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Shepherds & Pot Growers

Wagner
Wagner

Characterized as the guy who gave medical marijuana a black eye, Todd Wagner got his hand slapped — oops, I mean he was sentenced last week. This is the same Todd Wagner who ran an underground sweatshop. Wagner's shop really was underground in a basement accessed through a secret door in a bookshelf, and down the stairs to where, the day the cops arrived, five Mexicans trimmed dope.

Mr. Wagner’s lawyer, Jona Saxby, told Judge John Behnke that her client was too talented to go to prison, and that he wanted to spend his jail time on house arrest at his fabulous home on Oregon’s Hood River.

“The house is being remodeled,” Saxby explained.

“Judge,” District Attorney David Eyster protested, “this is the guy who gave medical marijuana a black eye. The 527 pounds of processed marijuana alone had a street value of $2.1 million and we need to send a message to the marijuana community that pure greed will not be tolerated. Not to mention the butane honey oil operation.”

Ms. Saxby pointed out that her client had gone for long periods of time without committing crimes (i.e., getting caught). “And he’s very talented, your honor. It would be a shame to put someone with such valuable skills in prison.”

“He is a very talented individual,” Judge Behnke agreed. “But he chose to put his talent to work toward making large amounts of money illegally. And, perhaps he was a little ahead of the curve in coming up with the idea of a marijuana bed and breakfast, because on this side of the curve, it’s still against the law.”

All the talk about how 'talented' this guy is, you'd have thought Michelangelo was on trial.

Judge Behnke said he was not inclined to send such a talented individual to prison. On the other hand Behnke conceded that “the DA’s suggestion that he do five years on probation is probably not a bad idea either. So I will impose the 60 months of probation along with 364 days in jail, but not the home monitoring, as Ms. Saxby suggests. That wouldn’t work in Oregon, nor, I think, on Spy Rock Road, either.”

District Attorney’s Press Release:

“Sentencing Update: Defendant Todd Roberts Wagner, age 65, of Laytonville, was sentenced Wednesday in Department B for having possessed marijuana for sale, a felony. Despite having two prior felony convictions which could have prevented Wagner from being placed on probation absent unusual circumstances, Judge Behnke found that the many years between the prior convictions and the instant offense was an unusual circumstance. While the District Attorney then argued that the facts of this case were aggravated and deserving of a prison commitment, Wagner was instead placed on supervised probation for 60 months and ordered to serve 360 days in the Low Gap jail. In addition to other terms and conditions of his formal probation, Wagner was assessed a $10,000 penal fine.

“During the execution of a search warrant on Wagner's Spy Rock Road property in November 2014, a hidden underground three-room marijuana processing center was discovered by law enforcement. The entry to the center was hidden behind and under a movable shelf (just like in the movies) and when law enforcement officers climbed down the access ladder into the rooms, they found five Sacramento men — all employed by Wagner — hard at work trimming marijuana for market. The investigators seized 527 pounds of black market-ready bud marijuana, 410 pounds of marijuana shake, and three firearms at the ready with ammo. The volume of marijuana seized was valued at $550,000 if sold locally under current market conditions, or approximately $2.2M if transported to and sold in black markets of the Midwest or East Coast.”

The talented Mr. Wagner is master craftsman in the building trades, hence the secret bookcase door.

* * *

If Mr. Wagner gave medical marijuana a black eye, Ms. Saxby’s next client might be said to have kicked medical marijuana in the teeth and then put her foot in it. The reference is to Jacqueline Witt who was at home late last March when Sergeant Bruce Smith and Deputy Jeremy Mason came calling. The two narcs had driven up to the Witt place on Smith Hills Road in the hills above Philo. A recording of the encounter was played in court.

Woof woof woof — gurrr.

Sgt. Smith: “Hello, we’re the police.”

Ms. Witt: “Let me get the dogs…”

Woof woof.

Witt: “Hush.”

Smith: “What’s the story with all the marijuana plants?”

Witt: “Oh, they’re nothing — just starts.”

Smith: “A plant’s a plant. Do you have a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana?”

Witt: “Yes, it’s in the car with my husband.”

Smith: “How many plants do you have?”

Witt: “I don’t know anything about it.”

Smith: “You’ve grown tons of weed here every year — I’ve flown over and seen it, so what’s the story?”

Witt: “I don’t know, honestly — I don’t even smoke marijuana.”

Smith: “So your doctor’s recommendation is a fraud?”

Witt is heard groaning in the realization she’d put her foot in her mouth.

Smith: “What do you do with all this marijuana then?”

Witt: “I don’t know — you’ll have to ask him [Mr. Witt]. I’m kind of freaking out right now.”

Smith: “Well, you must have known this day was coming. What do you do for a living?”

Witt: “I’m an artist. I work in fabrics.”

Smith: “What does your husband do?”

Witt: “He’s a farmer.”

Smith: “What does he farm — besides marijuana, I mean?”

Witt: “I don’t know — we’re going through really hard times right now.”

Mrs. Witt sounded a little like Zsa Zsa Gabor in Green Acres, a 1970s parody of a rich couple who moved from a penthouse to a hardscrabble farmstead. It sounded ridiculous that Ms. Witt didn’t know what her husband of three years did for a living or what kind of farmer he was.

But when Mr. Anthony Junger Witt took the stand it became apparent that he didn’t know much more about agriculture than Eddie Albert and Zsa Zsa.

Anthony & Jacqueline Witt
Anthony & Jacqueline Witt

Sergeant Smith had sent Deputy Mason off to count the plants while Smith called Special Agent Peter Hoyle for a search warrant. Mason reported back that there were about 150 plants in the ground, many more in the bed of a truck and still more in a barn. Mason said he'd also found heroin, methamphetamine and an assault rifle upstairs in the garage.

Apparently Agent Hoyle had called back with a “short version” of a probable cause statement, and Deputy Mason had found the various kinds of dope and the gun while doing a protective sweep. I say “apparently” because the defense team, Jona Saxby and Keith Faulder, were in court last week with a motion to suppress the evidence, claiming the search had taken place without probable cause, much less a search warrant.

A key issue was the gate to the property. Sgt. Smith said it was open when he and Deputy Mason arrived. Defense insisted it was closed, that Mr. Witt had closed it behind him when he left for Ukiah that morning. Also, Mason said the barn door was  also left open and, again, Witt insisted he would never go off and leave it open.

At the end of a long day this issue of open gates and doors was resolved somewhat spectacularly when Deputy Mason suddenly remembered that Ms. Witt had supposedly told him that her husband had a habit of leaving the gate open, which made her mad. Of course, any evidence this crucial should have been provided through discovery to  the defense — which was not done — and Mr. Faulder was furious.

It didn’t help that Mason — new to the pot patrol — was smirking complacently after delivering this bombshell.

“What are you laughing at, Deputy? You think this is funny, do you?” Faulder shot at Mason.

“Mr. Faulder, calm down,” Judge Ann Moorman said.

It was five o’clock, and the hearing was put over for a week.

The People vs. Witt resumed last Friday with Deputy Mason notably absent.

Defense attorney Faulder put Mr. Witt on the stand, then showed him People’s exhibit number three, a photograph of the open gate, taken by Sgt. Smith as the officers were leaving the property.

Faulder: “Is that the way you left the gate that morning?”

Witt: “No. I left it completely closed, with the chain put around it. But there was not a padlock on it, just the chain.”

Faulder: “Are you sure?”

Witt: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Is there any reason why you would remember this so clearly?”

Witt: “Yes, because it was lambing season, and our sheep were giving birth, having babies. And I always keep the gate closed so the animals don’t escape. The ewes and lambs wander.”

Faulder: “Do you have any doubt that you closed the gate that morning?”

Witt: “No, I’m positive.”

Faulder: “I’m showing you a photograph of the outbuilding on your property referred to as the garage. Do you see the door propped open with the green stepladder?”

Witt: “Yes.”

Faulder: “Did you leave that door like that on the morning of March 31st?”

Witt: “No, I would not leave it that way because the ewes and lambs would go in and eat the tops off the vegetable starts. Also, I keep the grain in there and it would be fatal if the ewes and lambs got into it and ate it. So I always keep it closed.”

Faulder: “Any doubting your mind?”

Witt: “No. I left it closed.”

Deputy DA Daniel Madow rose to quiz the Philo farmer. “You specifically remember closing the gate that day?”

Witt: “Yes, I always do.”

Madow: “How long have you lived there?”

Witt: “Three years now.”

Madow: “And in that three years you’ve never left the gate open?”

Witt: “Not in lambing season.”

Madow: “When is lambing season?”

Witt: “I don’t know the specific dates.”

Madow: “When does it begin?”

Witt: “In January or February, and I think it ends in late spring.”

Madow: “How long have you been raising sheep?”

Witt: “Three years.”

Madow: “And at no time have you left the gate open?”

Witt: “No. If I leave the gate open and the ewes escape I would have to track them down.”

Madow: “Ever have a conversation with your wife about leaving the gate open?”

Judge Moorman: “Even though there’s been no objection from defense, I’m opposed to allowing any conversation between husband and wife in this court.”

Madow: “You were not on the property when the officers went through the gate, so you don’t know whether they found it open or not, do you?”

Witt: “No, I don’t.”

Madow: “Were you under the influence of any drug at the time?”

Faulder: “Objection.”

Madow: “There was heroin and methamphetamine found on the property.”

Faulder: “That has yet to be proved.”

Moorman: “Sustained.”

Madow: “Is it harmful for the lambs to eat the marijuana plants?”

Witt: “I don’t know the science behind that.”

Madow: “Why did you have the marijuana plants out in the open where the lambs could get at them, but not the ones in the barn?”

Witt: “That was a mistake on my part, I guess.”

Madow: “But I thought you said you put the starts in the shed so the lambs couldn’t eat them?”

Witt: “I also keep it closed for security reasons.”

Ms. Saxby then put Mrs. Witt on the stand, and she said much the same as her husband regarding the family's gate and door policy. The officers told her the gate was open and this made her mad, she said, because she thought —

Moorman: “Don’t tell me what you thought, just tell me what the officers said.”

Witt: “They said they found it open.”

Both parties were ordered to submit briefs by next Friday and be back in court to argue the issue on August 5th at 10:00 a.m.

* * *

Across the hall, defense attorney Omar Figueroa was going at it hammer and tongs with the aforementioned Agent Peter Hoyle over a huge butane honey oil operation on Pigeon Ridge in Covelo. Tyler Smith was charged with manufacturing and possession for sale of “thousands and thousands of dosage units estimated at $50 apiece.”

The Covelo building had been set up with row after row of glass tubes like a chemistry lab, with Pyrex dishes to collect the oil as it dripped from the glass tubes. The evidence, which included nearly a hundred cases of butane canisters, was overwhelming, but Mr. Figueroa was determined to make Hoyle’s day in court an unpleasant one, and in this he succeeded, although he didn't get Mr. Smith off.

But defendant Smith seemed satisfied that at least his attorney had given Hoyle a few shots.

People who have been busted by Hoyle will pay anything to see such a famous cop called down in open court, and with Figueroa the defendant gets his money’s worth. But Hoyle, as adept at courtroom rope-a-dope as Muhammed Ali was in the ring, very seldom loses.

Figueroa started right off by accusing Hoyle of reading from his report.

“The witness merely looked down,” Judge John Behnke said. “That’s no reason to suppose he was reading from his report.”

District Attorney David Eyster was asking Hoyle about his experience with honey oil, and when Hoyle said he’d made the stuff himself, Figueroa began to rake him over the proverbial coals.

Figueroa: “You say you’ve made it yourself? Where did you get the marijuana, then? From the evidence room? We know all about that, don’t we?”

Behnke: “Counsel, let the witness answer before you suggest answers or ask follow-up questions.”

Figueroa: “You say you’ve made honey oil yourself? Where did you do this?”

Hoyle: “At the police department, in the parking lot.”

Figueroa: “Where did you get the marijuana?”

Eyster: “Objection.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Figueroa: “Are you trained in chemistry?”

Hoyle: “Other than a class in high school, no.”

Figueroa: “What was the extent of your high school chemistry training?”

Eyster: “Objection.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Figueroa: “Are you trained in recognizing the end product and determining how it was made?”

Hoyle: “I am, yes.”

Figueroa: “Have you made honey oil by pressing it into parchment or other methods?”

Behnke: “I don’t have any interest in using this hearing to explore the various methods of making honey oil, counsel. The method we are concerned with is with the use of butane.”

Figueroa: “I’ll focus on that, your honor. Agent Hoyle, you say you have 16 hours of training — do you have a certificate to prove it?”

Hoyle: “I have hundreds of certificates from such classes.”

Eyster: “Objection, judge, but counsel can ask these questions on cross.”

Behnke: “Call me an optimist, but I thought if I gave Mr. Figueroa a chance to ask these questions now he wouldn’t repeat them on cross. Go ahead, counsel.”

Figueroa: “Can you describe the visual characteristics of the product?”

Hoyle: “Excuse me?”

Behnke: “He wants to know what it looks like.”

Hoyle: “It’s anywhere from a dark green to brown in color.”

Figueroa: “Do you have any training in how to identify honey oil by chemical means?”

Hoyle: “No.”

Figueroa: “Have you ever sent honey oil to a Department of Justice lab for analysis?”

Hoyle: “No.”

Figueroa: “Why not?”

Eyster: “Objection.”

Behnke: “Sustained.”

Hoyle went on to explain that the glass tubes were filled with marijuana shake, then the butane was introduced through a small hole at the bottom of the tube, then allowed to drain into the Pyrex dishes. These were placed on heating mats for a time then a flat-bladed instrument like an artist’s trowel was used to smear it on to parchment. The sheets of parchment then went into a low-temperature oven to finish the drying process.

* * *

Hoyle's testimony was interrupted by the jury in the Francisco Zamora case. A certain Mr. Zamora had been charged with assault with a deadly weapon against County Supervisor John McCowen. McCowen spends hours every week cleaning up homeless camps near and along the Russian River. The Supervisor had taken the stand to say that Zamora attacked him with a stick from beneath the Talmage Street bridge over the Russian River, forcing the Ukiah politician to flee to the safety of his truck. Zamora was also charged with brandishing and assault on the police officers McCowen had called to his aid.

In closing arguments, Lindsey Peak, Zamora’s public defender, had told the jury, “This case was all about a politician, Supervisor John McCowen’s ego.”

Deputy DA Jessa Lee Mills told the jurors, “Defense is trying to make this a case about the Supervisor’s ego, but that stick was a deadly weapon.”

(An elected official tries to do some hands-on good for his community and the health of the battered Russian River when a homeless guy attacks him, and the event is reduced to ego?)

The stick was never taken into evidence, and while McCowen said it was a big stick, the officer, Deputy Clegg, said it was only slightly bigger than the pointer used on the witness stand. The jury came in and said they found the defendant not guilty on both the assault charges, and the brandishing, but found him guilty of resisting arrest. Judge Behnke added a probation violation charge.

* * *

Back to the Tyler Smith case, back to honey oil production, back to Covelo.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Figueroa tried to impeach Hoyle on the nature of his reputation, which didn’t work out as planned.

Figueroa: “Officer Hoyle, you have a reputation for dishonesty, do you not?”

Eyster: “Objection.”

Behnke: “The officer can’t speak to his own reputation, counsel. If you wish to impeach him on his reputation, it has to be from an outside source.”

The next problem was indicia — i.e., evidence — connecting Smith to the operation — he’d been arrested when he arrived as a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone else.

Figueroa: “What indicia was there that my client was involved?”

Hoyle: “That depends on your definition of indicia.”

Figueroa: “What do you mean by that?”

Hoyle: “His girlfriend was living upstairs.”

Behnke: “That’s close enough. A crime has been committed and it appears the defendant committed it, and it was on going, so he’ll be held to answer on 11379.6a for the 2.7 pounds of honey oil and 11359 for the 238 pounds of shake.”

6 Comments

  1. David Gurney July 28, 2015

    McCowen doesn’t go around by himself, cleaning up trash after the homeless. He goes around cleaning up the “trash” homeless themselves. Apparently, Francisco Zamora didn’t respond “appropriately” to Johnny boy’s illegal demand that he leave the shade of the underpass in Ukiah’s 100 degree heat.

    The AVA’s crazy reporter Bruce McSkew’em apparently hasn’t been around long enough to know that when someone is convicted of no other crime besides “resisting arrest,” it’s often a pretty clear indication that person has been the victim of police harassment, in this case instigated by Ukiah’s one-man vigilante squad, Supervisor John McCowen. Let’s hope McCowen wises up before he ends up being impaled by a pointer stick.

  2. Bruce Anderson July 28, 2015

    Zamora was drunk, McEwen simply reports what he sees in our courtrooms. McCowen is a serious environmentalist. The homeless camps in the Ukiah tend to be found in areas that drain directly into the Russian River. The drunks and dope heads who make their homes in these places should at least find spots that don’t harm our already battered rivers and streams. I’ve complained for years that we need a county farm like we had prior to World War Two where people unable or unwilling to care for themselves would be required to live while they (hopefully) regain themselves. As a supervisor, McCowen should be agitating for a real solution to the problem, and the real solution would begin with at least a discussion of possible options to the present situation, which is not tenable. McEwen, by the way, is the best court reporter in the country.

    • David Gurney July 28, 2015

      If Zamora was drunk, he would have been charged as such, with a drunk in public. McCowen is anything BUT a serious environmentalist. And he’s definitely not a cop. McEwen is not the best court reporter in the country, just the maybe only one left.

  3. Jeff Costello July 29, 2015

    The only one left? That’s the AVA, the last newspaper. Only fitting that the last court reporter would be there.

  4. Mike Jamieson July 29, 2015

    I think everyone understands and appreciates the fact that the well written court dispatches are more than entertaining. They actually give us valuable intel on the undercurrents in this area and that does appear to be somewhat atypical as a fact of life in so many communities.

    McCowen probably should retire from this activity. I’ve seen very dangerous ideation expressed about him, painted at the Talmage bridge underpass. About slapping him and stuff, if seen.

    Maybe a quarter of these folks, max, are qualified for conservativee status. Don’t know the laws anymore, though. If they’ve changed, or it’s we just don’t have facilities to hold people due to being gravely disabled/addled and unable to feed, clothe or shelter themselves.

    Develop officially sanctioned safe grounds camping and hostel sites, even turning them into a business and resource site. McCowen is right to focus on the waterways like he does. It’s just too dangerous I think for him now.

  5. Mike Jamieson July 29, 2015

    Laws look to be the same for mental health type of conservatorships; see link:
    http://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/divisions/probate/mental-health-conservatorship

    So, there just needs to be actual places for conservativees to go to. A work farm setting is like a version of the old programs that Mendocino and Napa State Hospitals used to have, farms and little industries, etc. Napa’s program four is I think the only place now and that’s not too many beds there. Most beds at NSH go to the not guilty by reason of insanity folks and the incompetent mentally to stand trial folks.

    It cost counties a lot of money to keep their residents in these facilities.

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