Mendocino County is 3,878 square miles. Larger than Rhode Island and Delaware, Mendocino County is a rural behemoth with its citizenry spread across far-flung corners. Public safety, in a land so vast, is complicated by terrain and proximity officers must navigate.
The Peg House is a well-known landmark and restaurant on the Mendocino/Humboldt County line. On July 22, 2021, a troubling incident occurred at the restaurant that highlighted the difficulty of providing timely law enforcement to geographically isolated residents.
Gary Ballard, the owner, and proprietor of the Peg House told us around 6:30 that evening three intoxicated Spanish-speaking males entered their business. The trio began making “inappropriate comments” to members of Ballard’s staff.
The behavior took on tinges of violence when after being asked to leave, they sat down on a bench outside of the business. One of the men stood up and in a show of jocular intimidation began brandishing a handgun raising it into the air. Ballard described this man proceeding to throw the handgun onto the ground in front of the Peg House’s door and the firearm bouncing off the cement. After mere moments, the man grabbed the handgun and the three fled in what Ballard described as “a new Honda.”
In the proceeding moments, a customer made Peg House employees aware of what had occurred and Ballard was contacted. He came down to the store, interviewed witnesses, and called the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office approximately 15-20 minutes after the incident.
MCSO’s Captain Greg Van Patten told us deputies received reports that evening of a subject picking up a firearm after harassing customers and leaving northbound in a white vehicle. There was not any further information because the information was second hand to the reporting party and ultimately the deputy cleared it as a no report call, Captain Van Patten explained.
In light of the incident, Ballard began to consider the strange law enforcement dead zone the Peg House lies within, 45 miles from MCSO’s substation in Willits, 23 miles from California Highway Patrol’s Office in Garberville. The closest law enforcement entity to his business is State Parks officers associated with Standish-Hickey State Park, only one mile away.
Ballard emphasized his support and reliance on local law enforcement to provide a semblance of safety for his customers. But, he also is concerned that the jurisdiction his business falls within (MCSO’s) is the least capable to offer support in times of need because of geographic proximity.
Leggett, mere miles from the Mendocino/Humboldt County line, is a strange nexus of jurisdictional boundaries including Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, CHP, State Parks, and the area’s actual law enforcement agency, MCSO, Ballard explained.
Ballard said nearby State Parks rangers have been particularly helpful stepping in quickly when needed and establishing a relationship with local businesses like his.
In light of these agencies nudging against each other, Ballard advanced a model where these various law enforcement entities codify a collaborative approach to policing providing residents in the county’s far-flung corners the confidence that when their time of need comes, law enforcement will arrive.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall put forth that these policing partnerships with nearby agencies are active, robust, and crucial to provide safety to rural residences. “We have to have these partnerships because we have two deputy sheriffs working patrol for an area that is roughly the size of a small state such as the North Sector.”
The Northern Sector of MCSO’s beat, Sheriff Kendall explained, is approximately 70 miles long from the Golden Rule Trailer Park on Highway 101 to the county line. If a deputy was in Covelo and an incident was occurring in Whale Gulch, Sheriff Kendall said that drive could take three hours.
Sheriff Kendall said MCSO works with CHP Garberbville and State Parks often to address public safety concerns. “A lot of times when we’re on a call those guys will step in because a peace officer is a peace officer.”
He provided an example of a recent collaboration between northern county agencies on the morning of July 23, 2021 after reports emerged of shots fired and a man dead on Bell Springs Road. MCSO deputies responded to the scene and quickly CHP Garberville officers assisted.
Sheriff Kendall remembered years ago during an armed robbery where someone was shot in the head along Covelo Road and MCSO, Fish and Wildlife, and Cal Fire personnel were asked to assist in the incident.
Sheriff Kendall emphasized, “We don’t play the game of jurisdictional lines. We are all diggin the same ditch.”
Staffing issues also influence MCSO’s ability to provide prompt public safety to residents. Sheriff Kendall explained his agency is down seven positions due to people leaving, retirements, and injuries.”
Gary Ballard and his restaurant Peg House have become a veritable Mendocino County institution greeting visitors with hearty meals and a respite from our rural roads. In a land so expansive, law enforcement’s role to maintain the peace and protect the people is just as vital, if not more complex.