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Bicycle Roulette

Ray
Ray

Gabriel Ray is the man accused of “mowing down” five bicyclists on Old River Road near Hopland last January 30th. The 18-year old has been charged with five counts of assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury.

This is the second time the District Attorney has experimented with the novel idea of defining a car as a weapon of mass destruction. The first was when mild-mannered Ukiah bookstore clerk Joan Rainville plowed through a fence to literally crash a backyard barbeque party.

A jury found the bookish Joan guilty, but the array of charges against Ray may never make it to trial.

A legal snag arose during Ray's preliminary hearing in late May when it was revealed that the arresting officer began questioning Ray without reading him of his Miranda rights — asking Ray if he’d been driving the Honda sedan that had careened into the bicyclists on Old Hopland Road.

The officer's questioning of Ray had begun while Ray's Honda was still upside down on top of the screaming woman it had struck. The seven officers at the scene had been unable to lift the car off her, and were waiting for heavy equipment to free her.

To say the least, it was a disturbing scene that met CHP Officer Slates. Mangled bicycles were scattered along the side of the road, a woman was screaming where she was pinned under Ray's overturned car, another lay covered up in a ditch, and others were being attended to by EMTs.

The two men from the suspect Honda sat in the back of Officer Heinke’s patrol car when Officer Slates took one of them out, Mr. Ray, to question him.

Deputy DA Josh Rosenfeld put Officer Slates on the stand and tried to find out whether Ray was actually detained when Officer Slates began to question him. Or was he simply seated in the back of a patrol car while the other officers strained to get the car off the screaming woman.

Rosenfeld: “Was the subject — were either of them — wearing handcuffs?”

Slates: “No, he was not. I had him get out and go to the front of the patrol car.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you search him?”

Slates: “I patted him down for weapons is all.”

Rosenfeld: “When did you arrive?”

Slates: “At 17:45…” (5:45pm)

There had been some discussion as to when the accident occurred, and it was determined to be 5:20pm — approximately. Defense attorney Andrew Martinez of Santa Rosa : “Was it clear to you that people had been injured?”

Slates: “Yes. Ms. Banks was laying in the ditch covered with a coat or blanket and Ms. Sterns could be heard screaming in pain to get the vehicle off of her.”

Martinez: “Did you speak to Officer Heinke?”

Slates: “Yes. He said he detected the odor of alcohol on both the occupants of the Honda sedan. He’d put them both in his vehicle in order to help try and get the Honda off Ms. Sterns.”

Martinez: “Did Officer Heinke give you any information as to who had been driving?”

Slates: “”I don’t believe so, no.”

Martinez: “Who did you take out of Heinke’s vehicle first?”

Slates: “Your client.” [Ray]

Martinez: “Any particular reason why you chose him?”

Slates: “He was closest to me; he was on the side of the vehicle I was on, the right-hand side.”

Martinez was murmuring his questions so quietly he couldn’t be heard in the gallery, and even though I sent a request via the court bailiff, Jeff Courtney, to ask the lawyer to please speak up — this being a case of considerable public interest — my request was ignored, and I can only approximate what Mr. Martinez’s questions were, based on the context of the answers.

Prosecutor Rosenfeld had meanwhile been researching his case law and by this time had a couple of instances regarding Miranda to offer. Judge John Behnke went into his chambers to study the cases and after a time emerged to say what he’d decided:

“The question is whether there was a detention. They are simply waiting in the car until officer Slates takes over is what prosecution is suggesting. I’m supposed to consider how long they were there, a factor that’s not abundantly clear. I guess I’d like to hear a little more about the officer’s demeanor and whether the person being questioned would have felt free to end the questioning. The defense has made a motion to strike everything said, but I’d like to hear a little more before I decide.”

Rosenfeld: “Who was there when you arrived?”

Slates: “Officers Heinke and Ramsey.”

Rosenfeld: “Who came first?”

Slates: “Heinke. Then, two or three minutes later, Ramsey.”

Rosenfeld: “So how long before you arrived and contacted him [Mr. Ray]?”

Slates: “I’d guess 12 to 15 minutes.”

Martinez: “Objection, [mumble-mumble grumble].”

Behnke: “I’ll accept an approximation, but when a witness says ‘I guess’ I have no choice but to strike the entire answer.”

Rosenfeld: “Can you describe what your demeanor was like?”

Slates: “It was light, I just wanted to find out what was going on.”

Rosenfeld: “Were you yelling, or raising your voice at all?”

Slates: “No. No, not in the least.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you maintain a proper interview distance?”

Slates: “Yes I did.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you threaten him at all?”

Slates: “No.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you ask if the vehicle belonged to him?”

Slates: “I did. He said it was his mother's.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you ask if he’d stolen it?”

Slates: “He said she knew he had it.”

Rosenfeld: “Ask what he was doing?”

Slates: “He said he’d been to a party at the Hopland rez and was learning to drive a stick-shift on a back road with his father-in-law [the passenger, Timothy ‘Coke’ Elliott].”

Rosenfeld: “Did you ask him to do a field sobriety test?”

Slates: “I did, yes. His eyes were red and watery and he smelled of alcohol.”

Rosenfeld: “Did you ask if he had any medical problems.”

Slates: “He said he’d recently been shot in the buttocks and hit in the head with a blunt object, a ball bat or something like that, and thought he’d had a concussion.”

Rosenfeld: “And he told you he’d been driving?”

Slates: “From his cousin’s house in Hopland to his home in Ukiah, yes.”

Rosenfeld: “Ask if he’d been drinking?”

Slates; “He said he’d had two Micky’s Tallboys.”

Rosenfeld: “Tallboys?”

Slates: “A Tallboy is an alcoholic beverage in a 24-ounce can.”

Rosenfeld: “Ask if he’d felt the effects?”

Slates: “Yes, and ‘sorta’ was what he said.”

Rosenfeld: “What about drugs?”

Slates: “He stated he used marijuana and methamphetamine?”

Rosenfeld: “In what amounts?”

Slates: “He said ‘whatever — it was a while ago’.”

Rosenfeld: “What about his demeanor?”

Slates: “It was jovial, he was laughing… didn’t seem too concerned about the victims of”—

Martinez: “Objection.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Rosenfeld and Slates then went into the field sobriety test Q&A, but since portions of this had already been stipulated to the judge asked the prosecutor to move on to the situation of the woman under the car, the unfortunate Ms. Sterns, a middleaged woman.

It was wet and muddy. The car was partially down in a ditch with a steep embankment on the other side, so it had to be lifted against the way it was leaning to get it off the woman. The bicycle was under the front axle with the back tire of the bike under the front tire of the car, and Ms. Sterns was not only still terribly entangled, she was sinking deeper into the mud..

Mr. Martinez began his cross-examination, but, again, only the answers by the witness were audible to those of us seated in the gallery. He murmured something about the passenger being his client’s father-in-law, Timothy Slade Elliot, a person who readers will recall as having his murder conviction overturned due to the incompetence of Public Defender Linda Thompson and forensic medical examiner Dr. Jason Trent. (More about Mr. Elliot at the end of this article.)

Slates: “I heard over the radio that he had a warrant and was on parole.”

Martinez: “[Mumble] Ms Banks [mutter mutter mutter]?”

Slates: “She might have been what struck and shattered the windshield.”

Martinez: “[Mumble mumbo-jumbo, mutter-sputter]?”

Slates: “It was evident from the everything about the scene, but no, she wasn’t still on the hood of the vehicle.”

Martinez: “[Murmur murmur murmur, mutter] of fact?”

Slates: “I don’t recall anything like that.”

Martinez: “[Murmur] me this, [mutter-sputter. Mumble mutter murmur] more of an incline [mutter mumble] curve?”

Slates: “No it’s pretty flat, and on a straightaway.”

Martinez: “[Mutter mumble murmur]?”

Slates: “No, I don’t believe so.”

Martinez: “[Murmur] more measurements?”

Slates: “After the fact? — No.”

Martinez: “[Murmur] rate of speed, [mumble] that come from?”

Slates: “From Mr. Ray himself.”

Martinez: “[Mumble] me this, then, [mutter-sputter], if [murmur-murmur] per [murmur] from Mr. Ray?”

Slates: “He stated he was traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour when the windshield exploded, and he then started to slow down.”

Martinez: “A direct [murmur] from you?”

Slates: “Generally, I have to ask, How fast do you think you were traveling.”

Martinez: “[Mumble bumble] the bicycles?”

Slates: “I believe his statement was no, he never noticed them.”

Martinez: “[Mutter] me this, is Micky’s a malt liquor or a beer?”

Slates: “I have no clue.”

Judge Behnke said that based on the case law he’d reviewed, and the detention in the back seat of the patrol car being relatively brief, and as the two suspects were not handcuffed, there had been no formal arrest.

“The officer was polite and courteous during the interview, so for purposes of the prelim I’m going to overrule the objection. People were injured, screaming, there were signs of intoxication and the likelihood that one of the two persons in the patrol car had been driving is fairly strong.”

The next witness, Officer Heinke was in a prelim across the hall and unavailable to take the stand, so the hearing was continued to Friday, June 12. But just this last week, Mr. Elliott pled guilty to violating his parole that nearly fatal day in January when Ray's Honda plowed into the bicyclists because he'd been under the influence of a controlled substance. Elliott was sentenced to 180 days in jail, which he will serve, day-for-day, at a treatment facility in which he is already enrolled.

Unless Officer Heinke’s testimony reveals something totally unexpected about the case, Ray will likely be bound over for trial. But whether the case will ever get to trial with the Miranda issues it raises is something that will likely be conducted behind the scenes with motions for this and opposition to that. In any case, it was a relief to finally hear what happened out there that day. Bicyclists play a kind of roulette on the narrow back roads of Mendocino County. Cars striking bicyclists is a common headline in local newspapers.

* * *

In Other Court News....

Emandel Farm on the Eel River touts itself as “a place to unwind, breathe deeply and connect.” It's also the site of Mendocino County Bar Association’s annual debauch, a kind of low rent version of the Bohemian Grove. The legal eagles partied down over the late-May weekend in the seclusion of Emandel on the South Fork at the end of Hearst Road, Willits. The prospect of setting out on this weekend of total abandon could account for some the impatience shown in court Friday by the lawyers and judges as they proceeded to the judgment and sentencing in two high-profile cases.

The first was Ina Selene Medina, the mother and co-defendant in the absolutely horrifying serial child molestation and torture case — a case that never went to trial. Medina and her husband are the Talmage Road couple that made such a sensation in the Ukiah Daily Journal and Press Democrat at the time of the arrest. The couple molested their own children for years before one of their daughters finally went to the authorities. Both papers have utterly ignored the story since, and neither was represented Friday in court.

The defense lawyer in this case, Lewis Finch of the Office of the Alternate Public Defender had slunk out of the courtroom just as the case was being called, and an all points bulletin was put out by the bailiffs to find him. The prosecutor offered to go help with the search – this often happens, and then when the first lost lawyer is found, the second is missing. So the judge ordered the prosecutor not to leave the courtroom and a hefty bailiff took up a blocking position in front of the door. After a long wait, Mr. Finch was found idling at Schat’s bakery across the street and brought into the courtroom practically at gunpoint.

Ms. Medina had pled to two counts (Count 22 and count 3) of 288 b 1, committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child using force, threats and duress. One of the victims came forward and addressed the court, apologizing for her inability to express how it feels to have your own mother participate in such a crime against you, but the apology was not necessary as this person, who is now a young woman, was actually most eloquent, concise and to the point, and even overcame emotional forces that overwhelmed the rest of us looking on. This reporter was too moved to take down all she said, except the last comment: “I don’t know what else to say; nothing will change anything, anyway.”

Then she hurried out with an escort from the DA’s Victim Witness Office. Judge Ann Moorman said to Assistant DA Paul Sequiera, “Tell her I find it remarkable that she has so matured and accommodated what happened to her in her life – she certainly has my respect. Not only was she victimized in the most horrendous way I’ve ever seen – and I see a lot – but she had the courage to step forward and prevent it from happening to others.”

For her own part, Ms. Medina said her daughter was right and that she was going to call it quits with the guy who she helped do this crime. After 31 years, she was going to throw him over. Judge Moorman smiled indulgently before advising Medina: “Don’t take any of those letters from him with you. Where you’re going they could cause some serious problems.” Apparently the judge didn’t buy Medina’s resolve to dump her cho-mo idol and was still exchanging love letters to him. The judge then very briskly sentenced Medina to five years in prison for count 22 and 15-to-life for count 3. Fines and fees were in excess of $7700. Medina was remanded directly into the custody of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This was a stipulated sentence so the judge was bound to the deal made by the lawyers. PS. According to my notes, Medina's plea was on May 22nd. Count 22 was the bait that prosecutor Paul Sequiera dangled. If she took the 15-to-life on count three, he'd let her take the mitigated sentence on count 22, which was particularly heinous, by all accounts. The reluctance to retaliate on her poor stupid old mother was a factor the victim had asked for.

* * *

Dr. Brian Marcel Cable (former MD, actually) was sentenced to a term of three years summary probation, due partly to Proposition 47 (which requires certain felony sentences — non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual — to be served in County Jail), but mainly due to the former sawbones’ exemplary performance in getting himself off the scripts he’d gotten himself addicted to, Oxycodone, namely. Deputy DA Jon Hopkins made a rather reckless inference that letting this defendant off on a misdemeanor was due to his socio-economic standing as an MD, and that it sent a tainted message to the community.

Judge Ann Moorman took exception. “If the public,” the Judge said, “the community members you refer to, Mr. Hopkins, would come here to court occasionally, I think they would see that we, the people who work in these courtrooms, you and I and Mr. Faulder there, the defense attorney, we do not judge people by their station in life, despite what’s written in the newspapers.”

Deputy DA Hopkins persisted. "This case cannot be adjudicated under Proposition 47. The defendant was taking 12 to 16 of these pills a day and while he maintains he didn’t take any while in surgery, he admitted he’d been in surgery on the day of his arrest. He was prescribing these drugs for his girlfriend and taking them himself; he prescribed them to a friend, a nurse, and addicted her; he was prescribing them for people who were not his patients and then picking them up for himself. We have to worry about and protect his orthopedic patients, even though it’s very laudable what he’s done to deal with his addiction."

During the past two years, Brian Cable has submitted himself to a very rigorous residential treatment program; far more than required by probation. If he ever hopes to practice medicine again, he also has to satisfy the Medical Board which requires some heavy lifting. This he has been doing, as everyone familiar with the case is well aware – everyone, that is, except the Ukiah Daily Journal which made such a sensation at the time of the arrest and then utterly lost interest, not even bothering to show up for sentencing.

Mr. Faulder, for the defense, had very little to do. Deputy DA Hopkins had, in essence, tried to make an example of Cable by denying him the benefits available to any street junkie through Prop 47, simply because he, Cable, was a medical professional, a doctor, as if the bar were higher for doctors (like they were better people or something...?)

Faulder pointed out some stats about the risk doctors and other medical professionals take by being exposed to these highly addictive pharmaceuticals, and the ease with which they can get them, whereas the rest of us cannot enjoy the same access. Anesthesiologists and surgeons are especially susceptible as such opiates are common in the operating theater.

Hopkins made another attempt to get the doctor crucified on the privileged case theory, but it’s not true. Your humble courtroom correspondent can attest to that. The judge gives anyone who is trying a fair chance. In fact, if Judge Moorman finds someone from her own socio-economic stratum showing reluctance to conform to the rule of law, she really and truly throws the book at ‘em.

* * *

Mr. Jonathan Opet, a lawyer with the Office of the Public Defender’s Office, won a huge DUI case this week. The charges against Jedidiah Todd were driving under the influence of heroin, of all things. He was stopped for speeding on Highway 101 when CHP Officer Slates came up behind him around the Boonville Road Exit, having paced Todd at 82 mph. As Mr. Todd slowed down, he started to swerve, crossing first the lane dividing the broken white line, then the fog line.

As Officer Slates was talking to Todd, Todd's vehicle started to roll away.

“Stop the vehicle – stop the vehicle!,” Slates roared.

Mr. Todd finally got his car in park as Slates danced out of the way to save his toes from Todd's wandering tires. This incident, combined with the speeding and swerving, convinced Slates that a field sobriety test was in order. These tests were unsatisfactory, but Todd was nevertheless arrested, taken to the hospital for a blood test where he glumly predicted that it would come back dirty – which it did. Moreover, Slates, having smelled marihoochie in Todd's car, did a quick search and found a junkie’s cooking spoon, coated with smack, spent hypodermic needles, and a syringe.

Unable to attend the defense portion of this trial due to some pressing personal matters, the reader will readily imagine the astounded look on my face when the jury found this guy not guilty! Yes, Mr. Opet conceded, he was at the time, a heroin addict. But at the time he was driving – even though he had the stuff in his system – was not high. Go figure.

Several defense lawyers have been kicking butt and taking kudos — in the form of acquittals — at the Public Defender’s office recently. Eric Rennert, for instance – a guy who takes on the really hard-core segment of Ukiah’s underworld, actually got a jury to hand him and his utterly nutty client no less than three Not Guilty verdicts. These defense victories are exceedingly rare and I’ve been remiss – due to lack of modern digital devices, until recently – in reporting them. Mr. Rennert’s case involved the wicked witch of west, Jeanette Long, widely reputed to be UNCLE (UNder Cover Law Enforcement) Officer Peter Hoyle’s snitch informant.

It seems Ms. Long came to her neighbor to ask him to cash a check. (Uncle Pete pays, it seems, in legal leniency, not cash). The neighbor refused, but recommended a kid who barely spoke English — a Native American with certain challenges, as they say. Rennert showed in open court how Ms. Long had  purred and nuzzled the lad seductively until he agreed to go to the Bank Of America and cash a check she’d forged in her wealthy grandmother’s name.

The guy – who shall remain nameless (I can’t remember his name — I was covering a trial across the hall at the time) made a spectacle of himself on the stand, and at first I wondered why Rennert put him up there. But when the verdict came back I understood: He let the jury see that this guy was too ingenuous to be lying, and therefore, guilty.

Congrats, Mssrs. Opet and Rennert!

Again, I apologize for my failure to cover this remarkable case more diligently. Mr. Opet is a former journalist -- a court reporter himself, from the Bay Area, and he introduced me to another journalist -- just before he was beckoned to hear his most-welcome verdict -- Valerie Kim of KZYX fame. I asked Ms. Kim if she was covering Mr. Opet's case and she said no, her talents would be required as a fund-raiser that week.

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