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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.