Irresistible Force Meets Immovable Object
by Bruce McEwen, April 6, 2011
Two valid criticisms regarding last week’s report on the Cruz bust: One from the Cruz camp, the other from the Sheriff.
The Cruzes said they didn’t have 51 pounds of meth, and the Sheriff remarked that it’s been years since he’s seen any lies in this newspaper.
Call it a paradox, a conundrum, or a contradiction in terms, but both statements are “true.”
The Cruzes were caught with only a few ounces each. They didn't have 51 pounds of crank stashed either at their apartment or in storage.
The prosecution now says the Cruzes had 30 pounds of crank.
I had it as 51 pounds based on a report in the Ukiah Daily Journal by Zack Cinek, a cub reporter no longer with the Journal. Cinek got the 51 pounds figure straight from DEA honcho Bob Nishiyama’s press release at the time of the big bust of Senor Cruz and Senor Cruz Jr. Nishiyama said 51 pounds of crank had been seized, and that the 13 people arrested were all illegals, although three generations of Mendolanders know the Cruz family and who knows what the roots of the others are because nobody had time to work out the genealogy charts.
The Sheriff would never publicly say that a statement from Agent Nishiyama was a lie, and since I merely repeated the difference between that original press release from Nishiyama and the most recent figures, Sheriff Allman was happy to praise all recent AVA news reports as accurate, honest and refreshingly free of malicious deceit.
Between the minimizing by the defense and the exaggerations of the prosecution, a reporter can never seem to get all the “facts” right to the self-interested satisfaction of the persons involved.
That’s why I generally try to show rather than tell the reader what happens in court. That way you, my dears, can be the judge.
Thank you, class, and now back to today's lesson.
You may recall from last week's account that two generations of Cruzes, father and son, were arrested during a bumper car law enforcement parade north of Ukiah back in 2010. A press release said the Cruzes and a bunch of affiliated mopes were in possession of 51 pounds of methamphetamine, the go fast drug preferred by people without hope because it briefly gives them some. Hope, that is.
The Cruz hearing is far from over. It was scheduled to continue last Tuesday afternoon, but…
But defense attorney Richard Petersen, master of delay, called in sick, not that a Mendocino County judge has ever been known to ask for a note from the doctor.
The Prosecution had rested and the BLM’s trusty Agent Matthew Knutsen was standing by so Mr. Petersen could cross-examine him.
But Mr. Petersen was sick and unavailable.
Judge Richard Henderson was annoyed.
His Honor pointed out that Agent Knutsen, not to mention the rest of the justice apparatus, had better things to do than wait around a courtroom for a lawyer who wasn't there.
The judge said, “Can’t somebody else cross the witness?”
Besides the absent Richard Petersen, there were two other defense lawyers working on the case; Justin Petersen, son of the missing man, and Al Kubanis, Navy man, were both present.
“No,” Justin Petersen said. Only Dad could do Agent Knutsen.
The defense team had already decided which witnesses would be examined by which lawyers Petersen the Son said, and Richard Petersen was slated to take on Agent Knutsen.
The Cruz prelim was therefore scheduled to convene again on April 8th, and Agent Knutsen was free to go about his business until the 8th.
Could anything be done today? Henderson wondered impatiently.
Yes. Defense wanted to call CHP Officer Chad Ramsey. Ramsey had been called to the scene of the collision between law enforcement’s unmarked Suburban Tahoe and the two defendants’ Honda Del Sol, the collision the defense was alleging had resulted from lawlessness on the part of the cops, the collision that might help make the whole take-down of the Cruz crank business get thrown out of court.
Officer Ramsey was duly sworn, and Justin Petersen began what turned into a series of very odd exchanges.
Ramsey's a rookie cop. He was in a tough spot for a rook. He'd been called by the defense to testify against the rest of the Northcoast's police apparatus, a heckuva position even for an old badge. The defense wanted to trick the rookie into making his fellow law-enforcement officers look like liars.
Officer Ramsey was wary, so wary he was almost mute, and when he wasn't mute he mumbled.
Al Kubanis repeatedly complained he couldn’t hear the witness.
The court reporter also had trouble hearing Ramsey’s responses, and she was sitting right in front of him. Add to the hearing difficulties the in-and-out bustle and commotion of a bunch of young people being directed to a different courtroom on an unrelated matter and Deputy DA Kitty Houston badgering the defense with objections every time the defense asked a question, and you had all the makings of the clown show that in fact ensued.
Justin Petersen began by asking if Officer Ramsey could tell anything about the collision from the fact that the vehicles appeared in his reports to be physically touching; that there were skid marks left by the Honda; and that the Suburban appeared not to have budged when it was supposedly struck by the Honda.
“Objection, objection, objection.” Ms. Houston wanted foundation, first, last, and foremost. (Objecting to an absence of “foundation” means the question is out of nowhere, no site prep, no explanation of what has gone before, in this case the collision between the Cruz vehicle and the cops' Suburban as a caravan of cops tailed the Cruzes on Lover's Lane north of Ukiah.)
Petersen was game.
“Have you had any training in these things, Officer Ramsey?”
“Objection. Vague,” Ms. Houston said.
Petersen chuckled amiably at the caviling. He was willing to play along with the monotonous establishing of the redundant details of the crash between the Cruz vehicle and the cop car. “Have you had any special training in skid marks and how they relate to collisions?”
Again, an indulgent smile from Petersen.
“Well, Officer Ramsey, what kind of training, if any, have you had?”
“Objection. Lack of foundation. And I also think counsel was being argumentative, your honor.”
Petersen was finally allowed to ask Ramsey if the vehicles, the Honda and Suburban, were touching when Ramsey arrived on the scene of the collision.
“I don’t recall,” Ramsey whispered softly.
Petersen said, “In the diagram attached to your report they appear to be touching don’t they?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember,” mumbled Ramsey.
“Well, would it refresh your memory to look at the diagram? I have it right here. See there? They appear to be touching, don’t they?”
“That could be just the way the position of the tires was entered into the software,” Ramsey said.
“So there’s no way to tell whether the vehicles were touching or not?”
Ramsey muttered indistinctly.
“I can’t hear what’s being said,” your honor,” Kubanis complained.
Henderson said, “If you could try to speak up, Officer Ramsey, and adjust the microphone if need be. Thank you.”
Ramsey twisted the microphone more or less toward his mouth then turned away from the mike he'd adjusted.
Petersen said, “Had the vehicles been moved before your arrival?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who did you speak to first?”
“Was it Deputy Wells?”
A faint whisper: “Yes.”
“The driver of the Del Sol?”
Ramsey murmured something.
“Did you then talk to Sgt. Bruce Smith?”
“Objection. Leading,” Houston said.
“These questions are just foundational, your honor,” Petersen said in the voice of a man in the mood for farce.
Petersen showed Ramsey a picture.
“Do the vehicles appear to be touching in this photograph?”
“Yes, they appear to be,” Ramsey whispered. “But that’s just because of the position of the tires in the software used, rather than in actuality."
“So in ‘actuality’ there’s no way of knowing whether they’re touching or not? I see. But doesn’t it also appear that the Del Sol is entirely in its own lane and the Suburban is halfway in the on-coming lane?”
“Uh… yeah, I guess.”
“And is the Del Sol canted a bit?”
More indistinct murmuring. Ramsey didn't seem to know what “canted” meant.
“Does that mean that’s the way it was on the site when you arrived? The way it is in the diagram?”
“I can’t hear what’s being said,” Kubanis complained again, unaware nothing was being said.
Again, Ramsey toyed ineffectually with the mike as if to amplify his occasional responses then again turned away from it when he was asked a question.
“How long after being dispatched to the scene did it take before you arrived?”
“Ten, 15 minutes, maybe. I don’t know.”
“Then you talked to Deputy Wells?”
Indistinct murmurs so muted that the court reporter complained that she couldn't hear Ramsey.
“Yes, uh … yeah. I think I may have talked to him first.”
No answer. Perhaps some eye movement.
“The driver of the Del Sol or Sgt. Smith?”
“I don’t recall, really.”
“Do you remember what Deputy Wells was wearing?
“Was he wearing a rain vest, or rain coat, anything like that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
“Did Deputy Wells tell you why he drove into the east-bound lane?”
Kubanis said he couldn't hear.
Ramsey murmurs again.
The court reporter complained she couldn't hear.
Petersen repeated the question.
And right about here the judge should have said something like, “Either speak up, officer, or I'm holding you in contempt and throw your non-responsive ass into an iso cell until you (1) answer the goddam questions and (2) answer them so we can all hear you.”
But on it went.
Ramsey muttered that, “Yes, it was to try to stop the suspect vehicle,” which he could have said the first time he was asked.
“Did Deputy Wells tell you he was trying to block the roadway?”
Petersen reads from Ramsey’s report: “…'he said he tried to block the’ roadway…' So basically he tried to block the roadway?”
“Did he tell you how fast the Del Sol was moving?”
The judge now appeared to be sustaining and overruling at random.
“I’d have to refer to my report.”
More muttering from Officer Ramsey.
“And law enforcement wanted that vehicle stopped?”
“The white Honda Del Sol,” Petersen chuckled patiently, helping an obtuse child along.
“I’d have to refer to my report…” Ramsey’s voice trailed off into more mutterings as he looked through his report.
“Did Deputy Wells indicate to you that he moved his vehicle into the on-coming lane to block the roadway?”
Complaints about relevance from Ms. Houston, and complaints from everyone else that they couldn't hear what Ramsey was saying, if he was saying anything at all.
“That’s correct. Into the lane. But I don’t know why.”
“Well, didn’t it thereby block the lane?”
“Did Wells give any other reason why he might have done that?”
“So it was just to stop the Del Sol, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were there any skid marks left by the Del Sol?”
“Yes,” Ramsey whispered softly away from the microphone.
“I don’t know?”
“Did you measure them?”
“Would it be in your report?”
“They were approximately 20 to 21 feet.”
“Is it true that sometimes vehicles get stuck together after impact?”
Petersen went back to the beginning, back to the foundation all the way to the rebar.
“They do, yes,” Ramsey said, reluctantly confirming that vehicles have been known to adhere at point of impact.
“Were you also trained in the rebound effects of collisions?”
Christ Jesus spare us all.
Yes, Officer Ramsey was trained in the rebound effects of vehicle impacts, we eventually learned.
“What about the tire friction marks left from these kinds of vehicle impacts?”
We finally learned that Ramsey had had 60 to 80 hours of skid mark training.
The courtroom was filling up with parties involved in a different case and Judge Henderson said he might have to send them to another courtroom. The Cruz hearing, mumbling foundations and all, muttered on amidst the commotion, with more complaints from those who couldn’t hear what was being said and foundation objections from Ms. Houston.
Petersen asked, “And what were your findings on the result of the impact on the Suburban?”
“I didn’t document any.”
“On the Del Sol?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Is it true that the vehicles were stuck together?”
“Counsel!” Judge Henderson suddenly shouted angrily. “We’ve been over this all before!”
“In fact, your honor, due to the objections, we didn’t go over it at all,” Petersen said.
Judge Henderson glared at the young defense attorney.
Witness Ramsey, his jive evasions thus encouraged, continued to defy interrogation.
“Does the length of the skid marks tell us anything about the speed of the vehicle?”
“The white Honda Del Sol.”
“I don’t know.”
“Do the skid marks help at all?”
“I didn’t do a mechanical evaluation. It could be that the brakes weren’t working, or maybe the Del Sol had analog brakes?”
Petersen took Ramsey back to his report and finally pried the vague admission out of him that the Del Sol was going “from 0 to 20 mph.”
“Can you narrow it down?”
An indifferent shrug.
“Can you narrow it down any by referring back to your report?”
Ramsey said, “It only shows me that the vehicle was moving.”
“Did both vehicles have airbags?”
“Would it be in your report?”
“Yes, yes — they had airbags.”
“Did they go off?”
“Does that narrow down the speed?”
At what speed do the airbags go off?”
By this point the day was shot. The hearing was set to resume next week.
All this expensive public time to determine if two guys were selling an evil drug that has destroyed the lives of several million Americans.