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Ex cop pleads out on vandalism charge 

Retired Atascadero police chief Richard “Bud” McHale pleaded no contest on charges that he vandalized an SUV in Cayucos.

Cayucos resident Mark Walton’s Ford Excursion was keyed three times earlier this year. After the first two incidents, Walton installed security cameras facing the SUV and captured a man who keyed the car while walking a dog. In the video, which Walton provided to New Times, a man, his face obscured by a baseball cap, casually walks past the SUV, dragging his right arm along the driver’s side. He even stumbles as he appears to carve deeper into the paint. McHale was never identified as the man in the video.

McHale, who also worked for the SLO County Probation Department, avoided a trial that would have started Dec. 8 with his no-contest plea. He was forced to pay a $540 fine in lieu of jail time. The court also issued a stay-away order from Walton’s home.

McHale’s attorney, Jeff Stulberg, said the no-contest plea wasn’t an admission of guilt “whatsoever.”

“Bud was faced with the prospect of paying a $540 fine and having that be the end of it, versus spending thousands of dollars to go to trial,” Stulberg said.

McHale could not be reached for comment.

Walton seemed almost disappointed the case didn’t go to trial, if only that he will likely never know why his car was vandalized and if McHale was in fact the man in the video, though he has his suspicions. In fact, Walton said he had never met McHale before beyond a brief encounter at a Fourth of July event.

“That leaves us feeling violated, for lack of a better term,” Walton said of himself and his wife, who still don’t know why they were targeted. “Not knowing what we did wrong.”

Since charges were first filed, Walton said he bumped into McHale once at a Morro Bay hardware store. The encounter was awkward, to say the least.

“You know, we played the ignorance game really well,” he laughed.

Now that the case is effectively closed, does Walton still have cameras fixed on his driveway?

“You’re darn right I do,” he said.

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