No County For Old Men
by Mark Scaramella and Bruce Anderson, June 19, 2013
Fifty years ago you put hands on Harold Moore at your peril. The old guy still has the Popeye forearms of a working man, but he's 80 years old, a law abiding senior citizen who has raised children and employed people and paid taxes all his long life.
But this country is no respecter of age, and what happened to Harold Moore on August 20, 2012 should not have happened to anybody, let alone an 80-year-old.
After a long and successful career as a large-project contractor, Harold Moore semi-retired to Cleone in the early 1990s. He still puts in many long days on local jobs.
Moore's home sits on Mill Creek Road, the county road that skirts Mackerricher State Park. From Moore's house you can see Mackerricher's visitor's kiosk and the Purple Rose Mexican Restaurant.
In the spring of 2012, Moore told the County road yard supervisor (who Moore knows only as Carl), that a drainage ditch fronting Moore's property wasn't draining. Two weeks later Carl the County guy showed up with a truck and a crew to get the water flowing, and instantly the runoff from Moore's and his neighbors' properties was flowing like it should.
“But Ricochet Ridge Horse Ranch across Highway One came down,” Moore recalls. "They cross the ditch right at that spot to enter the park with their horses. The road crew had left a plug in the ditch about four feet wide right where the horse trail enters the park. I saw that the ditch was cleaned out but there was this plug about 100 feet down where they cross with their horses. I called Carl again and asked him what was going on with the ditch. He told me if I wanted to put a pipe in there, go ahead. So I put the pipe in, a 12-inch pipe for a culvert. It's designed to hold 80,000 pounds. That would get the drain going. If that ditch is plugged the drainage backs up and fills up my yard. So I put in the culvert. The Parks maintenance guy, Jason, helped me put in the pipe. Jason saw me out there working and came over to help.”
Left plugged up with dirt, water backs up and the purpose of the culvert is defeated. You don't have to be an engineer to figure that out.
But the Ricochet people were very unhappy. Why they were unhappy remains unclear because access for horses to the trail was not in any way impeded by the length of pipe placed neatly beneath the plug.
“With the gravel and dirt over it, the pipe stuck up above the ground maybe five or six inches,” Moore says. "It was in there for three or four months until a gal named Veda at Ricochet Ridge Ranch complained that the pipe was unsafe to her horses.”
Ricochet Ridge is the nearby stable. Horse people traverse Highway One to Mackerricher to ride the path past Moore's property and on through the park to the ocean trails. The Ricochet Ridge people somehow thought that the six-foot length of dirt-covered drainage pipe represented a hazard to their animals.
Not that that a drainage pipe in the shallow ditch in front of Moore's place was Ricochet's to remove, but it was soon gone. The drainage ditch no longer drained. The portion of the ditch was again filled with nothing but earth. Moore would have filled in more dirt over the pipe to smooth it out if he'd known some picayunish person was complaining about a slight indentation, a tiny low spot in the ditch. But the Ricochet attitude, soon buttressed by State Parks, was that Moore and his neighbors could swim out of their houses in the big rains for all anybody but Moore and his neighbors seemed to care.
Moore won't forget the events of August 20th, 2012:
“I noticed that the storm drain pipe was removed from the ditch which drains the four houses on Mill Creek Road. I saw the pipe sitting in the State Parks maintenance yard. I found Jason, the maintenance man in the park, and I gave him hell for removing the pipe. He informed me that his supervisor told him to do it. His supervisor said that he was told by Ricochet Ridge Ranch that it was unsafe. That pipe is designed to hold 80,000 pounds when properly installed. I hold a Class A General State Contractor's License. I know what's safe and not safe. Anyway, the State has no jurisdiction over a county road or ditch.”
“The situation could have been fixed easily if they just put some gravel or rock over it so that it was smoother, although it looked fine to me. Later they smoothed out that crossing in the ditch and made a 10 foot sloped ramp with no pipe. That's not a good way to do it, but it will work that way until it plugs up again.
“So I went down to that spot and cleaned out the ditch and removed the rock so that it would flow. I told Jason the Mackerricher's maintenance guy to leave the god damned ditch alone.
“I went home and ran some errands, and when I got back I found a card on my door from Paul Borg. I call him Rambo. He's a park ranger and packs a gun. The card said 'State Parks — give me a call,' and there was a Sacramento number.”
Ranger Borg had recently transferred to MacKerricher from Napa County.
“I called Carl at the County maintenance yard and asked him what in the hell was going on? He said he had just finished talking to a woman with the state (State Parks). Carl said he was pissed off about that call and that he was going to have Ricochet Ridge Ranch get an encroachment permit (for the County road access to the riding trail leading to the beach). I told him about the note from Paul Borg on my door. He said, 'Don't worry about any of that. I'll take care of it.'
“Not long after that I looked across the street at the park yard about 300 feet away and I saw Jason the Parks maintenance guy. So I got in my big Dodge truck and went over there where he was standing in the parking lot. He was talking to a woman in uniform who I don't know. I motioned for Jason to come to the truck, which was about 30 feet away from him. I then explained my conversation with Carl the County road foreman and that we did not have to worry about the problem any longer as Carl would take care of it.
“While I was backing up and leaving the parking lot, I was approached by Paul Borg who I don't know and have never had a conversation with. I was asked to step out of the truck. I complied, and as I turned to shut the door I was grabbed by the arms and with him on my back carried for 15-20 feet before I fell. During all this time he was yelling that I was resisting arrest. I did not know I was under arrest.”
A Park Ranger later identified as Emily Bertram had assumed an officious position of military parade rest as Borg wrestled Moore to the asphalt. She had apparently ordered the robotic Borg to place Moore under arrest.
Get the picture here? The old man is asked to step out of his truck by a uniformed Park ranger, and the next thing he knows this armed representative of state authority has jumped on his 80-year-old back and is trying to wrestle his 80-year-old bones to the asphalt.
From the bruising and scrapes in the photos Moore's lady friend took of Moore's injuries, it is clear the old man was worked over pretty good.
Jason, the Parks maintenance guy, and the officious woman in the Parks uniform, Emily Bertram, who'd unleashed Ranger Borg on Moore, were 30-40 feet away as Moore shouted, "Get this crazy man off me!”
Moore was soon handcuffed, stuck in a small compartment of a Parks vehicle driven by Ms. Bertram, the apparent architect of Moore's arrest, a man old enough to be her grandfather, maybe her great grandfather. But Miss Emily was all sadistic business. The old man was handcuffed behind his back and strapped into his seat all the way to Ukiah, a journey of an hour-and-a-half. He was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges so vague they disappeared the next morning when Moore was freed without explanation. But not before Moore's lady friend had had to scurry around two towns, Ukiah and Fort Bragg, to raise the $10,000 cash bail. "I have plenty of money in the bank, but wouldn't you know when I needed it it was hard to get out.”
Moore had identified the female Parks automaton as Emily Bertram. "I felt there was animosity toward me. I did not know her. I know about her and I will go into greater detail when I talk to whoever is investigating this complaint.”
“It was kind of a hard day at the jail,” Moore recalls. “It was fun for the first few hours. I swapped stories with the kids in the drunk tank all waiting for booking. They treated me ok. I have no complaint about the Sheriff's department. My problem is with how I got there. I have not been able to find out who ordered me arrested or why.
“In the process of making $10,000 bail I was given a court date of September 27, 2012. While being booked the next morning, the phone rang. After the conversation I learned that it was the district attorney. I was given back my $10,000 and was told the charges were dropped and I was released.”
There hasn't always been intelligent life occupying the DA's office. Prior to DA Eyster's election, an 80-year-old man arrested for absolutely no reason might have been held for several days before anyone in the DA's office even looked at the report, maybe another week before it occurred to someone the man in custody was a crime victim, not a criminal.
Back at his home only yards from the headquarters of his tormenters, Moore decided to file a formal complaint with State Parks, concluding his account of his adventure: "We have owned and lived for 30+ years next to MacKerricher. In a few months I will be 80 years of age. I do not feel safe in my home with these officers Paul Borg and Emily Bertram. I am looking forward to a response to this complaint. Yours truly, Harold Moore”
The response from State Parks at Duncan Mills is dated February 14, 2013
“Dear Mr. Moore: Recently the Mendocino District completed its investigation into the concerns discussed in your letter to the district. I would like to apprise you of our findings in this matter. The investigation focused on your concern that Ranger Borg arrested you without cause and that ranger Bertram ordered Ranger Borg to make that arrest. After a thorough and complete investigation, we were unable to substantiate your allegations. After giving equal weight to the versions of events provided by you, Ranger Borg and several witnesses, and given the lack of any other substantial evidence, findings for each Ranger were: exonerated. The California Department of Parks and Recreation maintains the highest expectations for our employee's conduct. As such, I thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. In accordance with department policy, your perspective and concerns have been discussed with Rangers Borg and Bertram and the investigation will be retained on file for five years. Sincerely, L. Burko, District Superintendent, Russian River and Mendocino District.”
* * *
In other words, we have no choice but to defend the lamebrains we happen to employ, Mr. Moore. You can sue us, of course, but we get free attorneys and you'd have to pay one. Also, our people will lie to keep their jobs. PS. Don't mess with us. We're the government and you aren't.
“This response is absolutely worthless,” said Moore. “But that's the only response I got. They had no right to arrest me. I would like to get the investigator's report. I want to know which witnesses they spoke to. I want to know who I have to look out for. The amount of force they used was completely unnecessary.
There might not be an investigator's report. There might not have been an investigation other than a realization by someone at Parks that an old man had been manhandled and arrested for no reason at all. Parks wouldn't want to write down what really happened, would they?
“I don't want to sue anyone,” Moore insists, "but if someone wanted to take this case I wouldn't want any money; I'd just like to know what happened. They should not let this kind of thing happen. That letter from the Parks Department is kind of a green light for excessive force. As long as they can say that it was just my word against theirs, who knows what they might want to do if they got mad at somebody? I have seen Park rangers give tickets in town. They get pretty chesty. I hear now that Ranger Borg lives at MacKerricher Park in the same Parks house that Emily Bertram was living in. Emily moved out to get married and transferred to the Monterrey area.”
Harold Moore is a man who means what he says. He only wants to know who ordered his arrest and why. He’s not interested in damages, but he would gladly accept the assistance of an attorney who would sue the Parks Department for a copy of the “thorough and complete” investigation the Parks Department said they did.