Ukiah’s Seamy Side
by Bruce McEwen, March 29, 2017
The Kelisha Alvarez prelim failed so miserably last week that the charges were dismissed. Ms. Alvarez had been charged with a felony robbery on the streets of Ukiah, but the victim of the alleged robbery, one Aleshia Tuttle, failed to show up to testify against Miss Alvarez, Ukiah’s renowned street person.
Deputy DA Beth Norman told judge John Behnke she had no recourse but to dismiss the charges against Kelisha for lack of evidence. Norman said the DA’s office would re-file after serving another subpoena on Ms. Tuttle.
“Hopefully when she [Tuttle] is a little more coherent,” Ms. Norman added.
Last March, in an unprecedented deal, Alvarez had been banished from Mendocino County to her mother in Oklahoma as part of a plea agreement to “globally resolve” a long list of offenses committed locally — many having to do with causing disturbances at Ukiah Valley Medical Center where Kelisha, and her boyfriend Scotty Willis, often spent their leisure time enjoying the comforts of the waiting room. After they were examined for their feigned maladies, at county expense, and cleared to go, they would often then have to be physically ejected from the building, and this often resulted in injury — and always resulted in insult — to the Emergency Room staff.
(It should be noted, that Kelisha packs nearly 300 firm pounds on her just over five foot frame, but is very strong and quite quick on her feet, much like an NFL lineman or Sumo wrestler.)
After multiple grants of probation, and multiple violations of probation, it occurred to the courts that the system wasn’t working with someone as shrewd and comprehensively difficult as Kelisha. She had learned to mimic Scotty’s epileptic fits, and often when she came to court she would act out one of these fits at the time of sentencing, and the EMTs would have to pack her from the dock on a gurney and then to the hospital via ambulance to get cleared again, then re-arrested, then back to court for another round of fake seizures and ambulance rides.
Kelisha and Scotty are professionally homeless. They have lived on the streets of Ukiah for many years and know all the ropes. They were estimated by the late defense attorney Bert Schlosser to be the most voracious consumers of the county’s generous social services largess.
They are an exemplary case in local homelessness. Scotty, with his legitimate epilepsy, would of course be eligible for SSI, and should therefore have rent money — because Scotty and Kelisha are not alcoholics or drug addicts like so many homeless people.
So why are they homeless?
Because, in all the talk about homelessness, there’s one thing that it is absolutely taboo to mention and that is the extortionate cost of local rentals.
Keep in mind that wonderful crusader against the ravages homelessness causes to the local environment, Supervisor John McCowen, the lucky fellow who inherited a passel of rentals around town, and as a long-standing landlord, he must have also signed on to the municipal ban on “camping” (that is, sleeping in one’s car or in some hiding place). For surely if it were not against the law to sleep outside, all these over-priced rentals and fleabag motels would go out of business for lack of customers. As it is, places like the Sunrise Motel — where you have to beg for a butt-roll of toilet paper and a worn-out sliver of soap for $60 a night, the cheapest in town— and Motel 6 only get dope dealers and prostitutes as regulars; out-of-towners go there to cut deals with both.
Maybe the terminology is wrong: Maybe we should be saying houselessness. There are lots of people living on the streets and in their cars who have money for rent — if rents were reasonable. But in Ukiah, it would take every cent of a monthly SSI check to rent even a cramped little studio apartment in the seediest precincts of Laws Avenue — nothing whatsoever left over for living expenses. And if you live in some place nice, like Anderson Valley, forget about it. There’s no way to pay unless you grow dope, and lots of it. Or live five to a room.
Kelisha is not stupid. Nor is she lazy. She is what’s called “unemployable.” Sure, she could get some low-paying drudgery out of the public view, but she’d never be hired to wait tables or tend bar — which means she’s ineligible for the only jobs that pay decently (enough for Ukiah rents), through tips. Her unfortunate appearance and weight shuts her out of conventional life. She has learned the hard way that anatomy is destiny, and this knowledge has soured her disposition. So she has taken Dean Swift’s advice on how to deal with a censorious world — give it back with dividends!
Yes, and she rightly resents the condescension she gets, too. So it doesn’t do any good to say, “Well, if she wasn’t so ornery, maybe she could get a job waiting tables at Patrona, where Supervisor McCowen, a regular, would leave a nice tip and take her on one of his spring cleaning excursions to tidy up homeless camps along Gibson Creek.”
In the meantime, Kelisha will be residing at the jail, along with a great many other people the county doesn’t know quite what to do with. Many of whom are not criminals exactly, but they just don’t fit in, somehow, with the “More Than Just A Pretty Place” conceit of the Main Street Association’s vision of what Ukiah is — or should be.
Another prelim that failed to go through was one involving the Coke Machine Banditos, Frank Freitas and Wayne Mork.
These guys decided at the last instant to pleas out to reduced charges. The charges were reduced when a guy with the same M.O. was busted March 16th raiding a Coke machine on North State Street — while Mork was in jail and Freitas was in the hospital. This untimely coincidence blew a hole in the prosecutor’s theory that several more unsolved thefts from Coke machines around town were the work of the same team of master criminals, Freitas and Mork. Without the testimony of the prelim it was hard to determine how they did it, but it somehow involved the use of a special tool to jimmy open the cash box on vending machines belonging to the owners of the Ukiah branch of a chain-business called Canteen.
From December 26th at the Travel Lodge on North State, until January 10th at Lucky’s Market in the Pear Tree Center, the gang hit an undisclosed number of Canteen’s Coke machines, doing more than $400 damage to each machine. Anything over $400 in damages qualifies as felony vandalism. But since the copycat Jeffery Ashline got caught robbing a Canteen machine on March 16th, the prosecution, Deputy DA Josh Rosenfled, only had to prove one instance each for Mork and Freitas. In return the DA will drop the charges on five remaining counts of burglary and vandalism for lack of evidence resulting from Ashline’s copycat job on the machines.
Mork and Freitas were both on probation, so this added time to the sentences they would receive. Freitas was concerned because his doctor had just handed down another sentence — a death sentence. Unless he could get a liver transplant (which seemed unlikely for a guy reduced to robbing Coke machines for quarters, nickels, dimes) — in the next two to three years he would pass on to whatever comes after a life of petty crime and court appearances. Frank Freitas’s sister had offered him a place to stay in Oregon so he wanted to serve his probation in that state; but, he said, he had the proverbial “bucket list” as yet unfulfilled, telling Judge John Behnke, as he limped painfully to the front of the bench in carpet slippers, that he’d always wanted to travel, see the world, do things like that, and now he was on a tight schedule to eternity.
“I can’t really do any of that if I’m on three years of probation, your honor,” Freitas complained bitterly. “As I’ve only got a little over two years left.”
“Very well, Mr. Freitas. According to the arrangement worked out with the lawyers you will be able to decide at the time of sentencing whether you want to take advantage of the Interstate compact and go to your sister’s house in Oregon, or just serve the low-term of 16 months in custody and get it over with, then be on your way.”
Judging by the difficulty Freitas had in getting back to his seat, it seemed unlikely he’d be doing much globetrotting in the next three years even if he had abundant financial reserves and minimal legal problems. But hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?
Wayne Mork wasn’t going to get off so lightly. As the purported mastermind of the coke machine heists, he would get three years — a split sentence — with 16 months in custody and 20 months on supervised release. The violation of probation would run concurrently. Judgment and sentencing for both was set for April 19th at 9 am.
The Bear Lincoln prelim, now in the motions and ruling stage, was put over again; this time because co-defendant Sonia Lincoln couldn’t find a ride to the courthouse from Covelo. It was rescheduled for Tuesday at 2:00 pm, long after deadline for this week’s paper. Lincoln is represented by Bryan Gregory of Sausalito.
I did catch the tail end of a prelim on a fairly simple case that got out of hand. It went from a misdemeanor disturbing the peace to felony threat against a police officer because of “a nice enough guy when he’s sober” telling a cop, “I know where you live and I’ll put a bullet in your head,” when he was “behaving like a drunken asshole.”
The cop was Officer Michael Bennett of the Willits PD. The nice enough of a guy when sober was Anthony Frank Lopes. Deputy DA Rosenfeld wanted Lopes held to answer on the charge (PC 69) and Judge Ann Moorman was in agreement. Lopes’ lawyer, Carly Dolan of the Office of the Public Defender, said that her client was “very drunk in the back of the patrol car, running his mouth, and this shouldn’t be a felony. We’d like to have it reduced to a misdemeanor, a 17b. He has no prior convictions, but a long history of alcohol related problems.”
Judge Moorman said, “I just don’t see it. If he wants a 17b. he’ll have to earn it, by addressing his drinking. I’m not gonna just give it to him.”
Ms. Dolan then asked for Mr. Lopes’ release on his own recognizance (OR). She said his father was in court, and that he would have a place to go, and his father would get him to court on time; also, he would start going to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Mr. Rosenfeld said, “He was at that very residence when the call of a disturbance came in — so we [the People] are opposed to release on OR.”
Moorman said, “AA is not gonna cut it, Mr. Lopes.” She turned to Dolan and said, “If I let him out I’ll be sending a message that this is a 30-day crime and it’s not!” The judge turned back to Lopes: “And AA is not gonna cut it! This requires something more of you than that.”
Afterwards, out in the hall, Ms. Dolan was enduring a tongue lashing by her client’s father, as if it was her doing that his son was still in jail, charged with a felony. Dolan was patiently trying to explain that she didn’t say he was a drunken asshole — that she said he was acting like one and that’s what the problem was.
Public Defenders often get this kind of ingratitude from people who can’t grasp that they get themselves in trouble, and it’s more than the job is worth in my humble opinion. When Dolan saw me watching the abuse she was taking from the drunk’s father, she came over and asked me not to print it — typical of local victimhood mentality: don’t let it out that I was involved in anything unseemly, even if I was not the party who instigated it; we all have to keep up appearances that everything’s nice and pleasant or we lose our jobs. It was easy to sympathize with the frustrated father. He only wanted to help his son, as if considering his son a victim is helping the son decode reality.
Here’s the secret: I never had a father to bail me out (he got killed when I was two). Nobody in my family — or among my friends — would ever lift a finger or spend a dime to help me out. When you’re completely on your own, and there’s no way out if you get drunk and cause a disturbance, you’d be surprised at how civil and pleasant you can be — even when drunk! And the judge was right: AA just doesn’t cut it, especially when Dad is waiting to take you back and let bygones be forgotten. My stepfather always helped his own sons out of their drinking problems (not me) and to this day the poor little bastards spend half their time in jail and the other half in AA.