Biting The Bullet
by Bruce McEwen, October 5, 2011
Kenneth Hanover, Gabriel & Ira Bowes
On July 9th, Ira Bowes was walking along UP Avenue in Covelo, and as he passed the Hanover residence, he became the object of what spirited men refer to as “fighting words.” Being outnumbered three to one, Ira kept walking, apparently planning, as he walked, to get himself some reinforcements and return to the scene of the insult.
Mr. Bowes is no stranger to violence. He'd taken a bullet through the chest about a year ago, and this incident, it may be safe to say, had taught him what’s called “an object lesson,” the lesson being that up close combat with certain persons can be life threatening.
The patriarch of the Hanover clan, Kenneth Hanover, is a barrel-chested, fit man in his late 40s. Mr. Hanover has two fine, strong, movie star-handsome sons, the youngest just 18. The two sons do not care for Ira Bowes. It was them who'd rained insults down on Ira Bowes as Bowes walked past their home.
But is was dad, Mr. Kenneth Hanover, who took a bullet in the mouth for his boys on that violent day last July.
So, Ira Bowes that day, with the Hanovers insults running hot through his head, went home and got a gun and his brother Gabe, and the two brother walked briskly back down UP Avenue to settle up with the Hanovers.
“Where were you?” Deputy DA Rayburn Killion asked Mr. Hanover Sr., as Killion set the scene.
“I was sitting at the kitchen table in my house when Ira and Gabe Bowes came back down UP Avenue.”
“No. My sons had had words with Ira about a half-hour before.”
“What was that all about?” Killion inquired mildly.
“I don’t know. But I went out and told ‘em to let it go; ‘just leave it alone,’ I think I said.”
“What did you do when you saw them coming down the street?”
“I turned to my girlfriend and said ‘call 911 — now’.”
“Why did you say that?”
“I saw that Gabe had a pistol, and I saw him hand it to Ira.”
“What — wait a minute… Were they afoot or horseback?”
(That's not a dumb question in Covelo. Some legendary recent battles have involved horses.)
“They were walking.”
“So you saw Gabe hand the gun to Ira. Did you get a look at it — did you know what kind of gun it was?”
“Just a revolver with a wood handle… an old-school pistol.”
“What happened next?”
“Words were exchanged between John Thomas, my eldest son, and Ira.”
“Then what happened?” Killion asked calmly.
“Gabe, Ira’s big brother, and John Thomas became engaged in full-blown fisticuffs.”
“Where were you?”
“Circling around ‘em.”
“Where was Ira?”
“Ira lifted his shirt up, pointed to the pistol in his pants and said” —
“What did you do?”
“I immediately jumped between him and my son and tried to back him down!”
“How did that go?” Killion asked.
“He pulled the pistol out of his pants and hit me in the face,” dad said.
“So he pistol-whipped you?”
“He hit me in the upper lip with the barrel of the revolver.”
“I scooped it out of his hand and it fell on the ground.”
As they always told us in the Marines, “Run from a knife, charge a gun.”
The gun hit the ground and there was a scramble for it.
Kenneth Hanover said he wasn't focused on the gun at this point because his eyes were locked on the now unarmed Ira. But he heard his son behind him say, “kick it away.”
Quick as a cougar, Ira came up with it.
Ira is 20-something, but Mr. Hanover had at least 30 pounds in solid muscle on him, plus a father’s frantic desire to save his son.
“What did Ira do with the gun?”
“He pointed it straight in my 18-year-old’s face.”
“And you?” Killion asked, “What did you do?”
“I grabbed the barrel and fought to turn it away.”
“Ira shoved the gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger.”
The blast burnt away some of Kenneth Hanover’s lower lip. He had a wicked scar on the upper lip where Ira had hit him with the pistol. These scars were fresh, white, barely healed. The gun shot had taken away part of his jaw and some teeth before the bullet wrecked havoc with his shoulder.
“So you were taken to the hospital?”
“I’ve had three surgeries, and two to go, yeah.”
“Anything happen after that?”
“I don’t know. I was deaf, stunned and disoriented. My equilibrium was gone. I couldn’t hear anything; I don’t know how, but I was on the ground.”
“Where was Ira?”
“He ran. Where, I don’t know.”
“Gabe? Do you know where he was, what he was doing?”
“No … He came up when my sons were treating my wounds. I don’t recall what he said.”
“How long?” Killion asked. “How long did this altercation go on?”
Mr. Hanover said, “Fifteen, to — well, maybe even 20 minutes. You have to remember, we talked awhile … and then I got shot …”
“Did law enforcement eventually show up?”
“Did you go back to the house?”
“I did not.”
“No further questions.”
The new Alternate Public Defender Patricia Littlefield had been assigned to Ira Bowes’ case. She wanted Kenneth Hanover to diagram the scene on a sketchpad showing the street and houses involved. The sketch pad was propped on an easel at the front of the courtroom. When the diagram was completed to her satisfaction Ms. Littlefield asked Hanover to take her through the incident from the beginning.
“When you first saw them coming up the street, what did they do?”
“Gabe handed the pistol off to Ira, then came skipping up and got into it with John Thomas.”
“And where were you?”
“I was circling around them.”
“Were there others, were other people present?”
“People from the neighborhood were gathering, women with little children.”
Ms. Littlefield felt that the last part of the answer was uncalled-for and wanted it stricken; Judge William Lamb readily concurred.
“Did they at some point — John Thomas and Gabe — did they at any time say they were finished with the fight?”
“No, they did not.”
“Were you engaged (in fisticuffs) with Ira then?”
“And when you first heard they were coming down the street, had you drunk anything?”
“Are sure you hadn’t had anything to drink?”
“I’m sure; no.”
“What did you say first?”
“I didn’t say anything. Gabe came skipping up and challenged us.”
“At some point did you start walking toward Ira?”
“No. I waited until he came up to the lawn.”
“Did you move around?”
“Back and forth?”
“Didn’t you yell, ‘Shoot me! shoot me!’?”
“No. I said ‘What are you going to do, shoot me in front of all these people?’”
“That was the first time you knew he had a gun?”
“Where was he standing?”
“Right in front of me having words with my son, John Thomas.”
“John Thomas was yelling at Ira?”
“They were yelling at each other. Then Ira pulled up his shirt, tapped the pistol and said ‘Look here’ — that’s when I asked ‘What are you gonna do, shoot me in front of all these people?’ and he said ‘If I have to’.”
“That’s when you jumped in?”
“How long did all this take?”
“Five to ten minutes?”
“Could it have been more like two to three minutes?”
“There was a lot of talk first.”
“When Ira said, ‘If I have to’ — is that when he drew the weapon?”
“Yes, he drew the pistol and hit me across the face with it.”
“Where was John Thomas?”
“I heard him coming up behind me. I told him to stay back. I don’t know how close, but I knocked the gun on the ground and asked him — John Thomas — to kick it away.”
“Did you ever hit Ira?”
“When you were interviewed at the hospital in Santa Rosa — do you remember who interviewed you?”
“I think it was that detective, Andrew Whittaker.”
“When you knocked the gun on the ground, did you scramble for it?”
“So it was Ira and John Thomas who went for the gun?”
“When you were interviewed at the hospital, did you tell the officer that Ira pulled a gun on your son?”
“At that time, I’m not sure,”
“Gabe gave the gun to Ira — you don’t know what they may have done before that. Correct?”
“When they were coming down the street you told your girlfriend to call 911?”
“I don’t know if she did, but yes, that’s what I told her.”
“You said this to her before the fight started?”
“Do you recall telling the officer at the hospital that you knocked the gun to the ground?”
“I believe I did, yes.”
“Did you tell the officer that all those people were watching?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“Did you tell the officer at the hospital that you tried to get the gun?”
“I don’t believe so, no.”
“Now, you recently pled to a DUI” —
“This was a DUI with priors, a felony. I’m offering it for purposes of impeachment only,” Ms. Littlefield explained. The implication was that a DUI felon had better not try to lay hands on a gun.
“You are relying on moral turpitude?” Judge Lamb asked.
“Yes, I was.”
“And it’s being used for impeachment only?”
“You may answer.”
Mr. Hanover admitted he had been arrested for the DUI.
“Could you draw the speed bump, on the diagram, show us where the speed bump is on UP Avenue. … Okay. Now, is that where you were the first time he hit you with the gun?”
“Yes, he hit me a second time on my right upper lip.”
“Then you knocked the gun to the ground and Ira retrieved it. When you grabbed the gun by the barrel, where was it?”
“About seven inches from my son’s nose.”
“When you grabbed it, you turned it toward — you?”
“I turned it away — everything happened too quickly.”
Judge Lamb asked, “Were you still touching the barrel when it went off?”
“Did Ira back up as you came toward him?”
“Nothing further at this time.”
Mr. Killion asked about the hospital testimony.
“When you were interviewed at the hospital by Detective Whittaker, were you medicated at the time?”
“Yes. I’d just come out of surgery.”
Officer William Van Der Heiden of the Covelo Tribal Police Department ( and formerly of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office) came to the stand. He was the first officer on the scene.
“I heard Ira had shot Ken,” Van Der Heiden said.
“Did you know these people before?”
“What was happening when you got there?”
“Ken Hanover was attempting to get up. He was bleeding from his face and shoulder.”
“Were other people there?”
“Yes. Some of the Bowes sisters, some of the Hanover kids.”
“Did you ask who shot him?”
“Yes. They said Ira had shot him.”
“Did you ask where Ira was?”
“Yes. They said he ran off to the south.”
“Did you go after Ira?”
“Not at that time. I gave medical aid to Ken. He had a bloody towel on his face, his lip was hanging loose and his teeth were where they shouldn’t be. It was pretty gruesome. I notified the ambulance that the scene was secured and waited for them to come up.”
“Was there any blood?”
“A small puddle where Ken was sitting.”
“Find a slug?”
“Not at that time.”
“See anybody with weapons?”
“At some point did county law enforcement show up?”
“Yeah, maybe a half-hour later.”
“Did you observe Gabriel Bowes anywhere in the area?”
“Yeah, he left within two minutes of my arrival, at a brisk pace.”
Detective Andrew Porter of the Sheriff’s office was called.
He was “detailed to investigate the shooting by Captain Smallcomb,” he said and got to the scene “about 9pm, or later.”
“Did you interview Gabriel Bowes?”
“Yes, early the next morning, along with Detective Lorenzo at the Sheriff’s office on Low Gap Road.”
“Did he tell you he was present at the time of the shooting?”
“Did he say he was fighting with Mr. Hanover’s son when Mr. Hanover was shot?”
“Yes. He believed the firearm went off when Ira went to hit Hanover with it. After further questioning, he said the gun was knocked to the ground, picked up by Ira and then Hanover was shot. He said Ira picked up the gun, gripped it with two hands, said ‘Hell no, motherfucker’, and shot.”
“Did Gabriel say why he was there?”
“He was the older brother, he said, and when Ira came home and told him about what had happened, he wanted to go back and confront them. As he approached the Hanover residence he realized he was going to be in a fight and handed the gun to Ira, to hold.”
“Did you ask Gabriel what happened afterwards?”
“He said he didn’t know.”
“Was the gun ever recovered?”
“The gun was never recovered.”
“Did you interview the defendant, Ira Bowes?”
“He agreed to talk to you?”
“He did. He told me he’d walked by the Hanover residence and was verbally assaulted. He went home and got his brother and came back.”
“Did he tell you where he got the gun?”
“He said the gun belonged to an uncle, and as they got there his brother handed it off to him.”
“Did he tell you how he came to shoot Mr. Hanover?”
“He said he was being assaulted. He tried to strike Mr. Hanover with the gun and it went off.”
“Did you ask Ira what happened to the gun?”
“Yes. He said he laid it on the counter at his aunt’s house.”
“Did you ask Ira if he’d been drinking?”
“Yes. He said he had five beers and one shot.”
Ms. Patricia Littlefield asked, “How long after the event was he taken into custody?”
“You mean Ira? Seven or eight hours, probably.”
“And so Gabe was taken in first, approximately five hours after?”
“Yes, that sounds about right.”
“Did he refuse to admit that he had the gun, at first.”
“He was a convicted felon so he did not want to admit to having possession of the gun?”
“He changed his story multiple times,”
“Did he say he told Ira to stay back?”
“I believe so, yeah.”
“Did he say Ira was backing down the street with Kenneth coming after him, saying, ‘Come on shoot me! Shoot me!’?”
“He changed his story multiple times.”
“Did Gabe say that when the gun was knocked to the ground all three of them went for it?”
“Correct. But he —”
“How many times did he change his story?”
“We interviewed him (Gabriel) for 40 minutes and he changed his story many times. Finally, he described Ira as picking it up with both hands and swinging the gun up said, ‘Hell no, motherfucker.’ Then he shot.”
“Did he say Kenneth was saying, ‘Come on, shoot me! Shoot me!’?”
“I don’t recall. The versions vary. When I say he changed his story; I mean, first he said they saw the gun then they didn’t. Then he handed Ira the gun, then he didn’t. So I don’t know.”
“Well, did Gabe tell you that Kenneth punched Ira?”
“He said they were in a fight.”
“Are you aware that Ira was shot through the chest and spine about a year ago?”
“Objection — that’s irrelevant, your honor.”
Judge Lamb took the attorneys back into his chambers to sort it all out. Next day the file was still with the judge. I asked Ray Killion what happened.
“Ira Bowes was held to answer for attempted murder,” he said.