Time For A Fort Bragg Police Oversight Board

by Malcolm Macdonald, October 8, 2013

In the 1860s justice was swift, if not fair, in this county; five members of the Coates family were shot dead by members of the Frost family within 15 seconds on the streets of Little Lake (now Willits). One Frost lay dead in the shootout. No one went to jail.

By 1881 local justice courts grew to be so thorough that our family’s horse was held to account at an inquest (again in Little Lake). The horse was acquitted in the shooting of another member of the Frost clan. Soon after that, part of my family tree moved to the coast, one of them marrying into the Macdonalds who have run the ranch I live on since those halcyon days of the 1800s. My Macdonald progenitor came west without a gun. He never carried a rifle or sidearm while timber cruising much of the forestland in this county and adjoining counties. I reckon he wouldn’t have married into the gun toting Robertson family if he felt they were a lawless band. All of their shootists, man, boy, or equine, were found to have acted in self defense.

My mother’s side of the family proves a similar split: cowboys mixed with Quakers. From that background, I came to be one of the founders of a group called Coast Copwatch (There are Copwatch organizations, big and small, across this state and across the nation). The Mendocino Coast collection of cop watchers originated from serious complaints against the Fort Bragg Police Department (FBPD) in 2007-2008. It continues to primarily focus on that department because Coast Copwatch receives far more viable complaints about FBPD than it does about the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department or the California Highway Patrol. In fact our group has received more negative comments concerning California State Park rangers than the CHP or deputy sheriffs.

When Coast Copwatch began Mark Puthuff was the Chief of Police in Fort Bragg. He had been more or less hand picked for the job by Fort Bragg City Manager Linda Ruffing. In the first years of this century, the Mendocino County Grand Jury recommended to the City of Fort Bragg that “the City Council appoint a Police Department citizen oversight and review board.”

It is both interesting and crucial that the Grand Jury chose the term “citizen oversight and review board.” The Grand Jury did not request an advisory panel. The Grand Jury felt that the actions of law enforcement in the City of Fort Bragg needed much more than just advice, it needed citizen oversight and review.

What has the City of Fort Bragg done to implement this?

Absolutely nothing.

In 2008, speaking before the Fort Bragg City Council, I made the same request for citizen oversight. The response of the City: a perfunctory thank you from Ms. Ruffing and Mayor Dave Turner, but no action whatsoever.

The City of Fort Bragg’s response to that original Grand Jury request was and seemingly still is: “The Public Safety Committee provides oversight and involvement with Police Department and community public safety operations.” The Public Safety Committee in Fort Bragg is made up of two City Council members, the Director of Public Works and the Police Chief. In other words: those who don’t want citizen oversight are there to provide oversight! Not far from the fox acting as security guard at the hen house.

Fort Bragg finally rid itself of the thoroughly incompetent leadership of Chief Puthuff late in 2010, replacing him with long time Redding, California police captain, Scott Mayberry. Scott Mayberry and his chief lieutenant, John Naulty, cut their teeth as young officers on the Fort Bragg PD more than two decades ago.

New leadership, local guys, Mayberry was selected by a fairly broad based committee of job interviewers; all seemed hunky-dory. Mayberry initiated a Neighborhood Watch program that elicited some public participation, albeit that participation essentially meant that Neighborhood Watch volunteers were those who snitched on supposed wrongdoers in their vicinity. In fairness, it appears that so far the Neighborhood Watchers have acted primarily as finger pointers toward drug dealers and other wrongdoers.

However, there is still nothing firmly in place for citizens to provide oversight when a member of the Fort Bragg Police Department is the wrongdoer, whether that wrong is a one-off situation or a pattern of bad behavior. Back in 2007-2008 when a Copwatch member pointed out that two of FBPD’s finest had authored false police reports, only the non-tenured officer was dismissed, but the more senior of the pair was allowed to continue on the job, presumably under the theory that the officer would improve with time like some sort of fine wine.

Enter Officer Craig Guydan in May of 2012. Guydan has been the subject of two formal complaints, one by Coast Copwatch and another by a Fort Bragg business owner. Guydan’s offenses include pulling his gun out at the sight of a group of teens playing street football, shooting a dog in front of its home after a ten second encounter in which the 35 pound canine growled, he (Guydan) kicked the dog in the head, and the dog may or may not have latched onto the officer’s boot. There are several other documented accounts dating back to the summer of 2012 in which Guydan falsely accused citizens of a variety of crimes.

When the business owner who eventually filed a formal complaint spoke with Chief Mayberry on the phone only a few days after the dog shooting, Mayberry downplayed the incident as a singular event in Guydan’s career. The business owner did not know, but Mayberry did know that he had already been contacted by phone and email by another Fort Bragg resident about a summer-2012 traffic stop during which Guydan made multiple accusations against the citizen. Mayberry also knew that the citizen had fought the charges in court and won. In other words Chief Mayberry already knew about multiple Guydan misdeeds when, two and a half weeks after the dog shooting, in the wake of Guydan pulling his gun in the presence of the teenaged street football players, Mayberry stated on the record that Guydan was a good officer.

Mayberry concluded the phone conversation with the Fort Bragg business owner who was concerned about the dog shooting (a call initiated by Chief Mayberry) in a dismissive fashion, haranguing her for caring more about the dog than his officer. Keep in mind the dog was shot through the chest and Officer Guydan displayed no apparent injuries when EMTs examined him at the scene. In condescending language Mayberry also chastised the caller for raising concerns about the dog when his department was dealing with a dead baby case. In other words, Mayberry went off the deep end ranting at a citizen who dared to bring into question any action by a member of the Fort Bragg Police Department.

Because formal complaints were lodged, an “investigation” was conducted in May of 2013. Investigation has been placed inside quotation marks for a number of reasons. The chief investigator, one Chuck Lebak, was a decade long colleague of Mayberry when both were on the Redding Police Department. Beyond that conflict of interest, Lebak was also the chief investigator of Craig Guydan before Fort Bragg hired Guydan to perform policing duties.

During Lebak’s May inquiry, he not only shared his prejudgments of Guydan’s actions with Coast Copwatch and the Fort Bragg business owner who filed the second complaint, Lebak also volunteered demeaning statements about two other officers on the Fort Bragg Police Department, clearly implying that he suspected one of these officers of leaking official police reports. Lebak’s assertions about the leaking of a police report constitute an outright falsehood. Making such statements to private citizens is nothing less than thoroughly unprofessional. Readers can check the June 19, 2013 AVA for a more detailed account of Lebak’s “investigation.” Suffice to say, Lebak didn’t even follow through in contacting several first hand witnesses to Guydan’s misdeeds.

Though many people who work and/or live in Fort Bragg eagerly shared their stories of negative Guydan encounters with Coast Copwatch nearly all of them have been unwilling to fill out formal City of Fort Bragg/FBPD complaint forms. One couple who work in Fort Bragg sent Copwatch an email which said they could not file a formal complaint on their own “because we drive around town in a very distinctive car that could become an easy magnet for extra police attention.”

At City Council meetings the council members and City Manager Ruffing act as if everything is A-OK with the police force. They commend Chief Mayberry and in August recognized two of the Neighborhood Watch captains. No one mentions the business owner who did have the courage to file a formal complaint concerning Guydan’s dog shooting. No one in city government mentions that the very same business owner quit the Neighborhood Watch program. The Police Chief, the City Manager, and the City Council pretend as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, that nothing is wrong. They seem happy that residents, workers, and business owners (with one lone exception) are seemingly afraid to come forward to confront the wrongdoing of a single officer.

When another Coast Copwatch volunteer and I finally got a meeting with City Manager Ruffing in August we brought up the concept of a citizen’s oversight committee. With a straight face Ruffing said, “Isn’t that Copwatch?”

After it was pointed out to her that the Grand Jury had called for Fort Bragg’s city government to establish a citizen’s oversight and review board, Ruffing acknowledged that the City’s official imprimatur would undoubtedly grant such a review board more validity in the eyes of the citizenry. Yet, she made no overtures toward the actual establishment of such a review board. To the contrary, Ruffing, a city manager with well over a decade’s experience in Fort Bragg alone, acted as if she had very little idea how an oversight committee or review board might be set up. Whether Ruffing is clueless about setting up an oversight committee or just feigning speaks to a lack of character or professionalism or both on her part.

The hour long meeting concluded with Ruffing professing to have taken copious amounts of notes and informing us that she would get back to us after a couple of weeks. That seemed somewhat reasonable, what with Fort Bragg’s busiest holiday weekend, Paul Bunyan Days, coming up.

More than six weeks have gone by now without any word from Ruffing to Coast Copwatch. More than a week ago I left a voicemail for her. No response from her to that message. Of course, in the interim, Ruffing has had time to comment publicly about the Senior Center mess. Fort Bragg City Councilmember Meg Courtney also insinuated herself into the Senior Center debate. The same Meg Courtney who, when informed about Officer Guydan shooting a dog, remarked that she’d heard it was some sort of pit bull mix so what’s the big deal? Or words to that effect. The dog is most likely not a pit bull, but regardless of its breed Fort Bragg deserves city council members with a little more thought behind their remarks than those uttered by Courtney.

What started as a problem about one Fort Bragg police officer, Craig Guydan, has escalated into a question of leadership in the department as a whole as well as a cover up of silence by the city government.

The bottom line is this: Citizen input cannot be a one way street. If the Fort Bragg Police Department wants to have a successful Neighborhood Watch program in which citizens help the police identify the bad guys, the FBPD must also be willing to openly accept criticism of its officers when they blatantly do wrong. Just as importantly, Fort Bragg’s City Manager and City Council must adhere to the dictates of the Grand Jury by forming a citizen oversight and review board.

During the Chief Puthuff era I attended a meeting with Puthuff, City Manager Ruffing, and then City Councilman Dave Turner about problems with the Fort Bragg PD. At the end of the meeting Turner said, “I hope we can just make this all go away.”

It’s time for the leadership of the Fort Bragg Police Department and its city government to stop just hoping, and follow through with appropriate action.

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