Chicken Ridge Penumbras
by Bruce McEwen, May 5, 2010
The preliminary hearing into the shoot-out on Chicken Ridge, Covelo, was put off again last week. It's a confused event involving a large cast of characters that includes rap musicians from Los Angeles, rap musicians from Sacramento and a white snitch from the Columbia River at the Dalles, Oregon.
To clarify: three black guys from LA, three black guys from Sacramento, a white guy from Oregon. The three black guys from LA drove north to buy dope from the three Sacramento guys, one of whom maintains a home on Chicken Ridge, Covelo. The white guy from Oregon thought he could pick up an easy $10,000 by saying he knew who'd done what. All seven dis-harmonically converged in Covelo.
It is alleged that the two remaining defendants in the case, Darvel Blackwell and Clifton Jacobs, both from LA, blew into Covelo on a cold wind to score some weed over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend. It was very late when the two vehicles — one containing the LA guys, the other containing the Sacramento guys got to Covelo. There were a lot of people in Covelo for Thanksgiving and not a room was available for rent so the LA guys drove up to Chicken Ridge with the Sacramento guys to wait out the night, maybe get some sleep after the long, long drive to Covelo.
One of the LA guys, Marquis Walker, has agreed to testify against Blackwell and Jacobs, the other two LA guys. Walker claimed he merely drove Blackwell and Jacobs to Covelo. He had not driven deep into the Mendocino County outback to buy dope, and he certainly wasn't there to shoot anybody. That's Walker's story and he's sticking to it, and why wouldn't he? It got him out of jail, and it got him dropped as a defendant. Mr. Walker, when he and the two other LA guys, Blackwell and Jacobs, were stopped in Willits after their thrilling night on Chicken Ridge, all three ran from the cops; all three were chased down on foot and all three threw some punches at the cops as they were being restrained. Walker is one of your more active chauffeurs, it seems.
Blackwell and Jacobs face charges of attempted murder for shooting Robert Long, the Sacramento guy who'd steered the LA guys to Covelo to buy dope. Long took a round to the head but has survived. Blackwell and Jacobs also, it is alleged, tried to shoot the fleet-footed Jackie Slade, another of the Sacramento guys. Slade says he was in Covelo simply as a kind of gofer and clean-up man for Mr. Sims, who owns the exciting home on Chicken Ridge. Slade says he out-ran a hail of bullets down the steep slopes of Chicken Ridge in his desperation to get out of firing range of the two LA guys. Slade flagged down a passerby who lent him a cell phone to call the cops.
Also in town was a certain Joshua Seto. He was visiting his mother, Sandra Chaplain. Seto was on the lam from The Dalles where he was facing a charge of sexual assault. We'll get to him.
Troy Sims had brought the three LA guys, Blackwell, Jacobs and Walker to Covelo, brought them to his house on Chicken Ridge, “against my better judgment,” he said ruefully on the stand. The only reason he'd brought them to his home was because the only motel in Covelo was full. Sims hoped to sell the LA guys marijuana not make them breakfast in bed. At the time of the shooting, Sims, clearly suspicious of the LA guys, was conveniently enjoying breakfast at the only café in Covelo. Sims says the restaurant was jammed, too. Every other town in Mendocino County is deserted during the holidays, but Covelo, well, Covelo is different in lots of ways, and it was busy that day.
Sims said he left the other men at his house in the cold early dawn of November 27th after an overnight caravan from Sacramento aimed at getting the LA rappers 20 pounds of high value purple bud. Sims said he didn’t have any quality bud himself but he knew lots of people who did. If you don't know anyone in Covelo who can get you large quantities of pot you probably live in Ukiah. None of Sims' dope contacts were up dawn, however, so Sims went out to breakfast. After breakfast Sims learned that there had been a shoot-out on Chicken Ridge. He knew it involved him, he said, when he heard “some black dudes” were involved. “I’m the only black person that lives on Chicken Ridge,” he said.
As the prudent Sims ate breakfast in Covelo, there were five black men at his house on Chicken Ridge — the three suspect guys from LA, and two guys from Sacramento, Mr. Long and Mr. Slade. Mr. Long had introduced the three LA guys to Sims. Mr. Slade had been brought to Covelo by Mr. Sims merely to clean up the place. If anyone's innocent here it's probably Mr. Slade.
It was Sims’ testimony that he didn’t have a gun. He had had a gun in his house on Chicken Ridge, he said, but when he'd arrived at his home that morning with his three LA customers he went in to get it and it was gone. Sims had a felony record and wasn’t supposed to have a gun and of course hadn't reported it stolen. He seems to have known he was going to need a gun when he arrived at his home on Chicken Ridge with his three tough customers from LA. When he couldn't find his piece, Sims prudently went down the hill for breakfast.
This is where the nettlesome Joshua Seto rears his cocky blond head to contradict Troy Sims. Seto, visiting his mother in Covelo, and well after the exciting events on Chicken Ridge, had been picked up on a warrant from The Dalles. During his sojourn at the Mendocino County Jail on Low Gap Road in Ukiah, Seto got word that Blackwell and Jacobs, the two LA guys charged with shooting Mr. Long, were offering $10,000 for anyone who would testify on their behalf. A private investigator came to see Seto at the jail and soon Seto was raising his right hand and swearing before God that he’d seen Troy Sims with a gun.
Seto’s cocky manner did not inspire confidence in his testimony. Judge Richard Henderson, was clearly skeptical of Seto's value as a defense witness.
It was unclear whether Seto was still in Ukiah or had been sent back to The Dalles, but the circumstances surrounding his arrest became clear last week when his mother, Sandra Chaplain, was in court on incidental charges.
When the cops came to get Seto at his mother’s doublewide near Chicken Ridge, they found her indoor grow. Her lawyer, retired Naval officer Al Kubanis, didn’t think the cops had any right to search his client’s house just because the fugitive son was there. Kubanis argued that the charges against Seto's mom should be tossed.
Mr. Kubanis is a well-known local Republican and former DA candidate from the 90s. In his natty tweeds and shined loafers, Kubanis looks squared away in the military sense. He warned Judge Ron Brown that this case was “right on the penumbra,” and if his motion was denied “the decision will be reversed in a few months and we’ll be right back here.”
Judge Brown, perhaps puzzled by Kubanis's arcane reference to moon shadows but fully understanding the threat to His Honor reversed, reversals not being infrequent in cases involving Brown, regarded this prediction with outward calm, but his neck stiffened perceptibly.
Kubanis was undaunted by the judge’s latent anger.
Kubanis said, “My client was living in Covelo last December 3rd and her son was visiting over the Thanksgiving holidays. He was on probation, resulting from a conviction for cultivation of marijuana. Then his probation officer in Oregon contacted the Mendocino County Sheriff’s office and says there’s an arrest warrant for the son. The warrant is verified as being from Dallas [sic], Oregon. And the warrant says he’s subject to search and seizure conditions, for both his person and his residence.”
Kubanis was marching back and forth like he was on the bridge of a battleship. His face was florid, his voice large, his gestures emphatic.
“They go to my client’s residence,” Kubanis continued. “They see him seated through the window — he gets up and goes out of view, then comes back and sits down. Actually they used a more descriptive term. They said he ‘ran’ back into the house where they couldn’t see him, then came back to the kitchen table. But your honor, they go into the residence on the pure speculation of a weapon. The probation officer says he could be armed and dangerous, but they have not asked for the particulars of the rape.”
Judge Brown said, “The way I see it is you’ve got these officers on patrol and they’ve got this warrant based on a violent felony, and they’ve been advised he could be armed and dangerous.
“Be that as it may,” Kubanis continued, “the law requires the circumstances to be based on facts. They speculate about this and they speculate about that.”
The erudite defense attorney cited his authorities, specifically the famous Bowie case, wherein a famed armed robber named Bowie beat a similar rap.
Kubanis said, “The officers found a red suit like the one Bowie wore in the robbery.” Everybody but me seemed to know the significance of the red suit, but if the crooks all wore bright colors law enforcement's job would be greatly simplified. “And then there’s Callis v Supreme Court, down in San Diego County, where officers go into the residence, see two guys walk out and then go in and make the sweep. Kubanis mentioned Reeves, and concluded: “You can’t go in if you arrest the guy outside.” He paused significantly and added a footnote to his penumbra prediction. “I think it’s an 80 to 20 chance if the court doesn’t suppress this evidence we’ll be back here in a couple of months.”
The judge calmly said, “We have a violent crime, a rape; a verified warrant, an indication the man was armed and dangerous. The officers go to the house. They see him jump up and run into the interior of the house. Then as they reach the door, he comes back to the kitchen table and sits down. They believe the defendant sees the cops and runs to hide the weapon or other evidence.”
“They can believe whatever they want,” Kubanis shouted. “But there’s no evidence to support it! Sure, if he’s inside they can go in and arrest him. But they arrested him outside.”
Judge Brown went to his authorities. He said, “I’m looking at this search and seizure book. There’s no bright line rule as to whether they can go in and search. Once they had him outside, he says, there was nobody else, no weapons… but that initial observation when they see him run to the interior and come back—”
“That may not be a precise reading of the law,” Kubanis said , implying that Brown’s reading skills were deficient. “If we could put this over until the court has had time to read my points and authorities…”
“I haven’t ruled yet,” Brown observed, looking over his reading glasses at Kubanis.
“Yes,” Kubanis laughed mildly, his ruddy face flushing brighter. “But, well, you’re kinda leaning one way, your honor.”
Brown said, “He was on probation; wouldn’t they have a right to search the area he had access to? He’d been there a couple of weeks, wasn’t he? Though it was his mother’s residence…”
Deputy DA McConnell, who had been quiet until now came to life, “It was under his control, and he was there.”
The judge said, “I tend to agree. They could search areas they had in common, but I understand this trailer was divided off with curtains. How does the officer know which areas are in common and which are otherwise? He tears down the curtains to find the marijuana. This is Deputy Hendry’s statement, according to the transcript… Let’s say they had a nexus to search these common areas, wouldn’t they have to identify which areas were common?”
McConnell said, “Your honor, in some degree he’s in control of that whole place. The officers had a right to make a protective search, he was on a searchable probation, said to be armed and dangerous. It was reasonable to search the house, and in the process the marijuana was found.”
Judge Brown consulted his book. He said, “There seems to be a procedure in place, allowing defense to challenge the ruling. But I’m simply not convinced whether a reasonable inference can be drawn—”
Kubanis gave the judge a final broadside:
“The court sits today to see if the magistrate has erred,” he proclaimed referring to the judge who presided over the preliminary hearing. “The whole purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to keep the government out of our houses,” Kubanis concluded.
“I think it’s all a very fine thing,” prosecutor McConnell said, “to argue the way counsel is arguing, however…” His tone dwindled into inconclusiveness as the judge mused tentatively.
“I did just get this case,” Brown admitted. “And I haven’t had a chance to read all the submissions by all the parties. I’ll take it under advisement, and reset the pre-trial for May 11th at 8:30.”
As a sub-plot to the on-going saga of the Chicken Ridge shoot-out, Mr. Seto's credibility seems about as close to zero as a dwarf's penumbra.