A disgraced former Ukiah police sergeant faces sentencing Wednesday this week in a sweetheart plea deal that has raised eyebrows in the courthouse and the possibility of a public protest outside.
Three felony sex offenses were suddenly dropped by Mendocino County prosecutors despite the independent claims of two women, supported by the contentions of a third in a pending civil lawsuit against Kevin Patrick Murray.
As it is Murray now faces only two years’ probation in a case that could have landed him several years in prison and forced him to register as a sex offender had he gone to trial and been convicted.
Murray’s case is just one of several high-profile police misconduct cases that have rocked Mendocino County law enforcement circles and have resulted in settlements costing taxpayers $1.5 million to date. More claims are pending.
An outside investigation meanwhile drags on into a woman’s assault allegation against Noble Waidelich, the former chief of the Ukiah Police Department. For two months now Sonoma County Sheriff’s investigators have been looking into a complaint that Waidelich assaulted the unidentified victim at her home.
“Investigations take time,” said Sonoma spokesman Juan Valencia last week.
Besides the pending criminal investigation, Waidelich also faces a 2017 civil lawsuit in Mendocino County Superior Court filed by a former county probation officer Amanda Carley who alleges she was financially and physically abused by him when she was his domestic partner. Trial is set for Sept. 26.
In addition, Ukiah city officials announced in March the city had paid the family of a mentally ill man $211,000 to settle claims that a squad of Ukiah cops tasered a naked Oscar Magdaleno during a South State Street confrontation in 2021, knocked him to the ground, and then repeatedly punched him.
Just this past Friday, the District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against a man who suffered facial fractures and a broken nose when he was struck by two Ukiah police officers during a scuffle in the front yard of his Ukiah home after they attempted to arrest him for misdemeanor DUI.
The prosecution fell apart after Sgt. Ron Donohue and Officer Eric Rodello exercised their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination during testimony in Arturo Valdes’ preliminary hearing. Deputy District Attorney Heidi Larson, who also handled the criminal case involving Murray, dropped the charges “in the interest of justice” after police officers refused to testify about specifics of their actions, as they had claimed in their initial police reports.
The largest civil settlement yet for police misconduct — $1 million — involves Murray. The city of Ukiah agreed to pay Christopher Rasku $1,050,000 to settle a civil lawsuit he filed after being beaten by Murray, who had responded to a neighborhood disturbance and encountered Rasku. Rasku suffered extensive injuries, including broken ribs, a punctured lung, and nerve damage. The lawsuit also asserted Murray wrote a falsified police report claiming Rasku started the encounter.
Murray, who was promoted to police sergeant even as rumors swirled around him for a decade within the department about his behavior, was dismissed from the department after he was accused in November 2020 of robbing and sexually assaulting a woman he first encountered on a traffic stop.
She contended that Murray followed her to an Ukiah hotel, stole the key card to her room, and then went back after work and demanded sex. He reportedly held a pistol in his hand while demanding she sexually stimulate him.
While the Murray criminal case was pending, the city settled the woman’s claim for $250,000.
When a Lake County woman who was a friend of the Murray family read of the alleged motel assault, she called police and told them that in 2014 Murray had twice come to her home and forced her to orally copulate him.
The Murray criminal cases including the felony sex charges originally were filed separately but the cases were combined by the District Attorney’s Office, and formally restated in court documents as recently as late February.
Between then and July 7, however, prosecution efforts against Murray collapsed for still unexplained reasons.
All felony sex charges were dismissed against Murray. Instead, he was allowed to enter “no contest” pleas to a felony charge of intimidating a witness – the woman in the motel room – and a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge related to a person identified in court documents only as “Jane Doe,” but believed to be the woman in Lake County.
It was a surprising turn of events in a case that DA Eyster, a pugnacious prosecutor who relishes his office’s victories in the courtroom, had only a few months before publicly declared was going to trial.
Given Eyster’s propensity to take time to write his own press releases, the lack of any explanation in the high-profile Murray case is glaring. Two formal requests to Eyster and Larson for specific answers to questions about why the sex and drug charges were dropped remain unanswered.
The fact that Murray has had a top-rated criminal defense law firm at his side helps explain the outcome.
Murray is represented by Andrian, Gallenson & Gaskell, a Santa Rosa firm with a reputation for attacking prosecution efforts “from pretrial motions through trial.” Attorney Gallenson in particular boasts on the firm’s website that his efforts have caused “many serious cases including sexual assault, murder, and drug cases” to be dismissed prior to trial.
Chris Andrian, the firm’s senior partner, is a senior criminal defense attorney with a long and celebrated history in the courtroom. He is widely known in the highest legal circles in Northern California, including federal courts in San Francisco. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman, who accepted Murray’s plea agreement, moved in the same circles before she left her defense career and ran for office.
Murray’s case, and the other local police misconduct complaints, are seemingly part of an emerging national debate about police behavior, and whether some heavy-handed cops locally and statewide are escaping punishment and at what cost to the public.
In 2020, for example, a research team at Bowling Green State University in Ohio found that approximately 1,600 officers across the United States were arrested for sex related crimes during a 10-year period ending in 2014, and that their examination of that data suggested “…police sexual violence is a problem involving more than a few ‘bad apples’ and that the phenomenon of police sexual violence may be a cultural norm within many state and local law enforcement jurisdictions.”
The Bowling Green findings were accepted for presentation at the annual Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in San Antonio, which was later canceled because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ohio researchers also found that cases of sex-related police misconduct are sometimes seen as “hidden offenses” that are likely to go unreported, and “hence, difficult to document and study.” The research team found that many victims may not report instances of police sexual misconduct to authorities because they feel humiliated, or they may fear retaliation. Victims, said the research team, may also encounter barriers to filing complaints since that process can be “unnecessarily difficult and/or intimidating.”
In 2020 the California Law Review at the University of California Berkeley’s Law School concluded a published study on police sexual misconduct with the observation: “Finally, the role of the blue wall in police department masculine culture must be addressed. Because of the blue wall, offending police officers are often protected from any consequences.”
Sebastopol attorney Izaak Schwaiger won the $1 million settlement on behalf of the Ukiah man beaten by Murray. Schwaiger said recently he did not know the specifics of the sexual abuse claims again the former police sergeant, but he knows of Murray’s history of misconduct.
“He is a bad apple,” said Schwaiger.
Murray’s alleged sexual misconduct is laid bare in documents on file with the Mendocino County Superior Court.
The Ukiah motel assault allegedly started with a traffic stop by Murray.
“During the stop defendant engaged S.Y. (the victim with the first name of Stephanie) in conversation. He then drove her and the vehicle to the back of the Super 8 motel. Defendant asked S.Y. what room she was in, and she gave him another room number. A short while later defendant knocked on S.Y.’s door and asked why she lied about the room number. He entered and removed her room key and said he would return at the end of his shift. In the early morning hours defendant returned to the room and opened the lock. S.Y. had barricaded the door to keep him out. Defendant forced his way in. He then disrobed and told S.Y. to touch his penis. S.Y. complied against her will. S.Y. called 911 later in the morning and reported the incident.”
After reading an online account of that incident, a Lake County woman contacted authorities and told them that Murray sexually assaulted twice in 2014. He forced her to orally copulate him. The last time Murray allegedly left in such a hurry that he left his police weapon behind.
There is a third known sexual assault claim against Murray, this one detailed in a pending civil lawsuit filed by a former Ukiah police officer. Now a Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy, the woman contends that Murray assaulted her in 2012 while both were attending an out-of-town training session.
In her civil lawsuit, the woman’s experience is described:
“The training was held at a remote location, which required Plaintiff and the other training officers to stay in a hotel. On the first evening of the training, Plaintiff met with a few other officers to play card games in one of the officer’s hotel rooms. Plaintiff and the other officers, including Murray, played cards and drank alcohol. Eventually, Plaintiff left the gathering to return to her hotel room for the night. Once Plaintiff stepped into the elevator, Murray stuck his hand in the door and insisted on escorting Plaintiff to her room. When Plaintiff and Murray arrived at Plaintiff s room, Murray asked to come inside under the guise that he wanted to offer Plaintiff advice, since he was a senior officer, and she was still on probation. Plaintiff reluctantly agreed. After Murray and Plaintiff talked for a little while longer, Plaintiff told Murray that he should leave.
Murray then grabbed Plaintiff’s hand and began caressing her breasts. Plaintiff tried to remove his hands, but she was unsuccessful. Murray then aggressively shoved his hands up Plaintiff s shirt and continued fondling her breasts. He demanded that Plaintiff just give [him] a goodnight kiss. During this assault, Murray continuously reminded and threatened Plaintiff that she is still on probation, she doesn’t have family nearby, that her daughter depends on her having this job, and that nobody at the department will believe her.
Murray then started pulling Plaintiff toward the bedroom. Frightened of what Murray would do to her, Plaintiff ran to the bathroom and locked him out. When Plaintiff opened the door a few moments later, Murray was standing in front of her, naked, with an erect penis. Still frightened, Plaintiff slammed the bathroom door and locked it again. Plaintiff was so scared to leave the safety of the bathroom that she slept on the bathroom floor. After some time, Plaintiff heard snoring and opened the door to find Murray asleep on her bed, still completely naked. Plaintiff immediately left the room. Plaintiff was shaken up from Murray’s conduct the following day at training.
When Plaintiff’s fellow officers asked her what was wrong, Murray moved closely behind Plaintiff and whispered in her ear, “You’re fine. Nothing happened, and no one will believe you.”
Waidelich was police chief when Murray’s case surfaced, and he was fired. Waidelich, a local cop who rose through the department’s ranks, was promoted in 2021 amid hopes of city officials that he would lead the department out of disarray. Instead, he too abruptly left following an assault accusation first lodged with Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall. The sheriff immediately asked for an outside investigation because of his department’s close working relationship with the Ukiah Police Department.
Since then, little is known about the alleged incident. City officials said Waidelich violated department policies and his dismissal was warranted without knowing the results of the Sonoma probe.
Currently, the Ukiah Police Department is under the command of veteran Capt. Cedric Cook, who is attempting to restore stability to a police agency that was once considered a model in Mendocino County law enforcement circles.
“We are going to keeping doing our jobs,” said Cook soon after taking over the troubled department.
And Then This Development…
Mendocino County probation officers are arguing for a 12-month suspended jail term for former Ukiah Police Sgt. Kevin Murray, a move vigorously opposed by the high-powered defense team who negotiated a plea bargain that saw prosecutors agree to strike three sex felonies from the disgraced cop’s criminal case.
The Probation call for a suspended jail term is a new twist to the planned sentencing of Murray, now scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
A suspended sentence is where a judge orders jail or prison time, but delays imposing it in order to allow a defendant to serve time on probation. If a defendant violates probation, the judge can impose the original term. In criminal law, a suspended sentence and probation are two different things. A suspended sentence is a type of court-imposed penalty for a crime. Probation, though, is a lesser type of alternative to jail where a defendant serves his sentence in the community under the supervision of the judge or a probation officer.
As part of his plea deal with Mendocino County prosecutors, Murray entered no contest pleas to a felony charge of intimidating a witness — the woman in the motel room — and a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge related to a person identified in court documents only as “Jane Doe,” but believed to be the woman in Lake County who has said Murray twice in 2014 forced her to perform a sex act on him.
In its unreleased report, the Probation office apparently cites objections to a non-jail sentence from the Lake County victim as among the need for a 12-month jail term to be imposed.
Santa Rosa defense attorney Stephen Gallenson late Friday filed a formal objection to the probation office recommendation with Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman.
Gallenson contends that the Probation department is going beyond the terms of an analysis and evaluation agreed upon when the plea deal on Murray’s behalf was negotiated.
“Extensive discussion took place between the Court and the counsel prior to the change of plea in this matter,” Gallenson wrote Judge Moorman.
“This was a negotiated disposition and the Court indicated that it did not intend to impose any additional jail time so long as there were no surprises regarding Mr. Murray’s background,” said Gallenson.
Now, citing in its report a letter from the Lake County woman, Gallenson said the probation office is asking for a suspended 12-month jail term.
“The Probation Report confirms Mr. Murray’s lack of criminal history, his service in the military, the time already incarcerated, and his remorse and recognition of the negative impact of his conduct,” according to Gallenson.
Gallenson said Murray remains sober after attending a 30-day alcohol treatment program since his firing, and he is “actively engaged in mental health treatment.”
Judge Moorman is being asked by Gallenson to “…follow its initial indication and impose no further jail time,” suspended or otherwise.
Gallenson filed letters of support in favor of probation only for Murray, from his third wife, and friends and family members.
Heather Murray said she and Murray started dating later married after he completed a 30-day inpatient alcohol treatment program in early 2017. Together they are raising four children ages 7-17 at their home in Lakeport.
“We have struggled to shelter our children from the hateful comments on social media, and the backlash of being in the public eye,” wrote Heather Murray.
Heather Murray is a nurse by profession. She said, “My decision to stay married to my husband amidst the multitude of allegations has cost me friendships I valued, respect I worked hard to earn, and the ability to move on with my life but I would have missed out on the opportunity to love someone unconditionally.”
“Any further jail time will not only hinder his personal progress but will also be extremely detrimental to our four children who have had to watch this chapter in our lives unfold from the sidelines,” she wrote.
Jennifer Sperber, the mother of Murray’s two oldest children, also wrote the court in favor of no further jail time. She said they met in 2003 while both served as military police officers overseas in Iraq. They were divorced in 2011, in part because “he struggled with alcohol throughout our marriage.”
But now he is sober, maintaining his sobriety, and actively engaged in rearing his children, she said.
“He is consistent, and dependable, always putting the children first.”