Thursday, May 21, 2015

Watson Hanging up His Robe

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2015 at 2:21 PM

click to enlarge Judge W. Bruce Watson. - SUBMITTED
  • submitted
  • Judge W. Bruce Watson.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge W. Bruce Watson is leaving the bench.

Watson’s six-year term was slated to run through the end of next year, but he announced today that he will be retiring in January, after 23 robed years in the Humboldt County Courthouse. The governor will appoint a replacement to finish out Watson’s term.

A local product, Watson followed in his father, William Watson Jr.’s, footsteps. In fact, while in middle school, the younger Watson used to go to the courthouse after class and sit in the back of Courtroom One and watch his father work. Decades later, Watson took his father’s very seat, ruling the bench with his dad’s photograph hanging on the courtroom wall, along with those of other past Humboldt judges.

Born in Berkeley but raised in Humboldt, Watson served in the U.S. Army as a platoon leader in Vietnam, taking home a Bronze Star. He later attended law school at University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law, after which he returned to Eureka and went into practice with his father after 10-year a stint with the public defender’s office.

He was elected as a municipal judge in 1992 and became a superior court judge in 1998. Since then, he’s presided over some of Humboldt County’s highest profile cases, including the spousal rape trial of former Blue Lake Police Chief David Gundersen, the Skilled Nursing class action lawsuit and others.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Former DA Candidate: Arcata Homicide Verdict Brings Accountability

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2015 at 11:27 AM

click to enlarge DA-logo.png
Juan Joseph Ferrer could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for the 2013 stabbing death of Douglas Anderson-Jordet, after a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter Monday. The jury acquitted Ferrer of a greater charge of second-degree murder, but also found him guilty of personally using a deadly weapon, which adds a year to his sentence.

Ferrer and two friends were involved in an altercation with Anderson-Jordet early in the morning of Nov. 25, 2013. The three were arrested in early December, and claimed Ferrer had acted in self-defense when he stabbed Anderson-Jordet.

It was a rare Arcata homicide, and also became a sticking point in the 2014 District Attorney race, after candidate and then-prosecutor Elan Firpo reached an agreement with Ferrer where he would plead to involuntary manslaughter and serve two years in jail.

Opposing candidate Arnie Klein took issue with the plea and, following public debate, a judge tossed the deal. Deputy DA Roger Rees, under the leadership of newly elected DA Maggie Fleming, prosecuted the case in a trial that began this year.

Klein, reached by phone Monday, said he opposed the plea deal because he felt “it robbed the community of its voice and hid the facts.” He denied that his self-described representation of Anderson-Jordet’s family, which led to the dismissal of the plea, was politically motivated, and said “I think the message is: When you take a life in Humboldt County, there has to be some accountability.”

Firpo did not return a call seeking comment.

Marek Reavis, Ferrer’s attorney, told the Journal in 2014, following Ferrer’s plea agreement, that he “would have loved” to take the case to trial.

Yesterday, Reavis said via email that he was disappointed in the verdict, “because I sincerely believe that Mr. Ferrer acted entirely in self-defense and defense of [Sophie Buttercup Rocheleau, who was present during the altercation] and that Mr. Anderson-Jordet’s death was a tragic accident brought on by his own intemperance and unexcusable hostility to three strangers walking home in the middle of the night.

“Nonetheless,” Reavis continued, “I’m glad that he won’t spend the rest of his life in prison. It was a huge relief to Mr. Ferrer that the jury found the murder charge unproven.”

Ferrer is scheduled to be sentenced June 15, and he faces a mitigated term of four years, a middle term of seven years, and an aggravated term of twelve years in prison, according to the DA’s office. Judge John Feeney, who presided over the trial (read about the trial in more detail from the Times-Standard’s Will Houston), will hear from both sides at that hearing before handing down a sentence.

From the DA’s office:

On May 18, 2015, in the case of the People of the State of California v. Juan Ferrer, the jury found the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the November 25, 2013, killing of Douglas Anderson-Jordet. The jury also found that the defendant personally used a deadly weapon, a knife, in the commission of that crime. The jury found the defendant not guilty of second degree murder. Mr. Anderson-Jordet’s family has been notified of this result and they have expressed their gratitude that the case finally has been decided by a jury.

The case was prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Roger C. Rees, with assistance from District Attorney Investigator Jack Bernstein and Victim/Witness Advocate Marybeth Bian. The defendant was represented throughout the proceedings by Deputy Conflict Counsel Marek Reavis.

The scheduled sentencing date is June 15, 2015. The sentence for the crime of voluntary manslaughter with a deadly weapon has the following range: a mitigated term of four years, a middle term of seven years, and an aggravated term of twelve years in prison.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ACRC v HWMA: Settled

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 4:25 PM

click to enlarge Baled aluminum at HWMA's Hawthorne Transfer Station. - DREW HYLAND
  • Drew Hyland
  • Baled aluminum at HWMA's Hawthorne Transfer Station.
A four-year battle over Arcata’s recycling is over.

In 2011, the Arcata Community Recycling Center, a scrappy, built-from-scratch icon of the city’s ‘70s progressivism, closed its doors, not long after building an $8 million processing plant in Samoa.

ACRC, in addition to its westside Arcata community dropoff center, had processed most of the Humboldt Waste Management Authority’s recycling collected from Eureka, Arcata, Ferndale, Rio Dell, Blue Lake and parts of the unincorporated county. But after ACRC raised its prices, HWMA found another processor in Willits.

ACRC was livid, along with much of the community, over the perceived persecution of a local institution and the loss of local jobs. Eventually, ACRC sued the HWMA, saying the authority had intentionally sabotaged its business in order to acquire the Samoa plant at a discounted price. See a bit more about the dispute, and the county's recycling landscape, here.

That never happened — both the Samoa facility and parts of ACRC’s Arcata dropoff center were purchased by a third party, Eel River Disposal. 

But the lawsuit wore on, until today, when HWMA Executive Director Jill Duffy announced that it settled.

HWMA agreed to pay ACRC $10,000 to settle the suit, and neither party admitted to wrongdoing, Duffy said. And the suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be filed again.

“That now places the matter to rest and will enable our respective parties and, probably, community as a whole, to move forward through this,” Duffy said.

Interestingly enough, the HWMA’s contract with Solid Waste of Willits — which ACRC said was the center’s death blow — is up at the end of 2016. HWMA is drafting a request for proposals to take over the authority’s recyclables processing, which is expected to go out to bidders around the end of this year.

From HWMA:

Officials announced the lawsuit filed against the Humboldt Waste Management Authority (HWMA) by the Arcata Community Recycling Center has been settled. To resolve stated allegations, an agreement was reached between parties that the complaint would be dismissed with prejudice, effectively ending the lawsuit.

The lawsuit began October 24, 2011 and concerned long running litigation regarding the Samoa Recycling Facility and its operation.

"We are pleased to announce settlement of this lawsuit with ACRC.” stated HWMA Board Chair Jack Thompson. “The mutually developed settlement will enable the parties and our communities to place this matter to rest, and move forward.”

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Early Bird: LeValley home from prison 'sabbatical'

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge Ron LeValley - FILE
  • File
  • Ron LeValley
About nine and a half months after surrendering to federal prison, embattled local biologist Ron LeValley recently announced his return home with a grinning selfie taken somewhere on the North Coast and a plea for help paying down the debts incurred from his “sabbatical.”

Since LeValley’s incarceration for conspiring to embezzle almost $1 million from the Yurok Tribe, the prominent birder, nature photographer and wildlife biologist has kept up an email list dubbed “Outside my Window” that offers daily bird photographs (LeValley got some help on the outside with the daily emails). Folks on LeValley’s list got a surprise shortly after midnight this morning, when the (jailbird) selfie popped up in their inboxes with the following message :

“Well, I am finally home! Back at the ocean! ... I would like to make a request to you. I will keep putting out the (Outside my Window) for free, but I would greatly appreciate the purchase of an 8x10 matted print from as many of you as are interested. The legal experience did cost me quite a bit and I would like to pay off my bills. So if you have a favorite photo, please order one from me! Many thanks to you all for the support I received while I was on 'sabbatical.'"

Included in those bills LeValley mentions, presumably, is $852,000 in court-ordered victim restitution payments, with $752,000 owed to the Yurok Tribe and the balance to Great American Insurance Company. According to court records, LeValley has yet to make a payment on either debt, which may be why he's pushing the 8X10 prints, which he retails for $45 to $85 apiece, depending on matting and framing preferences.

The enterprising LeValley, 68, hasn’t yet technically been released from custody, as he will remain under the supervision of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Sacramento Residential Reentry Management field office. Given LeValley’s note and smiling selfie, it seems likely he’s one of the 3,445 inmates the office monitors on home confinement, though a prison spokeswoman wasn’t immediately able to confirm that. His official release date from his 10-month prison sentence remains set as April 29. (LeValley was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and to give talks about his crime to 200 people, but it remains unclear what plan is in place, if any, for fulfilling those obligations.)

According to court documents, LeValley used his company, Mad River Biologists, to conspire with former Yurok Tribe Forestry Director Roland Raymond to embezzle tribal funds through a complex scheme of fake and inflated invoices and payments for northern spotted owl survey work that Mad River Biologists never performed. Under LeValley’s direction, the company submitted more than 75 false invoices between 2007 and 2010, according to court documents, which indicate that LeValley then funneled the money back to Raymond after taking 20 percent off the top.

The survey work that was never done was primarily looking for habitats for the federally endangered northern spotted owl to determine what tribal properties could be logged without harming owl populations. It’s unclear whether Raymond and LeValley’s conspiracy affected timber harvest plans or led to the destruction of potential owl habitats.

LeValley pleaded guilty in February of 2014 to a single charge of conspiring to embezzle from a tribal organization. Raymond entered a similar plea, and is currently serving a three-year prison sentence.

Since his arrest in early 2012, LeValley hasn’t spoken with the press and attempts to reach him for this story were unsuccessful. But those eager to hear his story in his words need not fret, as he promises a “summary” in the near future.

“I will be posting a summary of my experience online in a couple of weeks for those of you who are interested,” he wrote in the Outside my Window note. Stay tuned as the bird prepares to sing.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Curry Sentenced in Pot Farm Slaying

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 9:58 AM

click to enlarge Limmie Greg Curry III
  • Limmie Greg Curry III
A Humboldt County Superior Court judge sentenced Limmie Greg Curry III, 24, to serve 12 years in prison for the 2010 killing of William “Billie” Reed on a remote property off State Route 299, east of Blue Lake.

On the eve of a second murder trial in the case, Curry pleaded guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter and the 12-year sentence was the maximum allowable under the law, and included a one-year firearm enhancement. But Curry has been in custody since shortly after the February 2010 killing, and consequently has only about five years remaining on his sentence to serve in state prison (with good conduct, he'll only serve 85 percent of his sentence).

Prosecutors alleged that Curry and another man, Eddie Lee, shot and killed Reed on Feb. 3, 2010 before burning and hiding his remains in an effort to take over Reed’s home, belongings and a marijuana growing operation on the property. Officials ultimately found Reed's charred skeletal remains in several burial sites on the property, including one in a garden site where Reed had allegedly grown marijuana the year previous summer. Curry and Lee were arrested shortly after the killing, but were tried separately on murder charges.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Justice Bus is Coming

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 10:07 AM

Free legal support will soon be available for those affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program for undocumented youth who entered the United States before the age of 16. On March 27 and 28 representatives from OneJustice will be holding clinics to  help young people in Humboldt County figure out whether they are eligible for DACA and navigate the required forms.

Talissa Carrasco, a representative from DreamSF, says that the San Francisco-based nonprofit is working in collaboration with a Humboldt State University student organization — Finding Resources for Empowerment Through Education — to serve some of the most vulnerable populations in rural and isolated areas of California.

In an email Carrasco said, "In the past year alone, the Justice Bus Project has organized free legal clinics in 23 counties throughout California and partnered with over 25 community based organizations to coordinate legal services for more than 900 low-income individuals. Because of this we know that Humboldt county has little to no legal service providers that can assist the thousands of people who qualify for free legal assistance."

For more information, including locations and times for the clinics, please see the press release included below.  

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

DA Probing Borges Death

Posted By on Wed, Mar 4, 2015 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge DA.png
The Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office has initiated a review of the June 13, 2014 in-custody death of Daren Borges, who died hours after being booked into the county jail by Eureka police officers.

Borges’ sister, Stephany Borges, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit last week, alleging officers acted negligently in booking him into jail without first having screened at a local hospital despite his “obviously experiencing a medical and psychiatric emergency.”

Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said Tuesday evening that, late last month, she received an email from Borges’ family asking her office to review his death. Fleming said she agreed, and has requested reports from all involved agencies, including the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the Eureka Police Department and the coroner’s office.

The purpose of the review, Fleming said, is to determine if there’s any evidence of criminal conduct by anyone involved.

The protocol for county’s Critical Incident Response Team (CERT) — a multi-agency group called to investigate critical incident, including officer-involved fatalities — allows for the team to assembled to investigate in-custody deaths, but leaves discretion over whether to initiate the team response with the agency of jurisdiction. In Borges’ case, that would have been the sheriff’s office, which did not initiate a CERT response. Under the protocol, all CERT investigations are forwarded at their conclusion to the district attorney’s office for review.

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Lt. Wayne Hanson said typically in-custody deaths are investigated by the sheriff’s office and the coroner’s office, with the help of an investigator assigned from the DA’s office. Only in cases that appear suspicious or more complex would the office initiate CERT, Hanson said.

More information on Borges’ death and the lawsuit can be found here and here, respectively.
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Jury Convicts Wilde of Murder, Five Other Charges

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 4:41 PM

click to enlarge MIKAL XYLON WILDE
  • Mikal Xylon Wilde
After deliberating for about five hours, a federal jury today convicted Mikal Xylon Wilde of six charges, including the murder of one of the men working his Kneeland marijuana farm in 2010. Wilde faces life in federal prison when sentenced in the case on June 3.

Wilde’s trial began last month with prosecutors alleging that the 33-year-old gunned down two workers at his growing operation, killing Mario Roberto Juarez-Madrid and critically wounding Fernando Lopez. The shootings occurred after the two men demanded to be paid for the work they’d done and to be returned to their homes outside of Sacramento. Wilde — who was facing financial troubles and had recently filed for bankruptcy — told the men he’d take them home but returned to the rural property armed with a handgun and opened fire.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

$10 Million Claim in McClain Shooting

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 11:54 AM

  • Thomas McClain
The family of Thomas McClain, who was shot to death by a Eureka police officer last year, announced it will file a $10 million wrongful death claim against the city and officers involved.

Southern California attorney Dale K. Galipo, who successfully sued the city and police officers for more than $4 million on behalf of the family of Martin Cotton in 2007 and will be representing McClain's family, called the McClain shooting unjustified in a press release.

McClain, 22, was shot by EPD officer Stephen Linfoot after being held at gunpoint by another officer in front of his home on Allard Avenue early on the morning of Sept. 17, according to police. A multi-agency review called the shooting justified, as officers reported that McClain was reaching for a realistic-looking BB gun in his waistband when Linfoot opened fire. No criminal charges were filed against the officer.

Read Galipo’s press release:

Wrongful Death Claim Alleges City of Eureka Police Shooting Was Unjustified

On Monday, February 23, 2015, Jeanne Barragan and Lance McClain will be filing a claim for damages against the City of Eureka, City of Eureka Police Department Officers Stephen Linfoot and Brian Stephens, and other unnamed officers involved in the shooting of their son Thomas McClain. Approximately 45 days after filing the claim, a lawsuit will be filed in federal court alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations.

City of Eureka Police Department Officer Stephen Linfoot shot and killed 22-year-old Thomas McClain in his own front yard on September 17, 2014. Although witnesses claim that more than one officer may have fired during the incident, at this time this office can only confirm that Officer Linfoot discharged his weapon. At the time of the shooting,
Thomas McClain had his hands up and did not pose an immediate risk of death or serious bodily injury to any person. Jeanne Barragan and Lance McClain, Thomas’ parents, are filing a claim seeking monetary damages of ten million dollars. Under California law, a claim for damages must be filed before bringing a lawsuit against a municipality for violations of state tort law.

The law does not permit police officers to use deadly force unless a reasonable officer would believe the person posed an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury. In addition, if feasible, officers must give warnings before resorting to deadly force, and under a recent California Supreme Court decision, an officer’s unreasonable tactics leading up to a shooting are relevant to whether the shooting was lawful.

Jeanne Barragan and Lance McClain are represented in their civil rights lawsuit by The Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo. Some of Mr. Galipo’s recent civil rights verdicts include the following: a $4.6 million jury verdict in September 2011 for the family of Martin Cotton, who died in custody after being beaten by City of Eureka police officers; a $5.7 million jury verdict for Robert Contreras, who was left a near-quadriplegic after being shot by LAPD officers; a $6.5 million jury verdict in April 2013 for the family of Douglas Zerby, who was shot and killed by Long Beach police while holding a garden hose nozzle that police claimed to have mistaken for a gun; a $7.8 million verdict in June 2014 for William Howard, an unarmed man who suffered a severe brain injury and partial paralysis after being shot in the face by a County of Riverside sheriff’s deputy; and an $8.8 million jury verdict in May 2013 for the family of LeJoy Grissom, who was killed in a parking lot by a Culver City police officer wielding an MP5 submachine gun.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Trying Sanity: What Does Gary Lee Bullock's Insanity Plea Mean?

Posted By on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:49 PM

click to enlarge Garry Lee Bullock
  • Garry Lee Bullock
The man accused of torturing and murdering St. Bernard’s Pastor Eric Freed on New Year's Day 2014 has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but statistics indicate that will likely have little impact on his ultimate fate.

With his trial slated to begin in March, Gary Lee Bullock stood in court on Feb. 10 and read a prepared statement, saying he believes he’s not guilty of Freed’s murder because he was “insane at the time,” according to a report in the Times-Standard.

Bullock’s change of plea triggers a number of procedural protections. He will likely be evaluated by a court appointed expert in the near future and, if the case proceeds to trial, there will be two phases. The first would be a typical trial, with a jury deciding whether he’s guilty of the offense. If the jury decides he is guilty, the case would proceed to a sanity phase, during which the jury would decide if he was legally insane at the time. If the jury decides he wasn’t, Bullock would serve a prison sentence the same as any other convict. But if the jury decides Bullock was legally insane, he would be committed indefinitely to a state mental institution.

Insanity pleas are incredibly rare, occurring in less than 1 percent of criminal cases, according to a report by CNN. Even in cases where a defendant does enter a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea, 70 percent withdraw the plea before trial after seeing the results of the court-ordered evaluation. Of insanity cases that do make it to a jury, only about 26 percent result in a finding that the defendant was legally insane at the time of the crime.

The legal definition of insanity differs from state to state. In four states — Montana, Utah, Kansas and Idaho — there’s no such thing as an insanity defense. Nevada tried to do away with its insanity defense in the 1980s but the state supreme court ultimately ruled that not having one was unconstitutional.

In California, to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, a jury must decide the evidence shows the defendant both didn’t understand the “nature and quality of his act” and wasn’t able to distinguish between right and wrong. It’s worth noting, though, that while criminal trials carry the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt threshold, the sanity phase is decided based upon a preponderance of evidence, meaning that to find a defendant insane, a jury would just have to decide that more evidence in the case points to insanity than sanity.

California also amended its law in 1994 to specify that a defendant can’t be found insane based solely on the basis of a personality disorder, addiction or abuse of intoxicating substances.

Michael Perrotti is a psychiatrist based in Yorba Linda and has served as both a defense and prosecution expert witness on the subject of sanity. Judging whether someone was legally insane at some past moment in time is a difficult matter, Perrotti said.

To make such a determination, Perrotti said he tries to gather as much data as possible. First and foremost, there’s an “objective test” administered to the defendant, in which he or she is asked to answer a series of questions, some of which are designed to weed out folks faking an insane state. But, ultimately this test relies on self-reporting, Perrotti said, so it can’t be relied upon as the sole source of a diagnosis. So Perrotti also reviews evidence in the case, the defendant’s mental health, medical and neurological histories. Additionally, he said he likes to review the case file, paying special attention to whether the defendant did anything that displays a conscious awareness of guilt, things like destroying evidence or otherwise trying to cover up the crime. Any statements of witnesses and officers who interacted with or observed the defendant around the time of the alleged crime can also be very telling. And, when possible, Perrotti likes to talk to jail staff and others who have observed the defendant’s behavior over time in the aftermath of the alleged offense, especially in cases where the defendant was under the influence of a substance at the time of the crime.

And, ultimately, Perrotti said, there’s no gray area and he renders an opinion that someone was either legally sane or not. “The bottom line is you have to have multiple sources of data and then ask, ‘Does the data support their knowledge of right or wrong?’”

In the case of Bullock — who hours after his release from jail is alleged to have broken into Freed’s rectory, tortured and killed the priest before taking his car and returning to Southern Humboldt — it seems a psychiatrist would have a lot of “data” to work with to form an opinion. Bullock had a host of contacts with law enforcement and neighbors before his arrest on Dec. 31, 2013 on suspicion of public intoxication. Then, Bullock was evaluated at a local hospital before being booked into the jail due to erratic behavior. After his release in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2014, Bullock reportedly was contacted by a St. Bernard's security guard and a Eureka police officer before allegedly trying to break into the rectory. And, portions of the break in were reportedly captured on surveillance cameras.

Then, there’s documentation of Bullock’s behavior after allegedly murdering Freed. According to court documents, police believe he wrapped Freed’s body in blankets, doused it with liquor and tried to light it on fire. Then, according to the documents, Bullock placed a lit cigar on the stove and turned on all the burners, flooding the rectory with gas, before leaving in what police described as an “attempt to destroy the building by blast and fire.”

Bullock, 45, is due in court tomorrow for a trial confirmation hearing. His jury trial is currently slated to begin March 2.
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