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The Great Escape


A long dull week in the tedious administration of justice ended in a violent clap of excitement Friday morning when Dustin Henderson, in custody was suddenly out of custody, bursting out of Judge David Nelson’s courtroom on the top floor, flying down the back stairs, kicking open an emergency exit, and disappearing north on State Street.

As the bailiffs scrambled out after the fugitive, investigators for the DA’s office – housed in the back of the CPS building a block away — and police officers from Ukiah Police Department three blocks south and west of the Courthouse, rushed to secure the courtrooms. Duty sergeants, lieutenants, and captains were roused from their desks at the Sheriff’s Office on Low Gap Road and pressed into action. Cops were running around downtown Ukiah from all directions. As one officer later commented, “It was a lot of excitement for some of us old guys.”

Bailiff Art Barclay has been in uniform since 1975, and he’d earlier confided to me that after 38 years of service the weeks were getting longer and longer. I had complained that I didn’t have a story for the week and Art said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to create something then.”

Little did he know.

Dustin Henderson, a big athletic kid, had been charged with assault with a deadly weapon in a road rage incident when he allegedly fired a high-powered pellet gun at a fellow motorist out on the Covelo Road. These new air guns are extremely accurate and can easily punch through a man’s skull – they’re not exactly your old Red Rider BB guns. Henderson had posted bail to appear on the assault charge, but when he got to Nelson’s arraignment court, the prosecutor, Deputy DA Dan Madow, had amended the charge against Henderson to attempted murder and upped his bail to $225,000. That’s when Henderson hit the door with a bang, thundered down the stairs, slamming doors shut behind him, and left a spider web in the shatter-proof glass of the emergency exit, setting off the alarm.

“It must have occurred to him [Henderson] that he was about to be remanded into custody,” Madow said, tautologically.

All this was learned later. At the time Henderson bolted, all that was known was that some emergency was afoot. The courtrooms were being locked down, alarms were blaring, and I barely made it outside myself before I was locked in. Out on the street, cops were scurrying in every direction. A black and white patrol car pulled up, lights flashing, and the driver asked a Corrections Officer with a van full of prisoners what he knew. The CO pointed at a woman crossing the street and said she might know something. Apparently she was Henderson’s significant other, but she wasn’t telling, if she knew, where her boyfriend had gone.

I went back inside to look for eyewitnesses. The civilian court attendant was talking into his microphone, giving the search party Henderson’s name and physical description. In Department B – which was locked down, due to the lack of a bailiff — the corrections officers had their radios turned up so everyone could hear the play-by-play. This I learned later, over a drink after the day was done, the long week at an end, from a lawyer who had been present.

“He’s been spotted by the law office of Duncan James,” came one report. Then, a few minutes later, “Somebody just saw him run by Justin Petersen’s law office.” It seemed pretty clear that the cops all knew where the defense lawyers were housed, and that these were readily recognizable landmarks.

But then an alternate theory was offered.

“He might just be looking for a good lawyer,” Judge John Behnke observed with deadpan irony.

I was on my way out to the scene (i.e., Petersen’s office) when two deputies appeared at the ground-floor prisoner entrance. They gripped Henderson on both sides. Henderson was in a wife-beater tee-shirt and jeans. His two captors were Deputy Bobbie Moore, who had been working as a transportation officer for prisoners that morning, and Bailiff Lyle Courtney of Judge Behnke’s court. They had found Henderson under the School Street bridge over Gibson Creek – which has been dry since the last rain storm. Henderson's a tough-looking dude, with what fist-fighters call “guns” (meaning substantial muscles). But Deputy Moore – who had gone under the bridge to get him – was even bigger.

Henderson was taken into a holding cell, and Deputy James Scroggins came in carrying the blue shirt which the fugitive had thrown off to change his look.

I then boarded the elevator with the Deputy DA who noted calmly that Henderson had only complicated his legal difficulties and that additional charges would promptly be filed against him after he had been booked into the county jail later in the day.


The jail, we had learned, has been a scene of considerable commotion since the arrest of Jeanette Long – which happened shortly after the publication of an issue of this newspaper wherein she was alleged, in open court, to be an informant. One of the Corrections Officers said that a number of inmates have been vigorously rattling the newspaper — several copies of which are sent weekly to the jail — in front of Long’s cell and making ugly threats. It should be noted that there’s no proof that Ms. Long is a snitch, and law enforcement has emphatically denied the rumor. Nevertheless, Long has been kept out of general population for her own safety.

Apparently, even the jail can be gotten out of, as Mr. Michael Anderson recently proved, by escaping. The details of the jailbreak (for obvious reasons) didn’t come out in open court, but more time was added to Anderson's upcoming prison sentence because of it. He was first on the docket to be sentenced Friday to four years and eight months for a combination of assault convictions and the escape, which was characterized as being accomplished without the use of force, thereby saving him even more punishment.

Anderson, a canny dude, had been at the jail long enough to study the place and its routines pretty thoroughly; his studies apparently won him a brief freedom but had exacerbated his legal situation. Anderson had racked up an impressive amount of good time on a couple of assault charges, and Judge Ann Moorman lamented that, by law, she couldn’t order the time for the escape to run concurrently with the assault charges, otherwise Anderson would probably have had all his time served before he even left for state prison. But, because of the escape, off he goes on the southbound Quentin bus.

It was at the end of Anderson’s sentencing that the commotion with Henderson started – about 9:30 Friday morning – and Anderson's was the only newsworthy item on the docket all week, in light of which, I would like to thank both these escape artists for providing the readership with a story this week, since, otherwise, there wouldn’t have been one.

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