Sunday, February 04, 2007
Paul Gallegos visits the scene of the crime
The Ferndale Enterprise Quote of the Week: "This is not the crime of the century. I'll concede that entirely." Humboldt County DA Paul Gallegos on the Sean Marsh case.
Interesting statement given the facts revealed in the Enterprise's story. Why - did you know that Gallegos visited the scene of the crime - the corner where Sean Marsh's son stepped a foot off the curb? Seems like he's taking it very seriously indeed. Tempting as it is to editorialize, I'll refrain. But pay attention to Gallegos' responses to the reporter.
DA explains Marsh "child endangerment" prosecution
February 1, 2007 The Ferndale Enterprise Front Page Story
subhead - Paul Gallegos paid a visit to Brown and Main for a first-hand look at intersection where toddler allegedly entered into crosswalk 18 inches.
"When is it appropriate? After the child is run over?"
That was the answer Tuesday afternoon from Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos after he was asked by The Enterprise if it was appropriate for his office to be prosecuting Sean Marsh.
Marsh, a former Main Street business owner, is on trial this week on two misdemeanor charges - child endangerment and interfering with the duties of a police officer. the former Village Baking & Catering owner allegedly allowed his toddler son to enter the crosswalk a distance of 18 inches at Brown and Main without supervision.
Ferndale Police Chief Lonnie Lawson, who happened to be in the area at the time Marsh's son allegedly headed into the crosswalk, pulled over to talk to Marsh after witnessing the alleged incident. Marsh, states the Chief in his report, was asked for his identification several times but refused to show his license. Instead, Marsh identified himself by name only.
Marsh has contended that his son was under his watchful eye the entire time he was visiting with fellow merchants on Main Street and did not enter the intersection, and in fact could have been hurt by the chief's action of pulling into the crosswalk.
The chief, apparently frustrated with Marsh's attitude, instructed him to turn over his young son to Ferndale Real Estate's Jake Drake, while he handcuffed Marsh after calling for backup, and put him in his patrol car. Drake has stated that she was a stranger to the chief and was concerned about him turning over the child. (Drake, along with several other Ferndalers, is scheduled to testify at the trial.)
Marsh's nine-months pregnant wife eventually emerged from inside Abraxas Shoes where she had been shopping to learn of her husband's situation.
Marsh was then taken to the Humboldt County Jail, where he spent the night on $50,000 bail. He was released in the morning. More than six weeks later the case was reopened and Marsh was arraigned.
Originally the DA's office told The Enterprise the case was "rejected" due to further investigation needed. However, Gallegos on Tuesday said, according to the file, a complaint request was received June 1 and filed on June 5.
"It was not originally rejected," he stated.
However further clarification with the criminal desk at the DA's office shows that a "statement of probable cause" from the FPD was filed on June 5 and not a complaint. "The case was declined on June 1 "due to further investigation needed." And it was not until July 18 that the case was reopened - after Main Street merchant Polly Stemwedel filed a complaint against the chief.
An investigation done by the Fortuna Police Department cleared the chief of any wrong doing.
Meanwhile the detention slip from the jail provided to The Enterprise states that Marsh was released from jail because "there was insufficient grounds for making a criminal complaint."
Marsh, the evening after his arrest, attended a Ferndale City Council meeting and asked for a public apology from the chief. The request was ignored.
Gallegos, meanwhile, said Tuesday that he and deputy Jose Mendez paid a lunchtime visit to the Brown and Main intersection three weeks ago to see exactly where the alleged incident took place.
"I think every attorney, if you're going to trial, should go and look at the site." said Gallegos, adding that it's the state's duty to enforce the laws.
"We have an obligation as parents to try and take reasonable steps to protect our children," he said. "When a parent fails to do that, the state has to step in and do that."
Gallegos commented on the fact that he has children as well and knows that "kids do run off."
"It certainly is a fine line," he said. "Is it the most egregious conduct in the world? No. But there is, quite frankly, not necessarily egregious conduct and we have to prosecute. Those are the laws. we then give it to a jury and let them decide what they think about it."
Gallegos denied any link between merchant Stemwedel's complaint against the chief and the reopening of the case.
Gallegos continued in a lengthy interview on the case, stating that while he "would not weigh in on the parent's intent," he didn't think that Marsh "lacked love or a desire to take care of the kid."
"The facts, however, as we understand, show that it wasn't the safest thing for the kid," said Gallegos.
Marsh's trial began on Monday in Judge Timothy Cissna's courtroom in Humboldt County Superior Court. Jury selection took up most of the morning on Tuesday and Deputy DA Mendez predicted the case would take up five mornings.
Several motions were filed by Mendez on Monday to apparently exclude the testimony of several witnesses.
The case file was unavailable for review and Mendez, when asked via email for clarification of the motions, stated, "I understand the desire to know everything about a case involving people in your community (especially for a reporter). However, I do not wish to subvert (or even be seen as attempting to subvert) the court process by putting this trial in a newspaper. At this point, the court file is a matter of public record and can be viewed by anyone who comes to the courthouse and makes the request. I also do not wish to go into why certain motions were made (or not) by one side or the other. As to plea offers, there is a certain amount of confidentiality that can be expected in negotiations. For the sake of all parties involved, I will not go into what was contemplated in negotiations by either side to resolve the case."
However, when Gallegos was asked by The Enterprise about the motions, he put the phone on hold and fetched the file.
Upon returning, he explained three motions had been filed with the first to exclude the testimony of Marilyn Benemann, the wife of former City Councilman Carlos Benemann, a witness to the event.
Gallegos then stopped reading the motions, stating he was not sure whether it was appropriate to be revealing the information in them.
"I'm not trying to conceal information from the public," he stated, "I'm just not sure what the court is going to do."
Gallegos, however was later asked by The Enterprise to make the motions public, per the California Public Records Act. Just before press time, Gallegos emailed The Enterprise and said Mendez would make the motions available. They were not available by press time.
Meanwhile in his earlier interview, the district attorney conceded that the Marsh case was "not the crime of the century."
"I'll concede that entirely," he said. "if the case should have been dismissed, we would have dismissed it. We always try to evaluate cases fairly...sometimes we're wrong."
Calls and emails, meanwhile to Marsh's public defender Angela Fitzsimmons were not returned.
In addition to the story, The Enterprise masterful cartoonist Jack Mays depicts a mock newspaper with an illustration of the arrest and the banner headline "Gallegos gets tough on Toddler Wandering - Leash Law now applies to all Ferndale Children.
Mock front page stories "Crime running rampant in Humboldt County - children found in locked car - police discovered two children locked in a car at the Bayshore Mall. The temperature was 120 degrees... Toddlers exposed to toxic fumes at Eureka Meth Lab... Eureka Police shoot "fleeing juvenile"... a twelve year old juvenile was shot sixty four times by Eureka Police Officers. the victim was trying to climb the new fence surrounding the Balloon Track. The reasons for the shooting were unclear at press time. According to a spokesperson for the District Attorney's office there were no investigators available at this time, the entire staff is currently investigating the wandering juvenile case in Ferndale....Crime in Humboldt County cited as reason for Tourism decline... Irate business owners, city governments, tourism board and film commission are all up in arms over the County District Attorney's Office. The General Complaint is that Gallegos is pre-occupied with child wandering cases and he doesn't have time for felony cases.... Gallegos was quoted as saying "No child will be left behind, blah, blah, blah, blah."
Funny stuff. If only it wasn't so serious.
(transcribed from the hard copy edition)
Ferndale Enterprise Sean Marsh NOT GUILTY - A cartoon, an editorial, an article and letters to the editor
ACQUITTED ER - Sean Marsh not guilty on all counts, jury decides Tuesday
ER - Sean Marsh testifies on his own behalf in child endangerment trial
ER - Marsh denies letting 2-year-old toddler walk unattended in road
NCJ - Word to the Wise: Don't Cop an Attitude in Ferndale