The title may be trite, but in Mendocino County during harvest time, cliché or not, we get ‘em all — and when it comes to the stupendously vaulting sense of entitlement we often see among the youthful vagabonds passing through, Arik Caldwell is arguably in a class by himself.
Having written in this paper about the adventures which landed him in the Mendocino County Jail back in October shortly after his arrest, Mr. Caldwell seemed to think the editorial board condoned his bizarre behavior and, additionally, that we had some pull with the courts. What he didn’t seem to understand — but certainly must by now — is that only his jury could get him out of his legal difficulties.
That jury, a cross-section of mature Mendocino working-class stalwarts, local folks who’ve been around long enough that transient nutjobs don’t particularly impress them, found Caldwell guilty. His defense seemed to be limited to suggesting that no matter how goofy and offensive he may be, he had a right to do as he pleased and that he was innocent of the charge of injuring the cops who came to arrest him at Chief’s Smokehouse in Laytonville where he had taken over the restroom and refused to leave.
In his story that we printed, Caldwell said he’d previously let himself into a motel lobby near Ashland in the middle of the night and made himself a bed on the couch. When the innkeeper discovered him — likely a memorable discovery for that woman — and asked Caldwell to leave he first tried to defraud her with a worthless credit card. When that didn’t work, he hurled a bucket of potty-mouth in her face.
On the lam from this caper, Caldwell drifted across the Oregon-California border and on down to Laytonville where he was found doing his laundry in the Smokehouse restaurant restroom under the pretense of cleaning up after himself. He was asked to leave and, using his gift for abusive language, refused, sure that the police would vindicate him. Having been to prison, Caldwell considered himself something of legal scholar — especially when it came to his rights.
While waiting for the cops, Caldwell, clearly under the influence of mind-altering drugs, disported himself in his underwear on landscaping boulders in the parking lot, having entertained the patrons by humping the wooden Indian out front. This is where we first see him, prancing about on the rocks when he comes into view on the iCop video, which was played in court last week.
It was training day for Deputy Milton Ryan, and the rookie immediately took a rude slap in the face from Caldwell, as the fracas started. Two other deputies, Wyant and Elmore, moved in to help Ryan but the action had left the view of the iCop by this time, and we had to hear what happened from Deputy Ryan and his field training officer, Deputy James Elmore. Deputy Wyant had been called in as backup.
Ryan said he tazered Caldwell to no effect, so he tackled him and the other deputies helped cuff him. At some point in the encounter Ryan got kicked in the face, Elmore had various items on his duty belt pulled off and scattered, and Caldwell got his head cracked open with a baton. When it was over, Elmore sent Ryan to get his camera and take some pictures of the damage done to both parties. Then they left for the hospital.
Wisely, perhaps, Caldwell’s lawyer, Andrew Higgins of the Office of the Public Defender, did not put his client on the stand. The only defense Higgins offered was to bring up the telltale photographs, one at a time, on cross-exam of the deputies, and show them to the jury. The strategy seemed to be that since Caldwell got the worst of the fight, and he was outnumbered three-to-one, the jury might take pity on him.
The first picture showed Elmore’s radio mic ripped from his uniform epaulette, its cord wound around his neck; the next photo was of the radio itself torn from his belt, along with other items, scattered on the ground.
The pictures were “published to” (passed among) the jurors.
In each case, the prosecution, in the person of Deputy DA Jon Hopkins, was given opportunity to object, and Hopkins did so only once: It was a picture of Caldwell at the hospital after hydrogen peroxide had been poured on his scalp wound, and his pale face was red with diluted blood. Hopkins thought this photo was sensationally gratuitous, but Judge Ann Moorman allowed it to be published to the jurors. The picture of Deputy Ryan’s face with a scrape from Caldwell’s shoe had been cleaned by the EMTs at the scene and didn’t look as bad as the cut on Caldwell’s head, which took a couple of surgical staples to close. There was also an injury on Caldwell’s shin, probably from a rock in the parking lot, Ryan said.
Deputy Wyant’s uniform seemed to have suffered more than his person, although there was a bruise on his forearm. Caldwell also had a bruise on his arm. It was Wyant’s iCop video — he having arrived on the scene last — that showed the beginning of the altercation. Then, after the first encounter, the action moved in front of the other patrol car, but there was a problem with the iCop video from this car, which would have shown the three deputies wailing away on the combative Caldwell with tazers, batons and fists — Elmore said he personally struck Caldwell at least three times in the face with his fist. Defense attorney Higgins seemed disbelieving that this video was not available.
Higgins: “What happened to the video from the iCop in the other patrol car?”
Elmore: “The hard drive — there was something wrong with the hard drive when I tried to download it.”
Higgins; “What became of it?”
Elmore: “I sent it in to our IT people for repair.”
Higgins; “Any follow up — did you try to find out if it was salvageable?”
Elmore: “I think I may have.”
Elmore: “The next day.”
Higgins: “But nothing since then?”
Higgins: “The wound on my client’s head was caused by you?”
Elmore: “No. Deputy Wyant tried to hit him on the shoulder and must have missed.”
Higgins: “Well, wouldn’t Deputy Wyant be the one to make such a statement? Or did Deputy Wyant announce, ‘I’m gonna try to hit him on the shoulder, now’?”
Elmore didn’t answer.
Higgins: “Where was Mr. Caldwell at the time he was struck?”
Elmore: “Kneeling on the ground.”
Higgins: “And your decision to strike him while he was on the ground was based on …what?”
Elmore: “To distract him.”
Higgins: “Did you strike him with your baton?”
Higgins: “How many times?”
Elmore: “Three or four.”
Higgins: “Then you tazed him again — Ryan already had — why was that?”
Elmore: “Nothing else was working.”
Higgins; “How many times did you punch my client in the face with your fist?”
Elmore: “Three times.”
Higgins: “Then you moved the prongs of the tazer, spreading them out for greater effect?”
Elmore: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Higgins: “Can you estimate my client’s weight at the time?”
Elmore: “Approximately 180 pounds.”
Higgins: “And your weight?”
Elmore: “About 250.”
Higgins: “Did you find any drugs or weapons on him?”
Higgins: “How many times did you pull the trigger on your tazer?”
Elmore: “Four, but the first time his hand was in the way.”
Higgins: “Unresponsive, your honor, move to strike that last comment.”
Moorman: “That’ll be denied, Mr. Higgins.”
Higgins: “Deputy Ryan told you Mr. Caldwell was growling at him?”
Elmore: “Not that I recall.”
Higgins: “If he had would you have put that in your report?”
Elmore: “Probably not.”
Higgins: “Where was my client when you started punching him in the face with your fist?”
Elmore: “He was on the ground.”
Higgins: “And at the same time Deputies Ryan and Wyant were hitting him with their batons?”
Higgins; “Were there any bystanders, any witnesses to this altercation?”
Higgins: “Did you go and talk to any of them?”
Higgins: “That’s all I have, thank you.”
On the third (!) day of the trial the lawyers began their closing arguments. First, Deputy DA Hopkins, then Mr. Higgins, and then Hopkins came back to refute Higgins’s assertions — it sounds unfair that defense cannot rebut, but prosecution has the burden of proof.
This burden, Higgins told the jurors, had not been met. He said the business with the missing iCop video was suspicious, and that the failure to contact bystanders as possible witnesses was another indication of wrongdoing on the part of the deputies. Defense lawyers chronically complain that law enforcement officers don’t go out of their way to collect exculpatory evidence for their clients, and sure we’ve seen abuses, but, on the other hand, the cops and prosecutors never accuse defense lawyers of the same or similar instances of going out of their way to gather incriminating evidence — in fact, it’s a foregone conclusion that they are expected to lose, hide or destroy it in order to get their clients off.
Higgins had made a chart showing the impossibility of reaching a guilty verdict with the high bar of “reasonable doubt” having to be surmounted first, and Hopkins’ first order of business on rebuttal was to shoot it down, calling it a sleight of hand card trick, making the burden of proof look impossible.
“Reasonable doubt,” Hopkins told the jurors. “That’s the standard. Not beyond any possible or imaginary doubt. Sure you can imagine that what went on after the subjects moved from the scope of the iCop video was this or that or the other, but you are instructed not to employ your imaginations.”
All well and good, but Mr. Hopkins later contradicted himself on this particular point, asking the jurors to do just that.
Near the end of his arguments he said that the officers didn’t know what kind of drugs Mr. Caldwell might have been on.
“His behavior indicated he may well have been on something,” he said. “From their perspective [the deputies] he could have been a danger to himself or others. Can you imagine if, for instance, he had suddenly run into the street? And been struck by a car? Imagine, ladies and gentlemen, imagine how the driver of that car would feel: For the rest of his or her life, this person — much like yourselves, any one of you — imagine the driver of that car having to carry the burden of that throughout the rest of their lives?
This little excursion into fantasyland sputtered to a halt, having run out of gas and Hopkins moved on.
“Now defense made a gratuitous point of the way Deputy Elmore was positioned when Deputy Ryan photographed him with the defendant, saying that it looked for all the world as if Elmore was posing with a trophy buck he might have mounted by a taxidermist. How absurd! He was merely documenting the excessive and unreasonable force that was required to bring this subject under control. The used tazers, batons, punches — nothing worked. And they had a right to detain him, like I said, because he might have at any moment done something crazy like bolt out into the street…”
Hopkins seemed to realize he was repeating himself on a not particularly convincing point, so he wandered into the missing iCop video and soon found himself stranded as to any convincing explanation on that subject, so he cut to the chase, asking the jury to give up the conviction.
There were two charges. One, the greater felony charge of using violence to resist arrest, and the lesser misdemeanor charge of merely resisting arresting. The jury came back the same day with guilty verdicts on both.
Sentencing has not yet been set.
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Note: Caldwell sports a neck tattoo indicating a strong affinity for the Juggalos (Juggalettes for females). It's a name given to dedicated fans of the rap group Insane Clown Posse or any other Psychopathic Records artist. Juggalo subculture originated from ad hoc fan groups for horrorcore hip hop music; in recent years, criminal groups began using the name “Juggalo” and associated imagery from mainstream Juggalo culture. As a result, Juggalos have been classified as a criminal street gang by government and law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Gang Intelligence Center, and the states of Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, and Utah. Juggalo gang sets have been documented by law enforcement in at least 21 states, including those that do not recognize Juggalos as a gang at the state level.