If the Key Fits

by Bruce McEwen, December 23, 2009

If it's action you want, Hoyle's your cop.

He's an action guy, what you call a polarizing figure, a strong personality of the old school lawman type. Thirty-three years on the thin blue line.

Inevitably the leading man in these things, Hoyle testified Monday about his role in a cocaine bust.

The defendant had no case, but here it was, a guy placed in Ukiah at Ford Street to get over his drug addictions and what does he do? Gets his dopehead girl friend to drive up from the city with a car full of the stuff so he can sneak out of Ford Street and get loaded with her.

But even the guilty get to be heard.

Judge Ron Brown hung on something public defender Carly Dolan said about the initiation of a search. Ms. Dolan suggested that the search of the drug car began the instant Hoyle put the key in the lock without a lot of pesky paperwork of the warrant type.

Judge Brown put his forefinger in his ear and twisted it like he hadn’t heard right. The judge turned to prosecutor Kitty Houston and asked her for clarification of what appeared to be free range law enforcement. Had Hoyle searched the dope car without a warrant?

Deputy DA Katherine Houston and Special Agent Peter Hoyle are about the same age. They have worked together often over the years.

“The defendant,” Houston said, “was on parole with a search and seizure clause in the conditions of his releases.”

No search warrant was necessary. Ms. Houston said the testimony of the People’s witnesses, Agent Peter Hoyle and Sergeant Erik Baarts, another old hand at the Ukiah PD, had watched the defendant leave the Ford Street rehab facility. They'd followed him and soon Hoyle had the guy's car key in the guy's car door where the drugs were found.

The defendant, Jeffrey Ruano, and his lawyer, Ms. Dolan, were both nice looking young people in their late twenties, early thirties.

Mr. Ruano was in custody and his lawyer was in a suit. Ms. Houston had departed. The courtroom was quiet. Ms Dolan went to talk to her client where he sat in the jury box with his guard. She'd filed a motion to suppress the evidence. The lawyer and her client quarreled over whether to withdraw the motion. They both gave the impression the case was hopeless, but decided to proceed.

Although Mr. Ruano was a parolee who could lawfully be searched any old time as condition of his release from prison, Ms. Dolan insisted that her client had a few protections left.

She asked Hoyle, “You wrote the report?”

Hoyle: “Yes.”

Dolan: “There was an outstanding warrant.”

Hoyle: “Yes.

Dolan: “But when you told Officer Baarts there was a warrant you didn’t know whether it was true or not?”

Hoyle: “I knew it was true.”

Hoyle rested his Popeye-like forearms on the tiny table of the witness stand.

Dolan “But you were here when Officer Baarts testified?”

Hoyle: “I don’t know who told him.”

Dolan: “He said you told him.”

Hoyle: “I can’t tell you which person told me. It was back in July.”

Hoyle had said in his narrative of the events that Jeffery Ruano was at the Ford Street facility in Ukiah and that he had observed Mr. Ruano leave Ford Street, which was a flagrant violation of his residency there. Mr. Ruano was at Ford Street to stay away from mind altering substances. He was not to leave the premises.

Hoyle said a parole officer had given him the heads-up on Ruano’s arrival at Ford Street and the conditions of his stay there. When Hoyle saw Ruano leave Ford Street, Hoyle said he radioed Officer Baarts and Baarts busted Ruano with three or four grams of meth in a Marlboro cigarette box which, Baarts said, Ruano tried to ditch on the sidewalk in the area of Hospital and Perkins Street. Backup was called and an Officer Murray frisked Ruano producing a ring of keys. Murray gave the keys to Hoyle and, lo, the first car door Hoyle put the keys in worked! Hoyle searched the car and found three and a half ounces of cocaine next to the spare tire, which is a lot of cocaine for a guy in rehab.

Defense attorney Dolan was smiling hugely when the judge fastened on the fact that Hoyle just went to a random car in a drugstore parking lot and tried the key in the lock.

The handsome young defendant with his stylishly shaved head had had a young woman with him at the time of his bust, a Ms. Rodriquez, who wasn’t present at the hearing.

Ms. Dolan continued to argue that parolees still enjoy at least some Fourth Amendment rights to privacy and protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

“We’re not contesting the meth in the cigarette box,” Ms. Dolan said. “But [in the case of the coke in the car] the evidence is attained after they enter the car, and then it’s used to justify the search.”

DA Houston: “They don’t need a warrant. He’s on parole. It’s a given.”

Judge Brown: “I’m struggling with the search of that particular item [the vehicle].”

Dolan: “They were reported to be in a Mazda?”

Hoyle: [Shrugs.]

Dolan: “How did you know it was a Toyota?”

Hoyle: “It was a Toyota key. I’ve owned a few Toyotas. I recognized it.”

Dolan: “Was the key marked?”

Hoyle: [Shrugs again.] “I had the key to a Toyota. I saw a Toyota in the Walgreen’s parking lot. I ran the plates; they came back to a Mary Willis in San Francisco. And it seemed to me I’d been told by parole the defendant was from the Bay Area, the South City or somewhere on the peninsula.

Hoyle tried the Honda key in the first Honda he saw and the key fit.

Dolan: “Based on your experience and training.”

Hoyle: “Correct.”

Brown: “Madam Reporter, can you locate any testimony on the car keys?” The judge seemed to have forgotten the part about Officer Murray taking the keys off the defendant when he was first stopped. The Court Reporter read it over again.

Judge Brown said, “I think there’s enough circumstantial evidence there; the motion to suppress is denied.”

One would think.

* * *

Tim Taber recently wrote a letter to the editor of this newspaper wondering why he was in jail. The other day Mr. Taber dropped his request to withdraw his plea to assault with a deadly weapon in another stabbing incident, the facts of which did not come out in court. Mr. Taber was sentenced to a four year aggravated term in prison; the charges against his co-defendant were dropped. I guess by now Taber has at least a rough idea of why he's in jail.

Kenneth Rogers, convicted of an attempted murder for hire out of the famously seething seaside hamlet of Westport, had his case advanced a few more millimeters towards his demand for a new trial. When the reporters from the dailies folded their notebooks and left. I was about to follow them when a friend whispered in my ear “Get up to Department E — now!” It was lunchtime and I was hungry but I’ve learned to trust these sources.

Department E has great huge swags and drapes, shelves of law books laid like brickwork up the walls and the portraits of all those who have previously ascended to judgeship in Mendocino County, the very pictures of rectitude, looking down on contemporary proceedings. The room was standing room only with wall-to-wall lawyers. Court was called into session by the bailiff and all of Mendocino’s Judges (with the conspicuous exception of the Hon. Clayton Brennan) filed in in their robes and settled in the jury box.

It was a memorial service. The Mendocino County Bar Association wasn’t about to let the death of the late Susan B. Jordan, esq. go without some eulogies, however belated they may have been. (Ms. Jordan died in a plane crash in southern Utah on May 29th at the age of 67.)

The Hon. David Nelson recalled that Ms. Jordan had insisted that the usual practice of telling solemn lies about the deceased would be discarded when her time came. He candidly admitted that Jordan could be a difficult person at times. She’d started practicing law in 1970 when women lawyers were neither common nor encouraged, and as a result she necessarily developed a no-nonsense style. But she had been friends with Nelson, and he reflected upon some of her more endearing qualities, which her other associates were ignorant of, until he became overwhelmed with emotion and his voice broke.

Another friend of Jordan’s, Attorney Ann Moorman, who is currently running for judge herself, said that Jordan had been responsible for important changes in the way women are treated by the courts, not only as lawyers, but also as victims, having first argued the case of the battered spouse syndrome. Jordan’s husband and daughter each spoke briefly. Assistant DA Beth Norman stood to say that even she, a prosecutor by inclination and choice, had been influenced by the late defense advocate

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