy and he leaves the house and calls the police —
AVA: But that’s not much of an attack. Why would a guy even call the police for a slap?
Massey: The law says "however slight." If she slaps him or if she spits on him — if she bumps him with her shoulder or anything like that and it meets the criteria then she could be charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. A man can claim that she started it. Other times, the man is just mad at the woman for some personal reason and wants to try to teach her a lesson by accusing the woman of attacking him. However, people don't always realize that once you call law enforcement for a domestic violence incident, law enforcement has very strict rules and procedures that they must follow. We might show up there and the man would say, Oh, I did not want her to get arrested — I just wanted her to stop bothering me. Well, I'm sorry. The law requires us to arrest her. But I didn't want her to go to jail! Too late. Once you hit that button and call law enforcement and they show up, it's very likely they will take some action. If we don't take action, then our supervisor is going to wonder why we didn't do something that is required. And if something were to happen later to either one of the parties related to that domestic incident when no action was taken, then the officer and the department could be held responsible. Domestic violence can get very volatile and people can be seriously injured or killed. Just imagine, if the officer went to a house and the woman was fighting and the officer didn't do anything —
AVA: Things like that have happened in the past.
Massey: Certainly. And then there might be a call where a man confesses to shooting his wife! What if we were out there five minutes ago? Not good. It's even possible that criminal charges could be filed against the officer for not performing his duties. This is important stuff. The laws are clear and strict and specific and it doesn't matter if it's a man or a woman. The primary aggressor is held responsible based upon the law enforcement analysis at the scene. And the primary aggressor has to be arrested.
I remember a case not long ago where a female went to a guy's house. She already had a problem with alcohol. They had been out and around in town. The female got drunk. And he left — he didn't want to deal with her anymore. She got very upset that he left and started driving around town looking for him. Finally she went to the house where she thought he left for. The owner of the house opened the door. She sees her boyfriend standing in the background and demands to come in. The house owner refuses, says no, you are not coming in here. Well, this little woman pushed this man aside and runs in and jumps on her boyfriend and rips into him with her fingernails. He had scratches all over him! He was trying to keep her off of him but she kept scratching. He called the Sheriff's office and she ended up getting arrested. That case was finally finished not long ago and she ended up pleading guilty to trespassing! I guess it got a little more complicated. It turned out that the female had recently separated from her boyfriend who happened to be a deputy. I'm not familiar with all the negotiations that went on, and I don’t know how it turned into a trespass. He certainly had injuries. This was a felony domestic violence case if I've ever seen one. But it ended up being trespassing.
AVA: If you had it to do over again, would you have come to work for Mendocino County?
Massey: Not all of my experiences have been negative. I've had some very positive experiences and a whole second career here. But if I really had it to do over again I would not come to Mendocino County. I would choose another county — probably a more urban place with more diversity in the population. I probably would have felt more comfortable in that situation. I wouldn't have to worry about all these collateral issues having to do with my race. It's a big distraction from doing my job and affects so many other things in my life, my being in uniform, roaming around out there in public. I think I probably could have done even a better job if I hadn't had to worry about those race things as much.
AVA: I thought I heard that you had taught some criminal justice classes at Mendocino College.
Massey: No, I have taught small arms qualification, concealed weapons permits, and other firearm related subjects. That was with the former state drug task force chief Bob Nishiyama. I have also taught gang-related classes in local schools. I guess I might consider a class in Criminal Justice at some point. I've never given it that much thought, but it's possible. I wouldn't rule it out.
AVA: Some retired cops become private investigators or criminal justice consultants.
Massey: That sounds like a lot of work to me! [Laughs] I don't really want to get into any kind of full-time job situation anymore.
AVA: Have you given any thought to what you'll do after you fully retire?
Massey: I will be happy to retire. Eventually I will move out of Mendocino County and go some other place and settle down and enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for all these years.
AVA: Is South Carolina on your radar?
Massey: For a visit, yes. Not to go back and establish primary residence, no. That's not the way I'm thinking about things right now. Probably some place with a warmer climate, some place like Southern California.