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What the County's Talking About This Week 

Deputies in Vestal death file suit against county and sheriff

Four of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff deputies involved in the in-custody death of a Templeton man have sued the county, the Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Pat Hedges, and five other officers.

The four deputies - Michael Murphy, Rex Reese, Jeffery Dayton, and Neil Clayton - allege the department violated their civil rights as it investigated why Vestal died, in handcuffs, on Aug. 18, 2003.

In court documents, the deputies describe what happened in the hours after the 37-year-old mail carrier's body was taken away by ambulance: By about 2 a.m., several senior officers arrived on scene and allegedly tried to pressure the four men to give formal statements regarding the incident.

Murphy said in the suit that when he expressed his desire to have an attorney present before answering any questions, he was told by a superior: "You can lawyer up if you want, but you'll only fuck yourselves."


EMBATTLED LAWMAN

After county and federal investigations acquitted his deputies of wrongdoing in an in-custody death, four of those men have sued Sheriff Pat Hedges for violating their civil rights in the investigation.


As the night continued, the deputies allege that pressure continued. By 5 a.m., the lawsuit reads, "Murphy, after complaining for over two hours of his need to use a restroom, is finally allowed ... to take his vehicle back to the north station to use the restroom [but] is ordered to return to the scene immediately."

Various lawyers and experts dispute exactly why Vestal died that night, but investigations by the FBI and district attorney have cleared the four deputies of any wrongdoing.

During those investigations, the four men were placed on administrative leave and briefly worked desk jobs at a dispatch station - which, they claim in their lawsuit, violated the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

The lawsuit also claims that Clayton was unfairly threatened with charges of insubordination and that the men were made to "peel perforated pages of lined paper out of a spiral notebook and arrange them in sets of five," and "measure and draw to scale the garden, lawn, patio, and planter area in front of the administration building so the sheriff can decide where to put a commemorative memorial" - all of which, again, allegedly violated the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

When approached about the suit, Sheriff Hedges was unable to comment because the deputies, who had filed their lawsuit in court on April 1, had not yet served Hedges with notice of the suit.

The deputies' own attorney, Peter Horton of Westlake Village, was unavailable for comment. ³

- Abraham Hyatt

County sues to recoup $5.8 million from cleanup

San Luis Obispo County recently sued a long list of oil and gas companies - some of which were bought out by larger businesses decades ago - in an effort to pay for pollution cleanup the county accrued while constructing the new government building on the corner of Monterey and Santa Rosa streets in SLO.

Deputy County Counsel Ray Biering said when construction began, the county discovered a "vein of ashen materiel" full of lead, MTBE, and petroleum contaminants. Rather than wait for the companies the county says were at fault to pay, construction crews excavated and cleaned the earth, at a cost of about $5.8 million of taxpayer money.

If they hadn't, Biering said, "the hole would have filled with water and we'd have had a lead-filled hole and an environmental disaster."

In its lawsuit, the county alleges the pollution flowed onto its property from several locations: what's currently a Shell station across the road; what was once a Super Seven station catty-corner to the property; and what was once a Standard Oil station across the road on what's now the Superior Court judges' parking lot.

"It was a plume, basically," Biering said.

The suit targets well known companies like Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron, as well as companies those contemporary names bought out years ago: The Oil Shale Corporation, Tidewater Oil, Hancock Oil Company of California, Humble Oil and Refining - all of which operated on those various sites over the years.

"Whether we'll have a fight on our hands, we'll see," Biering said. "We're prepared."

-Abraham Hyatt

No charges in CMC in-custody death

There will be no criminal charges filed in the case of Anthony Brown, who died while he was a prisoner at the California Men's Colony (CMC), the district attorney stated in a press release.

According to the press release, on Aug. 27, 2004, CMC correctional officers came into contact with Brown when he was leaving his cell in D Quad. Brown became verbally abusive after he was told he had to leave a blanket in the cell. Officers had used pepper spray, handcuffs, and leg restraints on Brown in two prior incidents.

While at the CMC's medical facility, Brown stopped breathing and died after 40 minutes of resuscitative efforts. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be "excited delirium due to bipolar disorder." Contributing factors were Brown's obesity and his struggle with the officers. According to the district attorney, "There were no findings consistent with suffocation or restriction of breathing.

"Brown died as a result of his pre-existing medical and physical condition, in conjunction with his violent and resistant behavior."

The district attorney added that the officers were justified in using non-lethal force, so there will be no charges brought against the officers.

-John Peabody

 

Many hempy returns

Medical cannabis grower Robert Marshall of Morro Bay has reason to celebrate this week. Not only was he recently acquitted on charges of felony cultivation, but Friday, April 8, Judge Michael Duffy ordered that all of his plants and growing equipment be returned.

In a motion that went uncontested by the district attorney's office, Marshall's attorney Louis Koory had no difficulty in securing an order for release of property from the county court.

In addition to returning 30 mature albeit neglected pot plants and several smaller seedlings, the Morro Bay Police Department was also ordered to return a long list of Marshall's personal possessions. For more than six months the police held as evidence a 1,000-watt grow light, C02 tank, regulator, electric fan, sprinkler timer, glass aquarium, and water bong.

Marshall expressed a sense of relive to be finished with the matter. "I just want the cops to leave me alone now," he said.

Marshall and his attorney have an appointment to pick up the equipment and paraphernalia from Police Commander Tim Olivas on Friday, April 15.

Koory won a similar order for the return of medical marijuana property two years ago in the case of Donovan No Runner. That hard-fought legal battle appears to have set the precedent that allowed Marshall to recover his property without resistance.

-Jeff Hornaday

Litigation plagues progress in sewer circus

In yet another performance from the government of Los Osos, last Thursday's monthly CSD meeting ran past 3 a.m. with two fresh items of litigation being introduced. At one point directors Richard LeGros and Gordon Hensley were recused for conflicts of interest on an item, and by 2 a.m., Director Lisa Schicker became physically ill and had to step away from the meeting.

Shortly after 7 p.m., with the beginning of the open session, the board announced possible plans to take legal action against outspoken Los Osos resident Budd Sanford. Before the bidding process began, Sanford had sent out letters and faxes to warn contractors against getting involved in the contentious project. The board discussed this matter during its closed session, but seems to believe that Sanford's querulous letter may have had something to do with the fact
that only three of the
11 pre-qualified contractors actually bid on the project.

Balancing the score, the law office of Burke, Williams & Sorenson has sent a letter to the CSD advising them that the board needs a two-thirds majority, i.e. four votes, to "impose a rate, fee or charge for repayment of state loans."

Because it's fairly certain that two directors, Schicker and Julie Tacker, would not support such expenditure, this development could doom the current project.

Director Hensley called this letter the first substantial piece of information that's hit their desk regarding the use of bond money, and that the board's legal counsel is still reviewing its implications. If there is a problem with the use of bond monies, Hensley said they would simply resort to the state revolving fund.

-Jeff Hornaday

Los Osos recall plunges ahead

Los Osos has taken another step forward, in anticipation of taking three steps back. The Recall movement submitted somewhere between 2,700 and 2,800 signatures to the County Clerk-Recorder's office on Tuesday, six days ahead of the April 20 deadline. The Move-the-Sewer activists hope to remove three CSD board members from office.

According to Recall spokesman Steve Sawyer, his group had already verified about 2,389 signatures by hand, leaving a very comfortable margin beyond the 2,028 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.

"Getting the number we had is a testament to how hard everybody worked," said Sawyer. "I'm pretty confident now that it will be certified. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be."

The campaign to Stop the Recall, led by Pandora Nash-Karner, also succeeded in collecting about 50 names to un-sign the petition.

"I think we did a good job," Nash-Karner said, "and I think the opposition did a good job."

The Clerk-Recorder has 30 days - until May 12 - to verify the signatures, and if the number is sufficient, the community government would be responsible for calling a special election. The CSD would probably issue that order at its June 2 meeting, and from there they would have 88-125 days to hold the election.

-Jeff Hornaday

Utilities Commission to hear public comments on Duke

Members of the public will be able to voice their opinions to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) April 19 and 20 regarding the Diablo Canyon steam generator replacement.

PG&E has said that it would replace the steam generators during scheduled maintenance in 2008 and 2009 in order for the plant to maintain energy production through its license period, which ends in 2025.

The CPUC Public meetings will be held at the San Luis Obispo Library, 995 Palm St., at 5:30-8:30 p.m. April 19 and 1-4 p.m. April 20. ³

-John Peabody

 

This week's news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, Jeff Hornaday, and John Peabody.

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