‘The Slung-Shot’ / Rope-Lock

by Bruce McEwen, June 12, 2013

Craig Barnett of Fort Bragg was on his way to check in with his probation officer and stopped at a second-hand store where one can often find a good deal on any number of useful things. On this occasion Mr. Barnett found a tool loggers often use to tighten down a rope on a load where steel cable isn’t necessary.

Barnett is a logger by profession and recognized the tool as a rope lock, something he would either use himself or offer to his employer, Anderson Logging of Fort Bragg. The problem arose when he reached the Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg, where the probation office is located; he couldn’t get past security with the rope lock and since he was on foot, he couldn’t leave it in his vehicle. So he hid it in the bushes.

Mr. Barnett’s probation officer, Kathy Voorhees, saw him put something in the bushes and called security. While she kept Barnett in her office, the security officer, David Croft, went outside with a hand-held metal detector and found the tool. Mr. Croft brought it to Ms. Voorhees, and she, not knowing what it was, called in a cop, Deputy Eric Riboli, who said it was a weapon, a “slung-shot.”

We’ll get back to the slung-shot/rope lock, but first, by way of introduction, let’s step back and put this incredibly huge and powerful private contractor, Mr. Croft’s employer, Universal Protection Service (UPS) in perspective.

Universal Protection Service, with a local headquarters in Napa, is a subsidiary of the even mightier corporation, Universal Services of America (USA). In 2009 UPS was placed on an exclusive list of approved providers of security for our courthouses by the Department of Homeland Security. UPS was also awarded Safety Act “protection.” The Safety Act of 2002 is part of the Homeland Security Act and encourages corporations to develop and deploy their own ideas about how best to “protect” us from “terrorists.” I shudder to contemplate what this kind of “encouragement” may be. But under the Safety Act, the “protection” UPS gets is limitation from liability to third parties (us) to a predetermined amount of liability insurance coverage, exclusive jurisdiction in federal court for suits against UPS, prohibition on joint and several liability for non-economic damages, a complete bar on punitive damages and prejudgment interest, and a reduction in the plaintiffs’ recovery by amounts that the plaintiff receives from collateral sources.

“We are very excited that our application for the Safety Act designation has been approved,” Steve Jones, the co-CEO and Chief Operating Officer of Universal Services of America, told the Los Angeles Times. Mr. Jones then went on to gloat expansively about how nice it was to rake in billions of tax dollars and operate his various and extensive business interests with absolute impunity in these strange times.

Universal Protection Services was founded by former San Francisco Police Inspector Louis J. Ligouri, Jr. (along with a former US Secret Service Agent who is so deep under cover I couldn’t even find out his/her name). They like to hire off duty or retired law enforcement officers and police academy graduates, but they will take anyone who can come through one of their background checks without a blemish and finish a training course in Napa, at 505 Alexis Court. The mandatory drug testing leaves most of our unemployed locals out of the picture.

But the UPS staff at the County Courthouse in Ukiah and the Ten Mile Court in Fort Bragg are all devoted AVA readers and a pretty great team of officers who take their jobs seriously while maintaining a sense of humor and cordiality. They also have a nice collection of pocket knives and cork screws because so many people try to bring these prohibited items into the courthouse, then go back out and hide them in the bushes when they find out they can’t. The security officers then go out and sweep the grounds with a hand-held metal detector and collect the contraband items.

This was essentially what happened to Mr. Barnett’s rope lock/slung-shot. Security found it with the hand-held metal detector, called a wand. Probation Officer Voorhees and Sheriffs Deputy Riboli both considered the tool a weapon, Mr. Barnett was arrested for violating his probation, which prohibited the possession of any weapons, and the DA filed a petition to have his probation revoked and send him to prison. The hearing was held last week at the Ukiah courthouse, and DA David Eyster handled the case himself.

Ms. Voorhees was put on the stand and she said that as Barnett approached the courthouse she saw him drop something in the bushes. The security guard brought it in and she recognized it as a slungshot, “a weapon similar to a mace,” she said.

“Objection,” said Louis Finch. Mr. Finch is a lawyer from the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and as such he was representing Craig Barnett, who was still in custody, since the incident happened on May 16th. “The witness doesn’t know the legal definition,” Finch said.

Judge Richard Henderson overruled the objection. “She perceived it as a such,” he said.

DA Eyster said, “As a probation officer, is this [he had a photograph of the thing, which he was holding up for her to see] what you would consider a dangerous weapon?”

Ms. Voorhees said yes, it was.

“And as such, was the defendant, under the terms of his probation, allowed to have it in his possession?”

“No.”

“Did you see him put it in the bushes outside the courthouse?”

“I didn’t actually see him put it there,” Voorhees said. “He was behind the bushes and I couldn’t see his hands. But it looked like he was putting something in the bushes and the security officer found it there.”

“And you confronted him with it later?”

“Yes. He said he bought it at a thrift store.”

“That’s all I have,” Eyster said.

Mr. Finch is such a piss-poor lawyer that he wasn’t promoted two years ago when the head lawyer in his office, Mr. Robinson, retired. Finch is so bad he was passed over for promotion again when the next senior lawyer, Mr. Schlosser, went on extended medical leave last month. There were only the three of them, Robinson, Schlosser and Finch. Another lawyer from the regular Public Defender’s Office had to be brought in to supervise Finch and handle all the serious cases, a Ms. Patricia Littlefield.

“Are you familiar with the tools used in logging?” Finch asked.

PO Voorhees paused thoughtfully.

“But you do know Mr. Barnett was sometimes employed by Anderson Logging, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Voorhees said.

“Do you know what a rope lock is?”

Again Voorhees took time to reflect.

Finch grew impatient. “How long have you been a probation officer?”

“About a year and a half.”

Here is another great job opportunity for the locally unemployed who can pass a drug test. Jim Brown recently retired as head of the county’s probation office, which has greatly expanded due to the governor’s prisoner realignment program. Jason Locatelli of that office recently told me that as the system becomes more and more expanded, the need for probation officers continues to grow. This pseudo-cop field (probation and security) is the next big career opportunity in a world rapidly filling up with criminals — all we need is one or two more “substance abuse-laws” (and the legislature is working on them frantically, mainly to justify the DEA) then we’ll all be either criminals or cops.

Mr. Finch said, “Did you ask Mr. Barnett what the tool was for and how it was used?”

“No.”

“Have you been through security at the courthouse entrance?”

“Yes.”

“So you are familiar with how metal objects are not allowed in the courthouse?”

“No.”

And she wouldn’t be, either. Not necessarily, at least. Because probation officers and all the other regular faces who the security people are familiar with are not put through the shakedown. A certain amount of common sense allows the business of the court to proceed without an overweening winnowing of everyone who comes and goes.

“But you are aware, are you not, that a lot of people put things in the bushes when they come into the courthouse — metal things they can’t bring past security?”

“I haven’t seen them do that,” she answered. Given the fact that her one-way window in the probation office would give her an ideal opportunity to see such things, and that’s how Barnett got nailed, Mr. Finch made no secret of his suspicion that Ms. Voorhees was tinting her answer with the tincture of disingenuity. He snorted tersely and said he had nothing further.

Judge Henderson wanted to see the so-called weapon/tool but the DA didn’t have it with him. He offered to send someone for it, but Henderson said he’d just like to look a little closer at the photo of it, Exhibit One.

Deputy Eric Riboli was called to the stand and asked to rehearse some of his weapons training. Then he was shown the photo. He recognized it as the same item that had been found in the bushes outside the Ten Mile Court.

DA Eyster: “Are you familiar with the term slungshot?”

Deputy Riboli: “I am, yes.”

DA Eyster: “Can you tell me what this is?”

Deputy Riboli: “It could be used as a slungshot.”

Mr. Finch: “Are you familiar with logging tools?”

Riboli: “No.”

Finch: “Nothing further.”

Finch called his client, Craig Barnet to the stand and asked him, “Did you go to the Ten Mile Court on May 16th?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I had an appointment with my PO.”

“Did you do anything on the way?”

“Yes. I stopped and shopped at a thrift store where I bought a rope lock.”

“A what?”

“A rope lock.”

“Can you explain how it works?”

“It binds a rope, so the harder you pull, the more it squeezes down on the rope. It is used for various tree and brush jobs in logging and brush work.”

“Do you often work in that kind of work?”

“Yes. I’ve worked as a tree faller, clearing brush, setting chokers and other things associated with logging.”

“Is this one of the tools you commonly use in that kind of work?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Why did you leave it in the bushes outside the courthouse?”

“I’ve been there before with metal objects and the security people told me if I didn’t want to lose it, I’d have to leave it outside.”

DA Eyster: “How did you arrive at the courthouse?”

Barnett: “I got a ride.”

Eyster: “How did you get home?”

Barnett: “I walked.”

Eyster: “Do you remember this probation order?”

Barnett: “Yes.”

Eyster: “Is this your signature … right here?”

Barnett: “Yes.”

Eyster: “Do you remember reading this condition, this one right here?”

Barnett: “I don’t remember, but I must have read it.”

Eyster: “So you agreed to that condition?”

Barnett: “Yes.”

Eyster: “Didn’t you think it might be a good idea to ask your PO if this [the rope lock/slungshot] would be allowed for you to have?”

Barnett: “I just thought of it as a tool.”

Finch: “What were you going to do with it?”

Barnett: “I’d just got a job with Rob Shandell; I was either going to use it or give it to Rob.”

Finch: “Your honor, a lot of tools can be used as weapons. But it makes sense for my client to have this tool for his job. He has explained how it works and he has a logging background. There is a reasonable, innocent — as well as a sinister — explanation for why he had it.”

Eyster: “I’m not sure I’ve heard of a logger buying things at a thrift store.”

Henderson: “The explanation that the object is a tool is reasonable and so is the evidence from the officer that testified a device of this type can also be used as a weapon which is not unreasonable — so it is somewhat suspicious — but given the evidence that the defendant was working as a logger and the tool was part of his ordinary work tools, the court finds there is not sufficient evidence to hold him on the charges.”

Eyster: “Can I ask the court to order him to report to probation?”

Henderson: “Yes. So ordered.”

When Eyster loses a case against Finch, something must be up. Maybe they were just trying to show that the public defenders and alternates are something more than welfare recipients, after all. ¥¥

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