Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Case of Kevin Murray and the Deafening Silence of Mendocino County’s District Attorney—Op-Ed


Mike Geniella’s incisive voice and watchful eye have been aimed at Mendocino County for many decades as a long-standing reporter for the Press Democrat and the spokesman for Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Now retired, Geniella finds the writing habit hard to shake. We’re excited to host a column from him sharing his thoughts, comments, and concerns about life here in Mendocino County.

A mural of Lady Justice at the Mendocino County Superior Court [Picture by Mike Geniella]

Disgraced former Ukiah Police Sgt. Kevin Patrick Murray is home breathing a deep sigh of relief today, thanks to his high-powered team of expensive Santa Rosa defense attorneys and a seemingly lackadaisical prosecution effort by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.

Murray walked out of Tuesday’s sentencing with a two-year probation order, a minimal sentence for a case that originally was filed with 5 felonies including three sexual assaults against two women. A third woman, a former police trainee under Murray’s supervision, corroborates their claims in a civil lawsuit. During the sex crimes investigation, Murray’s genitalia was photographed for evidence. Investigators also found two packets of methamphetamine in his locker at the Ukiah Police Station, but even that charge was dropped in a sweetheart plea deal that ranks among the most notorious yet.

Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman insisted Tuesday that her sentencing was not merely a ‘slap on the wrist.’ 

Moorman’s ruling, however, left some onlookers shaking their heads and wondering out loud how a cop who has cost local taxpayers $1.3 million so far in cash settlements to victims of his sexual abuse – and his beating of a Navy veteran who lives in Ukiah – got to walk out the door and go home to his family in Lakeport, where he now lives.

Kevin Murray when he was a sergeant with the Ukiah Police Department [Picture from the Ukiah Police Department]

Moorman, a former top defense attorney in state and federal courts and often spoken of in glowing terms as being the best-qualified judge in Mendocino County, contended during Tuesday’s sentencing that “it was very clear to the court” that the District Attorney’s office was proceeding on the good faith belief that if the case went to trial, the prosecution could not prove Murray’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

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No matter, it seems, of the availability of three women witnesses who have independently claimed Murray sexually abused them. Two are cited in an amended criminal complaint, and a third corroborates their stories with her own claims in a still-pending civil lawsuit against Murray and the police department. Under revised state law, the third woman could have been subpoenaed to testify in the criminal case had the DA’s Office made that move.

Murray, who was originally charged with multiple sex crimes, burglaries, and misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine, in the end of was sentenced only on a felony count of intimidating a witness and a misdemeanor count of false imprisonment.

The outcome is being widely criticized, and for good reason.

Personally, I covered cops and courts off and on during my 40-year newspaper career. I also spent 10 years working inside the DA’s office where I was officially labeled ‘public information officer.’ Admittedly I am not a lawyer, but I have never seen an outcome in a high-profile case like this.

Sadly, the Murray case is just the most widely publicized in a string of police misconduct cases for the Ukiah Police Department.

In March, it was announced that the city of Ukiah ponied up another $211,000 to settle a shocking beating case involving a mentally ill man who was naked, tasered and punched repeatedly on the ground during an encounter with cops on South State Street. Earlier this year, a Ukiah man showed evidence of facial injuries he suffered in an arrest at the hands of Ukiah officers for allegedly driving under the influence.

There is more to come.

Sonoma County investigators for weeks now have been looking into a complaint that former Police Chief Noble Waidelich assaulted a woman while on duty. Waidelich, a local cop who rose through the ranks, was summarily fired in May. He was seen as someone who would lead the police department out of the swamp. 

Besides the ongoing Sonoma investigation, Waidelich still faces a civil lawsuit brought by a former county probation officer, who once was his domestic partner.

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Amanda Carley claimed in civil and criminal complaints that Waidelich abused her during a stormy relationship in the past decade. District Attorney Eyster refused to prosecute, citing conflicting accounts when Carley was first questioned. He took the extraordinary step of listing Carley on a so-called ‘Brady List,’ a secret compilation of officers who are not allowed by him to testify in criminal matters because of perceived untruthfulness. The district attorney originally was named in Carley’s lawsuit, but his name was later stricken because of a state law that allows him to justify his actions while serving as chief prosecutor.

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster [Photograph from the Mendo DA Facebook Page]

“DA Dave” as Eyster refers to himself has yet to publicly talk about Murray’s case. The outcome has riled the community and left onlookers wondering what is going on with the pugnacious prosecutor. He is a man who typically grinds down defendants in the courtroom, lashes out at some judges he personally considers ‘wimps,’ and takes time to personally pound out press releases about the most minimal of cases. DA Dave often illustrates his conclusions with an illustration blaring ‘GUILTY’ on his Mendocino County District Attorney website.

Jason Cabral, a reader, posted this response Tuesday to the latest DA announcement trumpeting a misdemeanor DUI conviction: “This is what you guys are spending your time doing? Posting about DUI convictions while rapist cops get golden plea deals that no civilian would ever get offered?”

Not a peep in the Murray case yet from DA Dave, however. He almost always posts verbose results, but nary a word about the Murray sentencing on the DA website.

For unexplained reasons, DA Dave earlier this year chose to turn over handling of the biggest police misconduct case in the county’s history to a deputy prosecutor. Neither he nor Assistant DA Dale Trigg publicly got involved although nothing, and I mean nothing, happens in the DA’s Office without their approval.

Despite repeated questions from local news reporters, including two written requests, DA Dave has offered no response to the public concerns or questions. He left Deputy DA Heidi Larson to appear alone during Tuesday’s sentencing. She had little to say.

 In an apparent attempt to nullify the public outcry, Larson at the last minute on Monday filed a motion with Judge Ann Moorman urging some jail time for Murray. She did not press the issue during the sentencing, however.

Moorman promised that if Murray should dare step out of line during his probation, “you are going to the joint.”

Okay. We will be watching. No high hopes, though, that justice will be ever given to the victims at Murray’s hands.

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  1. Corruption at its finest Mike. Hope you can dig into this there must be more? He must have had dirt on someone DA, admin? The UPD dug there own hole and it’s going to get bigger. No trust, no respect. Maybe the new chief can clean it up? Probably not I’m sure it’s going to be a good Oldboy hire.

  2. Mike, I appreciate your reporting and am sickened by the ineptitude and malfeasance of DA Dave. Keep digging and rallying the public to outrage!

  3. Sadly, this comes as no surprise in the wake of the clever-and dastardly-way Eyster retaliated against Amanda Carley for filing a domestic violence complaint against the Ukiah police chief, forcing her out of her job as a probation officer.

    • Thank you for having the courage to post your comments and for supporting me. I intend to begin speaking in depth about the things that I went through as a result of “DA Dave’s” decision to persecute me and protect Noble. What I went through at the hands of the Probation department and the actions of “DA Dave” was reprehensible… NO ONE should ever experience the hell I went through, especially after years of abuse, by their own department and colleagues.. 7+ years I have waited and Noble finally allowed his mask to fall down. I hope people realize how wrong they have been for blaming me and accusing me of lying. I am glad I do not carry that burden.

      Again, thank you for your support and willingness to support us publicly.

  4. You can go online and see a glowing review of Murray, written by the police department, about him and the K9 “Thor”. Mysteriously, “Thor” was not acquired until after Murray was fired, but oh well. The story goes that Murray attacked …er…”detained” a suspect because a burglary had been committed a few blocks away and he thought the man looked “suspicious”. The man apparently gave as good as he got and Murray ended up on the ground (with a dislocated shoulder) and the guy got away, but was later apprehended. He was not the burglary suspect but they did find a small amount of meth on him. He got 6 years in prison with a mandatory 80 % served. Quite a contrast to Murray’s “not a slap on the wrist”. Yes he did get into a fight with a police officer, but Murray escaped much less damaged than some of his own, innocent, victims, who suffered broken faces and broken lives. I guess the article is supposed to show the dangers faced by police, but the tables have now turned and the public has reason to fear the police. Let’s hope we see reform soon.

  5. Hmm in my checked past I was hired to investigate law enforcement for cities, counties and twice by the state (funny thing technically I was not a P.I.). It seems there is a lot more bubbling under the pot with this, more than just the law enforcement branch. Other branches of this country government seem to be entangled in this current web and other past allegations dealing with police practices. Failure in Ukiah to maintain an effective police chief is a big and seemingly repeated failure. Unfortunately where a grand jury investigation is needed, locally the one who picks the grand jury seems to have been tainted in this mess and others per press reports. The amount of drugs, money, combined with illegal and legal drug production makes it tempting to go to the dark side, for police and politicians both.

    District attorneys are more likely to use the grand jury indictment process in complex case(s) like this where corruption suggestions rears its ugly head, but District Attorneys do pick, choose and lead the Grand Jury through the process. Is Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster up for this process is the question or a flunkie in his office as outlined in this case above while he maintains silence (and I can see reasons for him to maintain silence that may not be nefarious).

    I have seen Bay area news reports that suggest that it may be common practice for law enforcement here to liberate drugs from buyers then send them on their way (drugs get resold to who, homeless? Schoolchildren?). Not good nor the catch and release of the Willits shoot em up video rap violence for some cheap bail and confiscated cash. Not a real confidence builder in police, court practices here.

    Perhaps a letter campaign to the State Attorney General office to look into this is in order, unfortunately I am too old to lead that battle, but you young folks with gumption get together, organise and do it! You will need a smart honest attorney probably to help, that is your needle in a haystack.

    Just remember the vast majority of police are clean, look out for citizens and need your support in the dangerous job they do. They need good leadership and that is your job as a voter. You need to press good level headed citizens to stand up, run, then clean up the problem whether it is big or blown up by the press small. You don’t want Mendocino to be a Cartel style town, then fix it now while you still can.

  6. The bottom line here is the failure of the Mendocino County District Attorney to have the ability to win a case more difficult than the average DUI case. They made a deal, a deal fit for a wholesome white boy on the polo team that got caught with his pants down at a party while raping a drunk teenage girl, who’s rich parents bought his way out of trouble. Except this wasn’t that rich young white boy, this was a Ukiah Police Sergeant who not only sexually assaulted 3 women but had a history of bad behavior, which included 2 well documented beatings, possession of methamphetamine and petty theft. The City of Ukiah played the part of the rich parents and paid out a bunch of money so their special little sergeant could walk. Maybe this explanation will be easier for the general public to understand. This whole case should be a real wake up call for our community. If you want to blame someone look to all the people who allowed this disgusting man to continue his horrible behavior. Then take a look at the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office track record. Yes there are convictions, they actually brag about their big wins of DUI cases all the time. In the Murray case they claim they could not have won and openly blame the victims! What kind of lame excuse is that. In the real world when someone can’t perform their duties at a job they usually are reprimanded and or replaced. Is it time for a change? We the people need to come together and speak up for change. Time and time again this DA has failed to prosecute the very people that are destroying this community. The people sworn to protect it citizens. The latest case on his desk, a fired chief of police needs to be handed over to The attorney general for the state of California to be prosecuted because obviously it’s a conflict of interest to have this DA touch it. Do the right thing Eyster. Do the right thing from the top down Mendocino County! It’s time.

  7. Wake Up Community! DA Eyster is the greatest danger to the female citizens of this community. Dave Eyster is the old, white, sexist dinosaur that women and some men have been trying to rid this community of for a hundred years. The community Obviously waking up to many facts including their lack of confidence in Eyster to affectively do his job. He should be recalled. Absolutely there is a better qualified man or woman in this community to perform this job. Why, why has he gone unopposed in elections? Where are the good qualified citizens of this county that are willing to step up and challenge this disastrous, corrupt, train wreck? He blames the female victims for him not doing his job. We all know that is BS. But let’s look at the solid indisputable da t that this police officer was found to be using METH on the job and the police officer had METH in his Police Locker. Yet, Dave Eyster dropped those charges. There’s absolutely no victim to blame that on. The blame is all owed to Dave Eyster for refusing to prosecute the crimes. One must wonder what all corruption was involved. What the defendant knew about this DA or the office. What corruption lies between the City of Ukiah not wanting this evidence out because of pending lawsuits and the DA willing to not prosecute crimes to protect the City from costly settlements or verdicts. This DA’s office needs to be investigated by the Attorney General. I’m also sure that the City of Ukiah paid the defendant officers attorney fees. Why so many secrets, silence, coverups? Corruption at its finest in Mendocino County.

  8. Something more… there were 3 victims that never got to speak, never got to express the pain and misery they are experiencing. So let me just take a moment and speak for them and hope it’s okay. Yes what about the 3 victims of this crime called sexual abuse. A crime about power and control perpetrated by a man who took away more than people could ever realize. Three women who are loved by their families, who are good people. Three women who matter in this world, who’s lives will be forever changed because one man decided to sexually abuse and violate them. Three woman who could have their families and friends write wonderful letters about the many awesome things they have accomplished in their lives. Three women who’s children have learned from them and love them with all their hearts. Yes you see there were 3 silent voices that never got heard that Tuesday afternoon in August of 2022. While one family got to take their loved one home that day, 3 woman never got to say their home will forever be changed…


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