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Family Feud, Covelo Style

Audrina Phillips
Audrina Phillips

A family feud in Covelo is no hokey-jokey television show, friends. Covelo people have been killed in feuds that have gone on for generations, some of them inside families. Last week, after a long, bitter preliminary hearing in Judge John Behnke’s criminal court Audrina Phillips was held to answer for the attempted murder of her sister, Eugenia Phillips.

The two sisters and other family members had been in Judge Richard Henderson’s civil court on May 8th concerning a property dispute. Apparently, the property was not parceled out to everyone’s satisfaction. Calls to the Sheriff’s office started coming in soon after court, and by five o’clock Audrina and Eugenia were in hand-to-hand combat in the yard of the disputed property, Lot 8 on Refuge Road in Covelo.

Deputy DA Scott McMenomey put Eugenia on the stand. She testified that her sister Audrina had arrived at Lot 8 on Refuge Road in a white Ford pickup. Mr. Tracy Brayton accompanied Audrina. The couple had been there about 25 minutes with Audrina perched on the tailgate of the pickup from where Audrina commenced saying “awful things” about one of Eugenia’s sons, Weston, “calling him a retard,” among other provocative insults.

DDA McMenomey: “What did you do?”

Eugenia Phillips: “I asked her to leave.”

McMenomey: “Did she leave?”

Phillips: “No. She jumped down off the truck and said, ‘Fuck all you guys,’ then she grabbed my hair and we were fighting and fell into the truck.”

McMenomey: “You fell into the truck?”

Phillips: “Yes, the door was open, on the passenger side, and we were fighting there, with our feet still on the ground. That’s when she stabbed me, four times in the side.”

McMenomey: “What happened next?”

Phillips: “My son Clifton was called and he got her off me, then my cousin took me to the ambulance at the airport. When I got to Redding I found I’d been stabbed in the diaphragm, the liver, and twice in the stomach.”

McMenomey: “Nothing further.”

Audrina Phillips’ lawyer, Heidi Larson of the Office of the Public Defender began her questioning of the victim after sorting through the police reports and selecting a page.

Larson: "You were first interviewed at the airport while waiting for the helicopter, isn’t that true?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

Larson: “Your original statement was that you didn’t realize you’d been stabbed, isn’t that true?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

Larson: “And you never saw her [Audrina] with a knife, did you?”

Phillips: “No.”

Larson: “Isn’t it true that both you and your sister claim the property?”

McMenomey: “Objection. Relevance.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Larson: “Charmayne Hoaglen was also involved, wasn’t she?”

Phillips: “I don’t know.”

Larson: “You don’t know who else was behind your sister when you were fighting?”

Phillips: “I don’t know who-all was where, no. I was too busy fighting to see anything else.”

Larson: “Yes, but you actually told the police your sister was there trying to claim ownership to the property, didn’t you?”

McMenomey: “Objection. Relevance.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Larson: “You told the police that you’d fought in the past, but never like this?”

Phillips: “No, never like this.”

Larson: “But hadn’t there been an altercation between Charmayne and Audrina before?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

Larson: “And it’s your testimony today that it was only your sister in that fight with you?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

Larson: “And you never saw her with a knife, did you?”

Phillips: “No.”

Judge Behnke broke in to admonish the courtroom audience. “There are some members of the audience making noises and faces and various gestures of dismissal or contempt at some of the answers from the witness that are distracting to the court, and if it happens again, I’ll have you all escorted from the courtroom, is that understood?”

Silent acquiescence.

The prosecutor McMenomey: “Was there anyone else close enough to have stabbed you?”

Phillips: “No.”

McMenomey: “Nothing further."

Clifton Phillips took the stand. The young man appeared to have come directly to court from a fight of his own. His face was bruised, swollen and scabbed over in places. Life in Covelo is not quite the same as life in the Village of Mendocino.

McMenomey: “You are Eugenia Phillips’ son?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

McMenomey: “What did you see?”

Phillips: “They were fighting. But all I saw was a mass of black hair swirling around.”

McMenomey: “So you didn’t see any hitting?”

Phillips: “No, but I saw Audrina stab my Mom.”

McMenomey: “So what did you do?”

Phillips: “I went around and grabbed the knife from her.”

McMenomey: “Was Tracy there?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

McMenomey: “Was he close enough to have stabbed your mother?”

Phillips: “No.”

McMenomey: “Nothing further.”

Larson: “You were intoxicated, weren’t you?”

Phillips: “Yes.”

Larson: “Did you see who started the fight?”

Phillips: “No.”

Larson: “And what about Tracy — was he on the driver’s side of the white Ford?”

Phillips: “Yes, but my buddy had him subdued.”

Larson: “Who’s your buddy?”

Phillips: “John Sisk.”

Larson: “”Why did John Sisk subdue Tracy?”

Phillips: “He [Tracy] was trying to pull out some bear spray from under the seat.”

Larson: “Had someone taken the keys from the ignition?”

Phillips: “True....”

Larson: “But weren’t they [Tracy and Audrina] trying to get back in the Ford and leave?”

Phillips: “I don’t think so.”

Larson: “Charmayne tried to pull them [the sisters] apart, didn’t she?”

Phillips: “No, I pulled them apart.”

Larson: “And you called 911?”

Phillips: “No.”

Larson: “You told the 911 dispatcher that they [Tracy and Audrina] got a ride, didn’t you?”

Phillips: “No. They took off walking.”

Larson: “You never called 911?”

Phillips: “No, John Sisk did.”

Larson: “Did you see Tracy hurt your Mom?”

Phillips: “No. He was nowhere near her.”

Larson: “But you held your aunt down; why was that?”

Phillips: “I was waiting for the sheriffs to come but they never did so I let her go.”

Larson: “How long did you wait?”

Phillips: “Maybe about 10 minutes is all.”

Larson: “Nothing further.”

McMenomey: “The People call John Sisk.”

If Mr. Sisk had just stepped out of the ring, nobody had landed a punch on him — at least judging by his appearance. Having established that Sisk was present at the time of the incident, and trying to avoid leading the witness, prosecutor McMenomey went on to ask Sisk if he had noted anything “unusual” that day. During the ensuing pause the witness’s infectious smile spread first to the judge and then to the clerks and bailiff, until finally, McMenomey got it: Unusual is the norm in the context.

McMenomey: “Okay, strike that. Lemme put it this way: What — if anything — did you see?”

Sisk: “Words were exchanged between the two sisters.”

McMenomey: “An argument?”

Sisk: “The exchange turned to violence, yes.”

McMenomey: “Did Audrina engage Eugenia?”

Sisk: “Affirmative. That she did.”

McMenomey: “Was it just the two of them?”

Sisk: “For about the first 30 to 60 seconds it was.”

McMenomey: “Can you describe what happened?”

Sisk: “They were, at first, just shuffling back and forth toward the Ford pickup. I was off to the side and nobody saw me — I don’t think anybody saw me, that is — and I saw Tracy going for his keys, but I had his keys already. Anyway, he was reaching for something under the seat.”

McMenomey: “On the driver’s side?”

Sisk: “It was. All I saw was a black handle, but I thought it was a gun — I know now it wasn’t — but it was bear pepper spray, I believe.”

Covelo people are prepared for all emergencies, two or four-footed.

McMenomey: “Did you see Audrina strike Eugenia?”

Sisk: “There was probably about 60 seconds there where I wasn’t a hundred percent sure, as I was trying to stop Tracy from getting what I thought was a gun.”

McMenomey: “Did you see Audrina stab Eugenia?”

Sisk: “Yes, sir, I did.”

McMenomey: “Earlier that day you were in court with them?”

Sisk: “Yes, sir, that’s affirmative.”

McMenomey: “And it was something about a restraining order for Charmayne and ordering Eugenia to move off the property?”

Larson: “Objection. Relevance.”

Behnke: “I’ll allow it.”

Sisk: “Yes, and I’d already called the police. I called them before we left Ukiah. We went to WalMart and then to Burger King and I’d gotten a call from”—

Behnke: “Mr. Sisk, just answer the question as briefly as you can and then wait until the lawyers ask another.”

McMenomey: “When you returned to Covelo, were Tracy and Audrina already there — at the property?”

Sisk: “No, they weren’t there then.”

McMenomey: “You never saw Tracy strike Eugenia?”

Sisk: “Negative: I never saw Tracy strike Eugenia. I was holding Tracy like this [a headlock] and I had my phone between my shoulder and my ear talking to the 911 dispatcher, and with my other hand I threw the bear spray away, over in the gravel under the blue Chevy. And all this time I was looking across at the sisters…”

Behnke: Mr. Sisk, again, just answer the questions as briefly as you can and wait for the next question. Thank you.”

McMenomey: “So you called 911?”

Sisk: “Affirmative. I probably called them nine times that day.”

McMenomey: “At some point was your attention directed to a knife?”

Sisk: “A weapon was on the ground and I didn’t want anyone to touch it.”

McMenomey: “How did it get there?”

Sisk: “Clifton said he knocked it over there.”

McMenomey: “What happened to it?”

Sisk: “I picked it up by a string attached to the handle and placed it on a barbecue grill and told everyone that nobody was to touch it.”

McMenomey: “Did you eventually give it to Deputy Croskey?”

Sisk: “Yes, sir.”

McMenomey: “The People call Charmayne Hoaglen. … Ms. Hoaglen, please tell us what you saw on May 8th.”

Hoaglen: “Audrina and Tracy were there and they were talking vulgar about the whole family. Audrina said [to Eugenia] ‘You dumb bitch, I’m gonna kill ya…”

At this point the witness dissolved into tears. Mr. McMenomey told her to try and calm down, but she was tearful throughout, and broke down completely when she remembered seeing the stabbing — which, she said, she didn’t realize until later that what she saw flashing in Audrina’s hand must have been a knife. But her testimony was at odds with everyone else’s: she said Audrina was also carrying a stick or club, that the white Ford was full of “weapons” (sticks and chains), that Tracy was kicking Eugenia in the head while Audrina held her down, that she herself had taken the keys. She said she’d lived a sheltered life, had never been exposed to anything like this before. She hadn't because no one laughed. A very young woman trying to live a normal life, maintain some semblance of civility in a place where blood relatives can call each other dumb bitches and their children retards, then having to testify to it in open court was quite moving, disturbing, even. The disillusioned youngster was still weeping when she left the courtroom, perhaps also mourning the loss of her innocence, an innocence her peers in the Village of Mendocino might retain into their 70s.

McMenomey: “The People rest.”

Behnke: “Does defense wish to call any witnesses?”

Larson: “We would like to put the investigating officer, Deputy Croskey on the stand, you honor.”

McMenomey: “Objection. Defense must first show an offer of proof.”

Larson: “To impeach the testimony of the State’s witnesses.”

Behnke: “I’ll allow it.”

This was less effective than defense could have wished. Deputy Croskey had to be shown, in his own report, where witnesses had said things to him that were different from what they said in court, and in the end, he asserted that all the testimony he’d heard in court was essentially the same as he'd been told when arrived at the scene.

Judge Behnke concluded, “The number and seriousness of the stab wounds are sufficient to establish an intent to kill, and there has been no evidence that anyone other than the defendant inflicted the wounds. I therefore find sufficient evidence to hold the defendant over. We’ll reconvene on July 6th for arraignment on the information. Ms. Phillips, you are ordered to be here.”

8 Comments

  1. Jim Armstrong June 24, 2015

    I ordinarily like Bruce McEwen’s explications of the goings-on at the courthouse very much.
    I had to read the paragraph above beginning “At this point the witness dissolved into tears..” several times to be sure the words were Mr. McEwen’s alone.
    They approach a level of editorialization and judgmentalism that seems to me to be beneath the usual quality of his work.
    I hope I am missing something.

  2. Bruce Anderson June 25, 2015

    The Editor, which is I, should have caught it. Shoulda been dissolved in tears, hackneyed as that hoary phrase is. Best of all, She started to cry. Etc.

    • Jim Armstrong June 25, 2015

      Bruce: Are you being obtuse on purpose or just being cute?
      I have better things to do than poat about English usage in the AVA.
      And to think I expected a meaningful response.

  3. Jim Armstrong June 25, 2015

    All I can figure is that the Bruces drank their lunches (and perhaps their breakfasts as well) today.
    Anderson’s reply is here, but so that everyone can play I will cut and paste MeEwen’s email to me:
    at 12?:01
    Dear Mr. Armstrong,
    What does poat mean? I expected a lot of violent accusations on this story — even more than I usually get for not being a psychic and knowing, or finding out, how really innocent the accused actually are, but I didn’t expect anyone to go overboard because of a typo. I think if you really had better things to do, you could have glossed over a misnomer or typo, or whatever, and grasped the gist of the story, and gone on with your own pressing business. But since I’ve got you attention for the nonce, I’d like to clear up a widespread misconception: I am not an “investigative journalist” and have no ambition to become one. I am what is casually referred to as a court reporter; and even at that, my assignment is not to get to the truth (supposing there is such a thing in a courtroom), but the write and submit my impressions of the proceedings. My editor’s rework, rewrite, rephrase and redo much of what I submit — this has been the deal from day one — because they know the players and the playing field much better than I, as a newcomer, do. At any rate, I get it all the time, that I don’t do my homework, didn’t dig deep enough, didn’t come forth as the champion of the defendant, the bearer of truth, justice and the American way… Dude, I’m not Clark Kent nor yet Superman; I’m more like Jimmy Olsen. Get it?
    Your courthouse correspondent and sincere well-wisher,
    B. McEwen
    and at 12:25

    Dear Mr. Armstrong,
    Those are my words. Trite, true, but adequate for a situation that was about as dramatic as a high school play. The witness cried and cried, and this went on and on. As she left the courtroom her wailing increased in volume. To make a transcript of her testimony was not conceivable as it would have required 10,000 words of convoluted sobbing and, if you ask me, dissembling. Sorry it wasn’t up to par, and sometimes my editors do change my renderings significantly, but not in this case.
    Yr. Hmble. Svrnt.,
    B. McEwen

    I say

    “…poat” is obviously a typographical error which I used instead of “post.” It certainly found lots of company in the rest of what McEwen sent me.

    I had no intent to complain about his use of “into tears” instead of “in tears,” especially since both are acceptable usage; that was only to identify the paragraph I found wanting.

    I found offensive McEwen’s statement that “She said she’d lived a sheltered life, had never been exposed to anything like this before. She hadn’t because no one laughed. A very young woman trying to live a normal life, maintain some semblance of civility in a place where blood relatives can call each other dumb bitches and their children retards, then having to testify to it in open court was quite moving, disturbing, even.”
    I wonder if McEwen finds himself in the least forutunate that he was not raised in a Native American community with the terrible history of Round Valley.
    Perhaps he should talk with Will Parrish who seems to have a better grasp of that reality.

    Settle down and own up, gentlemen.

  4. Jim Armstrong June 26, 2015

    Add to this conversation two more emails sent to me last evening by Mr. McEwen:

    At 8:02 PM
    “Sass me all you want, but I’ve been drunk and dirty w/ the bloods, the Blackfeet, in Browning, the Denae in Gallup, the jails, the courtrooms and the actual real doogie-doo-do, than you,Sir, if you had any practical experience w/ would recognize in my reports. Correct me it I’m WRONG, AND LET’ S GO POW-WOW!”

    At 8:31 PM
    “If you wanna count coups w/ moi, Missieur, bring your tommahawk and scalping knife to the courthouse, bro.”

    I hope a few on-line AVA readers are following this and will join in.

  5. Mack tha' Knife July 4, 2015

    Can someone tell me wtf RefuGe road is in Covelo?

    • Scruffy B May 20, 2016

      Refuge Rd in Covelo is where all the white refugees from Europe live.

  6. Scruffy B May 20, 2016

    In the words of the immortal Rick James, “cocaine is a hell of a drug”
    On a more serious note, please hold these sisters in your heart. The fraction I know about Audrina’s life story is deeply heartbreaking. I hope her sister recovers fully and I hope Audrina finds her way to some happiness.

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