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Mendocino County Today: September 28, 2012

Jondahl

TOM JONDAHL, retired Sheriff of Mendocino County, died on September 22, after a valiant battle against lung cancer over a period of nearly two years. Tom Jondahl was a man of integrity; a great fun-lover (and practical joker), but also a serious and conscientious man. He was a proud law enforcement professional for 32 years, serving as police chief in three California communities before being elected Sheriff of Mendocino County in 1974. After his retirement from Mendocino County in 1983, he traveled extensively in the US and also traveled to Korea, India, South Africa and Norway in recent years. He treasured his visits to South Africa and seeing the beauty of the animals in the African bush and he was thrilled to visit the town of Jondal, Norway from where the first Jondahls originated, and where some family members remain. Tom lived in Sandpoint, Idaho for most of the past 15 years. He and his wife of five years, Joanie, relocated to Green Valley, Arizona recently, giving up the pristine beauty of northern Idaho, but gaining the sunshine and relaxed living of Arizona. Tom Jondahl is survived by Joanie, who was courageously by his side during his final years. He was preceded in death by his late wife of 46 years, Becky. He leaves behind daughter Terri Jondahl and her husband Richard Drye, of Buford, Georgia; daughter Tammi Weselsky and her husband Bruce Weselsky of Ukiah; son Thomas Edward Jondahl and his wife Sandra, of Austin, Texas; stepdaughter, Sherri Gravier and her husband Bruce of Laytonville; grandchildren, Alisa Weselsky Arrington and her husband Bryan Arrington of Ukiah (and their two children Ty Bruce and Cadence Rebecca); Thomas Blake Jondahl of Austin, Texas and step grandchild Kevin Gravier and his wife Amanda, along with sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews around the country. Tom Jondahl was a member of the Ukiah Elks Lodge for 30 years. Services will be held at Eversole Mortuary at 1pm on Friday, October 5, immediately followed by a Celebration of Life at the Elks Lodge. Hospice played a very valuable role in Tom's final days and the family invites those interested to consider supporting their local hospice in Tom's memory. Flowers are certainly welcomed at the service and the celebration for those so inclined. A memorial website has been established on www.memorialwebsites.legacy.com/tomjondahl and the family would love to have folks share their stories about Tom on this site so that they can treasure the memories forever. Arrangements are under the direction of the Eversole Mortuary.

RICHARD SALZMAN has won his lawsuit against the City of Arcata for its Targeted Panhandling Ordinance. The Superior Court agreed with Salzman that most of the City of Arcata's targeted panhandling ordinance was unconstitutional under the US and California Constitutions and that the City of Arcata was wrong to conclude that the simple act of holding up a sign can qualify as aggressive. “I think it's important for people to consider that if you believe in the protection of free speech and in defending our Bill of Rights, then you need to be willing to defend the rights of people you don't agree with, or find annoying. Or, in the case of the ACLU defending the Nazis' right to march in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois, even people you find repulsive.” said Salzman. Both this lawsuit and one brought by Janelle Egger against Humboldt County for its ordinance restricting protests on Courthouse property are supported in part by the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund (HCLDF), of which Salzman is a member. Salzman went on to say, “I was pleased with the ruling on September 24th in our favor by the Superior Court of California. The Judicial branch has corrected the overreach of this legislation by a City Council when the court found it to be an infringement on the Constitutional Rights of free speech. I along with the other members of the HCLDF intend to stay vigil in our ongoing defense of the Constitution of The United States. If you wish to support our efforts, please go to HCLDF.org”

Rogers in his Westport pot garden

THE ODD CONVICTION OF KENNY ROGERS, now 54, of Westport now moves to federal levels of appeal after the California Supreme Court last week upheld the 2010 verdict that Rogers had hired a hit man to try to murder Alan Simon, 53, a political foe on the Westport Water Board.

IN MARCH of 2010, Rogers, former chairman of the Mendocino County Republican Central Committee, was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, i.e., the hiring of a man to kill Simon. Simon had replaced Rogers on the water board in an August 2004 recall election aimed at Rogers by Simon. After defeating Rogers in the recall, Simon also voted to fire Rogers as Westport's assistant fire chief.

RICHARD PEACOCK a 54-year-old Sacramento man, and an employee of Rogers' auto detailing business in the Sacramento area, was convicted of shooting up Simon's door in 2005 during which Simon was hit by flying glass. No evidence was presented that Peacock was either paid by Rogers or encouraged by him to try to kill Simon. Peacock was packed off to state prison for attempted murder without a word about why he'd riddled Simon's front door with handgun fire. Rogers was not competently represented during a jury trial in Ukiah.

(We have reposted Tim Stelloh’s comprehensive coverage of Rogers’ trial and conviction for background at the end of this post.)

A HUMANE SOCIETY VOLUNTEER reports that “People are just dumping animals everywhere. A forest ranger told me there are over 300 cats in MacKerricher State Park alone. Many are friendly and many are not spayed/neutered. There are kittens everywhere. And our crazy Humane Society imports kittens from kill shelters outside our county.”

LETTER-OF-THE-DAY: “The NFL owners think fans are powerless to affect them — they've got their ticket sales and media money, so they blow off complaints about how they're dealing — or not dealing — with the real issue. Well, I say fans should boycott each and every sponsor/advertiser of every NFL broadcast game until this mess is ended. For a start, I'm making a list of every NFL broadcast sponsor. I'm letting the sponsors and anyone else know my view. Let the sponsors and their money do the talking for us.” — Amanda Metcalf, San Rafael (Ed note: The NFL referee lockout ended today, Thursday, September 27.)

A LOCAL MEDIA person received a note saying that the SF Giants, as an organization, was supporting Governor Brown's tax initiative, Prop 30. Disbelieving, and speculating that the writer must have heard Kruk and Keip or Jon and Flem mention it on a broadcast or telecast, the local media person called the Giants for confirmation. Mr. Baer, not Larry but another Baer, said, Yes indeedy. The Giants were for Prop 30 but no official announcement had been made.

THE MYSTERIES of trash disposal. Ukiah's garbage is the province of outside interests — Nevada and Santa Rosa — having agreed to a long-term deal ensuring that Ukiah's captive ratepayers will pay more than they should for trash disposal for many years to come. The Potter Valley guy should have gotten the work but didn't. And he isn't licensed to handle biosolids (lightly processed turd cubes, basically) either. The turd cubes will be hauled outtahere by one of the two outside disposal companies bidding for that contract. But the Potter Valley guy can legally handle as many as 25,000 “chicken mortalities” and a rotting whale, so why not biosolids?

A HEADLINE in a recent Ukiah Daily Journal asked, “What makes Ukiah special and worth visiting?” The Ukiah City Council, believe it or not, is paying Walnut Creek's “Z Group” (probably one guy and his answering service) $21,000 to answer back: “Nothing.” Well, almost nothing. An honest answer might be something like, “Ukiah itself is the usual unplanned, unsightly sprawl that any visitor with even a residual aesthetic would avoid. That said, the town does have a half-dozen places where it's possible to get edible food, and one can spend a productive 90 minutes or so at the Grace Hudson Museum. A few blocks of Ukiah's westside also still possess some of the grace and style once characteristic of the entire town, but so does Redding and Modesto. If you're into cheap drunks, there are several wine tasting rooms where you can get loaded on the freebies. Ukiah, like Willits, has long since been abandoned by the kind of wealthy civic leaders who once cared about what their towns looked like. America the beautiful, since the end of World War Two, has been systematically uglified by, and we're speaking both specifically and metaphorically here, Charlie Mannon of the Savings Bank of Mendocino. Ukiah is, however, more or less convenient for its cheap lodgings from which the visitor can venture out to Mendocino County's more encouraging vistas, most of them to the west but many to the northeast out of Covelo, not that the visitor should stray far from the pavement at any time of the year in any part of Mendocino County because of the aggressive territoriality of our independent agriculture industry.

FROM BARACK TO MITT, Corporations Run the Economy. By Ralph Nader

Here is an open letter that Barack Obama should write to Mitt Romney – pronto!

Dear Mr. Romney:

Not a day goes by without you blaming me for every slumping or stagnant economic indicator. Unemployment, increases in the number of food stamp recipients, government borrowing, and spending, home foreclosures, economic uncertainty for businesses, trade deficits – you name it. Only for droughts and hurricanes have you absolved me from responsibility.

I won’t go into what was inherited from your Republican party’s years in office. Deregulation, non-enforcement, non-disclosure by the financial industry, and subsidies and bailouts were that period’s hallmarks. But if I were to be held responsible for the state of the American economy, there would have to be a “command and control” economy enforced by the White House. You know full well that is not the case for several reasons.

First, our economy is dominated by corporations that make their own investment and hiring decisions. Two-thirds of the tens of millions of low-wage workers are employed by fifty large corporations, such as Walmart and McDonald’s. Thirty million American workers are laboring between the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and what the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation from 1968, should be now – about $10 per hour. These companies are successfully opposing in Congress any increase in the minimum wage to such catch up with 1968. By the way, you favored an inflation-adjusted minimum wage for years. During the Republican primaries earlier this year, you changed your long-standing position and now oppose raising the minimum wage.

Moreover, many companies are sitting on more than $2 trillion in inactive cash reserves. I have no power to get more of that capital invested, other than to appeal to their USA corporate patriotism. I could also use that patriotic appeal to urge them to increase their dividends to shareholders which would pump tens of billions of dollars into our consumer economy to encourage much-needed spending. Some of these successful companies like Google, EMC and others offer no dividends at all to their owners. Those exhortations are just exhortations. CEOs can do what they want.

Second, I am not the Federal Reserve. The Fed has kept interest rates very low which has limited the return on savings. Tens of millions of middle and lower income people could spend those interest payments on the necessities of life. But the Fed is its own ruler, and its catering to the capital investment community don’t seem to be boosting the economy.

Third, there is the Congress and the oppositional unanimity by Republicans to block any economic, job-producing measures due to their priority of using a recessionary economy to help you defeat me in November. Remember Senate Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell’s oft-repeated words about that being their number-one priority?

I tried to promote a major public works construction and repair program in Congress. The Republicans in the House blocked it under the aegis of Representatives John Boehner and Eric Cantor. This program would have produced well-paying jobs, with multiplier effects, that could not be exported to China. Our communities have trillions of dollars in deferred maintenance afflicting schools, clinics, public transit systems, highways, bridges, dams, and water and sewage systems. I cannot make this happen without the Republicans in Congress. You and your running mate, Paul Ryan, have not exactly urged them to take up this jobs initiative.

You have declared that “Washington has become an impediment to economic growth.” Why then don’t you be specific, name and support an end to the vast array of corporate subsidies, handouts, bailouts and inflated government contracts, especially from the defense industry? Imagine what your friends on Wall Street and in Houston would think of you after that burst of candor.

See how many jobs disappear with the end of what conservatives call crony capitalism, the end of the huge, historic outpourings of government research and development monies that substantially built and help maintain innovations in the aerospace, biotech, pharmaceutical, computer, telecommunications and containerization industries – to name a few. And if you think taxpayer investment in public works all over the country is an “impediment to economic growth,” say so forthrightly, as you campaign battleground states.

I look forward to our first debate on October 3 in Denver and shall observe your struggle with consistency. While you’re at it, kindly bring your pre-2010 tax returns, so we can learn more about what you mean when you talk about your policy of tax cuts.

In solidarity for America,

Barack Obama, President

(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)

TRIMMERS & HARVESTERS! Oh, My! by Kym Kemp (Courtesy, LostCoastOutpost.com)

Marvel at Humboldt, a land that time and common sense forgot, a place where apparently some folk don’t mind inviting strangers into their homes to provide an illegal service involving garbage bags full of a high dollar product. Yep, every year at this time, growers start getting desperate for people to bring in the harvest and clip it up. As more pot is being grown now, the search for trimmers has only gotten more desperate than it was 20 years ago.

People from out of the area travel here hoping to be hired for those lucrative clipping jobs. But how can grower and trimmer hook up? Word of mouth and friends of friends are traditional connections. Some manicurists, like in the photo above, hang out on street corners hoping for someone to open a car door. (Their mothers would have heart attacks if they knew.) But, for the last few years, Craigslist has been providing a meeting place. Travelers and locals alike have started advertising their services as weed trimmers. (And, an occasional grower will provide notice of employment.)

Many of the workers are young and ready for adventure but others are just looking to make some extra bucks because like this “experienced clipper” says, “Christmas is just around the corner and i got a long list from the kids.”

People come from all over the world and the popular Craigslist helps them hook up with employers. An ad placed today notes, “We are french travellers in Cali. We are currently in Arcata for you know why we mean.
 We are good looking and easy going. Moreover, we have a tent. READY TO TRIM as long as you need ;-).”

Of course, people come from closer at hand. This ad brags that the “two experienced trimmers” shown below (yep, they posted their photo) are California locals.

Apparently privacy and legal issues are low on the list of concerns for many of the workers. Photos are practically common. The cheery photo below of a group of trimmers, “5 girls and a guy,” who are “…looking for extra work trimming over the season” accompanies an ad explaining, “We are a awesome group and looking for a great farm to spend the trimming season. The girls will cook play music and have a light brought to your farm that will shine to the stars. We will bring in alot of love and will work hard.” (Apparently, the guy will just come along for the ride.)

Sometimes the young workers look like they are offering more than trim work. Some advertise themselves as “easy on the eye.” A special sub-genre labels themselves “trim boys” or a similar name and some proffer photos that seem an unlikely choice to advertise their capabilities as farm workers and more like they are looking for lovers such as this young bare-chested fellow below.

Apparently the competition for these jobs can be fierce as the list of services that the ads offer along with trimming can be startling. The long hours of hunching over tables snipping herb can lead to aching backs and some of the trimmers proudly proclaim that they can help because they are “certified massage therapists.” Others know that extra hands need feeding and proclaim their cooking abilities as well as offer to clean house or provide help “making products.”

Now mind you, growers don’t have to settle for inexperienced trim hands. Most of the ads tout the workers’ previous experience, some offer references, and one father/son team even proclaims that the father has a “horticultural degree” and the son has “10 years experience with plants and all associated systems and applications.” In fact, they have experience “w/ many OG, all kush (bubba, master, hindu, blackberry cherry pie etc) and many sativa (cheese, sour d, headband, GC, etc.)”

Nor, apparently do growers have to pay the $150 to $250 per pound that is the going rate for manicurists hired through normal channels. Some trimmers offer to work for as little as $10 per hour. One is even willing to “work for trim.” The ad promises, “…Keep your bud AND your money…”

Yet, with this Craigslist cornucopia of workers overflowing into Humboldt, I still heard the rumor that one of SoHum’s grocery store managers was furious because a grower came into the store and hired three of his clerks on the spot…

–––––––

Both trimmers and growers need to remember the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department’s safety tips.

For trimmers:

• Travelers need to know who is employing them.

• Tell someone where they will be and who they will be with.

• Bring a cellphone though remember that not everywhere gets service.

• Let your employer know that you told a friend where you are.

For growers:

• DO NOT hire anyone that you do not know or trust.

• Hire locals.

• Ask for ID, take down phone numbers and permanent address information.

• Check references.

• Have some background on who you are hiring.

• Do not show, flash or have about large sums of money.

• Let employees know that other people know who they are.

(Courtesy: lostcoastoutpost.com.)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP ABALONE COOK-OFF. “Only three cook-sites left for the first-ever World Champion Abalone Cook-off competition, so register now!” says Carolyne Cathey, Executive Director of Mendocino Area Parks Association (MAPA). Abalone cooks are invited to compete in the 2012 MAPA World Championship Abalone Cook-Off, Saturday, October 6, 2012. Cooks may register at www.mendoparks.org or contact Carolyne at 707.272.5397. The World Champion Abalone Cook-Off winner will receive a handsome ceramic trophy. Even more, the three traditional Grand Prizes will still be awarded; the three winning booths may enjoy 8 days and 7 nights at a private villa in the Yucatan, with a $1000 check for traveling money. Judging tickets are going quickly, so for those you don’t want to cook but love to eat abalone, a judging ticket allows the buyer to taste the various abalone recipes and vote for their favorite.  “This is two events in one”, says Chris Anderson, Abalone Committee Chair. “The cook-off competition and a festival, and the festival is free to enter. Wine and beer tasting, live music by the Bayou Swamis, a silent auction, craft fair and raffle all located in the scenic Noyo Harbor setting at Fort Bragg, CA. For more information on being a competing cook, or for abalone tasting-judge tickets, please contact MAPA at www.mendoparks.org, mapa@mendoparks.org, or 707.937.4700.

 

Waterboarded: The Kenny Rogers Saga

Rogers Found Guilty

by Tim Stelloh

The village of Westport is the last outpost before Mendocino County’s northern coast disappears into a roadless swath of rugged shoreline and redwood-car­peted hills. It is spread across roughly one mile by one-half mile of coast, and has one store, two gas pumps and 47 registered voters. Retirees are West­port’s dominant demographic, and 15 miles of coiling coastal highway separate it from the closest town.

In this very small village, there is one political entity — the five-member Westport County Water District, which oversees the local volunteer fire department and provides sewage treatment and water to several dozen homes. In this very small district, there have been many fiery debates over the years between board members: Sheriff’s deputies were called to intervene at a meeting. Recalls have been organized. And in one now infamous case in 2005, Alan Simon, the board chairman at the time, was nearly killed in the doorway of his home by nine shots from a semi-automatic .22 Ruger pistol.

Shortly after the shooting, Kenneth “Kenny” Rogers, Simon’s water board rival, was arrested for soliciting Simon’s murder. At the time, Rogers was the chairman of the Mendocino County Republican Central Committee; he had also recently been fired from his post as Westport’s assistant fire chief and replaced in a recall by Simon as the water board’s chairman.

The district attorney’s case against Rogers mean­dered through the courts for years, with continuances and a near no-prison plea deal. But last week, after a two-and-a-half week trial at the Ukiah Superior Court, Rogers, a lanky 51 year old who never failed to greet jurors with a beaming smile and who seemed to own an endless supply of pastel short-sleeve button-ups, was convicted of conspiracy and attempted mur­der. The former charge carries a sentence of up to 25 to life; the latter carries a life sentence. Sentencing is set for August 14, and Rogers’ attorney, J. David Markham, says he’s planning an appeal.

As told by Tim Stoen, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, the story of Kenny Rogers was as salacious as they come — a story without par­allel outside the Emerald Triangle: It was a story of a vengeful, pot-growing Republican official who hired a hit man to murder a political enemy — and offered to pay for the deed with marijuana. It was a story of an ambitious politician with a lethal style of small-town politics who by day was one of the North Coast’s few proud conservatives and by night waded in a criminal cesspool.

Defense attorney Markham’s strategy was to offer up a more one-sided version of the defendant — a Kenny Rogers who was ambitious but law-abiding; a Kenny Rogers who was indeed furious about the loss of his jobs, but was reasonable and respectable, a man who filed lawsuits when he felt he’d been wronged. Markham described a man of values, a man who wouldn’t in a thousand years ask a friend who’d spent much of his life in prison to fire nine bullets into the front door of a political nemesis.

* * *

It was about 10:30 pm on the evening of June 17, 2005, when Alan Simon heard something at the front door of his gray, two-story home on Hillcrest Terrace, one of Westport’s few residential streets.

“I was getting ready for bed and brushing my teeth when someone loudly and aggressively started banging on the door, saying ‘Kathy — where’s Kathy?’” Simon, 53, recently testified, adding a low, guttural cadence to his impression of the voice coming from the other side of his door. “The hairs on the back of my neck went up. I knew something was wrong.”

Simon said he told the man that no Kathy lived there. Then he called the police. The man, Simon told the dispatcher, was a white man with a fu-manchu mustache wearing a baseball cap and a blue wind­breaker. “I opened the door and he wasn’t there, so I stepped on the threshold and saw a man leaning up against a white sports car with his arms crossed. I held up the phone and said ‘The police are on the way.’ He walked toward the yard and said, ‘Hey man, I don’t want any trouble,” Simon said. “Then his right arm came up. He had a gun and he fired it. I ran in, shut the door and hit the deck…My front door was exploding around me.”

Police would later find eight shell casings from a .22 around Simon’s house and nine bullet perforations in his front door. Simon had been grazed in the head and wrist; he was subsequently taken to the hospital. Police searched for the white convertible that night but found nothing. Stoen would later argue the shooter had hid out that night in Rogers’ 320-acre property outside Westport.

The following day, a CHP officer who was on duty around Laytonville — about 25 miles from Westport — spotted the white car driving east on Branscomb Road. The officer, Mark McNelly, flicked on his lights and pulled a U-turn; a minor chase followed. While in pursuit, McNelly said he saw the driver — a man from Citrus Heights named Richard Dean Pea­cock — throw a white plastic bag out of the passenger side window.

Inside the bag, police would later learn, was the .22 Ruger used to shoot up Simon’s house. Police would learn that Peacock, who would be convicted in 2006 of attempting to kill Simon and sentenced to 71 years in prison, knew Rogers.

Shortly after Peacock’s arrest, cops started asking Rogers questions. So Rogers — in a preemptive effort to clear the air — visited his buddy, then-sheriff Tony Craver, in Ukiah, who referred him to a detective.

In a videotaped interview from three days after the shooting, Rogers was the charismatic gladhander Stoen would later describe him as — even while detailing his loathing for Alan Simon. Rogers called Simon a “Hollywood guy,” part of the “new blood” in town who didn’t respect him. He called Simon a jerk. He called him arrogant. He called him an asshole. Rogers said he was an old body builder and that he’d love to punch Simon out.

Their beef, he said, could be traced back to poli­tics and the apparently deep cultural divide that per­meated his small coastal village: The fact of George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election and his own unflinching embrace of Republican politics — he told detective Andy Alvarado it was his “religion” — had made Rogers anathema to local liberals. He told the detec­tive that he and Simon had had “harsh words” on the local water board, and that he’d recently called Simon up and told him that if he didn’t get water to the dis­trict’s storage tanks, he’d “hang him — politically.” Simon would later testify that Rogers never used the word “politically” to end the sentence, so at the time, he took the call as a death threat and called the sher­iff’s office.

Now, a few words on the Westport water board.

Kenny Rogers was appointed to the village board soon after he moved his family from Sacramento to Westport in the late 1990s; he was appointed chair­man not long after. Other board members would soon accuse Rogers of running a good ol’ boy club — a sys­tem where he’d give favorable water rates to friends and where district money seemed to disappear (a grand jury investigation from 1999 found a number of problems with the district, but didn’t mention the above criticisms). At a meeting in 2004, Rogers and Keith Grier, the only black man in Westport at the time, got in an argument at a board meeting; Rogers accused Grier that night of injuring Rogers’ wife. Deputies were summoned and Grier was arrested — though Grier would later tell the DA’s office he’d been “falsely accused” by Rogers. (Stoen said nothing ever became of the charges.)

Nevertheless, the seeds of the 2005 recall had been planted.

An anti-Kenny Rogers coalition formed and decided to nominate Grier to take over as water board director. He declined, so Simon, then a recently retired film scout and relative newcomer to Westport, offered himself as the candidate.

Simon would later testify that once the recall papers had been filed by Velma Bowen, who’d also been a board member, Rogers began making house calls. He pleaded with the signatories to contact the county registrar and have their names removed. When Rogers visited Simon, and Simon refused, saying the recall was part of the democratic process, Rogers got furious.

In a strange courtroom exchange, Rogers’ lawyer asked Simon what happened next. “You want me to tell you what happened next?” Simon asked, visibly uncomfortable with the question. “Yes, that’s what I asked,” Markham replied. After several moments of silence, Simon responded. “[Rogers] said, ‘You want to have a nigger run this town? You want to have a woman — Velma Bowen — who’s sucked the cock of every man in this town’” run the water board? Simon said he then told Rogers to leave.

As Simon spoke, Rogers shook his head; but at the time, his attorney didn’t challenge Simon’s testimony. It wasn’t until the next day that Markham chalked up the exchange to an error on his part — he said he shouldn’t have asked the question — and asked Judge Ron Brown to strike the testimony, which the judge agreed to do on the grounds that it wasn’t relevant to the case. (Outside the courtroom, Markham declined to discuss the details of the exchange, except to say that Rogers never made the remarks about Bowen or Grier.)

On August 31, following Rogers’ alleged unsuccess­ful effort to quash the recall, 50 of Westport’s 68 reg­istered voters at the time cast ballots. Twenty-nine voted to recall Ken Rogers; 19 voted against. Twenty-eight voters elected Alan Simon.

Rogers had lost, but in a letter to the county regis­trar, he denied all the allegations of misconduct: He said he’d spent countless volunteer hours working for the district; he said he’d obtained grants for improvements and studies, overseen equipment main­tenance, handled complaints from dissatisfied cus­tomers and only spent funds approved by the board.

The following January, charging gross neglect, the board relieved Rogers from his assistant fire chief post. Rogers told the board the move was illegal — and that he’d see them in court. Soon after, feces was smeared on the door handle of the Westport fire­house and appeared on the front doors of the hotel Grier owned at the time. A note was posted outside the Westport store that referred to Simon as “Lord” and fearfully predicted a fascist takeover of the water district. It ended with a slur of particular insult to Simon, who is Jewish: Heil, Simon, the note said (though the note’s writer misspelled “heil”).

 

insert letter

 

None of these incidents would ever be connected to Rogers. But the bitter, small-town politics of Westport’s water district were about to get a good deal more bitter.

* * *

Six months later, in the sheriff’s interview room, Rogers complained to detective Alvarado about his illegal firing. And he told the detective that even though he couldn’t stand Simon, he was dealing with the water board fallout with a lawsuit that demanded he be reinstated (which eventually happened, though Rogers retired as soon as he got his job back).

Rogers explained to Alvarado how he’d met Pea­cock — along with Peacock’s little brother, Michael — years earlier in Sacramento through his auto shop, Once Again New. He described both brothers as con­victs with long criminal records and “bad cards” who he was afraid of, but whom he’d tried to help out. He said he’d gotten Richard a landscaping job in Sacra­mento, and that he’d seen him there not long before the shooting. He’d later tell police it was the other way around — that Peacock had driven out to the coast with a girlfriend to visit him. (Stoen, of course, would seize on this seeming about-face as evidence of Rogers’ guilt.) Rogers also told the detective that he’d hired Michael to keep people from illegally growing pot on a remote part of his large property.

“I needed a thug out there … to keep the Mexi­can guys from doing a big marijuana grow,” he said.

Yet the fact that “three carloads” of cops had shown up to Rogers’ property after the shooting seemed front and center in the Republican chairman’s mind. Rogers was, after all, on an upward trajectory within the party and angling for Sacramento. The last thing Rogers wanted was bunch of sheriff’s deputies lumbering around his property, especially when he’d failed to tell his Republican pals he was growing pot there. So when he visited detective Alvarado that June day, Rogers made sure to tell him he had 54 plants that belonged to his wife and partner — along with the requisite medical cards. Cops would later discover he had nearly three times that many mature pot plants along with clones and garbage cans filled with shake.

“I’m just a bit paranoid because I don’t want it to get out media-wise — it could jeopardize my position within the party,” he said, not knowing then that within days he’d be arrested for attempted murder, conspiracy, solicitation and cultivation of marijuana; that within months he’d resign his chairmanship; and that he’d soon leave Mendocino County altogether for neighboring Lake County.

Toward the end of the interview, in another state­ment Stoen would offer as evidence against Rogers, Rogers offered his own hypothesis of the shooting. “I think Al [Simon] would set shit up like this,” he said. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”

This theory gained traction among a small cadre of Rogers supporters, including George Lancaster, Westport’s former fire chief who was also canned by the water board, and Fort Bragg attorney Tim O’Laughlin. O’Laughlin, who represented Rogers against the water board and who, for a time, represented Rogers in his criminal case, says he has forensic evidence that raises questions about Simon’s story from the night of the shooting — though Markham presented none of that evidence in the most recent case. (He said there may have been inconsistencies in Simon’s testimony, but those questions were relevant to Richard Peacock’s trial — not Rogers’.)

The district attorney’s office, of course, has offered a very different storyline since the case was first brought to trial in 2006: the DA has claimed all along that Rogers hired Peacock to off a political foe.

Following Richard Peacock’s arrest, Peacock’s brother, Michael, would contact police and tell them that just before the shooting, Richard had told him about his plan to go to Simon’s house. He would tell police that Rogers had offered Richard payment of three to four pounds of marijuana to hurt Simon. Michael Peacock would tell police that Rogers had tried to hire him to beat up Keith Grier after the alleged assault incident — and that Peacock had told Rogers he’d ask a skinhead acquaintance if he was interested (nothing ever became of the request).

Police would discover that the pistol used to shoot up Alan Simon’s house had been reported missing by Velma Bowen, the water board member with whom Kenny Rogers and his family had stayed during the summer of 1999. Rogers, Bowen would tell police, was the only one who’d known where she kept the gun — though Rogers had denied taking it when she asked him about it after discovering it was missing.

On Rogers’ digital camera, police would find a photo of the façade of Alan Simon’s house. In phone calls between Richard Peacock and Rogers after Pea­cock’s arrest, law enforcement found what they con­sidered incriminating statements. For instance, they found that Rogers promised Peacock money while he was in prison, and that he’d promised to “take care of all the business on the outside” until Peacock was released. “Bottom line brother — I’m looking out for you,” Rogers told Peacock. And in a phone call Rogers made from the county jail to Once Again New, he told the man on the other end of the line to “clean things up” at his shop.

But one of the prosecution’s strangest pieces of evidence against Rogers wouldn’t turn up until later — until Richard Peacock had begun his journey through the courts and back to the institution where he’ll likely spend the rest of his life.

* * *

Shortly before Richard Peacock’s August 4, 2005 preliminary hearing for the attempted murder of Alan Simon, he received a letter at the Mendocino County Jail. It was handwritten, postmarked Yuba City and signed by a woman named Kate.

“Dear Richard, Hope all’s going well for you,” the letter read. “I heard about Michael’s B.S. and can’t believe he’s related to you. Anyway, I will get the ‘Red Dog’ to your kid with some school clothes, money and will keep an eye out for her. Hope to see you soon, but it’s tough. I’m sending $40 for your books, more to come. Miss you, your friend Kate. P.S. Who is this Keith guy calling for Michael? I’m not returning his calls. I think he has $ for…?”

On the face of it, the letter seems harmless, and Peacock didn’t know what to make of it; he didn’t know anyone named Kate in Yuba City. That changed once the hearing began. Rogers was leaving the witness box — where he’d invoked his right to remain silent — when, according to sheriff’s Lt. J.D. Bushnell, who was guarding Peacock that day in court, Rogers looked at Peacock, flashed a smirk and winked. (Peacock would later tell Bushnell he also saw Rogers pat his side, as if he had a gun.) Shortly after, Rogers’ then-attorney, Donald Masuda, delivered a message to Peacock’s public defender, Wes Hamilton. Rogers’ wife was going to “take care” of Peacock’s 13-year-old daughter, Bobbi, said Masuda, who would eventually be ordered off the case for serving as the unwitting courier of a potential threat.

Hamilton passed along the message, and Peacock put these seemingly innocuous events together — the letter, the smirk, the gun pat and the message from Masuda. Then he freaked out.

In open court, even as his lawyer was telling him to zip it, he announced the message was a threat against his daughter. The “red dog” mentioned in the letter referred to the pistol grip of a .45 caliber owned by Rogers — a pistol grip colored red and adorned with the image of a dog that Rogers had shown Peacock. He told Bushnell during a recess that Rogers made the threat because “he could be the one to put [Rogers] away.”

It was, in other words, a classic intimidation move. If Peacock talked, something bad would happen to his family.

When Peacock was called to testify in the most recent trial, he kept his mouth shut — about the “red dog letter,” as it’s come to be called, along with most everything else.

Peacock, 59, looked as if he’d aged a decade in the four years since his arrest. In photos taken shortly after the shooting, he looked thick and broad shoul­dered. He had a shaved head and was clean-shaven — minus the fu-manchu. Now, wearing black and white striped jail garb, he appeared shrunken, gaunt and unshaven, and most days he was brought to court in a wheelchair — the product, he said, of a knife fight in Pelican Bay in which his spine was injured.

He was by turns forthright, angry and entertaining — but always gregarious. While the court was in recess, for instance, he gave a tutorial on the pecker­wood prison gang. “You’re a peckerwood,” he said, looking at Tim Stoen. “I’m a peckerwood. That cop over there — he’s a peckerwood. You’re a white man.”

While his court appointed lawyer, Donald Lipman­son, was out moving his car to avoid a ticket, Peacock began offering his thoughts on the case to anyone who would listen — without the jury present, of course. Without prompting, Peacock, who pleaded not guilty in his 2006 trial and has maintained his innocence since, looked at Kevin Cline, the case’s lead detective, and said, “You guys should have solved the crime just like that.” Then, echoing some of O’Laughlin’s theories on the case, he said that Simon’s injuries didn’t come from the .22 — they came from glass. And he said that police had never checked the DNA from three drops of blood found outside Simon’s front door. (In an October 2005 letter from jail, he said that he’d never touched the .22 Ruger thrown from his car window, and that police never found his prints on it.)

His refusal to testify stemmed from his apparent belief that he got screwed by his court-appointed law­yer Jan Cole-Wilson during his attempted murder trial. He’s filed a state habeas corpus suit — which was denied — along with an appeal, which was also denied, and he said he’s in the process of filing suit in federal district court. (When the judge learned Pea­cock had a habeas suit and appointed Jan Cole-Wil­son to represent him again, he replied: “I’m not talk­ing to that broad for all the tea in China.”) The judge didn’t find Peacock’s claim compelling enough to keep him from testifying — as there was no evidence he’d filed anything yet — so he ordered him to talk. When Peacock didn’t, Brown, in a somewhat feeble reproach, found Peacock in contempt, then sent him on his to way finishing what is essentially a life sen­tence.

Rogers’ answer to the red dog letter was simple. His wife, Christine, testified that the red dog was exactly that — a massive stuffed Clifford toy that her husband had won in the mid-90s at Marine World in Vallejo (the dog, about three feet tall, was lugged into court as evidence). Her husband, she said, had already discussed giving the dog to Peacock’s daughter before he was arrested.

As for the letter, O’Laughlin said it did indeed come from the Rogers family — and that it had been signed “Kate” because Rogers didn’t want to jeopard­ize his political future. “He was a big deal in the Republican Party. [The central committee] was grooming him for state senate,” he said. “But here’s the other thing: they didn’t know what the fuck was going on…So he was trying to keep out of it.”

* * *

The trial that ended this week was the third time the district attorney’s office had attempted to prose­cute Kenny Rogers. In 2006, the judge granted a con­tinuance after two key witnesses, Richard Peacock and Velma Bowen, were hospitalized. In 2007, during another round of court proceedings, the DA’s office offered Rogers a deal: If he pleaded guilty to harbor­ing a fugitive, they’d let him off with a few years in the state pen. At first, Rogers accepted, thinking he’d get away with an ankle bracelet and some quality home time, O’Laughlin said. In response, an angry group of Westport residents began a letter-writing campaign and held a press conference outside the Ukiah Superior Court. When the judge subsequently said Rogers deserved three years in state prison, Rogers withdrew his plea. In the most recent trial, he faced conspiracy and attempted murder charges; Stoen said he dropped the other charges for “strategic” reasons.

“Proof problems” were the key reason the DA’s office offered Rogers the deal in 2007. Chief among those problems was Michael Peacock: He was nowhere to be seen the day he’d been subpoenaed to testify about the conversation he said he’d had with his brother. This time, it seemed there might be a repeat.

Like his brother, Michael Peacock has a fu-manchu and fully tattooed arms. He’d shown up to court on a Monday with his sister and brother-in-law — but he wasn’t called to testify. When that time came, the following day, he was gone, back to Sacra­mento, (“We boogied,” said Ed Harke, his brother-in-law, adding that no one had told them to stick around.) Peacock finally did return, but his testimony was hardly the smoking gun the DA’s office might have expected it to be.

For starters, Michael Peacock, who’s a long-time drug user and the baby in a family of nine, according to his sister, was hardly able to articulate himself without stammering into a nerve-wracked stupor (at least when being questioned by Stoen). He was slip­pery on nearly everything except how much time he’d spent in prison (“over a lifetime”), though after much repetition and rephrasing, Stoen was able to pin him down on some of the statements he’d made to the cops after the shooting. After much parsing, for instance, he confirmed that Rogers had offered him marijuana to beat up a black guy, and had offered the same — one pound up front, three to four pounds total — if his brother “put hands” on the guy who’d gotten him kicked off the water board.

Yet most of his confirmations were undermined with a few simple questions from Markham. For whatever reason, Peacock responded far better to him than Stoen — particularly when Markham began pressing him on his statements to the cops. In one exchange, he got Peacock to say basically he’d made much of his story up.

Markham: “Did the police tell you they could get a deal from the DA [for your brother]?”

Peacock: “I think so.”

Markham: “Did they tell you they needed you to testify to help your brother?”

Peacock: “…I’d do anything to help my brother.”

Markham: “Did they tell you what they needed from you?”

Peacock: “…They said Kenny Rogers is gonna’ walk and your brother’s gonna’ go down.”

Markham: “Did you tell them what they wanted to hear?”

Peacock: “I don’t know how much of it was true and how much of it was false…It was a bunch of getbacks [at Kenny Rogers].”

Markham: “Were you mad at Kenny?”

Peacock: “Yes.”

Richard Peacock was, as you might expect, furious with his brother after he learned he had, in Richard’s words, told a “sermon” of “half-truths and lies” to the police. But in a series of letters he wrote from jail to friends and family after his arrest, his sentiments were more complex than simple anger. Take the following passage from a letter he wrote to his brother in Octo­ber 2005:

“I must admit Michael, you really fuck-up [sic]. Not just [with] me but for you as well,” he wrote. “I can’t even guess why you did this and said those nasty lies about me. I understand you’re mad because of what happened at my trailer with that piece of gar­bage bitch. My God Michael, that gave you no cause [to] . . . cause so much trouble and pain for so many. But fuck that. You’re still my kid brother and my mother’s son, we have the same blood in our vain [sic]. We all make mistakes, including me as well, I made a lot of them. I wish I could turn the clock back and undo some of the things I did that cause not only me trouble and pain but you as well and other loved ones. I can only say I’m sorry so many times.”

* * *

The courtroom was packed as the attorneys pre­pared their closing arguments last Monday. On one side, more than a dozen people from Westport had made the slog down the coast and over the hill. On the other side was Rogers’ family. Outside, someone was handing out a flyer — called Snoopy’s Spotlight Street Sheet — which contained, along with verse about pedophiles and the CIA’s once secret MK Ultra program, vague, convoluted references to the case, including a mention of Tim Stoen’s previous life at the People’s Temple.

* * *

Stoen, who has an understated style — and a habit of closing his eyes and bowing his head slightly when­ever jurors enter the room, making him look a bit monkish — appeared to have guzzled a few Red Bulls during a break in his three hour-plus closing state­ment; in its highly caffeinated final hour, Stoen referred to his witnesses with alternating superlatives: they were “first-rate,” “class acts,” “terrific,” “upright” — or, in the case of Wes Hamilton, “good and folksy.” And, of course, he lobbed a few hyperbole bombs at Rogers, who was “grandiose, brazen,” and a “legend in his own mind.” Stoen emphasized his evidence and played for the first time the dramatic 911 call Simon made to the police the night of the shooting. Then he turned the theatrics up a notch with a quote from famous author and Christian scholar CS Lewis.

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint,” Stoen said. “It is not done even in concentration and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is con­ceived and ordered …in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”

Kenny Rogers, Stoen said, was that quiet man with the white collar — “he was the office man who sat in the office and ordered a street criminal to his bid­ding.”

Markham didn’t bother trying to top Stoen’s pres­entation. He plodded through a power point presen­tation, offered an unmemorable quote from Buddha and recapped the weaknesses in Stoen’s entirely cir­cumstantial case. He stressed that the red dog was really the giant stuffed Clifford toy plopped in the corner next to the judge’s clerk; that the cops had never found a gun with a red handle on it when they searched Rogers’ properties; that not a word from the Brothers Peacock could be trusted. And the gun that Rogers allegedly stole from Velma Bowen? It was, in fact, in the Rogers’ home, buried in a tool box — never mind that Rogers had denied taking the gun in the first place. It had gotten from the Rogers’ home to Richard via Michael, Markham said, reminding jurors that Michael had been seen with the gun at Rogers’ property “while keeping the Mexicans out.” The photo of the house found in Rogers’ camera was for a friend from Sacramento, a man named Eric Beren, who was house shopping at the time and who testified that Rogers occasionally sent him photos from Westport (Simon’s house was up for sale at the time the photo was taken). And the jailhouse phone call between Rogers and Peacock? They were just good buddies, and Peacock was checking in on his pal. Lastly, the call Rogers made to his shop was strictly pot-related — it was a phone call from an ambitious politician anxious about the media malaise just over the horizon.

Peacock, Markham argued, had been a loyal, loose cannon of a friend, a man whose values had been crystallized not by the principles that informed rea­sonable, respectable Kenny Rogers, but by the many, many years he’d spent in prison. And when Peacock heard his pal was ticked off at Simon — well, he did what any man who’d spent his whole life in prison would do.

“He wanted to surprise a friend,” Markham said. “But Ken Rogers had no idea what he’d planned.”

The verdict, which came after nearly two days of deliberation, was met with sobs from the Rogers fam­ily and hugs from Westport folk. As soon as the first guilty charge was announced, Rogers’ head dropped to the defense table. A few moments later, he looked sternly at the jury, shook his head and mouthed the words, “I didn’t do it.”

Then the bailiff escorted him out.

Outside the courtroom, with tears streaming down his face, Rogers’ son Norman repeatedly told detec­tive Kevin Cline he was a “sick motherfucker.” For Simon, that post-trial exchange with Cline was just as frank — but profoundly different.

“I shook hands with Kevin Cline and he said just one word to me,” Simon said. “Justice.” ¥¥

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