Jasper Clark lives near Ukiah’s nice Vinewood Park on Magnolia Street in Ukiah. On the night of Sunday, December 10th, he was standing outside chatting up a young beauty by the name of Sammy.
Sammy was parked in one of the parking spaces provided by his stylish digs, when along comes one of the those impecunious panhandlers who swagger around like they own the streets of Ukiah after sundown. This rangy street lout, Layne Hall by name, decided to cut young Jasper Clark out of the action, and take up with the pretty bird in the car for his own irresistible self. He approached Jasper Clark in his most intimidating manner and said, “Gimme a cigarette.”
“No,” Jasper Clark said.
“What the fu--!”
Layne Hall had never been told no in his life, it seems, and didn’t take it well. He fumbled around and dropped his meth pipe. He told Jasper Clark to ask the woman in the car if he should be given a cigarette — women had always been such a soft touch for panhandlers, in his experience — but again Jasper Clark answered with implacable, definitive finality, “No.”
“Let the woman speak,” Layne Hall demanded.
“She has nothing to say to you,” Jasper Clark informed him.
Layne Hall said, “The cops will be here in five minutes,” implying that the cops would make short work of Jasper Clark for denying him a smoke and a chat with a pretty lady.
“I don’t care, I live here,” Jasper Clark answered. He then took out his cell phone and called the dreaded 911 himself.
Layne Hall came at Jasper Clark with his shoulders down and his dukes up in the time-honored form of the fake fighter. When he got to Jasper Clark, he swatted the phone out of his hand and ran over and stepped on it. Then he taunted Jasper Clark, “Why don’t you come over and try to grab it?”
The plucky Jasper Clark did just that, and when he reached down to pull his phone out from under Layne Hall’s foot, Layne Hall slugged him with a round-house blow to the left temple. While Jasper Clark was staggering and seeing stars, Layne Hall ran off towards State Street with Jasper Clark’s cellphone.
This whole scene, call it Act One, may seem like nothing more than a display of bullying and bravado, but Ukiah Police Chief Chris Dewey and District Attorney David Eyster have had about enough of it.* Hall was arrested for First Degree Robbery, reduced to Second Degree Robbery when charges were formally filed against Layne Hall after he was arrested later that night, still in possession of Jasper Clark’s phone.
(*It: The accelerating number of the homeless, a large class of stoned and drunken louts who make life unhappy for townspeople whenever they step outside the safety of their locked doors. It is a result, I may safely say from firsthand experience on the streets, of the exceptionally generous and tolerant people in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties whose overly generous citizens have created an underclass used to getting whatever it demands.)
In light of the foregoing, consider public defender attorney Heidi Larson’s cross-examination of Jasper Clark last week.
“What time did you say this alleged incident occurred?”
“Ah, but isn’t it accurate to say that you were contacted by the police at around 1:00 am?”
“Oh? That’s not what it says in the police report. … Did my client drop anything?”
“Yes. Ma’am, a pipe.”
“Isn’t it true that it was my client who said the police would be there in five minutes?”
“And you were outside at this time of night talking to Sammy — did she say anything?”
“What about the area she was parked in then?”
“It was my area. I have two parking spots available, and she was in my second spot.”
“How far did the phone go when my client swatted it out of your hand?”
“All the way across the street.”
“Then he walked over to it and stepped on it?”
“So my client walked away from you and you pursued him?”
“Yes. Ma’am, to get the phone.”
“You say my client ran away and you followed him?”
“So: You chased my client?”
Ms. Larson seemed increasingly indignant, as if the perp had become the vic.
“Tell me again who, exactly, said the police would be there in five minutes?”
“We both said it, ma’am.”
“Ah! But who said it first?”
Jasper Clark squirmed on the stand.
“Aha! My client said it first, didn’t he?”
“When you first saw my client, wasn’t he just walking down the sidewalk?”
“No, ma’am, he was coming down the middle of the street.”
“Oh? Well, did you ever see your phone again?”
“Yes, ma’am, when the police returned it to me.”
“And you told them that the damage to the phone was old, that it had been damaged previously?”
“Some of the damage was old, ma’am. Not all of it.”
“And as you sit here today, is it your testimony that my client flung it across the street and stepped on it?”
Heidi Larson’s disbelief seemed to make Jasper Clark miserable. A few minutes more of this weird role reversal and he might have checked himself into the County Jail. He had been made out a bully and a liar in less time than it takes to turn the bill of a cap around and shove your pants down around your butt.
“Nothing further,” Larson said with a parting look of disgust at Jasper Clark.
DA Eyster called Officer Adam Elledge of the Ukiah P.D. Elledge had arrested Layne Hall in the 1300 block of North State Street where he found Jasper Clark’s phone in Layne Hall’s pocket. Hall told the officer he had found it in the bushes.
“Did Jasper Clark identify it?”
“Yes, he said it was his.”
“Did Jasper Clark identify Layne Hall as the person who took it?”
“Yes, but there was some difficulty with that.”
“Mr. Hall refused to turn his face so Mr. Clark could get a look at him. He ducked his head down and turned away.”
“What did you do?”
“Same as we always do when a suspect becomes uncooperative; we put him on the ground and got him turned towards Officer Edward’s car so Mr. Clark could see his face.”
Larson: “Did you read my client his Miranda rights?”
Elledge: “No, ma’am.”
Eyster: “Did you interrogate him?”
Elledge: “No, sir.”
Larson: “Judge, I’d like to point out that there were some inconsistencies in the time the witness gave and that the damage to the phone was pre-existing. And remember, judge, it was my client that said the police were coming, and would be there in five minutes.
The judge was Keith Faulder. Before he became a judge it was his habit to take a tray of hot coffee and fresh donuts to the little pocket park where the street people used to hang out, and he was recently seen being repaid a dollar (which he tried to refuse) by a panhandler. Moreover, Judge Faulder has given me what can only be described as “charity work” (I painted a bathroom for him) when I was a tenant of the Buddy Eller Center, and a regular at Plowshares, so I know His Honor is guilty of having the kind of empathy and generosity complained of above.
In closing I can only say what has been said so many times before with the same baffling certainty of paradox, that no good deed shall go unpunished, and what we have now is a state of affairs to which there is no simple solution. And how can we expect any improvement when our local, state and national leadership provide us with so many glaring examples, not of men and women who work hard and are remunerated accordingly, but of lazy, privileged of enablers, from the President to the Supervisors who are grossly overpaid for doing, in essence, diddlysquat.
Judge Faulder ruled that there was no evidence that the the charges were not true, that the phone had been found in the defendant's possession. Hall was bound over and will be held to answer the charges.
He’ll probably demand a jury trial. But the DA, just before the hearing began, swept off the table an offer for a plea in exchange for two years in the state pen and a strike So now, I expect, Eyster will go for the max.