We were about to hear how it came to pass that Ashley LaForge had, that raw February morning, taken the stand to call Officer Peter Hoyle a liar, and that same afternoon got herself busted with nine pounds of processed weed in the trunk of her Honda sedan.
Ms. LaForge and her boyfriend, a Mr. Jesse Wolfe, were driving around after denouncing Hoyle in court last February 3rd when they were pulled over by Ukiah Police Officer Madrigal, the pot was found, and LaForge and Wolfe were arrested. Next day, LaForge’s trial, resumed in her absence, although she was in custody and the jailers bring hundreds of prisoners back and forth to court every week.
For her new case, Ms. LaForge had a different lawyer, Jan Cole-Wilson — Keith Faulder had represented her at her February trial, that one having ended in a hung jury — and the prosecutor had been changed as well, from Dan Madow to the District Attorney himself, Dave Eyster. I was running late, having been shackled at the ankle to a photo-journalist from Newsweek Magazine, but the DA was running even later.
“Is he feeling his way up the stairs — or what?” Judge Ann Moorman wondered aloud.
When the laughter at the judge's joke subsided — Her Honor can be quite funny — Wolfe, a true gentleman, stood in the dock and said he’d take the rap for the nine pounds in Ms. LaForge's car. Wolfe's gallantry meant a major violation of his probation on a series of other cases and send him down for three years.
“Do you understand that, Mr. Wolfe?”
“Yes, Your Honor. But I want it on record that it was all mine, and Ashley had nothing to do with it.”
(Ashley, if you're reading this, you'll never know a truer man. Especially in Ukiah.)
“Okay, Mr. Wolfe, how do you plea to the”—
“Mr. Wolfe," Judge Moorman insisted, "you have to wait until I read the charges, understand? Let’s try it again. What’s your plea to 11360 [transportation of marijuana] of the Health & Safety Code?”
“Guilty, Your Honor.”
DA Eyster walked in, saw what was going down and demanded Wolfe’s bail be rescinded while Wolfe awaits sentencing on April 3rd.
“He’s not on bail.”
“I know that judge, but I want it understood that he’s ineligible for bail if he comes up with the money.”
“Okay, but I want him out of the room before we begin the prelim for Ms. LaForge.”
As the martyred Wolfe was marched past the photographer and out of the courtroom, his lawyer, Jessica Hoagland of the Office of the Public Defender, struck a pose for a national media shot. Judge Moorman beckoned her bailiff, Art Barkley, over for an explanation.
“He [the Newsweek photographer] has the required permission form, signed by Judge Nelson, your honor.”
“Very well, let’s proceed with the prelim. Ms. Cole-Wilson, are you ready to go forward?”
“I am, your honor, and Ms. LaForge is present and coming forward. But the DA has taken off again; he went looking for something.”
Despite Wolfe’s plea, the DA wasn’t about to let LaForge off the hook. Eyster maintained that the pay & owe sheets found in Ms. LaForge's car the previous March — the case she’d gone to trial over, which ended in a hung jury (only one juror thought her guilty) — showed that she was involved with marijuana sales and knew very well that the nine pounds were in her trunk. When the DA came in he called Deputy Jim Wells of the Major Crimes Task Force, who had searched LaForge's car at the Motel 6 on South State Street on March 20th of 2014.
Eyster: “Did you find a notebook in Ms. LaForge’s car?”
Cole-Wilson: “Objection. There’s been no offer of proof that the car belonged to my client.”
Eyster: “Did you check to see who the car was registered to?”
Wells: “No, but I believe Agent Hoyle did.”
Cole-Wilson: “Objection. Hearsay.”
Eyster: “Hoyle’s in the building, judge. I can get him down here.” [Turning back to the witness]: “What is a P&O sheet?”
Wells: “It’s how people keep track of their business dealings in the commercial aspect of marijuana sales.”
Eyster: “Do you recognize these pages I’m holding up?”
Wells: “Yes, they were torn from the notebook found in the car.”
Eyster: “Can you explain how it works?”
Wells: “Yes. See here it says the name Knox, then the dollar amount Knox owes for three pounds of Diesel, six pounds of Cheese [names for various types of pot], one pound of Girl Scout, 12 pounds of Cherry Pie and 20 pounds of White Widow. And each of these strains of marijuana has been marked with a price per pound, for instance $1600 for the White Widow; and then we see a total amount owed and a total amount paid at the bottom of the column.”
It seemed pretty clear Ms. LaForge was not the Avon Lady.
Eyster: “Do you believe this was used for the commercial sale and distribution of marijuana?”
Wells: “I do, yes.”
Eyster: “Nothing further.”
Cole-Wilson: “These pages were seized on March 20th of last year?”
Wells: “Yes, that’s correct.”
Cole-Wilson: “And they were found in the trunk?”
Cole-Wilson: “So Hoyle was at the Motel 6 and called you out to assist?”
Wells: “Yes, he called and ask us to help because he thought she had a warrant for her arrest, and he’d seen her come out of the motel room and go to the car.”
Cole-Wilson: “And you’re doing all this [testifying] from memory?”
Cole-Wilson: “How many cases have you been called out on at the Motel 6 since then?”
(There are drug cases connected to the Motel 6 on an almost weekly basis. You'd think someone moving this much dope might try a more upscale venue, maybe a Westside Ukiah B&B.)
Wells: “Only maybe two that I’ve been involved with.”
Cole-Wilson: “What else was in the trunk of the car that you remember?”
Wells: “Some clothing and other items; I don’t recall everything.”
Cole-Wilson: “Do you recall what was found in the passenger compartment of the vehicle?”
Wells: “A lot of items… I don’t know what all.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did you make an inventory?”
Wells: “Yes, but I don’t remember what was on it.”
Cole-Wilson: “You gave the P&O sheets to Hoyle?”
Wells: “Right after I found them.”
Cole-Wilson: “Before or after my client was arrested?”
Cole-Wilson: “What was Hoyle doing?”
Wells: “Helping search the vehicle.”
Cole-Wilson: “Find any marijuana?”
Wells: “I did not.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did anyone else?”
Wells: “Not that I recall.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did you review Hoyle’s report today?”
Wells: “I did not.”
Cole-Wilson: “Besides the P&O sheets did you find anything else related to marijuana?”
Wells: “Not that I recall.”
Cole-Wilson: “Who tore the pages out of the notebook?”
Wells: “Hoyle tore them out.”
Cole-Wilson: “You have no idea how long those documents were in the trunk of that car, do you?”
Cole-Wilson: “But Ms. LaForge told you Jeanette Long had been in that car, didn’t she?”
Eyster: “Objection. Hearsay.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did Hoyle tell you his informant had been in that vehicle?”
Wells: “No, I don’t believe so.”
The DA called Special Agent Peter Hoyle who said he saw LaForge open the car with a key.
Eyster: “Did you arrest her?”
Eyster: “And the keys she had belonged to the car?”
Eyster: “Thank you, Agent Hoyle — Oh, one more thing: Did you determine who the car belonged to?”
Hoyle: “Yes. It was registered to Ashley LaForge.”
Eyster: “How do you know that?”
Hoyle: “I ran it through the DMV.”
Eyster: “That’s all I have.”
Cole-Wilson: “On March 20th of 2014 did you assist Deputy Wells in searching the vehicle?”
Hoyle: “No. I was present, but I don’t think I took part in the search.”
Cole-Wilson: “Do you recall what came out of the vehicle?”
Hoyle: “There was a notepad with some pages missing.”
Cole-Wilson: “What part of the vehicle did it come out of?”
Hoyle: “I think the trunk.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did you remove pages from it?”
Hoyle: “No, I don’t know who did that.”
Cole-Wilson: “And there was no marijuana taken out of the vehicle?”
Hoyle: “Right, only the P&O sheets.”
Cole-Wilson: “And you have no idea how long the P&O sheets had been in the vehicle?”
Cole-Wilson: “And isn’t it true that your informant, Ms. Long, had been in the vehicle as well?”
Hoyle: “I won’t refer to her as my informant but, yes, she had been in that vehicle with Ms. LaForge.”
Cole-Wilson: “Nothing further.”
Eyster reiterated that the P&O sheets proved LaForge was in the pot business and that the nine pounds were as much hers as Wolfe’s. Cole-Wilson said it was preposterous to take the P&O sheets from a year ago and apply them to the current situation. How the pot came to be found was also a highly suspect piece of police work since neither Officer Madrigal nor Daisy the Dope Dog smelled it when the car was stopped on February 3rd of this year.
Cole-Wilson put the dog handler, Officer Andrew Snyder of Ukiah PD on the stand.
Cole-Wilson: “You were called to assist when Officer Madrigal stopped my client of February 3rd?”
Snyder: “Yes, that’s right.”
Cole-Wilson: “And did your dog, Daisy, did she alert to the marijuana in the trunk when you took her around my client’s car?”
Snyder: “No, she did not.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did you smell marijuana in the vehicle?”
Snyder: “I never entered the vehicle.”
Cole-Wilson: “Is Daisy trained to alert to the smell of methamphetamine?”
Cole-Wilson: “Did she alert positively to the meth pipe found on the sun visor?”
Snyder: “No, she didn’t.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did Officer Madrigal say she [Daisy] did not smell marijuana?”
Snyder: “She didn’t tell me whether she did or not.”
Cole-Wilson: “Did you search the vehicle?”
Snyder: “I was there, yes.”
Cole-Wilson: “Are you the one who found the marijuana in the trunk?”
Snyder: “Yes. There was five pounds in one bag and four more in another bag.”
As the Newsweek photographer and I were walking along the street later, he said he smelled marijuana. I stopped and sniffed and I smelled it too. But if he hadn’t mentioned it I wouldn’t have noticed. You get so used to the essence de bazooka that even a cop or a trained dog often doesn’t notice it.
But Judge Moorman held Ashley LaForge to answer on transportation of the nine pounds and possession of the meth pipe since she had access to the car, and as the owner, Ms. LaForge had a responsibility to know what was in it.
Ms. LaForge is something of a one-person judicial employment provider. She has a number of other cases wending their way through the courts and we’ll likely be hearing more about her legal difficulties in coming editions of the world-famous AVA, about to be celebrated in the pages of an upcoming issue of Newsweek Magazine.