“A gun can get you into more trouble than it can get you out of, boy.” — Grandpa McEwen
[RATED HT 65 — Hi-Tech Advisory: This story contains references to technical advances which may confuse and annoy elderly readers (a majority of the AVA readership). Unlike PG-13 ratings, which (theoretically) protect people under 13 years of age, these Hi-Tech ratings are designed to protect people over age 65 from things they are either too young or too old to comprehend, such as nudity and foul language for youngsters, and complex tech terminology for oldsters. This story will feature three items Rated HT-65: the Skid-Steer™ mini-skip-loader, the GoPro™ wireless camera, the 80% Lower™partial assault rifle — also, the Enigma Computer, which will be welcome nostalgia for seniors, but may seem unduly archaic to the young reader.]
When a farmer straps on a gunbelt to go out and do his morning chores, you know he is either in a western horse opera, or a pot pharm in Mendocino County. Who else wears a gun to go water the garden? A 19th Century homesteader, or a Generation X grower. The more things change the more they stay the same, as Plato observed.
So when Mendocino County Code Enforcement Officer Webb came calling at 4100 Boonville Road to check out the Skid-Steer™ — it’s not a live steer; but a mechanical bull-like tractor with a blade on it for scraping, scooping and moving dirt, and it bucks around on its short wheel-base and the rough terrain like one of those mechanical bulls that bars used to feature for wannabe rodeo stars; Boonville landowner Karen Ottoboni showed me how fun it is riding one of these things when she was fixing up the wheelchair ramp at the senior housing in Boonville.
But back to our story: If you rent one of these things, Code Enforcement will become curious about what you are doing with all the Mendo landscape [dirt] these things are designed to alter. And if you are wearing a gun when these officers come calling — and, yes, there’s a large argument about who armed-up first, the pot planters or the Code Cops — but let’s let the know-it-alls hash that out.
Back to our story: A shoot-out between Rickel and the Code Enforcement Officer was somehow averted on March 28th. Whatever went down, Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Mason was tasked with looking into it, and the grower in question, Jon Paul Rickel, went to jail. As a convicted felon, Mr. Rickel was prohibited from owning or possessing any firearms or ammunition, so he called his son, Chandler Rickel and advised the younger man to go get the firearms off the property before the cops got there with a search warrant.
If we look on Google Earth, we see that Rickel’s property amounts to little more than a dirt track punched back into the oak woodland a short distance, and an RV trailer moved in, with the regulation 25 plants. This picture being dated, however, we learned during the hearing that a couple of ConEx boxes have been added, more space cleared, and preparations made to comply and compete in the dawning Green Rush, as it’s being styled.
When Deputy Mason arrived with the search warrant, the guns were gone, but he did find a cache of ammunition, including a Smith&Wesson .40 caliber, .22 Long Rifle, and miscellaneous other types of ammo and shell casings. Also, there was a holster, a sling, and a machine jig for an 80 percent lower receiver. This is a prefabricated guide for machining out a part for an assault rifle, an AR-15, which you don’t have to buy through a dealer licensed by the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). It is handy for do-it-yourself gunsmiths, as well as those who wish to avoid background checks when purchasing a firearm.
Another thing Deputy Mason found at the property was a GoPro camera and associated recording equipment. Mason is highly tech-savvy and soon was watching videos of Mr. Rickel and his co-defendant, Lorraine Hunter, having sex. Mason described this Blue Movie on the stand and said that as soon it reached its climax, Rickel reached over and retrieved a firearm — an assault rifle — and began expounding on how this particular model had been enhanced by a gunsmith with a special barrel and how a friend of his [Rickel’s] wished he had it. By now, Rickel himself is probably wishing his friend had it, too, as he will be looking at a return to prison for having it and including it in the video. There was a time/date stamp on the video, and Rickel himself also announced the date at the beginning of the recording. This information established that the video was recorded during the time when Rickel was prohibited from having a firearm in his possession, and ultimately, proved self-incriminating. In fact, it also incriminated Ms. Hunter as she was also a convicted felon at the time, and was in close enough proximity to the assault rifle to be in violation of not only the law prohibiting her from being around firearms, but also of violating the terms of her probation.
Now, the call from the jail from Rickel to his son had been audited and recorded — when will people learn the lessons of the surveillance state? — and even though the Rickels talked in code, it didn’t take a genius from Bletchley Park and the Enigma Computer to break the code, and determine what was being communicated from father to son. So Mason went to Chandler Rickel’s house at 375 Zinfandel Road and put the bite, as it used to be called, on him. Mr. Rickel’s lawyer, a Ms. Douglas, asked Mason if he hadn’t brought up the possibility of potential trouble for Chandler.
Mason: “I’d heard he was a good kid, so I told him I didn’t want him to take the fall for this.”
Douglas: “So you implied you wouldn’t file charges if he cooperated?”
Mason: “I told him [Chandler] I’d do all I could. And I didn’t take any of his guns, only the ones that belonged to the defendant.”
Douglas: “You said the communication from the jail was coded. Doesn’t that mean it was open to other interpretations?”
Mason: “I guess you could say that — oh, absolutely!”
Douglas: “Nothing further.”
An inventory of the firearms seized at the Zinfandel Road address (allegedly belonging to Jon Rickel) included two AR-15 assault rifles, two .22 rifles, a Glock semi-automatic pistol, a Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol, an STI semi-automatic pistol, and a Vulcan AR-15. (These assault rifles are subject to a lot of criticism online, as they commonly are characterized with the terms “sux,” “sucks” and “cheap”—which means they are easily bought second-hand, with no background check on the black market.) Also seized were hundreds of rounds of ammo, a holster and a sling for an AR-15. Judge John Behnke asked Deputy Mason how he knew the sling was for an AR-15.
Mason: “It had a picture of an AR-15 on it and a tag that said, ‘single-point AR-15 sling’ your honor.”
The judge couldn’t help but laugh at that.
Ms. Lorraine Hunter’s lawyer, Macci Baldock, had wanted to submit her Proposition 64 petitions for reduction of her client’s pot busts, to have them reduced to misdemeanors before the hearing, to avoid the felon with a gun charge that would result, but Behnke made her wait. Therefore, when Ms. Hunter was held over on the charges, Ms. Baldock complained about the timing of the procedure.
Behnke: “There’s a vehicle for getting there, however, Ms. Baldock, although I don’t know just yet what it is,”
Baldock: “I’ll learn to drive it, your honor.”
Behnke: “To drive what, Ms. Baldock?”
Baldock: “The vehicle for getting there.”
This would ultimately reduce Ms. Hunter’s legal difficulties to misdemeanor status, but Mr. Rickel was on Post Release Community Supervision, and it is more likely than not he’ll find himself back in prison. And here it all comes back to that cowboy western romance of strapping on a gun to go out and do your chores — make an impression as a gunslinger on the ladies — that Grandpa always warned me about: “Boy, you can shoot yourself into more trouble than you can ever shoot yourself out of.” And so it happened that Mr. Rickel got himself in a pickle without firing a shot.
* * *
(The following is from a 2014 on-line report on “crimevoice.com)
According to archives of the Ukiah Daily Journal, Rickel was arrested back in 1995 for an assault on his mother using a telephone as a weapon. His step-father tried to intervene, but he beat him with his fists. Another archive shows that the next year he was arrested on threats of violence and violation of a court order, presumably to stay away from his mother.
Other records show a series of arrests from 2006 to 2014. Several of the charges involve violations of domestic violence court orders, though it is not clear if they stem from the incident with his mother, or from another victim. There are also several drug related charges, including possession and sale of marijuana and controlled substances and paraphernalia, and parole violations. In January of this year he was charged with battery causing injury, committing a felony while on bail, and parole violations.
In spite of all that, Rickel posted on his Facebook page on September 2, 2014, that he was done with parole and had a positive outlook on he future. He wrote “Today is Day 1….not having to answer to Parole.. 13+ years – LIFE BEGINS NOW…. IT’S TIME TO SHINE AND SHOP THE WORLD HOW TO ENJOY LIFE WITHOUT NEEDING SOCIAL MEDIA TO EXIST. …. SEE YA IF I SEE YA.. OTHERWISE ENJOY YOUR COMPANY THAT IS ONLY IN YOUR MIND NOT IN YOUR PRESENCE.”
A few days later he posted a photo of Todd Wisniewski, saying “This is Todd Wisniewski a good friend. O’Ya and he is single for all the women who deserve a good man.”
But despite that, the deputies, aware of Rickel’s history and status as a parolee, searched the vehicle, and found a semi-automatic assault rifle, along with ammunition and loaded magazines. The weapon is illegal in California. They placed Rickel and Wisniewski under arrest for possession of an illegal assault weapon. Rickel was additionally charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and one more parole violation. He is being held under a no-bail status at the Mendocino County jail, and may face a much longer sentence under the provisions of California’s three strikes law.
Wisniewski, who doesn’t have Rickel’s extensive history, had bail set at $15,000.