Probationers On Parade
by Bruce McEwen, March 22, 2017
Mr. Isaiah Bennett requested a hearing to determine if he’d violated his probation. This wasn’t the first time he’d violated it, and Judge Ann Moorman was tired of him appearing before her as if he didn’t know why he was there. With this guy, no amount of proverbial carrots dangled before him, no amount of waving the proverbial stick menacingly at his behind, could induce Bennett to report to probation when ordered to. So the formality of the Violation of Probation hearing went forward. Bennett claimed no, not innocence, but he’d just like another break, your honor.
Deputy DA Barry Shapiro called Deputy Probation Officer Marcella Runnings, formerly of Fort Bragg, currently of the Ukiah Probation Office. She has the unenviable job of handling mental health clients (PC/Protective Custody approved designation) and sex offenders on probation. She said Mr. Bennett had been assigned to her in November of 2016 as a felony probationer, and that he was obliged to report on his whereabouts, regularly.
DDA Shapiro: “Was he in custody recently?”
DPO Runnings: “Yes.”
Shapiro: “Do you know his release date?”
Runnings: “February 11th of this year.”
Shapiro: “Did he report his whereabouts after he was released?”
Runnings: “No, he did not.”
Shapiro: “Is it a condition of his probation that he fill out a monthly report form and submit it to your office?”
Runnings: “Yes it is.”
Shapiro: “Did he do so?”
Shapiro: “Nothing further.”
Mr. Dewan of the Office of the Public Defender was asked if he wanted to cross-examine the witness. Like a man who had been handed a fizzing stick of dynamite, Dewan thought fast and said, “Uh… sure!”
Judge Moorman: “Go ahead.”
Dewan: “You know Mr. Bennett on paper, only?”
Runnings: “That’s right, but not in person.”
Dewan: “When he was released, did you mail him a form to send in?”
Dewan: “Did anyone?”
Runnngs: “To my knowledge, no.”
Dewan: “Did anyone call him?”
Runnings: “No, I didn’t have his phone number.”
Dewan: “Nothing further.”
Moorman: “Does either side wish to argue? [negative silence] Okay. What about you Mr. King, I’m going to swear you in. Raise your right hand…”
Probation Supervisor Timothy King: “He [Isaiah Bennett] was ordered to contact probation as soon as he was released. All he had to do was walk across the street. He was ordered to do so by the court.”
Dewan: “On what date was Mr. Bennett last in court?”
King: “I don’t know without looking in the file.”
Dewan: “Were you present in court when the directive was given to Mr. Bennett?”
King: “I was.”
Dewan: “Do you remember who the judge was?”
King: “Yes, it was Judge Nadel.”
Dewan: “Nothing further.”
Moorman: “Based on the testimony of the two probation officers I’m gonna find Mr. Bennett in violation of his probation. Mr. Dewan, what are you asking me to do?”
Dewan: “Mr. Bennett wants less than the required 90 days for the VOP [violation of probation], your honor.”
Moorman: “He’s very close to losing probation altogether. And he’s close to running out of time; he’s about timed out.”
This is not a time-out where you go stand in the corner. It means you’ve used up your year of jail time, and by law you must leave the childish things behind before a year is up, put them away, and grow up. What it means is after a year of thumbing your nose at probation, you go to prison.
Moorman: “Mr. Bennett, on every single petition to revoke your probation, you have not reported to probation, so I’m not buying it; I’m just not buying it.”
The judge thumbed through the stack of petitions to revoke the probation, wagging her head dismally.
Moorman: “Now, you can either report to probation or I’ll send you to prison. You have been treated with leniency by both myself and Judge Behnke and that hasn’t helped. You wanna run the schedule to fit your own schedule and that’s not the way it works. So I don’t know why we should put him back on probation, Mr. Dewan. And there’s not that many days left of the 365…”
King: “He’s got 323 actual days he’s served.”
Moorman: “Okay, you think about it Mr. Bennett, and we’ll come back for sentencing on March 26th at 9:00.”
* * *
Pete Kavanaugh was picked up with a bag of heroin and a syringe, a violation of his probation, and taken to jail. He was in a program to get off the stuff, but he had a relapse caused by a quarrel with his spouse, he told Judge Ann Moorman. The flesh is weak, the mind weaker. He was visibly contrite, hung his head and admitted he knew it was the wrong thing to do…
Does this sound like news?
No, and it’s not, either.
Or is it?
We had a lawyer’s DUI trial last week (ending in a technical mistrial), and everything pales to trite pickings after a sensation like that – it can’t be helped – but this is the reality of most of what takes place in the courthouse. The workaday life of a judge, it seems to this observer, is quite mundane, and often little more than drug counseling. It may seem like a hack’s errand to report these trivial crimes, but often as not there’s something more to the mundane than meets the eye. Fact is, we live in a whole new reality than the one we’ve been accustomed to since the Reagan Years, the War On Drugs, Just Say No, and the dictates of the Moral Majority (which may be experiencing a rebirth under Trump’s retro new attorney General Jeff Sessions), all the legislated morality that swelled the prison system into the largest industry in the country and elevated the lowly Barney Fife jailer from a turnkey functionary (ushering the town drunk in and out of the drunk tank) into a strip-search proctologist, with a decent salary, health and dental insurance, pension plan, and a paid vacation – all amenities of a long-lost union-era norm from the 1950s and 60s.
Now all the drunks and addicts are out on the streets – along with the crazies, who were turned out when the state hospitals for the “certifiable” were shut down – and the only good jobs with bennies are for the newly formed brigades of probation officers, and other fuctionaries of crumbling empire. This is the New Reality, thanks to Realignment, and the recently passed legal reform measures known as Propositions 47 & 57.
So when we scan the Catch of the Day we find it almost exclusively contains probationers who have “violated” (read back-slid) into their old habits of getting stoned or loaded, or drunk or smashed, or high or self-medicated, or whatever pejorative suits your sense of superiority to the Great Unwashed who can’t get through life without a little help from their unsanctioned pharmaceutical friends. Unlike many County employees with decent health plans who can get their own drugs legally with a doctor’s prescription for any number of pharmaceuticals from uppers to downers, and what have you.
“Your honor,” Mr. Kavanaugh said, “I didn’t even get a chance to get high before they had me. I was just walking home with it all happy for a change and”—
Mr. Kavanaugh’s lament was so heartfelt and poignant, his disappointment so visible on his face that the judge couldn’t suppress a rueful smile in time, and the rest of the courtroom saw it and snickered at this poor devil’s plight as merrily as children watching a paraplegic trying to crawl into a wheelchair that keeps rolling away.
Deputy DA Elizabeth Norman (whose real value to the community — prosecuting murderers and domestic assaults — has been reduced to playing the governessy role of Nanny State Inquisitor, NSI), told the court that Mr. Kavanaugh knew he wasn’t supposed to have any controlled substances in his possession, and she wanted him to get the full 180 days in jail punishment that probation routinely recommends for backsliders.
Kavanaugh said he’d just got himself a job and was finally able to provide for his family and if he went to jail for three months, he’d be sure to lose it.
Judge Moorman said she wasn’t going to do that. Instead, she told Kavanaugh to get back on his program and keep trying to stay “clean” (a slur invented by drug counselors to keep the Great Unwashed — who don’t get their “clean” drugs from Big Pharma — in their place).
* * *
Then there was Violet McAlister, a regular in the violation of probation dock, who knew Judge Moorman was an old softie at heart, and so McAlister broke down and cried that if she too could get out and be given another chance, why then she would stay clean and sober, honest she really would, and her poor little daughter needed her ever so badly, please, your honor, et cetera…
NSI Norman wondered what earthly good Ms. McAlister was to her daughter if she was high all the time.
Ms. McAlister had tested dirty – unlike Kavanaugh who hadn’t had a chance to foul his urine specimen with drugs – and so Moorman pretended to be unmoved by the tears and whimpers, and sent McAlister back to jail for a few more weeks in the sober living environment of the jail.
* * *
Lastly, we had Ted Demits, meth addict, picked up for a dirty urine test. Hell, he even admitted it to his probation officer, and off to jail he went. He told the judge he was trying, but it was a hard habit to break (and keep in mind that the only time a tweaker will admit to having a “habit” is when faced with jail time). He was willing to keep trying.
Again, NSI Norman wanted the 180 days, and she cited the long history of Mr. Demits’ backsliding, suggesting he was manipulating the system, thumbing his nose at the court.
Anthony Adams of the Office of the Public Defender called foul on Norman’s characterization of his client as a manipulative nose-thumber. He said that just when there was beginning to be some new dawning of understanding coming out of the County Probation Office – some enlightenment that the standard 180 days wasn’t working – here was prosecution beating the same old drum (the Rogue’s March, presumably).
Judge Moorman agreed with defense, and Demits was given credit for time served, encouraged to keep trying to get off the meth, and restored to probation.
Has there been a change in policy at Probation?
We don’t know. Probation is as secretive about their doings as the CIA. But an undisclosed source (whistleblowers, as we know, will be either imprisoned or forced to flee into exile) has reported a sex scandal in the higher echelons of the department and new leadership has been put in place.
And that’s all the courthouse news fit to print this week.