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The Bicycle Thief

Last week a bicycle thief was sentenced to four years in prison, a deterrent, at last, at long last, to the decades-long impunity bicycles thieves have enjoyed in Ukiah, the stolen bicycle capital of the world. Only a few weeks ago some young pup of a bike thief loitering by my driveway bragged to the house-cleaning lady about how many bikes he’d stolen — she cut him short and chased him off with a broom. But the impudence of the kid was appalling and, as reported here earlier, all the thieves who have been caught red-handed stealing the Ukiah Police Department’s “bait bike” have been let off by the judges, the charges reduced to the point they don’t even get the proverbial hand-slap — scot-free, basically. That’s the message the courts are sending for people who steal bikes.


So it was somewhat refreshing to see Michael Jones get sent to prison for stealing a very nice bicycle from a crippled old veteran at the senior housing on Kings Court. Somewhat refreshing yes, and I was just getting ready to shout hallelujah when the judge suspended execution of the four-year sentence and put the Mr. Jones on probation instead.

Michael Jones’s case didn’t go to prelim, so there’s a lot about it that never came to light, but we know from statements made by the DA during an early bail reduction/request for being released on his own recognizance, which was denied, that he was accused of, and later pled to, stealing a nice bicycle donated to the victim, Doug Coulter, a handicapped war veteran who lived at senior housing, and that although Mr. Coulter got the bike back it had been, in Mr. Coulter’s words, “destroyed,” with parts broken or missing and the appearance ruined by attempts to change the looks and disguise it.

Jones’s lawyer, Daniel Moss, a public defender, had made a deal with the prosecutor, Tomas Geddes, that, given Jones’s lengthy criminal record, he would do 180 days in jail and that, since Jones’s criminality had been driven by his drug and alcohol abuses, he would be given credit for time served if he could get into a residential treatment facility, as soon as a bed came available.

“The People strongly oppose any early release from custody,” Mr. Geddes said. “Mr. Jones has been on a crime spree, and there’s a serious strike offense on his record, threatening a witness.”

“That’s not what the Defense is asking for,” Judge Keith Faulder explained. “He has been approved but not accepted into Drug Court. Ms. Norman, maybe you can help here. Is it helpful if they [candidates for Drug Court] complete a program before being accepted into Drug Court?”

“They are almost always sent to an in-patient rehab program first so that they are clean and sober when they start,” Ms. Norman answered.

“I want the defendant to go straight into a program as soon as he’s released from custody, but as I understand it some people don’t need residential treatments because their addictions are not as severe.”

Geddes said, “As a matter of course the majority of Drug Court candidates had to go to residential treatment.

“I want Mr. Jones to go into treatment sooner rather than later and the Drug Court program, if that’s the earliest, then that’s what I would approve.”

Moss said, “There is no Drug Court program. It doesn’t exist. But everyone has to go to an in-patient program before they can get in to Drug Court, but the Drug Court doesn’t have its own program. The best way to phrase it is that he’s releasable as soon as there’s a bed available in a suitable program.”

“Alright, Mr. Moss, make up the order to that effect and I’ll sign it.”

Geddes said, “The order should further state that he’s waving credit for time served.”

“Can you submit an order to that effect, Mr. Moss?”

“Yes, that all credits he gets go to the misdemeanor charges and the felony will be hanging over his head during the 36 months of probation.”

“Now, then,” Faulder said, “I have to find unusual circumstances in order to suspend the execution of sentence and grand the probation. Can you help me there, Mr. Moss?”

“Humm. I think there’s unusual circumstances with the long-standing use of addictive substances. These crimes were fueled by his addiction and the steps taken, such as his being found suitable for Drug Court, and he’s someone I think who can benefit from it.”

Geddes said, “My victim wants to make a statement.”

Doug Coulter, and older gent with a heavy beard and USMC hat and T-shirt limped forward and said he was tired of coming to court over and over again and nothing ever happening. He said the bike, though he did get it back, was basically destroyed, after Mr. Jones spent a couple of hours trying to alter its appearance so he wouldn’t get caught with it. “I’d like some kind of recompense, your honor.”

“There’ll be a restitution hearing later, Mr. Coulter, and I’ll suspend the fines and fees I can so that what little money the defendant has can go to restitution.”

Jones was sentenced to four years and four months in the state prison, with execution of sentence suspended; the unusual circumstances were found for the grant of three years probation, restitution in the amount of $370 was ordered for Tracy Pitman; restitution for Doug Coulter was reserved pending the hearing; the sentencing report fee was reduced from $712 to $300; stay-away orders were put in place for Pitman and Coulter; the court fines and fees were converted to community service and a theft awareness program was ordered, whatever that is, but the name somehow suggests that maybe the defendant wasn’t aware he was a thief, and that — and this is entirely plausible from what I’ve seen of bike thieves in Ukiah — that Jones was under the impression that it was perfectly okay to take other people’s bicycles. 

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