The California Attorney General’s Office confirmed Thursday that it is assessing whether Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster is free of potential conflicts in deciding the fate of a criminal complaint against former Ukiah Police Chief Noble Waidelich.
The state move comes weeks after Eyster received the results of an outside investigation by Sonoma County authorities into the criminal allegations. Eyster has kept the conclusions secret. He recently asked for the state AG’s review after questions about possible conflicts in deciding the former police chief’s fate were raised.
“We can confirm we’re reviewing the District Attorney’s request. Beyond that, no updates on our end at this point in time,” according to a statement issued Thursday by the AG’s Press Office.
The DA continues to refuse to publicly comment on any aspect of the months-old Waidelich case, including whether he has decided if prosecution of Waidelich is warranted or not.
In fact, the high-profile Waidelich case continues to be surrounded by a wall of silence, with no one locally willing to comment publicly about details.
Besides Eyster, Waidelich’s attorney former Superior Court Judge James King refuses to comment. Sonoma County authorities also are not talking and will only confirm that on Sept. 1 they turned over to Eyster the results of their investigation. City Manager Sage Sangiacomo, who fired Waidelich, will only state that the former police chief was in violation of police department policy “separate and apart from the accusation and ongoing investigation of criminal conduct.”
Waidelich too did not respond to requests this week for comments on the Attorney General’s review.
Eyster’s possible conflict in deciding the outcome of the Waidelich accusation stems from his ties not only to a close past working relationship with Waidelich, and the Ukiah Police Department in general but also the fact that the District Attorney was named in 2017 as a defendant in civil litigation connected to an earlier domestic violence case involving the police chief.
Former county probation officer Amanda Carley alleged Waidelich abused her when they lived together, and she eventually reported the case in 2015 to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Eyster, however, refused to prosecute Carley’s case, and he in fact took the extraordinary step of publicly casting doubt on Carley’s professional abilities by placing her on a so-called list of unreliable witnesses. As a result, probation officials stripped Carley of her duties. She eventually left town to find work as a criminal investigator in Southern California.
A subsequent civil lawsuit was filed by Carley seeking damages from Waidelich, and the county remains active although Eyster eventually was dropped as a defendant because he enjoys special state protections for decisions he made as DA. A mandatory settlement conference in the Carley civil lawsuit is scheduled for next Wednesday in Mendocino County Superior Court.
The state review of whether prosecution conflicts exist could take weeks, if not months, and further delay any decision on whether Waidelich will face criminal prosecution. The assault complaint was made by a woman who was a friend of Waidelich, and other top law enforcement officials in the county. She declined through an intermediary this week a request to be interviewed about her experience with Waidelich even with a promise of anonymity.
Waidelich’s sudden firing came less than a year after his appointment when he was celebrated as someone who might lead the 18-officer department out of a troubled stretch. ‘Nobey’ is a local boy from Potter Valley who started his law enforcement career in 2005 with Ukiah Police and rose through the ranks before being named Police Chief a year ago. He was earning $187,000 per year.
Waidelich’s firing in mid-June stunned supporters and underscored how tarnished the sterling reputation the Ukiah Police Department once enjoyed has become. A formal city recruitment effort is underway to find a successor. In the meantime, veteran Police Capt. Cedric Cook is serving as interim police chief.
Waidelich was a former supervisor of disgraced police Sgt. Kevin Murray, whose criminal case earlier this year embroiled the department and the DA’s office in controversy because of a ‘sweetheart’ plea deal that saw serious sexual assault charges dismissed against the officer in return for no contest pleas to lesser charges. Instead of jail time, as recommended, Murray was placed on probation. In total, three women – one a former Ukiah police trainee who filed a still-pending civil lawsuit – accused Murray of sexually assaulting them over a 10-year period.
The disputed outcome of the Murray case immediately raised questions about whether Eyster should decide the fate of Waidelich because of potential conflicts.
California’s Attorney General’s Office has constitutional power to supervise county prosecutors, and it may assume control over local criminal cases in a process known as ‘supersession.’
In reality, however, supervisory power is exercised ‘softly and rarely,’ according to a 2019 analysis by the California Constitution Center at Berkeley Law and the Hastings Law Journal.
“For example, in 2017, the attorney general responded to only 66 recusal motions statewide, and 85 in 2018,” researchers found.
They concluded, “By contrast, a district attorney’s decision whether to initiate criminal proceedings is a classic example of discretionary act over which for an attorney general has little direct control.”