Occasional newcomers to the North Coast (more often than not city people) will settle in San Francisco's northern most boutique, Mendocino, not as if they’re neighbors but as if they're occupiers. Yes, these folks from New York, San Francisco and more recently Sacramento, love the outdoors, but it's their outdoors: it’s their freedom, and their freedom to do just about anything they want.
What are these folks like? What are they like? How about a pit bull? The subject of our story however (or one of the subjects) is not like a pit bull. He is a pit bull. Or was a pit bull. His name was Brutus, ostensibly named after the murderous Roman general who wielded one of the daggers that did in Julius Caesar. Our Brutus, the pit bull, was more often called Junior, as if the softened name would help overcome the reputation of his breed. It didn't. Brutus is dead now. He was killed with a shotgun by Donald “Donny” Iversen, who claimed Brutus had slain his own dog.
The owner of the late Brutus is an attractive, middle-aged divorcee, Mary Geddry, from Sacramento, with two little girls, two active teenage boys, and an older boy in the Marines. One set of Mary Geddry's next-door neighbors is the Iversen family with their own dogs, and with no fence to separate the two families, or their respective dogs. The dogs often fought, but Brutus always won.
As background, we suggest that the death of Alas-poor-Brutus was a culture clash. The Iversen family, like the Lemos family, the Colombi family, the Johansen family, the Hautala family go way back, with roots in Finland, Sweden, Italy and Portugal. For many of these older families, a lot of their members may have moved on. Those who remained, however, were and are, for the most part, counted as good neighbors.
In rural areas like the North Coast, neighbors are more than faceless creatures who share the same cluster of rural post boxes. Neighbors are often friends-in-need, they help cut up the fir that fell across the road. They're the folks who teach your kids by day, and possibly put out your house fire at night. More often than not a 9-11 call goes out to more than just the dispatcher. The prevailing philosophies with these old-timers is “If we can't be friends, let's at least be civil. I won't bother you, you don't bother me.” When there are irreconcilable differences, country people know about the courts, but they'd rather talk the problem out, and if that doesn't work, why a loaded shotgun in the gun rack might be a better justice option than a courtroom.
And that's what happened. The pit bull got caught with two double ought shotgun rounds point blank. Double ought isn't bird shot, it's the business shell, the size shot used to kill large animals.
The ex-Sacramentoen Geddrys, on the other hand, were city people, and Mother Geddry knows how to use the courts. She has sued, and sued, and sued and sued. After Brutus died, the Geddrys put up a little shrine near their place off Little Lake Road, east of Mendocino. The sign says Brutus, R.I.P. (Rest In Peace), but for most of the upset neighbors, they translate RIP as Rampage In Perpetuity. For out of the death of Brutus, a whole bunch of lawsuits has arisen, and Brutus's old neighborhood fears them as much as they feared the old dog. Not only was Brutus accused of killing the Iversen dog, he was accused of tearing up another Iversen dog a year earlier.
Nor were other dogs Brutus’s only prey. The family on the other side of the Geddrys was the Kalina family, who had two little boys Brutus once treed. Mr. Kalina, unfortunately for Brutus, was an assistant district attorney, a prosecutor, a law enforcement person, who works out of nearby Ten Mile Court.
Other than the pit bull that kept the neighborhood in a state of perpetual anxiety, the Geddry boys were alleged to have hosted raucous, late-night drinking parties, complete with the sounds of speeding vehicles, burning rubber, and the high decibel music that a lot of people migrated up here to avoid.
And so the clash of two cultures: the culture of rural old-timers vs. the litigious culture of reckless city people, who found a little bit of the Garden of Eden, and made a suburb out of it.
Which is one way to look at the Geddry case, and which is the consensus neighborhood opinion.
The other way to look at it is Mary Geddry's way, which is that her neighbor executed her dog with a firearm and nobody did anything about it. The cops didn't arrest the shooter, didn't even cite him. The only way a single mother could hope to defend herself in a context of lawlessness like this was to get herself a lawyer, and that's what she did.
The lawyer Mary Geddry got was a scholarly-looking young man given to dark suits that lend him a rabbinical solemnity. His name is Andrew Mansfield. He's also new to the Mendocino Coast. Almost from the day he hung out his shingle in downtown Mendocino, Mansfield had local officials sputtering at the mention of his name. Mendocino County's cozy, in some crucial instances, incestuous, justice system isn't accustomed to impertinence from a new guy at the local bar, especially one unafraid to go after the District Attorney himself, and the judges too, if he sees them playing footsie with the Old Boys. In the Geddry case, you mess with Mary and five minutes later a guy with a subpoena is at your door.
Mansfield's invigorating frontal assault on local Old Boy-ism in the Geddry matter is countered by Greg Petersen, a second generation local lawyer descended from a family of lawyers wired directly to the Mendocino County Superior Court. One of Petersen's uncle's, Frank Petersen, often fills in here as “visiting judge.” Another uncle is Richard Petersen, the well-known criminal defense attorney. Greg Petersen's father is Robert “Bob” Petersen, the legal colossus of Fort Bragg presently fending off charges that he and his pals have been looting a couple of Fort Bragg trust funds.
Local judges defer to the Petersens, not Petersens to judges.
So, within days of Brutus's roadside dispatch, Mary Geddry had herself a pit bull of an attorney, a website featuring her version of events and her forensic analysis of the shotgun wounds that caused Brutus's death, a roadside shrine at the site of Brutus's last stand, and had the neighborhood festooned with signs warning against vigilantism.
Mary Geddry was fighting for Brutus and his whole species, the infamous, much maligned pit bull, that terror of the canine world.
But, her enemies say, both she and attorney Mansfield were suspiciously extreme. A website? A lawsuit against the Iversens for millions over a dead dog? Another law suit against the Kalinas for millions more? And suits against the District Attorney? Pleas to the FBI to bring Mendocino County authority into compliance with the law? An appeal to the State Attorney General to take over the case from DA Norm Vroman?
Mansfield was papering so many people and branches of local government it was hard to keep track. Mendocino County hasn't seen anything like it since the War of the Warrants back in the late 1950's when the late (and famously pugnacious) Oscar Klee, then a Coast justice court judge, papered everyone he could think over in the Ukiah Courthouse, including the Sheriff.
What the heck is this all about?
Back on June 1st of last year, Mendocino County Sheriff Department deputy Riboli was dispatched to 41701 Little Lake Road at 7:15pm “in regard to a possible shooting in the area.” Dispatch told the deputy that Mary Geddry “believed someone in a later model white Chevrolet pickup had shot her dog.” As Riboli headed for Geddry’s home, the dispatcher further informed him that officer Berg of the CHP had stopped the “possible suspect vehicle at Little Lake and Gurley Lane,” not far from Highway One.
Riboli's supervisor, Sergeant Bushnell, had also driven to Little Lake and Gurley where the CHP's Berg had corralled the suspect vehicle. Bushnell instructed Riboli to continue east up Little Lake to interview Mary Geddry while Bushnell talked with the two occupants of the pick-up.
Bushnell subsequently reported that John Iversen was driving, his brother Donald was in the passenger seat riding literal shotgun. The Iversens said they knew nothing about anybody shooting a dog. The suspicious Bushnell asked the Iversens if they had any guns in the truck. The Iversens said they didn't have any guns but conceded there might be a few loose rounds somewhere in addition to an empty rifle scabbard behind the seat.
Bushnell knew that the Iversens and the Geddrys were feuding, and he was already convinced that the Iversen boys had just finished off Brutus. To confirm his suspicions, Bushnell asked the Iversens where the gun was that went with the empty scabbard. Donny Iversen said the scabbard was for his .22, which he'd left at home. Bushnell replied that he knew a .22 had been used to shoot the Geddry dog. Donald Iversen, unaware he'd just stuck his head into Bushnell's improvised trap, confidently replied that a .22 had not been involved in the shooting.
Gotcha, Donny. How do you know what caliber gun was used to shoot the dog?
Bushnell told Donny that he was lying, adding that he knew that Donny's dog had been killed by Brutus earlier in the day. Bushnell said he knew that Donny lived next door to the Geddrys and that he knew Iversen was very angry about the loss of his dog. Bushnell also said he knew that Iversen had tried to get Animal Control to take action against Brutus but Animal Control had been non-responsive.
“Logically, Mr. Iversen, you're the number one suspect here,” Bushnell concluded.
Donny invited Bushnell back up the hill to the Iversen compound, telling the officer that his brother. John had nothing to do with the shooting.. Bushnell told John to go on his way and drove Donny back up Little Lake Road where the 33-year-old Donny admitted that he'd shot Brutus. Iversen said he feared for the safety of his children because his dog had been killed by Brutus and his father's dog had almost been killed by the anima a year earlier.. Donny was still indignant that Mary Geddry had claimed the nearly fatal wounds to his father's dog had been caused by a mountain lion. He told Bushnell that when he'd found his dog dead that morning he'd had his brother take it to Covington Creek Veterinary Clinic to confirm that his dog's mortal wounds had been inflicted by a dog, not a mountain lion or a raccoon or any other kind of animal.
Iversen told Sgt. Bushnell that after he'd buried his dog he picked up his shotgun and returned to the site where his pet had met his last. He brought along his 12 gauge because he was afraid of being attacked by the Geddry's fearsome pit bull. Iversen said he'd dismounted from his pickup and was walking near where his property, the Geddry property, and the county-maintained Little Lake Road all meet, when a snarling Brutus appeared and moved towards him. Fearing that he might meet his dog's fate, Iversen shot Brutus. Iversen emphasized that he had not fired at the dog from his truck, and he had not been on Geddry’s property when he blasted the dog. Iversen added he had been alone when he shot Brutus and that he hadn't seen anybody else in the area.
When Sgt. Bushnell asked Iversen for a look at Iversen's shotgun, Iversen said no and refused Bushnell entry to his home, even though Bushnell had assured Iversen that based on what Iversen had told him, and based on what Bushnell knew of Brutus, that Iversen had been justified in shooting the dog.
Iversen appeared genuinely contrite and said he was sorry that it had come to this, adding that if Animal Control had done something about Geddry's animal he wouldn't have had to do their job for them. Iversen said he expected to have to explain himself in a courtroom.
Meanwhile, Deputy Riboli was next door getting Mary Geddry’s account of the shooting:
“On arrival, I contacted Geddry in front of her residence. I noticed a medium-sized, brindle-colored, dog in the back of her vehicle. The dog, Brutus, was obviously deceased. I examined the dog and noticed five to six entry wounds on the dog's back and on his right side. The dogs left hind foot was disfigured and appeared to have been broken.
I asked Geddry what happened and she told me the following: At 7:15pm Geddry was out in her front yard looking for items to take to the dump. Geddry heard two “big bangs.” Geddry looked to Little Lake Road and saw a white, late model pickup parked on the south side of the road facing the wrong direction. Geddry heard the door to the pickup close and then she heard her dog cry. Geddry ran toward her crying dog. As she was running to find her dog, Geddry saw the white pickup, which she recognized as a Chevrolet, pull on o Little Lake Road heading west at a high rate of speed. Geddry saw the pickup had a silver tool box in the back and was occupied by possibly two people, one wearing a baseball cap.
Geddry attempted to find Brutus, with negative results. Geddry returned to her home and called 911. After calling the Sheriffs Office, Geddry went back to the front yard. Geddry saw Brutus crawling from the bushes. Brutus then collapsed. Geddry attempted to pick Brutus up, but could not lift him. Brutus died a short time later.
I found a blood trail leading from an area about four feet from the shoulder of the roadway to the area where Geddry said Brutus died, about 100 feet from Geddry’s home. The blood trail started just off the shoulder of the roadway at the northeast comer of Geddry’s property. The edge of the roadway is about 280 feet from Geddry’s home. I found one spent, Federal, 00 buck, shotgun shell on the edge of the roadway. I noticed a deer carcass lying alongside the fence just to the east of Geddry’s property. Geddry said she believed Brutus was smelling the deer carcass when the pickup pulled to the side of the road.
I took photographs of the shotgun shell, collected it and subsequently booked the shell into evidence. I took photographs of the deceased dog and the partial blood trail. I later booked the roll of film into evidence. My conversation with Geddry was tape recorded and the micro-cassette was later booked into evidence.”
The Sheriff's Department seems to have behaved flawlessly throughout. They certainly invested a substantial amount of time and effort into the case Deputies Bushnell, Riboli, Walker, and Miller all worked it. But their reports were ignored, and a minor, if painful, matter grew into major legal battle.
Mary Geddry and her attorney, the dogged Mansfield, allege that the cops, their seemingly impartial investigations notwithstanding, immediately conspired with Assistant DA Kalina to absolve Iversen of legal responsibility for Brutus's execution. They also alleged that the Kalinas had conspired with the Iversens to lure Brutus onto the county road where Donny Iversen could shotgun him permanently out of the neighborhood without stepping onto the Geddry place.
The Monday morning following dog day Saturday, Kalina walked the few yards from his office in the Coast Justice Center to Sgt. Bushnell's office to tell Bushnell that he'd heard that Brutus had been killed by Iversen and that he wanted Bushnell to know that the Kalina family not only lived on the other side of the Geddrys, but that Kalina had written to Animal Control Officer Susan Bottom early in May complaining that Brutus had not only treed his six and nine year old boys on the Kalina property, but Kalina had found dead raccoons and kittens that appeared to have been mangled by a larger animal, namely Brutus. Kalina had also informed the non-responsive Ms. Bottom that Brutus had twice made running lunges at the Assistant DA as he stood on his own porch.
That was enough evidence for Bushnell. He'd already heard Iversen's accounts of the Iversens harrowing life with Brutus, his own deputy Walker was convinced that Brutus constituted an ongoing menace to man and beast, and now he had an officer of the court, a fellow policeman in fact, prosecutor Kalina also insisting that Brutus had only gotten what he deserved when Iversen took him out. Bushnell suggested that the DA charge Mary Geddry with maintaining a public nuisance.
Geddry launched her counter-offensive on June 7th. Soon, mutual court orders restraining both the Geddrys and the Iversens from having anything to do with one another were in effect, Mary Geddry's vivid Justice For Junior (Brutus) website was up and running, and the relentless Mansfield was firing off salvos of legal orders and indignant appeals to outside authorities to intervene for the Geddrys with Mendocino County's chummy and vindictive justice system.
Lieutenant Robert Arbayo, soon to be purged from Animal Control over clashes with the county's justice establishment, filed a complaint with the DA that said forthrightly there was probable cause to arrest both Donald and John Iversen for the inhumane killing of a dog and a second offense of discharging a weapon from a public roadway, both of them committed by Donny Iversen. John Iversen was named in Arbayo's complaint as his brother's accomplice. Arbayo had also visited the Iversen home and had confiscated the shotgun Donny Iversen had used to kill Brutus but had refused to allow Sgt. Bushnell to inspect.
Before Arbayo's charges could be pursued, he had resigned from his job in frustration at not being backed up by the DA when he went about performing his duties.
By the time Arbayo had departed, Mansfield had charged the Iversens with constituting a menace to Mary Geddry and her family; with negligently inflicting emotional distress on her and her children; and intentionally inflicting that distress by means of defamation; trespass; assault; and conspiracy to do all of it.
Geddry and Mansfield were just warming up.
By Christmas, as the county's notoriously fey superior court judges dived out the windows to avoid hearing the case, Geddry and Mansfield had complained to the State Attorney General and the FBI that DA Norm Vroman had abused the authority of his office by failing to protect the Geddrys from their “vigilante” neighbors.
Vroman, perhaps celebrating the end of an eventful 2002, and perhaps thinking he was getting 2003 off to a salubrious start, then charged Mary Geddry with contempt of court, ordering her to appear for booking and arraignment by mid-January of 2003. Vroman's mystifying complaint against Geddry seems to have channeled from distant ethers; it claimed that Ms. Geddry had “disrupted a courtroom proceeding.” The publicly demure, privately ferocious Geddry had no idea what the charge referred to. She hadn't said a word in court, but had spoken volumes outside its hallowed halls.
Was Brutus A Killer?
When the Geddrys first moved to Little Lake Road they had Brutus and a half-pit named Flower. There was never any problem with Flower. Then Flower and Brutus ran away. Flower never reappeared. Brutus did. Then he disappeared again. This second AWOL saw him deposited at the Coast Humane Society in Fort Bragg where he was highly regarded by the shelter's experienced staff. The Society was so confident of Brutus's docility, they never hesitated to take him on their mobile pet adoption outings to the Mendocino Headlands. It is the policy of the Society to put down violent dogs, and the Coast Humane Society certainly knew a violent pit bull when they met one; they'd euthanized many of Brutus's cousins over the years.
A Society volunteer recalls Brutus as “an all-around good guy. He was like a lazy old man, very strong, but really sweet-tempered.” Which is what the Geddrys say. Several of the Geddry family's friends were so convinced of Brutus' passivity they wrote character references for him to the DA.
“Frankly,” an uninvolved neighbor sighs, “I’m feeling a bit under siege by this whole thing. It's just been awful. I’ve known the Iversens for a long time. They are extremely kind and generous and honest people. They’re just not the people that this man called esquire something or other (Mansfield) is trying to make them out to be. All the dogs in this little neighborhood have always been together and there’s never been any problem until she got here. Her dog would go over and beat up Iversen’s dog. They asked her to keep it under control. They were very polite. Then the Geddry dog almost killed the Iversens' old lab. They spent a ton of money getting it put back together and it’s still not normal. They went to Mary and said, 'Look, help us pay the vet bill and keep your dog under control and we'll leave it at that.' And that’s when it all started. After the first attack on the Iversen dog, but before the second one, Mary started walking her dog up and down in the mornings in front the Iversens', baiting them, just trying to see if she could get their dogs to come out from their fenced yard. Her boys, the middle set of kids, the two twins, they’re known juvenile delinquents. They drink, they fight, they didn’t graduate from high school. They drive like maniacs, and this summer they beat up one of the neighbors boys. She's suing everyone in the neighborhood! This lady is clearly nuts, and her dogs are bad dogs. You can make any dog mean, and Brutus was a mean, dangerous dog.”
Mary Geddry calmly responds that the allegations that her son beat up another boy is public record, which it is, and the record shows that the other boy was 18, legally an adult, and that he was the aggressor.
“As for my sons being juvenile delinquents,” the combative single mom says, “they’ve been working for Jeff Stanford at the Stanford Inn for almost three years now. Chris just turned 18 and he manages the restaurant. Alex is in charge of maintenance. How many juvenile delinquents work full-time? How many are trusted to run things?”
A trial date is set for November in Ukiah before a visiting judge from far, far away. The Geddry property has been sold and is in escrow. The Geddrys will have to move before all of this is sorted out, if it's ever sorted out. Maybe all the private lawyers will get paid out of the various Iversens' homeowner's insurance policies and go away. Maybe civility will at last prevail, but.... But Mary Geddry says however it all turns out, she's outtahere as soon as her multiple cases are settled. She's going back to Sacramento. The Kalinas moved down the street to a property owned by the Iversens months ago while the rest of the neighbors are afraid of saying a public word about any of the Geddrys out of fear of being sued by the relentless Mansfield, and it all just rumbles on and on.