A married couple claiming brutality at the hands of the Ukiah Police Department is no longer being prosecuted by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office.
Elizabeth and Arturo Valdes claim that on March 28th of last year, just a few days before Ukiah police officers were filmed beating and tasing Gerardo Magdaleno as he stood on the street with no clothes on, they were abused in their own front yard by UPD Sergeant Ronald Donahue and Officer Eric Rodello.
Mr. Valdes was arrested for driving under the influence, child endangerment, and resisting arrest. His booking photo shows him with one eye swollen shut and a badly broken nose with abrasions on it. Mrs. Valdes alleges that a little after 7:00 on the night of the beating, the officers handcuffed her and placed her in the back of a patrol car with no air conditioning. Her complaint states that they threatened to call Child Protective Services if she did not provide them with information about a minor car collision that occurred in a parking lot earlier that day. She was later charged with child endangerment for allegedly allowing her husband to drive under the influence with their children in the car.
On Friday morning, the DA’s office dismissed the cases against both Mr. and Mrs. Valdes, “in the interests of justice.”
Richard Middlebrook, the family’s attorney, said that it would be “interesting,” though he does not expect it to happen, if the DA’s office proceeded to file charges against the officers for false imprisonment, battery, and assault. He added that three weeks ago, Mr. Valdes received a settlement offer from the DA’s office to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault against a police officer and have all charges against his wife dropped. This would have made him ineligible to pursue his brutality case in civil court. Valdes rejected the offer, saying he was willing to risk being found guilty at trial.
In mid-July, Middlebrook told us that at a preliminary hearing in May, Sergeant Donahue took the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination under cross-examination. “One of my concerns in this case from the beginning is that these officers will testify according to what they wrote in their police report, when we know that their police report is fraudulent,” he explained. He added, “if they answered questions that incriminated them criminally, that they could be prosecuted for those answers.” He said Donahue refused to answer the question, “How many times did you strike my client in the face in order to break five bones in his face?” At that time, Middlebrook predicted that the case would be dismissed, saying that if the officers didn’t testify under cross-examination, “There is no evidence against my client whatsoever, and the case will be dismissed.”
There is an initial case management conference in the ongoing civil case on Tuesday, in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. Middlebrook said the parties will be discussing a discovery plan by the end of next month. Footage from the couple’s privately owned Ring cameras is likely to play a key role in either corroborating or contradicting the police reports from the incident.
The Valdes family are not the only ones bringing civil suits against the City of Ukiah, the UPD and current or former members of the force. Amanda Carley and her daughter Madisyn are pursuing a domestic violence suit in the Mendocino County Superior Court against former chief Noble Waidelich, who was fired two months ago. Waidelich is also under investigation by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for an alleged assault on a woman. That investigation is ongoing, and no information about it is available in spite of repeated requests from reporters.
Former police officer Isabel Siderakis is suing the City, the UPD and former Sergeant Kevin Murray for harassment, retaliation, and discrimination. A case management conference is scheduled in the Mendocino County Superior Court in early October.
Murray will be criminally sentenced, for separate charges brought against him by the District Attorney, on Wednesday. Though he was originally charged with multiple sex crimes, burglary, and narcotics possession, he pled no contest to a single felony of witness intimidation. An allegation of rape was whittled down to misdemeanor false imprisonment. Murray pled no contest to that misdemeanor, as well.
Outrage erupted over the strong possibility that Murray will be sentenced to probation only, and organizers are planning an all-day protest outside the Ukiah courthouse on Tuesday.
“It’s unfortunate that citizens have to police the police,” Middlebrook remarked.