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The iPhone As Weapon

An iPhone ass whoopin',
Was Mark Sky's iPhone case really an iPhone case? Or was it a set of brass knuckles?

Mendocino County and Humboldt County have a lot in common. In fact, Anderson Valley and Southern Humboldt, demographically speaking, are twinsies in many ways, except Anderson Valley has more rich people.

But there is one big difference between HumCo and Mendoland — cops. Mendo cops almost always shock the daylights out of the Humboldt hippies, especially the SoHum hippies where the law enforcement presence is not exactly what you'd call prevalent.

We had a prime example of cross-county shock and awe last week at the Mendocino County Courthouse.

A HumCo pot and ecstasy dealer named Mark Sky had been caught in Willits with some MDMA pills. Sky brought his Arcata lawyer Jeffrey Schwartz to Ukiah to get him out of the jam, but the jam just got stickier and stickier.

The prosecution of Sky had been taken over by Deputy DA Scott McMenomey. He buttonholed defense attorney Schwartz in the hallway before the case was called and, reaching down the back of his trousers to cinch up his jock strap, Scotty told Jeffrey that if he went through with the prelim, why, then, the DA was going to make a big stink about the brass knuckles and the concentrated cannabis that were also found on defendant Sky?

Schwartz regarded the deputy DA with a look of baffled incredulity. The “brass knuckles” were one of those novel iPhone cases, in which defendant Sky had had his iPhone in at the time he was busted. A phone case that looks like brass knuckles is a marketing gimmick, not a weapon.

The concentrated cannabis was a gob of the resin that collects under a trimmer's fingernails after a few hours work. In SoHum, these things are common as dirt to every itinerant pharm worker in the medical marijuana business — which incidentally just this past year surpassed rice as California’s most lucrative ag export.

Mr. Sky was busted in Willits, naturally. I say “naturally” because until the Willits By-pass is completed, Willits is a bottleneck where law enforcement “interdicts” (picks off) the overflow of a billion-dollar business as it heads to market in the big cities to the south.

“I pulled him over for speeding,” Deputy Jason Cox said.

I would have profiled Mark Sky as a drug runner. One look at the guy and my first thought is: He is moving “product” to market. But law enforcement would never stoop to such conclusions.

Sky's iPhone, hanging from the rearview mirror in a brass knuckles case, was further evidence that he was transporting drugs. Drug runners are vulnerable to lots of people other than cops, and weapons are needed to protect the “product” — the latest slang for marijuana. Or they just want to look cool. Or both. But one would think drug mules would be a little more discrete, a little more low profile if they wanted to get to the other side of Willits with their cargo intact.

But Southern Humboldt hippies are just like Anderson Valley hippies: they find the thug look and accoutrements simply irresistible. Pit bulls and pistols long ago replaced flowers and peace signs. The beautiful people have turned ugly; they think brass knuckles and skulls are cute. Black is still beautiful; but olive drab is the new black; especially camo. So when I hear “victims of the system” on the KMUD and KZYX radio call-in shows condemning the cops as “a bunch of thugs,” I just shake my head and decant another pony of scotch.

Sky’s iPhone also contained all his pay and owe records for drug transactions, plus his contacts — they’ll all soon be busted — and a great many other items that he will shortly be indicted on. When will these clowns learn that anything you say or enter into a cellphone is a gift to law enforcement? But hell, just volunteer everything! It’s the Humboldt way! But the Mendo way is to convert dope busts to cash, so if Mendo catches you playin', you're going to be payin'. Count on it.

“Mr. Sky, my client,” Schwartz explained, “is a Canadian citizen.”

So? Lot’s Canadians, as well as many other nationalities congregate in SoHum and Mendoland for the grow season. Right here in Mendocino County a pair of North Hollywood Armenians are the latest nationality to join the Northcoast's narco-empire's United Nations.

If Judge John Behnke had been any more interested in Sky’s nationality, he would have been asleep. And like any lawyer with a bar bill and a mortgage, Jeff Schwartz wanted more time; billing time, that is. What good is an international client if you can’t bill him?

Sky needed time to consider these new threats from McMenomey to hardball.

Judge Behnke said, “Your position is that — if I’m reading you correctly, that is — that the DA cannot add these charges at the prelim?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Schwartz affirmed. “But first I would like to express my annoyance at having driven up here from San Francisco this morning to find that I have no information on the K-9 and the copy of the iCop video I received was not satisfactory either. It seemed to have been cut. I know I should have filed a discovery motion, but I’ve never had this problem in Humboldt courts. I rather expected better of you chaps in Mendocino, I dare say, and based on that I’ll have to beg the court for a continuance.”

Judge Behnke nodded sympathetically, if shortly, at these lamentations.

He said, “Yes, there is no formal discovery motion on file with the court. Mr. Eyster made a good faith effort to supply that, and if it had been brought to my attention that there were problems last week, I would have been able to act. But my position now is that I confirmed this prelim last week to go forward today.”

“But your honor, I got a message from Mr. Faulder who had contacted Mr. Gardner about the field performance records of the K-9 and I get a message this morning in San Francisco saying this is all we have.”

Schwartz was holding a lone page with a sentence or two printed on it. You could read more from the expression on his face — which was already red at 9am, either from the chilly ride up from the Bay, or a couple of snorts. Maybe the guy was simply livid.

The judge said, “The efforts to comply were substantial, counsel. And these records you are talking about, you knew you didn’t have them last week. The message from Faulder merely confirms that he had sent you all that was available. It appears the DA doesn’t have them and, absent any written notice, either way, counsel, I am not finding good cause.”

The motion to continue seemed stuck.

“Your honor,” Schwartz said, “I’ve got one charge of transportation of a controlled substance, MDMA. This is what I came to court to defend. Now, the DA tells me he’s going to be filing charges on the small amount of marijuana found in a cigarette pack and the so-called brass knuckles. I just found out about this. Then there’s the issue of the 215 card.”

“There was no evidence of a 215 card,” DDA McMenomey interrupted.

“Yes there was, your honor…”

“No there wasn’t!”

Behnke wrenched the bat out of the hands of the bickering attorneys.

“I’m going to go forward with the prelim. Mr. McMenomey, call your first witness.”

Deputy Jason Cox mounted the stand, took his oath and told how he’d pulled the defendant over for speeding in Willits. Cox smelled skunkweed, fetched the dog, found the dope.

Defense wanted to know if the dog had his credentials in order.

“Certified in Napa County, back in the year ’05,” Deputy Cox reminisced fondly.

“And how long was it before you brought the dog out? After you stopped my client? Mr. Sky? Eh?”

Cox tilted his head thoughtfully a moment, reflecting. “It was about six minutes into the stop.”

Deputy Cox looks like a male model, but with a crew-cut and close shave.

“Your honor, I’m going to object. The officer walked his K-9 partner around my client’s car six minutes into the stop. Had I known that I would have filed a motion to suppress.”

Deputy Cox’s K-9 partner is Ben, a German Shepherd. Ben smelled the cannabis in the drivers’ door panel and alerted partner Cox that he — Ben — was authorizing a search. Cox keyed his radio and summoned Officer Androtti of the Willits PD — whom we encountered in last week’s report — to assist in a full vehicle search. It was Androtti who found the sack of ecstasy in the jack compartment of the trunk. There were 25 pills with little lightning bolts on them. Cox conducted a field nick test on one of the pills and it tested positive.

“MDMA is only one molecule off from methamphetamine,” he explained. Either meth or ecstasy will test positive with the field test kit the officers use.

Getting back to the metal knuckles, Judge Behnke wanted to know the basis for the evidence.

McMenomey said, “We can offer evidence that directly ties the metal knuckles to the drugs, your honor. It is common for drug dealers to carry weapons with them to protect the drugs.”

“That’s irrelevant,” Schwartz howled. “It’s charged as transportation, not possession for sale. And this,” Schwartz took a bright object with brass knuckles and a place for a cell phone out of his pocket and held it up — “is a designer case for the new iPhone. And they had an opportunity to charge it as a weapon at the time.”

McMenomey said, “It is incredulous, your honor, that he said he had no knowledge of the metallic knuckles being an issue, then he produces it conveniently out of his pocket.”

Judge Behnke suppressing a smile said, “You may be incredulous, but it would be incredible, counsel.”

McMenomey blushed at his gaffe.

Behnke added, “Metallic knuckles have been elevated by the legislature as a weapon and as such these things have the potential to enhance felonies beyond what they might have been…” He paused to consult some resource materials on his desk, then said, “There is no question that the DA can add charges.” He read from a page in a law book: “ ‘The totality of the evidence at the prelim shows the defendant what he may have to face at trial.’ But I’m going to take a recess and research this further in my office. We’ll reconvene in 10 minutes.”

While the judge was gone, defendant Sky and his lawyer went out to smoke cigarettes. McMenomey and Cox toyed with the plastic version of the brass knuckle iPhone case. Cox told McMenomey he could break his jaw if he had an iPhone in the case, plastic or not. Cox, in fact, could break McMenomey’s jaw with or without a loaded knuckle's case.

When the judge returned he read from another law book: “The prelim serves as notice as to potential charges, as long as the charges are not psychologically camouflaged, and it is the magistrate’s duty to hold the defendant for whatever is proved, regardless of what is charged by the prosecution.”

Behnke drew the only possible conclusion from what he'd just read. “So the way I see this is the totality of the circumstances is what counts, and it shouldn’t be a big surprise that the DA is going to include the knuckles — it’s not inappropriate — so I’m going to allow the DA to enter the evidence.”

McMenomey said, “It was certainly no surprise to counsel or he wouldn’t have pulled the knuckles out of his pocket — like a rabbit out of a hat. He must have had a pretty good idea we were going to charge it.”

Schwartz then launched into the issue of the 215 card. At the time of the initial stop, Sky was asked if he had any marijuana, any medical marijuana. He replied that he had no marijuana and no medical need for any, so Deputy Cox felt the 215 card was irrelevant. Schwartz said, “I have in my hand a valid 215 card that my client had at the time of arrest.”

McMenomey: “What we are seeking here, your honor, is a holding order for crimes committed, not unfair surprise — no ‘psychological camouflage’.”

Schwartz: “My client was booked with the metallic knuckles and had to pay increased bail because of it.”

Behnke: “I’m going to continue the prelim so that you can prepare a medical marijuana defense, counsel, but I would like to let the prosecution finish with the witness so we don’t have to call Deputy Cox back to the stand.”

The testimony of witness Deputy Cox showed that the defendant had been involved with several grow and sales operations, and all of this evidence was on the iPhone — the new one, the iPhone Five. It seems the iPhone caused most of Sky’s troubles. If not for the brass knuckles being used for an iPhone case with all the info on the phone regarding the marijuana grows and sales, the DA probably would have let the charges stand as only transportation of the ecstasy, and let it go at that.

The prelim is set to continue in two weeks as we consider the stupidity of keeping illegal business transactions in iPhones, and the telltale iPhone in an illegal weapons case.

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