Off the Top (Sep. 10, 1997)

IF I WERE A JUROR considering the case against Bear Lincoln, I would be confused about the evidence against him as presented by prosecutor Aaron Williams’ bizarre, stream of consciousness-style cross examination. Williams jumps around so much in his questioning of witnesses that it’s often difficult to discern the chronology of the April 14th 1995 events which have put Bear Lincoln on trial for his life. Last week, in his cross examination of Lincoln, Williams was absolutely dizzying. I don’t see how jurors can be expected to make any sense out of the prosecution’s case.

INDULGE ME, but I’ve been to the site of the shootings twice and all of us here at the AVA have carefully followed the case from the night it happened. We’ve also spent hours here at The Fort reconstructing events as best we can. (The defense team, try as we might to pry information out of them, has maintained a Sphinx-like silence as per Judge Golden’s gag order. The prosecution, throughout the case, has relied on the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to both poison public opinion against Lincoln and bring its brief against him.) Mark Heimann and Mark Scaramella have also visited the site of the shootings. The site buttresses Bear Lincoln’s version of the shootings as he testified to those events last week.

WILLIAMS’ CASE rests on two primary allegations: (1) That Bear Lincoln knew he had exchanged fire with police officers because he must have heard the officers shout at the late Leonard Peters to drop his rifle and (2) After the initial exchange of fire during which Peters was shot dead by deputies Davis and Miller, and when Bear, minutes after the first exchange of fire with the deputies, and having retreated to the foot of the hill, a very short distance of roughly two-tenths of a mile, had returned part way back up the hill to check on the fate of his companion and to see who he had been exchanging fire with, that Bear had to have heard Miller shouting into his portable radio for police reinforcements.

IT IS A SHORT DISTANCE from the site of the shooting to the base of the hill where the Lincolns live in what is called Little Valley. April 14th 1995 was a full moon but it had been raining off and on all day and into the night. The shootings occurred just before 10pm. Testimony has been that dense clouds obscured the moon at the time of the shooting. Deputy Miller has testified that he “lit up” Leonard Peters with a flashlight when deputies Miller and Davis first saw the dark outlines of Peters’ figure approaching their vehicle around a curve in the dirt road. Given the position of the police vehicle and the location of Peters’ fall, Peters was shot by the deputies from about thirty feet away.

EVERYTHING that happened happened in the dark and at very short distances

DEPUTY MILLER’S testimony that Lincoln fired first defies the immutable facts of the terrain. If Lincoln had fired first from down the hill twenty to twenty-five feet behind the fallen Peters, he would have fired straight into the north bank of the road around whose bend the officers stood. Lincoln, to have returned fire up the hill, would have had to have move from the lee of the north bank of the road across to its south side, which is what he testified to have done.

BEAR has testified that Leonard Peters was at least twenty to twenty-five feet up the road from him when Leonard was shot. Bear testified that he heard Leonard say, “O fuck” just before he was killed. Prosecutor Williams insists that if Bear could hear Peters’ inelegant last words, he must also have heard the deputies identify themselves as police officers and their command to Peters to drop his rifle. The prosecution assumes that the deputies identified themselves and assumes they shouted at Peters to drop his weapon. Deputy Miller says Peters yelled at the cops in response to their commands to him, “Fuck you. Drop your guns,” as the two deputies cut him down with shots from 9mm Baretta pistols.

TACTICALLY, there was no reason for the two officers to have been on the hilltop. Supposedly, they were part of a police effort to find Arylis Peters, sought for the shooting earlier in the evening of Gene Britton. The deputies’ supervisor, Sgt. Allman, testified that he instructed the deputies to post themselves at the foot of Little Lake Road on the Covelo side of the hill, the logical place to head off hostilities between revenge-seeking Brittons and the Peters-Lincoln forces. The logical way to look for a fugitive is to look for him, not sit some place in the hopes he’ll pass by. The deputies ignored Allman’s order to wait at the bottom of the hill on the Covelo side of the hill and, inexplicably, placed themselves on top of the ridge, up the hill from where they were supposed to be. Allman said their failure to do what he told them to do that was fine with him because both Miller and the late deputy Davis were “experienced police officers.” Unless they thought it was likely that Arylis Peters would magically walk past their ridgetop observation post, there was no justification for being where they were. And, if they were on the top of the hill above the Lincoln homes as peacekeepers, they would not have had their vehicle pulled up off the road because they would not have been visible to persons approaching from either direction — Brittons approaching up the hill from the Covelo side of the ridge or Lincolns and Peters approaching the crest of the ridge from out of Little Valley to the west.

GIVEN THE CAVALIER attitude toward command discipline testified to by Sgt. Allman, it is certainly well within the range of possibilities that the two deputies felt free to launch a Mittyish mission of their own devising, a pair of fantasy commandos lying in wait for whatever imaginary enemy happened into their kill zone.

AS PETERS AND LINCOLN walked up the muddy road out of Little Valley on Leonard’s mission to find his brother Arylis who had been named as the shooter of Gene Britton at approximately 6pm but whose whereabouts remained unknown nearly four hours later, the officers presumably sat in their Rover-like vehicle pulled out of view of anyone approaching from either the direction of Little Valley or from the direction of Covelo. Leonard had rounded a corner, banked steeply on its north side, when he first saw whatever he saw. (Peters was nightblind and would have been double blind by the powerful light in his eyes.) If, as deputy Miller has testified, they “lit up” Peters with a flashlight and yelled at him three times to drop his rifle it is quite likely that Bear, trailing Peters by twenty to twenty-five feet, and in the lee of the steep north bank between him and the officers, would have heard Leonard in front of him but not the officers because Bear and the officers were on opposite sides of a very large hill. A visit to the site supports Bear’s testimony that all he heard was his lifelong friend’s last expletive.

PROSECUTOR WILLIAMS tried to make it seem as if Bear had re-approached the shooting site a few minutes later not to determine if his good friend was dead, and not to determine at whose hands he was dead, but to get another shot at persons he knew to be the police.

FIRST, we should all have such friends as one who would climb back up a lethal hill to find out our fate. Bear, at least seventy feet down the hill and having jumped over the south road bank to achieve cover from whoever it was at the top of the hill shooting at him, had returned part-way up the hill to do what he testified he was doing — to verify the fate of his old friend and to try to determine for a fact that it was hostile Brittons shooting at him. The police had no reason to be on the hill but the Brittons had every reason to be there. Bear, as he’s testified, assumed from the instant of the shooting that it was Brittons doing it because they had a motive — revenge. The police had no tactical or any other reason to be hiding on top of the ridge above Little Lake Valley where the Lincolns live. Running into the police on the top of that hill is roughly equivalent in terms of likelihood to running into a police patrol in your livingroom.

WHAT’S MOST SHOCKING to me so far in the testimony is that forty-five minutes to an hour after Bear’s second encounter with deputies Miller and Davis, the second encounter somehow resulting in Davis’s death although Bear says he fired his last bullet up the hill in the dark in the general direction of people he could not see but assumed to be Brittons, more than seventy police vehicles were on the ridge and hysterical police officers were still shooting down into Little Valley.

BEAR LINCOLN’S testimony was unshaken by Williams’ all-over-the-place questioning. Lincoln was never evasive and never lost his temper even when Williams tried to make it appear that Bear had deserted his mother and several other relatives, including small children, after warning them that someone up on the hill had just shot Leonard Peters to death and that the killers may be on their way down the hill to kill all the Lincolns. Bear calmly replied to this particular insult that he urged his family to walk out of Little Valley on a path different from his, implying that he didn’t want his presence to jeopardize them.

BEAR LINCOLN is telling the truth about the events of April 14th 1995. From deputy Miller’s testimony, fundamentally contradictory as it is, it seems fairly clear (to me anyway) that deputy Miller isn’t exactly lying but has rather crudely revised his account of the shooting to conform with the very basic fact that the late Leonard Peters never shot a round from his rifle, which was found unfired beneath his body. Miller’s first account said one person — Peters — was walking up the hill with a rifle and Miller and Davis shot him after he had shot at them. In Miller Two, Miller says he saw two figures on the road in front of him and Davis as the two deputies sat in their patrol wagon when figure two, now known to be Bear Lincoln, opened fire on the deputies at which time the deputies shot and killed Peters. The problem with this version is that the deputies had emptied their pistols into Peters perhaps a full minute before there was return fire from Lincoln because Lincoln, still around the corner from them and down the hill, was in no position to return fire. Lincoln said that someone was shooting down hill at him and that he thought he was shooting up hill at Brittons, the only people who had a motive to shoot Leonard, and the only people likely to be on top of a remote ridge in a remote valley overlooking the remote homes of the Lincolns.

IT’S REALLY a terrible case of mistaken identity. It’s also a case of a police department and a DA themselves bent on revenge, as if they were some kind of street gang, parlaying the manslaughter facts of the tragic death of a police officer into a capital case. The DA doesn’t have a case against Bear Lincoln.

WHY DID BEAR RUN? Har de har. 75 cars of cops shooting at where you might have been forty-five minutes earlier? You wouldn’t have run?

THE AVA’S AFFINITY group, aka Tree Hug, is rolling out for Boogie Three, the annual Headwaters protest. I’ve called around to try and find out what the tactical point of the demo is, finally reaching Cecilia Lanman once on Monday and then again on Tuesday as we put the paper together. I asked her what we could expect Sunday. She said she wasn’t at all sure but that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department and the CHP was threatening to arrest protesters on whatever grounds they could think of. Cecilia also said as of Tuesday about 4pm no site had been secured for a rally. She said that EPIC was being sued by PL on frivolous grounds, the Endangered Species Act was under fire and that the Humboldt Board of Supervisors was taking a lot of flak from all kinds of people who want to stop Sunday’s demonstration, suggesting that her board of supervisors is not known for their wisdom in crisis situations.

THE INTERNATIONAL BATHOS surrounding the deaths of a pair of media creations — Princess Diana and arch-reactionary Mother Teresa — will take another week or so to wind down. Diana at least took some decent public stands but Mother Teresa lent herself to some of the most murderous regimes on the globe, embracing, among other mass killers, the Duvaliers of Haiti. Sparing no expense on high tech medical treatment for herself in her waning years, Mother T’s missions were about as low tech as it’s possible to get although her foundation took in millions. Of the weekend’s mass mawk for both the departed, NPR’s was the most offensive, one tearful commentator managing to work in an account of his own stint at one of Mother T’s Calcutta charnel houses. The spectacle of Americans slobbering on about the British monarchy is particularly repulsive, while intra-denominational sobs for a sort of neo-fascist like Mother Teresa seems to me more like mass hysteria than grief. What’s to grieve? Now what? Are the mourners going to demand global reorganization to create social systems where children don’t die in the streets of starvation?

VERY FINE PIECE in Sunday’s Chron by Jim Doyle on the problematical Northwestern Pacific Railroad, now $5.5 million in debt. The fantasy seems to be that the Northwestern can somehow link Marin with Eureka on a regular schedule just as it did from its inception in 1914 until the mid-1960s. The fantasy includes the true delusion that the port of Eureka can somehow be revived to ship and offload stuff to Asia, as if the other ports from Seattle to LA haven’t already sewed all that trade up. The problem with the Willits to Eureka part of the track is that every winter the track slides into the Eel in the Eel River canyon and has been shored up in a way seemingly designed to ensure annual sliding. Realistically, the Northwestern ought to abandon the line north of Willits and concentrate on trains running between Willits and Marin. Supervisor Pinches’ idea that the Eel River Canyon track be converted to a hiking and bike path is more realistic than expecting the line’s politically-appointed boss, the egregious Dan Hauser, to somehow get the millions of public dollars required to run year-round trains between Willits and Eureka.

THE AVA agrees with Mendocino’s David Russell that public property shouldn’t be turned over to movie corporations no matter how much money they put into Mendo’s economy. People fought long and hard for the preservation of the Mendocino Headlands as open space to be enjoyed by all of us. To have any part of the Headlands cordoned off to make more bad art (there’s never been a good movie produced in Mendocino) should be resisted. Warner Brothers, following last week’s public meeting on Warners building a Victorian house on the Headlands as a movie set received sufficient negative input from the public that the set has been re-sited to the area where the Mendocino Music Festival convenes every year. That’s still the Headlands but it isn’t the relatively untouched part of the Headlands.

I’M ON a mysterious list of publications I’ve never heard of until they appear in my mail. The other day I got this big slick color job called “Men’s Journal” on whose cover is a guy completely dweebed out in lycra and a couple of thousand bucks in bike accouterments aside from the bike itself. The cover says, “Special Report — Dream Towns. The 20 wildest, tastiest, smartest mountain and beach communities in America,” adding the irrelevant and untrue kicker, “Where the skies are not cloudy all day.” Guess which unknown towns we’re talking about? Ashland, Oregon; San Fucking Clemente (a place where as a young marine I passed some of the most desolate days and nights of my life but apparently since upgraded via Nixon and cappucinos); Taos; Santa Cruz, and a couple of places in Idaho retired cops haven’t discovered yet. Nobody’s ever heard of any these places. The mag’s ad base is all upscale stuff for our nation’s huge population of manboys — thousand dollar roller skates, bush pilot jackets (the babes will love you in these!), bike goggles for those downhill saloms on the five thousand dollar bicycles, and even “super shaper briefs to give you eye-catching buttocks INSTANTLY!”

ANYHOW, the Men’s Journal’s list of groovy spots naturally includes Mendocino about which it says the price of a three-bedroom house is $450,000 and that the town “ranks first nationally in artists per capita.” Heading clear over the top the description of Mendocino continues: “Set in the scenic redwood country just two and a half hours north of San Francisco, this village looks like an Impressionist painting (exactly what it doesn’t look like) when it’s draped in the fog that rolls in on summer nights. The description is apt, since Mendocino is a seriously arts-oriented colony. Unpretentious and famous for its ‘60s mannerisms, it is the sort of place where flannel shirts and jeans constitute a formal dress code.” Etc. and wrong on all counts. It’s an oppressive little place long since overwhelmed by pseudo artists and rich retirees who twenty years ago priced out the last hippie and have since converted the place to ten blocks of over-priced crap for people with lots of money and no taste who have built K-Mart like houses on the bluffs. The Coast’s real artists long ago moved to Fort Bragg and even Laytonville, lamenting as they went the destruction wrought by the invaders.

GET THIS from a business page story by Ted Appel in the Wednesday, September 3rd edition of the Press Democrat: “Faced with exploding demand in Asia for technology it manufactures in Sonoma County, Hewlett-Packard announced plans Tuesday to open a ‘sister’ production facility in Malaysia that will mirror its largest Sonoma County division. The new Malaysian plant will manufacture some of the same components made in Sonoma County by H-P’s Microwave Technology Division, said Ian Ross, general manager of the 1,400-employee division. The new plant is not part of a cost-cutting strategy to move existing Sonoma County jobs overseas where wages are lower, Ross said. Instead, the Malaysian facility will allow the Microwave Technology Division to accommodate increased demand for its technology and develop a manufacturing facility near H-P customers in the fast-growing Asian market.”

TRANSLATION: Hewlett-Packard is opening a new plant in Malaysia because they can pay a warehouse full of young Moslem women forbidden by their authoritarian government to unionize three dollars US a day to assemble gizmos that cost H-P fifty to sixty dollars per day per employee to assemble in Sonoma County.

GAY ACTIVISTS might want to take a look at the institutional placement of homosexual youngsters whose sexuality all by itself has caused them to become wards of the court. A front page story in last week’s Ukiah Daily Journal reports the arrest of a 15-year-old boy confined to Trinity School in Ukiah who, police say, raped his 14-year-old roommate. “According to Ukiah police Sgt. Dan Walker, the suspect was under treatment for ‘being a molester.’” One wonders how the wizards of therapy at Trinity School treat a kid for “being a molester.” Gay youngsters, like retarded youngsters, are often inappropriately placed in state licensed homes and institutions where they are victimized by criminally-oriented peers. Gay youngsters, like retarded youngsters, should be placed in homes specially designed for them, but what happens in practice (and all laws to the contrary) is that all kinds of kids are thrown together willy nilly, especially in the larger facilities, because those facilities need those valuable young bodies at an average of $4,000 a month to pay all those therapists and administrators who supposedly not only put out the libidinous fires in molesters but prepare all the other young victims of The Mall for re-integration into it. In the Ukiah case, Trinity School has called the cops on this kid merely to protect itself; when push comes to shove in these situations, the kid is always thrown overboard.

WE MIGHT RECALL the case of Eric Mehtlin, the young man recently shuffled off to 20 years to life for tossing a Ukiah street person off a bridge in a robbery plus sadism adventure. Eric, at the age of 9, was removed from his Willits home by the warm, wonderful folks at Mendocino County Children’s Protective Services and placed directly with Trinity School in Ukiah where he was sexually assaulted on several occasions by adolescent boys. This kind of thing is of course a way of life among the British ruling class but considered traumatizing by us here in the colonies. (And the sexual use of a 9-year-old isn’t at all the same thing as an allegation of sexual assault by a fourteen-year-old against a fifteen-year-old.) Getting back to Mehtlin, he never should have been taken directly from his home — however imperfect — and placed in an institutional setting. The usual progression of wayward youth is foster home to group home to institution to California Youth Authority and on into the adult penal system. Youngsters are seldom taken straight from their homes and plugged into an institution whose residents have already spent years in the system. Mehtlin’s experience seems to have made a killer out of him, not that he’s the first to have been thus created.

PERHAPS one of the reasons Fort Bragg School trustee Jim Hurst is so abusively upset with his fellow trustee, Sally Bates, having insulted Bates in open session at a recent school board meeting and having appeared at Bates’ home to berate her further, is that Hurst is joined at the hip to FB’s shaky superintendent, Tony Sorci. They are not only business associates — a major conflict of interest right there for Hurst who, theoretically, puts the interests of the school district before his own — but Hurst and Sorci have maneuvered to divert $40,000 edu-dollars to turf for Fort Bragg’s new football field. The football project was sold as one that wouldn’t cost the school district any money.

YAZZLE FRAZZLE. Sister Yaz will be in Frisco at Pier 23 with a reggae group called Native Elements. On Tuesday, September 30th (and who the heck goes boogying on a Tuesday?) ‘ol rasta roota will DJ for a Steel Pulse, Rage and Fury and Strictly Roots at the Vet’s Hall in Santa Rosa.

LOTS OF US think the Coastal Commission is keeping monster houses off the Coast bluffs and maintaining public access to the Pacific. In fact, access is slowly being choked off and dentist-like complexes are rising everywhere, blotting out the blue of the water and blocking ancient trails the public once walked to the sea. Case in point, the Caspar Headlands where the Dupont family’s Brandywine Foundation has just sold a couple of parcels that had been promised as open space. Brandywine wants the money to save a Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania and has used open space on the Mendocino Coast to help pay for it. (As if the Duponts couldn’t pick up the tab themselves to preserve sites literally in their backyard on the East Coast.) On one of the formerly open space parcels, and right on top of an old public trail, a pair of Santa Barbara doctors, Megan and Mike Merrin, are building a 4,080 square foot home directly overlooking the Pacific. Jared Carter naturally steered this monstrosity past the Coastal Commission, Bud Kamb naturally sold it to the medicos, Ray Hall, Mendo’s director of Building and Planning, naturally signed off on it, and Leventhal and Schlosser are naturally building it.

FRIENDS OF FORT BRAGG is seguing off into a group called Mendocino Coast Watch aimed at slowing down the piecemeal capture of the Northcoast by retired dentists and their 8-bedroom retirement squares. Roanne Withers has gotten all of the Coast watershed groups on board and all systems are go for a co-ordinated counterattack against Coastal blight.

BETH BOSK has taken over the defunct Mendocino Village environment center. Her board of directors is composed of veteran enviros Dan Helsel, Gladys Hansen, Margaret Livingston, and newcomer Serena Nicholson. The Bosk enterprise is located in a room over a business called the Juice Joint.

LOOK for the entire Sweeney-JPA-MSWMA-trash plan to soon crash and burn, Sweeney with it. In Willits, Jerry Ward’s transfer project is all systems go with the Willits City Council poised to support him. Ukiah seems headed for a transfer station of its own — not the $4.1 mil job Sweeney wants on North State Street. The neighborhood group on North State is pursuing its suit to stop Sweeney’s $4.1 million transfer station from being sited in their neighborhood. Sweeney, backed up by supervisor Richard Shoemaker, has created a sense of false urgency, trying to hustle their $4.1 mil project into being over the more modest County garbage processing projects constructed by Ward, but people are asking, “What urgency?” The scheming pair has not only been caught out talking about a campaign to discredit Ward, they’ve constantly maintained that their vastly more expensive County trash disposal plan had to be adopted immediately because all the County’s dumps were about to be closed. The two neglected to point out that the life of the County’s largest dump, owned and operated by Ukiah, could be kept open for the indefinite future by simply applying for an extension of its life, and that there were viable alternatives to entering into a 25-year agreement with a private party named Ratto to build the $4.1 mil transfer station in the North State neighborhood where it is not wanted. Naked emperors seem pretty hard to spot these days but Sweeno has finally been seen bare balls.

LYNDA McCLURE and a young woman named Kirsten Johnson will take over the Mendocino Environment Center when Betty and Gary Ball depart next month. McClure popped into Mendoview a couple of years ago as Congressman Dan Hamburg’s aide. Ms. Johnson is a young person from the Greenfield Ranch north of Ukiah.

I KNOW SKEPTICISM is considered bad form among the County’s “activists,” but it seems odd to me that the Balls can appear in Ukiah out of nowhere in 1989, set themselves up, in my opinion, as a sort of black hole of all-purpose activism into which all good political impulses either disappear or emerge from permanently crippled, then, less than a decade later, leave town for wherever it was they came from. Are we saying here that people can spend nearly ten years “doing good work” (in the sappy, self-congratulatory style of the anointed ones) then hang it all up? Even by the standards of a place — Mendocino County — where people create and recreate whole new unquestioned identities for themselves, and fresh batches of activists appear annually and disappear just as regularly, the case of the Balls is downright weird. During the life of the MEC more environmental and social damage has been done to Mendocino County than has been done to it in this century, and it seems to me the Balls have consistently faded whenever push has come to shove, performing the classically liberal cop watchdog duty of snuffing real opposition.

WOW! That was quite a scene at Jim Cummings’ place in Noyo the other day with lawyers and accountants everywhere counting large stashes of cash before putting all of it and 108 guns into an armored car for safe haul to the vaults. Cummings, a legendary Fort Bragg wheeler/dealer, was shot to death three weeks ago by a disgruntled worker, a man Cummings had helped on numerous occasions.

IS IT REALLY any surprise that a book called “The Highly Sensitive Person” is number one on the Bay Area’s best seller list? This thing has even edged out “Emotional Intelligence,” described as an argument that your genius is probably being overlooked because “self-awareness and optimism are ignored in IQ tests.”

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