‘Ukiah — More Than Just A Pretty Place’

by Bruce McEwen, September 14, 2016

This slogan of the Ukiah Main Street Program makes one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.  I had to look at the Main Street web page to see how pretty the place I live and work in really is.

I didn’t see my neighborhood. Or my neighbor, the dope dealer whose addict infested domicile looks like a 19th Century landfill — the squalid, pack-rat accumulation of decades of stuffing the premises to overflowing with cheap, out-dated gewgaws, gimcracks, and every god-awful piece of junk Wally World and K-Mart ever imported from the sweat shops of Asia.

There’s the imaginary Ukiah, then there’s the real Ukiah. The PR shills who came up with this “more than a pretty place” might have added, “O yeah. A lot more.”

There’s only one photo on Ukiah’s promo page. It’s so narrowly focused and so severely cropped that only one building is visible intact: The Victorian gingerbread converted to offices for people like attorney and Mendolib matriarch, Mary Ann Villwock. We also get  a glimpse of the Spanish tiles and flamenco-pink stucco of the Ukiah Police Department and the pedestal clock at Alex Thomas Plaza.

Looking at the graphic you might think you were seeing an old world courtyard in downtown Madrid.

The Alex Thomas Plaza.  Despite the clock tower and all efforts to make the memorial what admirers of the grand old man had hoped for, remains an open air drug exchange and transient snooze center.

Ukiah: More than just a pretty face

Ukiah: More than just a pretty face

When our tourist, lured by the promising graphic and whole vistas of pretty faces, actually arrives, he’d have to get aloft in a cherry picker in the middle of State Street to see the town the way it’s pictured. And he will have already traversed miles of the same-old-same-old strip mall dreck he’s seen everywhere in America the Beautiful, perhaps, if he’s under 60, not knowing that even Ukiah was once indeed a beautiful small town, and America itself was beautiful, sea to shining sea.

Our visitors are generally spared such now routine spectacles  such as the recent one on Apple Ave. In that one a woman beat another woman with a baseball bat and baseball bat lady’s new man had his fingers shredded trying to turn a knife blade away from his vitals. There she was, this great big beautiful femme fatale Gabriella Pinola conking a woman named Cassandra woman on the noggin, the entire tableau a perfect picture of Mendo mayhem now common among pretty faces everywhere in the land.

Michael West had to drive himself to the emergency room with three puncture wounds stabbed into his left chest, two more in his back, and long slashes down his arm and leg.

It took the cops a while to sort it all out.

Dean Ammons was eventually identified as the stabber. Ammons’ girl friend said he carried the knife at all the times. It had been found in the dirt at the gate where the altercation between several individuals went down.

Officer Donahue of the Ukiah PD had responded to the Apple Avenue scene of “an altercation involving numerous individuals” only to find most had fled and the remaining combatant, Cassandra, was uncooperative, as she didn’t want to be labeled a snitch.

Officer Donahue said Cassandra later decided to talk out of fear for her three-year-old. Apparently Cassandra felt that the woman who attacked her with an aluminum baseball bat, Gabriella Pinola, might also go after the kid who had witnessed the assault, since the collective mentality of all the people involved was somewhere in the pre-school range.

It was never made clear in court what the fight was about, but the root seemed to be that the two female principals had the same boyfriend in the past. There had also been some nasty posts on Facebook arising out of the contest for lover boy’s affections.

Cassandra told Officer Donahue that she was sitting on the porch with her brother, Jason, filling a glass pipe with buds when a grey Honda Civic pulled up with Gabriella, her baseball bat and several other remedial readers. Gabriella got out with the bat and told Cassandra to get up and fight. A blow from the bat shattered the dope pipe, as Jason meanwhile — Officer Donahue believed — was defending himself against an assailant armed with a knife.

When Officer Donahue arrived at the scene Jason had cuts on his hands but refused to talk to the officer.

Deputy DA Caitlin Keane asked, the officer, “Did he tell you he’d been in a fight?”

Donahue said, “No.”

“But you believed he had?”

“Yes.”

“Did he observe who attacked Ms. Steel?”

“I asked, but he refused to cooperate.”

“Had Ms. Steel been drinking any alcoholic beverages?”

“She said she was preparing to when the four people in the car arrived.”

Jonathon Opet of the Office of the Public Defender asked, “Didn’t my client Ms. Pinola have an alibi?”

“Her mother said she went to pick up her boyfriend at Crush Restaurant.”

“Did you check it out?”

“No. I believe Officer Snyder did, though.”

“Your honor,” Public Defender Opet said, “It’s clear somebody attacked Ms. Steel with a bat, and that her brother was involved. She named Ms. Pinola but she could have been lying and did not want to name the real attacker.”

Keane said, “There’s absolutely no evidence that it was anyone else but the defendant, Ms. Pinola.”

“But my client had an alibi, your honor, and the victim’s brother wouldn’t say that my client attacked his sister, so if she’s held to answer, we would be asking to have this reduced to a misdemeanor.”

(Iron clad. Her mom said she wasn’t there.)

Judge David Nelson said, “The alibi provided by the mother and boyfriend isn’t credible, and the brother’s fear of being labeled a snitch only adds to the credibility of the testimony of what the victim told the officer, so I’m going to hold the defendant to answer on the felony assault charges and deny the 17b motion to reduce it to a misdemeanor. That will be the order.”

Deputy DA Caitlin Keane also prosecuted the August 24th knife fight at 160 Thomas Street. That was a sundown affair occurring at 9:00pm. It put Michael West in the hospital. The prelim starred the fleet-footed Officer Kevin Murray who tracked down the alleged assailant, Dean Ammons, and dragged him out of the rabbit hole where he’d gone to ground.

There have been some new officers added to the force in Ukiah to keep Ukiah more than a pretty face, but Officer Murray is still the fastest in a foot race with a suspect.

This pretty little courtroom drama was held across the hall in Judge Ann Moorman’s court, the one with the stunning view of Patrona’s Restaurant and the bunker-like Mendocino Savings Bank and the abandoned old Ukiah Post Office in the background. Everywhere you look, old world charm.

Ms. Keane showed Officer Murray some pictures of a knife and asked if it was the one he’d found at the scene of the crime; they were.

“It was just like that when I found it near the gate, with the blade locked open and the logo Min-Shang stamped on the blade. Ms. Paula Bastion told me her boyfriend, Dean Ammons, stabbed Michael West with it.”

“Did you ask Ms. Bastion if the knife was his?”

“I did, and she said it was, and that he always carried it with him.”

“Did you speak to Mr. Greg Cuadra?”

“Yes I did, and he also said Ammons did it—”

“Did what?”

“Stabbed Michael West, and that he was hiding in the back.”

“Do you see him in the courtroom today?

“That’s him in the orange jumpsuit seated at the defense table with his lawyer.”

Mr. Ammon’s lawyer was a new hire at the Office of the Public Defender, Vishad Dewan.

(Fresh-faced young idealists come and go at the Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office, imagining, out of law school saving the innocent from the death chambers, only to find that almost without deviation, they are defending the indefensible in a country whose popular culture celebrates the pervasive scumbaggery that’s sorted out in the County Courthouse day after day after day.)

“Let’s talk about the house, Officer Murray. Was there any property damage done to the home?”

“Not that I saw…”

“Did you notice a gate?”

“Yes.”

“And was it damaged in any way?”

“Yes.”

“There’s a cyclone fence that runs in front of the property and a gate that slides back and forth, did it appear that someone had run into it with a pickup?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know who was the driver?”

“Michael West.”

“Mr. Cuadra said Mr. West came there with others looking for a fight, did he not?”

“Yes.”

“How was he acting?”

“Brandon Williams, who was also involved in the altercation, said he [West] was agitated, screaming and yelling that he was owed money until it finally became physical.”

“Who was on Mr. West’s side?”

“It sounded to me like it was him [West], Mike Perry and Jenny West.”

“Did you see any blood on the knife?”

“I couldn’t tell, it had landed in the dust.”

“How far from the gate was it?”

“Approximately seven feet.”

“Did Ms. Bastion say she saw the stabbing?”

“No, she said she was in the residence at the time.”

“With respect to Mr. Cuadra, where was he?”

“Outside in the front yard.

“How far away?”

“Maybe 20 feet.”

“How many people were milling around in between him and the combatants?”

“I don’t know that there were any.”

“Did Mr. Cuadra explain what happened afterwards?”

“Yes, he said Michael West got in the pickup, drove through the gate and sped off.”

“Nothing further.”

Ms. Keane asked, “How did Ms. Bastion know Dean Ammons did the stabbing?”

“He [Ammons] told her.”

Officer Cooper was called. He had gone to the Emergency Room at UVMC and found the staff working on Michael West, stabilizing him for surgery. “He had three puncture wounds in his chest,” Cooper said, “near his breast and on the left side, There were two more puncture wounds on his back and shoulder, and cuts in his right leg and right arm with blood dripping down.”

Michael West had almost gone permanently south.

DDA Keane had some pictures and they weren’t very pretty. “Did he [West] appear to be in pain?”

“He complained loudly of being in extreme pain.”

“Did you ask him how he got these injuries?”

“He told me, between gasps, that he and his cousin went there because he was owed money. Somebody threw a beer bottle and hit him in the head, then a fight broke out. He didn’t know he’d been stabbed until his wife pointed it out.”

(It’s always the wife who notices the little things. Honey, you’ve been stabbed at least five times and cut twice, don’t you think that’s about enough?)

“I couldn’t ask any further questions, as they wheeled him into surgery.”

“Did you speak to the wife, Jenny West?”

“Yes, and she told me basically the same thing.”

“Do you recall what she said about the gate?”

“She said he drove away in pain and accidentally collided with the gate.”

Mr. Dewan seemed unconvinced that West’s injuries were serious. “You said he was gasping?”

“Yes.”

“And he was in extreme pain?”

“Yes.”

“Had he been given any medications?”

“It was hard to tell. They were working on him and I couldn’t really do an evaluation.”

“Did you ask him if he’d consumed any alcohol?”

“No, but I could smell it on him.”

“Fair to say it was obvious he’d been drinking?”

“Yes.

“You saw puncture wounds?”

“Yes.”

“How deep were they?”

“I don’t know.”

“He didn’t know who stabbed him?”

“Correct.”

Ms. Keane put Detective Michelle Maldonado on the stand, who like Ms. Keane herself, could teach the Ukiah Main Street Program what the word “pretty” really refers to. Detective Maldonado talked to Paula Bastion. The detective was also told that Dean Ammons said he stabbed Michael West.

“I asked about the knife and Ms. Bastion said she believed it was Mr. Ammons’ and that he often carried it.”

“Did she tell you who called 911?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Did you speak to Mr. Ammons?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ask him if he’d been in a physical fight?”

“He said he didn’t remember being in one.”

“But didn’t he have leaves and grass all over his shirt?

“Yes, and when I asked about it he said he’d been in the back yard and jumped down when he saw the patrol cars coming — which was inconsistent with his earlier statement that he’d gone in the back to look for other others who’d been in the fight. Then he said he didn’t want to talk to us anymore. Except, he said he didn’t own any knife.”

“Did you speak with Ms. Bastion later?”

“Yes, and she told me she spoke to him [Ammons] at the jail and he said he stabbed Michael West.”

Mr. Dewan asked, “On the day of the altercation, did she seem inebriated?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say she’d smoked marijuana, as well?”

“Yes.”

“Did she say Greg Cuadra almost got run over?”

“That’s what she said.”

“When the pickup hit the fence?”

“Yes.”

After the beer bottle was thrown, Michael West went into the yard and started fighting?”

“Yes, that’s what Jenny West told me.”

“Did she say he intentionally ran into the fence?”

“Yes, it seemed so to her.”

“Did a young lady ask where her knife was after the altercation?”

“Objection.”

“It’s an excitable utterance. Objection overruled.”

Public Defender Dewan said he would submit that his client was involved but that Mr. West was the aggressor and there was no evidence other than conjecture that his client, Ammons,was the stabber.

Prosecutor Caitlin Keane replied that the standard for a preliminary hearing had been met. The defendant’s own girlfriend had told two officers, on separate occasions, that Ammons told her he did it. And Ammons hadn’t been truthful, she added, because Officer Murray had found him hiding in the back yard.

Judge Moorman said that while there were a lot of contradictions in the case, Michael West was clearly the aggressor, “Nevertheless,” she ruled, “the People have met their burden and Mr. Ammons was not acting in self-defense, so I’m going to hold him to answer on the assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injuries.”

Considered literally, Ukiah is indeed much more than the pretty face it advertises itself to be.

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