Mendocino County prosecutors are privately claiming a key witness’s unwillingness to testify and an inability to locate her led to dismissal of the most serious sex charges against Ukiah Police Sgt. Kevin Murray.
But the woman’s Oakland attorney says that is false.
“My client was hesitant but prepared to testify,” said Panos Lagos, a noted civil attorney who is experienced in police misconduct cases across Northern California.
Lagos said, “She hasn’t gone anywhere. She is in Sacramento where she has always been.”
District Attorney David Eyster and his deputy prosecutor Heidi Larson have repeatedly declined to comment on the reasoning behind the sweetheart plea bargain they struck with Murray and his lawyers. Privately, they have been telling people the case collapsed after the city agreed to pay the victim a settlement. They have been saying the victim since was unable to be located and relied upon for trial.
Lagos said he is in a state of disbelief. “I thought the District Attorney and his investigators had this case dialed in.”
“The DA had the evidence to win this case decisively,” said Lagos.
Lagos said he inquired about the status of the case but did not receive any call back from the DA’s Office. “That’s not typical,” he said.
“My client received a call, but she was under the impression Murray would be forever barred from being a police officer again, and that he would have to register as a sex offender. She had no idea until now that it was being suggested she was the reason prosecution efforts collapsed.”
Eyster and Larson did not respond Friday to questions about Lagos’ assertions. In the month, they have not responded to two separate letters asking specific questions about the plea deal.
Lagos said prosecutors were provided with supporting statements, video tapes and text messages involving Murray, and the Sacramento woman who first encountered each other at a routine traffic stop in Ukiah. The woman was a passenger in the car and provided her identification and where she was staying. Later she discovered the officer took the key card to her room at the Super 8 Motel on Orchard Street. At around 6 a.m. the next morning, he showed up and forced his way into her room. She had barricaded the door with a chest because she feared he might show up. When he did, Murray exposed himself, and demanded she sexually stimulate him, according to the original charges.
Murray’s case has become embroiled in controversy since District Attorney David Eyster’s decision to drop three felony charges and a misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine charge against the Ukiah cop and agree to a plea deal. Murray is being represented by a high-powered team of defense lawyers from Sonoma County, led by Chris Andrian and Stephen Gallenson.
The deal the Santa Rosa lawyers reached with Eyster calls for no further jail time, and probation in return for no contest pleas to a felony charge of intimidating a witness and a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge relating to a second woman who accused the cop of sexual assault.
The felony conviction by plea might prevent Murray from being a cop again, but the deal apparently allows him to avoid having to register as a sex offender.
In the Sacramento woman’s case, attorney Lagos described the available evidence as “decisive.”
Known only as “S.Y.” in court documents, Lagos said she has a corroborating witness to her story: an aunt whom she called following her encounter with Murray after the traffic stop in Ukiah. The family member advised the woman to barricade the door to her Orchard Street motel because she was fearful Murray would show up after he told her he was coming back. She woman moved furniture to block the motel door from the inside. Investigators found that Murray, however, had obtained the key card to the room, and when he returned about 6 a.m. the next morning he in fact forced his way into the room and demanded sex.
“My client feared this man,” said Lagos. “He was a police sergeant, a man in a position of authority.”
A second woman, after reading of the motel encounter following Murray’s firing, called investigators, and told them that the officer had twice forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2014. She was a friend of a former wife of Murray’s.
A third woman, a former Ukiah police officer who is now a Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy, contends in a pending civil lawsuit that Murray sexually accosted her in an out-of-town motel room while both were attending a training session in 2012. The officer said she locked herself in the bathroom of her room after Murray fondled her breasts, stripped, and confronted her with his erect penis. Her lawsuit contends her superiors at the police department later ignored her formal complaints to them.
At one point, she said Murray whispered in her ear in front of other officers: “Nothing happened. No one will believe you.”
Later, when the woman officer went to work in the department’s detective unit, she said she learned of Murray’s past history, including internal affairs probes, his pulling a gun at a party, other sexual escapades, and reported drug use. When investigators confronted Murray at the police station when first looking into the Sacramento woman’s complaint, they found two packs of meth in his police locker.
That officer alleges that while she worked with Murray at the police department, she was “repeatedly subjected to harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliatory adverse actions in response to reporting the unlawful conduct.”
Her civil lawsuit is still pending.
In the Sacramento woman’s case, attorney Lagos said she eventually received a $250,000 settlement from the city of Ukiah.
“We didn’t even have to formally file a lawsuit. The city’s attorney understood the gravity of the situation,” said Lagos.
Lagos said at the time he found the city police command staff, and its legal representatives “very responsive” to what was presented to them about Murray.
“He was summarily dismissed, and he didn’t appeal,” said Lagos.
Lagos acknowledged his client has been subject of whispers about her past sexual conduct.
“But her sexual practices are not the issue here. What is at play is a police sergeant breaking into a room and forcing the occupant to sexually gratify him. That’s the crime,” said Lagos.
Lagos, a veteran law graduate from University of California, Berkeley, specializes in police misconduct. He has for three decades or more assisted victims of police brutality and civil rights violations in winning settlement in state and federal courts in the Bay Area and the Central Valley.
“My client was prepared to testify. She is aghast to learn that she is being blamed for the lack of prosecution of Murray,” said Lagos.
Murray’s rescheduled sentencing is now set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, August 30, 2022, in front of Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman.