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I Still Miss My Ex, But My Aim’s Improving

According to the statement Samuel Campos gave the police, the pistol that killed his girlfriend was aimed at the Chihuahua she was holding. The Chihuahua survived and Señor Campos was arrested for murder.

The shooting occurred in a mobile home not far from Willits, where violent crimes precipitated by man's best friend seem to have become common lately.

The fluid, court-certified Spanish language interpreter Roberto Lozano assisted defendant Campos in understanding the charges against him, not that there was much in the sad event that left much room for misunderstanding.

The Honorable Arnold Rosenfield, a visiting judge, was curious. The charge was 187a, murder — the judge knew that much. And since newly elected DA David Eyster was handling it personally, His Honor suspected it was important so he wanted some particulars. Judge Rosenfield asked Deputy DA Steve Jackson what he knew about it.

“Only what I’ve read in the newspapers,” Jackson replied.

A defendant named Joe Watts had come ditty-bopping into court late and his public defender, the youthful Attila Panczel, said it was no big deal because he and Assistant DA Jackson were close to a resolution in the case. At this point, Watts went ditty-bopping out of the courtroom.

Judge Kalustian said, “Wait a minute…”

“It’s alright, your honor,” Panczel said. “He’s late for his anger management classes.”

Watts, who'd halted in mid-exit at the judge's command, resumed his ditty-bop toward the door.

“Wait,” Kalustian again ordered as Watts again put the brakes on his flagrant egress.

The judge turned to Mr. Jackson: “Is that right? Are you going to be able to resolve this?”

“Not if he leaves,” Jackson said.

“Well, I don’t want him to be late for his anger management class,” the judge said. “How long will it take?”

“About 15 minutes, maybe less.”

Watts was ordered to stick around until his court appearance was fully resolved. His temper probs could wait fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, in Judge Rosenfield’s court DA Eyster still hadn’t shown up, so the case of Steven Mehtlan was called. Rosenfield turned to the trusty Deputy DA.

Jackson said, “Your honor, we have proof of Mr. Mehtlan’s completion of the 52 week anger management course, and he has completed his community service. However, he remains on probation.”

Years ago, Mr. Mehtlan, still a teenager, heaved a homeless guy named Larry Long off the Perkins Street bridge. Prior to that, Mendocino County had taken Mehtlan, then a child, a very small child, from his two-parent home in Willits and placed him at the now defunct Trinity School, also in Ukiah, where he was serially abused by the disturbed older children at the institution.

Ever wonder why juvenile matters are closed to the public? Because Children's Protective Services destroys more children than they save.

The judge couldn’t have been more proud if his own grandson had just graduated Stanford Law School top of the class. He was congratulating young Mehtlan as DA Eyster came through the door.

Defendant Samuel Campos came to his feet. He knew as well as anyone who the imposing figure was who'd suddenly become the focus of attention. It was The Man himself. The Law in Mendocino County.

Eyster said, “We’re close to a disposition, your honor, and we would like to put this over for the 23rd of February at 1:30 in Department A.”

A lawyer seated nearby murmured to his colleague that the Campos would probably get probation. “But if he’d killed the dog he’d go straight to prison.”

No way Campos was going to get probation. He'd told the police he'd fired two shots at the dog when the second shot killed the love of his life who was holding the pet. But Campos was probably so drunk he didn't know who or what he was shooting at, and whatever deal he gets from the DA is a good deal.

Officers led the condemned man out. Two women, one Campos' daughter, got up to follow, but the bailiff stopped them, saying they couldn’t go into the hall until the prisoner was securely ensconced in the elevator.

Even as drunk as Campos had been when he shot up the trailer that night, you have to wonder how anybody could get homicidally angry at a well-behaved little dog, an indoor dog. But as it happens, a very similar incident, also in the Willits area, nearly ended the same way only a few weeks ago.

It was the matter of Antonio Becerra, prosecuted by Deputy DA Scott McMenomey.

Becerra assumed the defendant's box as

McMenomey called the DA’s Chief Investigator, Detective Tim Kiely, Kiely had gone to the scene of another dog-precipitated crime, this one the Becerra home in the normally serene Willits suburb of Brooktrails where Mr. Becerra had taken in his sister Sophia Roselski, Ms. Roselski's daughter, Christina, and Ms. Roselski's Shi Tzu. Mr. Becerra's spotless and comfortable livingroom featured a big screen TV set in a small sea of new carpet.

Fast forward. Mr. Becerra came home one day to discover that the Shi Tzu had shit all over the place, certainly a distressing discovery for even less scrupulously tidy householders. Becerra said his torpid sibling had failed to pry her eyes off the big screen TV, or herself off his couch, while the adorable little dog destroyed the room.

Violence ensued. Mr. Becerra may have tried to hurl his sister into his fireplace. The police were called. Mr. Becerra was arrested.

Becerra was being represented by the Public Defender's Office. One of the Deputy DAs, Beth Norman, had wondered aloud in open court, “If he’s got $15,000 to bail out of jail, I don’t think he needs a Public Defender.”

The Public Defender in question, Farris Perviance III, peevishly replied, “The Deputy DA doesn’t need to concern herself with the situation.”

Ms. Norman said, “I was just trying to save the county some money.”

“She’s just trying to save the county some money,” Judge Kalustian repeated to the peevish Perviance.

Deputy DA McMenomey asked Detective Kiely if Sophia Roselski had any injuries when he interviewed her — apparently he had not interviewed her the same day as the altercation.

Kiely: “Yes. On her inner right knee there was a bruise, a purple-yellowish area which she said was a result of an assault by the defendant.”

McMenomey: “Did she say the defendant did anything else?”

Kiely: “Yes. She said he picked up the family dog and threw it, about six feet, against the wall. The dog, a Shi Tzu, had to be treated at the veterinary hospital that day.”

Public Defender Livingston: “Did she indicate how the bruise happened?”

Kiely: “Yes. She said she was kicked.”

McMenomey: “Was the dog injured?”

Kiely: “Yes. A dislocated rear leg.”

Livingston: “She told you the dog was going to the vet that day?”

Kiely: “Yes.”

McMenomey: “Did Ms. Roselski have any other injuries?”

Kiely: “Yes, on her calf.”

Livingston: “But she did not tell you what caused that injury?”

Kiely: “No,”

The witness was excused.

Deputy Christian Denton was called. Deputy Denton had responded to the call, December 23rd 2010.

McMenomey: “Did the defendant make any statements to you?”

Deputy Denton: “Yes, he was muttering under his breath that he was going to shoot his sister and the dog.”

McMenomey: “Did the victim say anything to you?”

Denton: “Yes. She said he took her in a headlock and punched her in the mouth.”

McMenomey: “Anything else?”

Denton: “Yes, she said he threw her phone.”

McMenomey: “So she didn’t call 911?”

Denton: “No, she was afraid he’d shoot her. The daughter, Christina, called. She’d seen him grab her in a choke hold and drag her in the other room.”

Livingston: “Did you see the gun?”

Denton: “I did not.”

Livingston: “Was it a real gun?”

McMenomey: “Objection, the question calls for speculation on the part of the witness.”

Judge Henderson: “What’s the significance of the gun?”

Livingston: “Well, it goes to the charge of criminal threats, your honor.”

Henderson allowed the question.

Denton: “She said she wasn’t sure if it was a real gun or a BB gun.”

Livingston: “Did she tell you he punched her in the mouth?”

Denton: “Yes, she did.”

Livingston: “And he threw her cell phone?”

Denton: “Yes. Across the room.”

Livingston: “Because she attempted to call 911?”

Denton seemed unsure as to why.

Livingston: “And Christina, she said he grabbed her in a choke hold and dragged her across the room?”

Denton: “Yes.”

Livingston: “Did she know what a choke hold was?”

Denton: “No.”

Ms. Livingston was in no particular rush. She considered her notes for a leisurely moment, lifting a page to peek with a faint smile at something. Mr. McMenomey wasn’t sharing her Ms. Livingston's amusement. He flipped impatiently through his legal pad, all tensed up as usual, on the toes of his boots, hunched over his work. Ms. Livingstone’s voice was soft; McMenomey’s was sharp. McMenomey has his name in the hat for one of the newly open judgeships, but the feeling among the defense bar is that he's a little too hardnosed, a little too inflexible for the job. He's more the natural prosecutor type. It's been a while since Mendocino County had a judge who put true fear into our criminal community, and in these times, the time of the hand holder, it's unlikely a tough guy’d get the judicial nod.

Livingston: “Was this a first incident?”

McMenomey: “Objection — relevance!”

Henderson: “Sustained. It’s not relevant whether this is a first incident or not.”

Livingston: “Did this incident have something to do with a TV?”

Denton: “Yes. He said his sister was always watching the TV and let the dog urinate and defecate in the house.”

(Reminds me of Sgt. Maj. Mack Scott’s oft-repeated dictum: “You can either have something nice, or you can have a dog.” This is what the Sgt. Major told marines in his battalion when they said they wanted a dog. And when his marines said they wanted a wife he’d say, “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they’d have issued you one.”)

Apparently Tony wanted a dogshit-free livingroom and sister Sophia wanted a dog.

Livingston: “Did he indicate that he was slapped or shoved by Ms. Roselski?”

Denton: “No.”

Livingston: “Did Christina describe where it was that she saw the incident between her mother and uncle?”

Denton: “Just that it was in the house.”

Livingston: “This would be the so-called choke-hold and being dragged off…?”

Denton: “Yes.”

“So she ended up in a different room?”


“So where was she — from where did Christina call 911?”

“From her grandmother’s house.”

“And where is that?”

“Approximately 70 feet away.”

McMenomey demanded hotly, “Did he deny hitting her?”

Denton: “Yes.”

McMenomey: “Did he deny pushing the dog away?”

Denton: “Yes.”

This is the trouble with these hearings. Everyone involved is trying to confuse the issue. First we have an allegation of a kick, then the prosecutor wants to know if hitting was denied. Then there’s talk of a dog being thrown, but later the dog toss is described as “pushing…away.”

Ms. Livingston said, “The police report describes a tussle between brother and sister. Mr. Becerra’s version differs significantly from his sister’s. Something happened, but I don’t know who started it, and anyway, this doesn’t rise to the level of a felony.”

Mr. McMenomey sputtered, “Well, I don’t think it’s a misdemeanor when he got her in a choke hold and dragged her — and what about throwing the dog!?”

Judge Henderson said, “The court finds sufficient evidence for Count I, false imprisonment, but will reduce Count II, to a misdemeanor. However, I will hold the defendant to answer on Count III, abusing an animal — a felony — and Count IV, battery.”

If Mr. Becerra had left the dog alone his legal burden would be considerable lighter.

A certain Mr. Mace, the matter of: Mr. Mace was charged with corporal injury to a spouse. Men charged with this one almost always are required to attend anger management classes. Mr. Mace looked like a pretty solid bet for learning how to count to ten.

Mr. Mace made his bail, but Ms. Norman wanted a restraining order for one of the children. It seems the oldest girl had helped defend her mom from dad’s assault, and Mr. Mace had been trying to contact the child, perhaps to cajole or — worse — coerce her into to seeing things his way. The girl was a witness for the prosecution, Norman said, and Norman wanted Mr. Mace kept away from her.

Perviance didn’t object and the restraining order was granted.

Norman said that although the victim, Mrs. Mace, had said she'd needed no medical attention at the time law enforcement had departed the unhappy Mace home, Mom was subsequently admitted to the hospital where she spent some time in intensive care.

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