Saturday, September 23, 2023

In the Wake of Three High-Profile Cases of Police Misconduct, Mendocino County Prosecutors Remain ‘Stubbornly Silent’

An emerging pattern of police misconduct involving alleged assaults is dogging Mendocino County prosecutors who remain stubbornly silent in the face of growing public scrutiny.

No doubt a string of local police misconduct cases involving beatings and alleged sexual assault is overshadowed by yet another national example of the deadly use of excessive police force. The brutal police beating death of Tyrie Nichols in Memphis has plunged public confidence in law enforcement to a new low, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.

While rural Mendocino County is far removed from the national spotlight, it too has experienced excessive use of police force up close. Two known cases have cost the city of Ukiah taxpayers $1.3 million to settle with the victims.

Less than a year ago the city paid $211,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged a naked, mentally ill man was knocked to the ground in 2020 and beaten by a squad of Ukiah officers.

In the highest profile case regarding the use of excessive force locally, Ukiah paid $1.1 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a man severely beaten by a disgraced police sergeant.

Former Ukiah Police Sergeant Kevin Murray holds a pig [Picture from the Ukiah Police Department Facebook page]

In that case Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster’s office originally charged the victim – a disabled Ukiah man – with resisting arrest after his violent encounter in 2018 with former Ukiah Police Sgt. Kevin Murray. After it was later learned that Murray perjured himself during a preliminary court hearing, the prosecutor offered to place defendant Christopher Rasku on diversion. 

- Advertisement -

The $1.1 million settlement on behalf of Rasku was won by Sonoma County attorney Izaak Schwaiger who filed the federal civil rights lawsuit against Murray and the Ukiah police department.

Schwaiger, a Marine Corps veteran and former Sonoma County prosecutor, is unsparing in his criticism of policing in Mendocino County, and the role DA Eyster plays in it.

“Nowhere is there any less accountability than in Mendocino County,” he said. 

Schwaiger said during Eyster’s decade-long tenure as the county’s chief law enforcement officer the notion of prosecutors following the law and seeking justice has given way to an ‘us vs them’ attitude.

“Law enforcement in the Eyster era sees itself as the occupying force in the county,” he said.

Nationwide the second ranking crime problem involving police is alleged sexual assaults by police, and in that too Mendocino County ranks high.

Five women have now alleged in criminal cases and pending civil lawsuits that they were sexually assaulted by three local officers, including Ukiah’s former police chief. 

Besides fired Chief Noble Waidelich, the other two accused men are former Sgt. Murray, and Derek Hendry, a lieutenant with the Willits Police Department. Before that Hendry was an eight-year veteran of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department

DA Eyster refuses to publicly comment on the emergence of the local police misconduct pattern or why he supported a controversial plea deal last summer that allowed three serious sex charges to be dropped in a criminal case against the Murray.

- Advertisement -

Eyster also will not publicly address the status of months-old investigations into the allegations of sexual misconduct  against the other two cops, and why the cases languish unresolved with no public explanation. 

While Eyster boasts that he in fact is the county’s ‘chief law enforcement officer’ he will not publicly discuss prosecution policies as they relate to the growing number of assault allegations against local cops. 

Also being questioned is the District Attorney’s apparent selective use of legal disclosure requirements surrounding suspected police misconduct. 

Decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a prosecutor has a legal duty to turn over to the defense any evidence that might impeach a material prosecution witness. The result is a so-called ‘Brady List’ that is entirely up to the discretion of District Attorneys.

In one high profile local case, Eyster used the Brady obligation to suppress a woman deputy probation officer who filed domestic violence and economic abuse allegations against her live in partner – a then Ukiah police officer named Noble Waidelich. He rose through the ranks and was eventually promoted to Police Chief in November 2021. 

Within a year, however, Waidelich was fired by city officials after he became entangled in a still pending sexual assault claim from another Ukiah woman. He was accused of being in his police chief uniform at the time he went to the woman’s home and demanded oral sex.

Eyster used the Brady provision to label Waidelich’s former live in partner Amanda Carley untruthful as the result of a sheriff’s department investigation into her 2017 domestic violence and economic abuse complaints. Waidelich, a local cop who ranked high in local law enforcement circles, was not prosecuted. 

Eyster’s labeling of Carley led to her being stripped of her abilities to be a peace officer and carry a gun while taking errant parolees into custody or protect herself, if necessary, while on duty dealing with convicts on probation. Eventually, Carley left Mendocino County after securing a state investigator’s job in Southern California. She recently settled civil litigation against the county of Mendocino and Waidelich.

Eyster also used the Brady label to go after a newly hired Willits cop in 2019 when the DA was engaged in a feud with the then-acting Police Chief Scott Warnock. Officer Jacob Jones, who had left the Eureka Police Department under a police misconduct cloud, was branded with the Brady label by Eyster, blocking local prosecutors from using him as a witness in local criminal court proceedings.

Eyster publicly ripped Warnock, widely distributing a letter to North Coast media castigating the then police chief for withholding background information on the former Eureka officer.

- Advertisement -

But the DA’s stance on police misconduct disclosure apparently is selective.

When former Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy Derek Hendry was fired for dishonesty involving pay and reimbursement claims, Eyster did not impose a Brady listing on him. The dismissed sheriff’s deputy was subsequently hired by the same Willits police force that Eyster had earlier publicly reprimanded.

Now Hendry, promoted over time to become a lieutenant with Willits police, is the latest local law enforcement officer to be accused of sexually assaulting a woman while on duty and in uniform.

Eyster’s silence on the three sexual assault allegations is deafening to alleged victims, their attorneys, and the public at large.

Attorney Jessyca Hoagland, a former Mendocino County Public Defender, is now with a Santa Rosa law firm that recently filed a new civil lawsuit on behalf of a victim who originally agreed to testify in the criminal sexual assault case against Murray. The woman, a friend of a former fiancée of Murray’s, was aghast to learn last summer that the DA dropped all felony sex charges against the cop as part of a plea bargain. A charge that packets of methamphetamine had been found in Murray’s police locker also was dropped in the DA-approved plea deal.

Hoagland said, “At the very least in order to maintain transparency with an already skeptical and concerned public, Eyster should make a public statement.” 

Hoagland said it could be even as simple as updating the public “that the investigations have been concluded, and that a determination was made that prosecution is forthcoming, or in the alternative that there is not enough evidence to warrant prosecution.” 

So far there is no indication that DA Eyster intends to update the public about string of local police misconduct cases. He broke established office policy last summer by not issuing any post-sentencing statement about Murray’s case. He continues, however, to write his own press releases about the outcomes of other Mendocino County trials including misdemeanor DUI cases.

While Eyster refuses to discuss any of the cases publicly behind the scenes he blames local judges for trial delays, witnesses who are either uncooperative or lack credibility, and ‘mischaracterizations’ of the cases in local news coverage. 

Experienced law enforcement leaders locally and statewide are concerned about the rising level of police misconduct case.

They believe there is little doubt that the ‘bad apples’ among the hundreds of competent, hard-working law enforcement officers in the county are few, but the damage they do to public perception of law enforcement is immense.  

“Even a small number of police misconduct cases tarnish the badge so many of us have worked hard to achieve,” said new Fort Bragg Police Chief Neil Cervenka.

Cervenka last week joined his Sonoma County counterparts in immediately publicly condemning the brutal beating and killing of Tyrie Nichols in Memphis. He was the only Mendocino County law enforcement official to do so.

“The officers involved brought shame upon their badges and the law enforcement profession as a whole. They betrayed their oaths, their department, their community, and their country,” said Cervenka. 

Cervenka is a newcomer to Mendocino County law circles, but he brings with him 22 years of law enforcement experience in the Central Valley. He is a 2nd vice president of the 27,000 member California Peace Officers Association.

Cervenka said police body cameras can readily identify perpetrators of violent assaults, but they do not typically document sexual assault cases, the allegations against officers that tend to be most difficult to prove in a courtroom. 

Medical exams are helpful but they only document physical injuries suffered during rapes. More often it is the victim’s word, and background, that goes up against the status of an accused officer.

“They are difficult cases, and sometimes there is just no evidence to support the allegations,” said Cervenka.

Santa Rosa attorney Hoagland and others agrees sexual assault cases are difficult to prove in court, especially those involving police. If investigations drag on, or prosecutors decided to let a case ‘grow a beard’ in hopes it will go away, potential witnesses often fold.

Philip Stinson is a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who is a national expert on police crimes and misconduct.

Stinson was quoted in a recent NPR Network/KQED report that policing today “is a closed-door society, it’s an us-vs-them mentality.”

“There’s a blue wall of silence in many places,” said Stinson. “Sexual misconduct is such a normalized part of the police subculture in many places across the country. It’s just business as usual.”

Sonoma County lawyer Schwaiger agrees.

“Police violence is less about race than the popular narrative tells us. It is about the psychology of power and the us-versus-them mentality that permeates modern policing.”

Hoagland’s co- attorney Richard Sax said Murray’s alleged rape victim is determined to find justice through her newly filed civil litigation.

“We won’t let him (Murray) off the hook like the DA did,” vowed Sax.

- Advertisement -


  1. Mike, Eyster is corrupt he’s involved somehow with everything that is going on! I’m sure the new chief is going to make promises to hold his department accountable right? I’m sure it’s a good old boy from here and the same cover ups will continue.

  2. Thanks again, Mike, for not letting the story die out with time. We need constant reminders this day in age. And I’m constantly reminded about the unjust actions of our DA. The preferential treatment of criminal cops & the sweep it under the rug attitude towards their victims. Its appalling! Zero transparency or accountability. The public must demand our civil servants do better. We want & demand answers about these cases. We pay their salaries & their lawsuits & we want to know the who, what, where & why’s. Time to bombard the California AJ office with calls & emails. We need a bully to come push around our bullies for a change!

    • Please note. The posted story stated: “Hendry was fired from the Willits department last June and is the focus of the second outside probe into local sexual assault claims against Mendocino County law enforcement officers in the past year.”

  3. Mike

    Previously you were quoted saying that Eysters program ” Pay to play ” 11470.2 was on solid legal ground..smells like you are changing your tune and position about your previous Boss..

    • I left the DA’s Office in 2021 because of professional disagreements over the handling and the style of releases to news media. As far as I know the unique marijuana restitution program that was implemented soon after Eyster took office was based on existing law authored by former state Sen. Barry Keene. Federal prosecutors looked into the program but to my knowledge there was no successful legal challenge. The program raised more than $7 million that was funneled into county law enforcement.

      • Barry Keenes program was never intended to charge, or should we say extort people five to ten times the “recovery of expenses” . which was the cost of MCSO to eradicate sites.The intent of the bill was simple …recover expenses not bragg about 7 million dollars collected..Yes it was never challenged in courts..but the Feds chose bigger fish.

  4. Hi! I have a story for you in regards to one of these officers. We have footage and photographs. You now have my email. Be in touch with myself and my family if you are interested in helping us get this story out.

  5. Absolutely disgusting that this just goes on and on. Mendocino County Law Enforcement in their head legal team of Mr Eyster is corrupt to the Core. They laugh and call everyone criminals because they’re on the other side of the law but God forbid if he ever got caught for a DUI how would that go down? There’s even more corruption going on behind the closed doors of the CPS courts we have the lowest reunification rate for families in the state of California. The children are being stolen from parents’ arms left and right when that happens behind closed doors and no one is ever aware. There’s more corruption than anyone could imagine in MENDO. GOD HELP US ALL WHO ARE FORCED TO NAVIGATE MENDOCINOCOUNTY COURTROOMS.

    • So true, and it’s the same double standard with child endangerment charges. If you are rich you don’t go to jail for driving drunk with your children/child endangerment. If you’re poor you get them takin away point blank.

  6. Everyone in this county knows better than cross the mcso. They kill, rape and assault people, plant evidence, threaten And degrade people. And then if questions get asked they investigate themselves. The Ukiah chief of police getting probation for assaults and rape is a green light for all law enforcement to do the same. Highest paid county workers are sherrifs. Pathetic. Terrorists don’t scare me. Mendo law enforcement is a different story, bad good guys are the lowest form of life. Well….somewhere between a pedofile and a snitch imo.

  7. I’m facing a dui hit and run in Mendo right now. Only thing is, I never hit anything. Someone tried to put a picture of 2021 F350 scratched down the side and said I did it. Unfortunately, I have pictures and no damages charge from Hertz, One DA refuses to drop charges, even with the obvious evidence. My paid attorney told me I had to accept. I fired Wilber Law Office and got a Public Defender, with a new DA, they immediately drop hit and run….. but now they said I’m lucky, and they are not going to address how the fake picture got in there and was allowed for so long. I have the pictures. I just want to know is there someone professional I can get ahold of?

  8. I have evidence of Brian Webb of code enforcement committing fraud. I have evidence of Jeff Andrade making a knowingly false arrest. I have evidence of Matt Kendall involved in corruption regarding CCW permitting.

Join the Conversation

Today's News


News from the Week