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How A Dirty Cop Got Off

In a surprising twist to the Kevin Murray case, a newly released report discloses that Sonoma County probation was hampered from considering a stronger recommended jail term for the disgraced Ukiah cop because key background criminal reports were not turned over.

Kevin Murray

The jail recommendation might have been longer if the probation officers had Murray’s complete file in front of them, which included investigative reports of a second alleged rape that was charged but later dropped by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. In total, four felony charges, three sex related, were dismissed against Murray in return for his no contest pleas to two lesser charges.

The former police sergeant is out on probation instead of serving at least a year behind bars as advocated by the Sonoma Probation Office on just a single felony-intimidating a witness charge. Sonoma Probation’s jail recommendation was ignored at his sentencing three weeks ago in Mendocino County Superior Court. Typically, probation office reports are followed in criminal case sentencings, but there are no mandates.

Originally Murray faced several years in prison had he been convicted of three felony sexual assault charges that were among the charges dropped in July as part of a “sweetheart” plea deal Murray’s high powered defense attorneys struck with District Attorney David Eyster and his deputy Heidi Larson.

Even with the reduced charges, Murray could have been sentenced to multiple years in prison had all the information about the dismissed criminal charges been turned over to Sonoma Probation for review.

That possibility came to light after a Sonoma probation officer noted on the cover page of his report that he was only able to consider the single remaining felony charge in making the 12-month jail term recommendation. The report written in mid-August before Murray’s sentencing was only released last week by the Superior Court.

“Probation was not provided any crime reports or other pertinent documents” related to the dismissed charges, “although they typically are,” wrote Sonoma Probation Officer Spencer Misetech.

Wardell Adams, Sonoma’s deputy chief of adult probation who reviewed Misetech’s conclusions before they were turned over to the court, said, “Our recommendation was based on the limited information we had.”

Adams said Misetech’s written advisement provided the court “the opportunity for the sentencing to be put off until all material was evaluated.”

Adams agreed there is no mandate for the judge to follow a probation recommendation.

“But it is curious that in this case the sentence ended up being less harsh than the recommendation,” he said.

Mendocino Chief Probation Officer Izen Locatelli said his office was unaware there were missing documents in the prosecution files that were turned over to Sonoma for review.

“There may have been some kind of mishap, but why didn’t they contact us and request the additional information?” he asked. Sonoma County would not have been privy to what online reports existed in the Mendocino system and were only requested to review what was formally transmitted to them, said Adams.

“We did our job,” he said.

The Sonoma report raises new questions about the outcome of the high-profile police misconduct case that has stirred controversy, rocked local law enforcement, and prompted outrage from victims and their supporters.

One alleged Murray rape victim known as “Jane Doe” in court documents labeled the disputed plea agreement a “sweetheart deal” in an emotional written statement addressed to Judge Moorman and included in the Sonoma probation report.

Jane Doe told Moorman, “I have been irreparably harmed because of what rapist Kevin Murray has done to me.”

She described her ordeal as an “emotional hurricane that is never ending.”

The woman, currently a Washington state resident, urged Moorman to give Murphy whatever jail term possible even in the face of the DA dropping all sex charges because of the plea deal.

“He did the crime, and he should be punished accordingly and forced to do the time,” she wrote.

Eyster has offered no public explanation why three sexual assault felonies and a misdemeanor drug charge — methamphetamine was found in Murray’s police locker — were reduced against the 38-year-old cop in return for no contest pleas to a single felony witness intimidation charge and a misdemeanor false imprisonment.

Eyster is also refusing to answer any questions about another pending police misconduct case involving the Ukiah Police Department. The DA has had the results of a Sonoma County investigation into unspecified abuse allegations against ousted Police Chief Noble Waidelich for three weeks. A former police department supervisor of Murray, Waidelich was fired in June after less than eight months in his job.

The Murray plea deal was struck after multiple trial delays earlier this year, some caused by a shortage of available jurors. Since the Covid pandemic, the local courts have been hampered by a low number of county residents responding to jury summonses.

In criminal cases involving sexual assaults, experienced investigators say trial delays always work in favor of the defense because key witnesses often weaken in their resolve to face scrutiny on the witness stand and be prepared for hard personal questions that are sure to come.

That happened in the Murray case, when a key witness unhappily shut down after repeated delays. Both victims were willing at the time of the originally scheduled trial but balked after two delays and the threat of a third.

Even with the procedural issues, the plea deal and no jail term for Murray was a surprising outcome to a controversial case.

Murray, the father of three, could have been sent to prison for several years had he been convicted of the original five felony charges.

One of Murray’s alleged rape victims called the controversial plea agreement a “sweetheart” deal and voiced her strong objection to a no jail sentence in a written statement provided to Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman.

Despite that victim’s plea, and the Sonoma probation’s office making note of the missing background information, Moorman placed Murray on two years’ probation instead of imposing any jail time. The judge at the sentencing said her decision should not be seen as a “slap on the wrist” and warned Murray that if he violates terms of his probation “You are going to the joint.”

Murray’s defense team a week before the sentencing immediately objected to the possibility of a jail term after learning of the Sonoma report’s recommendation. Defense attorney Stephen Gallenson of Santa Rosa filed a letter with the court reminding the judge she apparently had agreed to no jail time as part of the negotiated deal on Murray’s behalf.

In a last-minute attempt to nullify a public outcry over the no jail possibility, deputy DA Larson hastily filed a motion urging some jail time for Murray. She did not press the issue with the judge during Murray’s sentencing hearing, however.

Murray cost the city of Ukiah $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit after a Ukiah man was savagely beaten by Murray during an October 2018 confrontation at the man's home. The city paid out another $250,000 to a Sacramento woman involved in the criminal case to avoid the possibility of another civil lawsuit.

Murray’s personnel files at the police department are still off limits to public scrutiny, but law enforcement sources say he has a history of internal discipline issues stemming from misbehavior on and off duty.

The new questions were raised after Sonoma County Probation Officer Spencer Misetich took the unusual step of specifically noting missing crime reports involving the prior charge felonies on the cover page of his 12-page report.

Misetich wrote that he was not provided any crime reports relating to the “criminal conduct inflicted upon victim Jane Doe in 2014 for the preparation of this report. As such, we have not included the circumstances of those (now dismissed) counts in this report,” wrote Misetich.

The missing report distinction is critical because under state law criminal investigative documents are typically provided to probation offices even if felony charges are eventually dropped in a criminal case because of a plea deal. The so-called ‘Harvey Waiver’ provision allows judges to consider established investigative facts.

In Murray’s case, felony sexual charges were dismissed stemming from a 2020 case involving a Sacramento woman in a motel room in Ukiah, and an accusation by a Murray family friend that he twice forced her to engage in oral sex in 2014. A third woman, a former police trainee, alleges in a still pending civil lawsuit that Murray sexually assaulted her in 2012 while they attended a training session out of town. She reported the incident to her police superiors, but nothing was done. The woman eventually left the department, took a job with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, and filed her lawsuit for damages against Murray and the city police department.

DA Eyster’s public silence is deafening in a case that has rattled the Ukiah Police Department, and mimics police misconduct accusations statewide.

While Eyster and other prosecutors and police agencies stall in providing full details of cases like Murray’s, the California Reporting Project, founded by KQED and NPR, in 2021 analyzed 103 sexual misconduct cases from different police departments across the state. The conclusion was that in many cases the victims were vulnerable to an officer’s authority: sex workers, confidential informants, and already incarcerated people.

In his report Sonoma probation officer Misetich said the former police sergeant used his position of authority to gain access to the motel room victim, and “attempt to intimidate and manipulate her into engaging in sexual acts with him.”

Misetich found that “the manner in which the crime was carried out demonstrated criminal sophistication” on the part of Murray.

Misetich also said, “We do feel that the defendant’s abhorrent actions in this matter deserves further jail time.”

He also cautioned that Murray’s ability to comply with reasonable terms of probation “may be hindered by his history of alcohol abuse, his lack of current employment, and his reported mental health issues.”

In Murray’s favor for probation, Misetich said the former cop has no prior record of criminal conduct and might be able to meet probation terms because of positive factors in his background, “including a high school diploma, his ongoing involvement in mental health treatment and medication compliance, his supportive familial ties, his stable housing, and his honorable military service history.” Murray served six years from 2002-2008 as an Army military police officer in Middle East combat zones. He reportedly was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2017 and bipolar disorder in 2021 according to the probation report

Specific details about the primary case that led to Murray’s arrest in 2020 are outlined in the probation report because the remaining felony relates to his encounter with a Sacramento woman named “Stephanie.”

Murray and his partner stopped a vehicle with two women over the Thanksgiving holiday week in 2020. The driver was arrested on a DUI. Stephanie was the passenger. Murray suspected she was a sex worker cruising Ukiah.

Instead of having the vehicle towed as is usual in DUI cases, Murray drove the car to a parking area behind the hotel after deactivating his body-worn camera, the woman told investigators. He parked the car, and demanded she kiss him on the neck, Stephanie told investigators. She said she agreed to do so because she thought Murray might release her friend. He refused to release the friend, and then asked her what room she was staying in, according to the report. The woman told investigators she lied about her room number, but within five minutes she heard a knock on her room door, and there was Murray in uniform when she opened it, according to the probation report. The officer entered the room, closed the door, and then grabbed the woman’s key card. “He told her he ‘would be back’ after his shift ended,” according to the report.

Beginning about an hour later, Stephanie told investigators she started receiving a series of text messages from Murray asking her if they could “hook up tonight,” and he wanted her to send him some “good pics” so he might know if the “goods are worth coming back for,” the report states.

Investigators later discovered that Murray had deliberately falsified the information he transmitted to the woman via caller ID to disguise his identity. She told investigators she never provided him her number, and did not know how he acquired it, according to the probation report. By then, she felt so scared that she placed a table in front of her hotel room’s door so she could hear if Murray returned and attempted to enter her room while she was asleep. Her story was later corroborated by a relative in Sacramento whom Stephanie had called in panic.

Murray did return to her hotel early the next morning dressed in plain clothes, and he used the stolen key car to forcibly enter the woman’s room, according to the report. He found her in bed, unzipped his pants, exposed his penis, and demanded she “grab it,” the report states. The woman said Murray told her he knew she was “staying in the hotel to earn money from prostituting herself, and that he would ‘turn his head and allow her to continue to make money’ as long as she had sex with him.” He eventually left after she refused to submit to the sex act he sought, according to the report. The woman waited several hours to report his assault because she feared retaliation, but eventually, she called the Ukiah Police Department and told them about the incident. The call led to an investigation and Murray’s arrest in January 2021.

A second victim in Murray’s criminal case was a family friend whom he assaulted twice in her then Ukiah home. She reported her 2014 assault after reading about the cop’s hotel encounter and subsequent arrest.

A third woman, a former police trainee under Murray’s supervision who is now a Mendocino Sheriff’s Department deputy, accuses him in a civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting her in a motel while both were out of town on a 2013 training session. Her case was deemed beyond the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution but a claim for damages is still pending in civil court.

In interviews with the Sonoma probation office, Murray admitted his encounter in the Ukiah hotel room but insisted the Sacramento woman had been “very flirty” with him and had tried to kiss him. He claimed the woman provided him with her room key and asked him to return after his shift ended.

The probation report states that Murray told the woman he wanted to have sex, and she replied, “What is in it for me?”

Murray insisted to the probation officer that he declared, “I don’t know what you are talking about. If you think I’m paying you for anything you’re out of your fucking mind. I’m not paying for shit.”

Murray denied unzipping his pants, exposing himself and forcing the woman to touch him, according to the report.

The Sacramento woman earlier this year was paid $250,000 by the City of Ukiah to not move ahead with a civil rights lawsuit.

Probation officer Misetich said although he had no crime reports about a second alleged sexual assault turned over for review, he was able to make telephone contact with “Jane Doe,” Murray’s alleged second victim, a few days before preparing his report. She agreed to submit a victim’s statement, he said.

Jane Doe, a friend of one of Murray’s former wives, wrote to Judge Moorman that she fell to her kitchen floor and cried when she learned he would not be tried on any felony sex-related charges. When the District Attorney’s Office also informed her that Murray would not be required to register as a sex offender under terms of the plea deal, she described it as a “gut punch!”

“He did the crime, and should be punished accordingly, and should be forced to do the time,” wrote Jane Doe.

In her letter to the judge, the woman described in graphic detail Murray’s assaults on her. She at one point in the statement spoke directly to Murray:

“I thought you were my friend. Friends do not rape. You are a convicted felon now, a rapist, a thief, a kidnapper, and a liar. You took an oath to protect and serve the community of Ukiah. Instead, you abused your position in the most sickening and volatile ways.”

She said she was in fact prepared to testify against Murray, and she praised retired DA chief investigator Kevin Bailey for helping her get past her reservations about doing so publicly. “I could not have come forward without you,” she told Bailey. She also publicly thanked Victim Witness Advocate Patty Torres “for advocating for me in such a time of need.”

Murray, on the advice of his legal team, refused to talk with probation about any details of the pending civil lawsuit involving the former police trainee.

Murray said about his victims, “I wish them nothing but the best in life. I hope everything works out well for them, and I wish them well.”

Eyster, a pugnacious prosecutor who writes his own press releases, typically posts sentencing results on the office’s Facebook site, including trial results of misdemeanor drunk driving cases.

But there have been no posts about the Murray case despite its high profile and public clamor for the reasoning behind the controversial plea deal.

The only comments directed at public criticism have been in footnotes in legal briefings submitted to the court.

In one, the DA’s Office declares:

“Some might find it easy to pander to howling voices and the protests of a few that, in part, demand uninformed and crude revenge on this defendant versus constitutional and reasoned justice.”

In another, the DA’s Office claims it attempted to discuss possible resolution of the case with both charged victims.

“While one of the victims was available for this discussion, and was agreeable at that time, to resolving the case so she would not have to make the trip and openly testify, the other victim, also living out of the area, could not be found nor be reached by telephone to engage in trial preparation and/or to discuss the possible resolution.”

The DA’s Office further claimed that while it had contact with the Sacramento woman’s Bay Area attorney, she personally never followed through on requests to discuss pre-trial issues.

Oakland-based Panos Lagos, the Sacramento victim’s attorney, disputes the DA’s claims.

“The last thing my client and I were told was to be ready for the trial date in July. We were. Then we heard what we now know, much to our surprise,” said Lagos.

“I never failed to return a call from anyone associated with the DA’s Office,” he said.

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