Yesterday, multiple law enforcement agencies including a SWAT team and a Hostage Negotiation team responded after a fugitive threatened suicide by cop and barricaded himself in a vehicle along Laytonville’s Branscomb Road.
Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall sat down with us to discuss two major concerns that emerged from yesterday’s standoff in Laytonville: a local judge would deem it appropriate to give a short-term release pass to a prisoner accused of serious charges and when the county’s crisis workers were called upon to assist in de-escalating, they were unable to respond.
In the days leading up to yesterday’s standoff, 33-year-old Albion man Christopher Brockway stood in front of a Mendocino County judge facing a litany of felonies including possession of stolen property, possession of a firearm, check forgery, identity theft, and theft from an elder.
A press release issued by MCSO on December 19, 2021, described Brockway’s arrest for his involvement in an alleged extensive mail theft operation. Deputies found that Brockway and his girlfriend, Shevelle Perkins, had stored in their vehicle an assortment of mail from the Ukiah, Hopland, Redwood Valley, and Willits area. Their collection allegedly included “washed” and altered checks, debit cards, and stolen goods from around the county. A search of the vehicle also resulted in the discovery of a 9mm handgun without a serial number.
Sheriff Kendall was surprised a local judge would issue a short-term release pass for an offender accused of such serious crimes. These short-term release passes are issued at a judge’s discretion and to county jail prisoners who are facing death in the family or medical emergency for a loved one. Sheriff Kendall argued the severity of the charges should inform the issuance of them.
“The county jail is no longer filled with sentenced misdemeanors. We don’t have the guys who caught 180 days in the county on a DUI. The jail is now filled with prisoners who would have filled our state prisons,” Sheriff Kendall said. With this change in population, he argued, “These judges need to realize that when they let these people out on a pass, bad things can happen.”
The changing landscape of California’s criminal justice system and the ubiquity of illegal drugs, Sheriff Kendall said, changes the calculus magistrates must consider when issuing these short-term release passes. “Nowadays, we have massive issues with addiction, access to drugs because no one is getting locked up, and this guy gets out, there’s a good chance he’ll be in the middle of a binge when he’s expected to return.”
Another consequence of the short-term release pass issuance and the subsequent standoff, Sheriff Kendall pointed out, was the large cost incurred by the sheriff’s office. The potential of expenditures like these should be considered when issuing short-term release passes, especially as the Board of Supervisors is taking a critical look at MCSO’s budget, Sheriff Kendall argued. He added that the resulting expenditures are not only yesterday’s standoff but the cost of transporting Brockway to the courthouse and overtime for his deputies to testify to the standoff in court.
Finally, when it comes to what institution carries the liability for a situation like this gone wrong, Sheriff Kendall argued his deputies would end up sued, not the judge who issued the short-term release pass, or the suspect who failed to report back to jail after his pass expired.
Sheriff Kendall wryly proposed that if courtroom judges were asked to intervene in a situation like yesterday’s standoff, the issuance of these short-term release passes would be a “different story.”
Another concern from yesterday’s standoff that came into focus for Sheriff Kendall was the need to build out Mendocino County’s Mobile Crisis Response team designed to respond and provide crisis support during emergency responses concerning mental health needs.
When agencies were initially amassing to address the standoff yesterday morning, the Crisis Response team was called upon to assist in negotiating with Brockway who was clearly in a mental health crisis and threatening to commit ‘suicide by cop.’ MCSO was informed that a crisis worker would be unable to respond to the scene so “the SWAT Team crisis negotiator continued communications with Brockway,” as per a press release issued yesterday evening.
The Mobile Crisis Response Team currently has one full-time crisis worker, and a second is currently training with Ukiah Police Department and MCSO, which will provide law enforcement with their support seven days per week, but during daylight hours only.
Sheriff Kendall looks forward to the day when his deputies are supported 24/7 by crisis workers trained in de-escalation, but the Mobile Crisis Response Team as currently designed cannot provide comprehensive support.
Yesterday’s standoff is another example of the collaborative nature of Mendocino County’s law enforcement and first responder agencies. Sheriff Kendall expressed gratitude for California Highway Patrol, Laytonville Fire Department, Cal Fire, and the multi-agency SWAT team for working together to de-escalate the standoff and successfully take Brockway into custody.