Cosmic talk about a new venture

The “common sense conservative” who went on Judge Judy while running against Sen. Cathleen Galgiani has a new venture: The Space Between.

Steven Davis’ proposes to bring Wi-fi to rural areas. He has an eye-catching website.

While the site’s visuals are impressive, it’s unclear how the public will react to the schroomed-out, cosmic text. Sample line:  “Well here we are at the begging of segment of life where we carve up the limitless into a man made table called time.”

We wish Mr. Davis success wit his new venture.


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Stockton’s clandestine organist

Today we mark the passing of Richard Timmins, the ex-spy who rocked the magnificent pipe organ hidden in Stockton’s Masonic Temple. He was 86.

Timmins played the organ and piano for seven U.S. presidents. He once played the thunderous organ in Notre Dame in Paris for John. F. Kennedy. He loved the 1921 Hope-Jones pipe organ in the Commandery of the Masonic Temple.

“It’s the jewel of the Valley,” he said.

The blogware is malfunctioning this morning, so I can’t post Timmins’ picture; but you can see him in this 2014 column.

Timmins had a much more flamboyant past than most organists. He served in Military intelligence and the CIA. During the Korean War, his handlers arranged for his capture so that Timmins, who boasted a photographic memory, could identify enemy officers and gather military intelligence.

In his later years in Stockton he played organ at various churches. But he loved the giant organ built into the walls of the Masonic Temple.

“It’s the king of instruments,” he said.

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Are urban nutria a threat to our pets? And to us?

"I'm gonna bite someone for this."

An obvious hole in my column about nutria invading Stockton: do they pose a danger to our pets?

Or to us?

“They will tangle with dogs,” said Peter Tira, the spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Nutria prefer to submerge or duck into the bushes, Tira said. “However, when confronted with no way out they will fight and stand their ground, They can potentially cause a lot of damage to a dog.”

Cats, not so much. ” I’m guessing since they (nutria) are semi-aquatic and most cats aren’t fond of water, there’s not a ton of interaction,” Tira said.

Last, but not least, what about danger to humans?

“You certainly don’t want to handle them. The bigger ones especially. Our biologist who traps them says they can be quite ornery. The larger ones do their utmost to inflict some bites.”

And they carry diseases. “Nutria also serve as hosts for tuberculosis and septicemia, which are threats to humans, livestock, and pets. Additionally, nutria carry tapeworms, a nematode that causes a rash known as “nutria itch”, and blood and liver flukes, which can contaminate swimming areas and drinking water supplies,” Tira said.

To report nutria, call 866-440-9530.

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A house that had it coming

This 1951 photo shows 745 W. Harding Way when it was a one-story house. Courtesy Bank of Stockton.

I named it the “Mystery House” because it just stood there for decades, vacant and incomplete. What was the deal? And because of its perverse staying power in the face of city efforts to force its completion or abatement.

The house with its unfinished, DIY additions. One neighbor called it "a sad behemoth." Photo by Cliff Oto/The Record.

As best as can be determined – officials still aren’t clear on some aspects — the owner died intestate, or left the house to a developmentally disabled daughter, who died intestate. No competent adult accepted ownership. Probably this was because code enforcers slapped huge liens on the house, and nobody wanted to pay them.

There followed a curious situation called a “deceased owner:” The city could, and did, slap liens against the property for the code violations and stalled work, but could not file liens against any person.

The liens may actually have worked as a disincentive for anyone to accept ownership of the house.

The demolition crew unloads a Cat excavator that will tear down the house.

Normally unpaid liens would send a house into a tax sale. But in the helter-skelter, under-regulated run-up to the foreclosure crash, a lender accidentally paid off the liens. That gave the house a reprieve. It got another when the people who pledged to repair the house, the Corteses, found a willing lender (who took a bath).

The Cat gets to work.

The Corteses, and a knot of their friends who were at the scene of the demolition on Wednesday, bitterly objected that the city had issued a permit to fix the house, then arbitrarily rescinded it.

That is not true, say city officials.

The Corteses got a permit to repair (or install) a kitchen. the permit did not address all the other issues in the house. They never did any work, so the fed-up city yanked the permit and went to a judge.

Now let’s go inside.

As this photo of the unfinished interior shows, the house was just a shell. Photo courtesy; Stockton Police.

City officials say the Corteses had been abusing the system. Permits come with six months to get the job done; the Corteses would get the permits just to buy time and then do nothing, officials said. A stalling tactic they used for years.

Thieves stripped wiring inside the Mystery House, leaving frayed wiring exposed. Courtesy Stockton Police.

A judge okayed a warrant to go in and inspect. An engineer found all the weird problems mentioned in the column. Some became visible as the Cat tore the walls off. Like the second story. The rooms were framed up but no drywall had been installed. There were no walls to slow the spread of a fire, officials said.

And the possibility of fire was all too real. Inspectors found evidence, such as the board below, that squatters were burning wood. Presence of drug paraphernalia suggests they were cooking narcotics inside, police said.

Squatters burned wood in several interior spots, a fire hazard. Presence of drug paraphernalia suggests they were cooking narcotics, police said. Photo Courtesy Stockton Police.

And so …

On Thursday all that remained of the Harding Way Mystery House was a pile of rubble which the Cat was picking up and swinging into high-side trucks for disposal.

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Police use of force: the U.S. Supreme Court’s view

From the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, an interesting piece on police use of force. Of less interest than the legislation under discussion are the first principles of police use of force laid out in a Supreme Court case called Graham v. Connor.

When instances of police use of force occur locally, a lot of people have their minds made up already that another case of police brutality has occurred or that the suspect had it coming. Perhaps in the calm between such storms we should check our pre-set beliefs against the deep thought the high court put into  police use of force.


Fervor Over Reason Should Not Rule

the Day on Police Use of Force


By Eric Siddall

Tragic events frequently spur legislative action, but emotions of the moment may not always guide us to the best result. Lately, tragic events have been in ample supply; it is rare for a month to pass without a story of a black man losing his life at the hands of those sworn to protect the community. The pain and frustration precipitated by these events have understandably whetted the public’s appetite for action. But in our fervor, we risk undermining clear-headed thinking. It is this emotional reaction that leads to the promise of solutions – such as Assembly Bill 931 – that may actually derail our true objectives.

Although the debate on police misconduct has acquired renewedurgency, a long legal tradition has carefully considered these questions; yet, it is receiving short shrift. In Graham v. Connor, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court, established the rules we use to govern excessive force, leading to a Fourth Amendment-based objective analysis that balancesthe precarious position faced by police officers with the need to hold rogue actors accountable.

The high court noted, “[w]ith respect to a claim of excessive force, the same standard of reasonableness at the moment applies: ‘Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge’s chambers,” [cite omitted]violates the Fourth Amendment. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

Most pertinent to today’s debate, Graham held, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” The logic behind this analysis still holds today. Police officers are human beings, and as such, they are not immune from error. And in our current environment, with criminals flush with guns, they may even make deadly decisions in an instant. These instant decisions often are made with the intent to protect the lives of the public and also the officer. Unfortunately, the stakes are so high that even with the best intent, officers’ decisions can yield tragic results.

This framework does not provide a carte blanche on use of force. It ensures the reasonable use of force under the known circumstances. Rogue officers are brought to justice, and officers do not act with impunity.

For example, Michael Slager, the ex-South Carolina police officer who shot a fleeing suspect was prosecuted and convicted for murder. Our system needs to vigilantly guard against the officer who acts beyond the law; it undermines individuals’ civil rights and it erodes public confidence in our criminal justice system. This respect for our institutions is what makes America great.

AB 931 would dismantle this long-standing legal doctrine. The proposed law states that officers must exhaust reasonable alternatives before using deadly force. Specifically, it defines, “Reasonable alternatives include, but are not limited to, deescalation, tactics set forth in the officer’s training or in policy, and other reasonable means of apprehending the subject or reducing the exposure to the threat.”This standard mimics the holding of Hayes v. County of San Diego, a California Supreme Court case that discussed the standards involved in a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages. It was a standard never intended for a criminal proceeding. We do not treat criminal and civil defendants in the same manner.

It radically alters the definition of justifiable homicide involving public officers, eliminates potential defenses, shifts the burden of proof against the officer, and, most importantly, it adds a new layer of analysis that directly undermines Graham‘s analysis by introducing the notion of reasonable alternatives.

How might AB 931 undermine both civil rights and public safety, in concrete terms? First, as outlined in an article by Arif Alikhan and Seth Stoughton, this reliance on “tactics set forth in the officer’s training and policy” may have the unintended consequence of police agencies lowering their standards so as to avoid the risk of officers’ criminal liability.

Second, the bill second guesses a reasonable response to the threat of force by stating that the officer must engage in “reasonable alternatives.” This means that an expert witness using the benefit of hindsight, months of analysis, incident reconstruction – all without facingimminent danger – will play an instrumental role in determining whether an officer should be filed on for murder. This type of analysis and second guessing is fine for a civil trial, but it entirely inappropriate for a criminal case where the liberty interest is so high.

Third, this additional language will create a vague and unwieldly jury instruction. Most jury instructions, including the current one, have the benefit of decades of case law. This finesses the instruction and gives it a more practical application. Even with this benefit, jurors will often have questions about terms like, “great bodily injury.” This new proposed language is so vague that jurors will not have a uniform understanding of many of the legislation’s terms of art and therefore their questions and their verdicts may be inconsistent. It is better to stick to a tried and true system rather than upend decades of jurisprudence.

Hopefully, our Legislature sees the wisdom of preserving a doctrine set by an undivided U.S. Supreme Court, the error of applying a legal standard developed for adjudicating monetary damages to a person’s liberty interest, and the benefit of using the case law method.


Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.

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A likable candidate’s not-so-near miss

Being in his 90s didn't stop Albert Mezzetti from running for governor.

San Joaquin County’s candidate for governor, Albert Mezzetti, a vigorous, 92-year-old rural Manteca Democrat and darkest-horse candidate  — well, he didn’t win.

But Mezzetti did garner 7,179 votes.

Mezzetti ran on an odd platform of gun rights, feminism and weaning youth from brain-frying marijuana.

“Fortunately God has been good to me,” Mezzetti wrote me in all-caps last year. “I have all of my natural teeth, run three miles every day, all in perfect health and know that two plus two is four.”

Mezzetti garnered 0.2 of the popular vote. One wonders how these 7,179 voters came to choose an obscure nonagenarian.

Some 123 of them came from San Joaquin County. Here, Mezzetti got ink not only for his gubernatorial run but for his proclamation that if he didn’t win the governorship he’d take the job of San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools.

As for his statewide supporters, one can only conjecture. Candidates were listed alphabetically; Mezzetti appeared on the ballot next to the winner, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Some Newsom voters may have checked the wrong box. But then, maybe some Mezzetti voters accidentally voted for Newsom, too. Who knows?

Other voters may have selected a candidate with the “eenie, meenie, miney, moe” method.

Anyway, we congratulate Mezzetti on his showing.

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A Cambodian costumer’s gallery

Lon Chan, subject of today’s column, sends photos of his work as costumer of the Khmer Ballet of Stockton.

I was struck by a couple things I learned. One, that Chan orders fabrics from craftspeople in Cambodia who still make the elaborate fabrics by hand loom as they have done for centuries, some virtually in the shadows of Angkor Wat.

Two — something I had not realized — elders can be shorn of their culture by refugee trauma and the overwhelming demands of getting by in a radically new land. Until Steve Arounsack said that, I had always assumed the ignorance involved the younger generation, stuck on their iPads and gaming consoles, unaware of their past.

Here’s the ballet’s Facebook page. Here’s a (grainy) YouTube video.

Here’s a Wikipedia article about classic Cambodian dance.

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Bobby at the Mall

Maria Flumani writes:

“Read the article with interest this morning. Robert Kennedy also visited the Weberstown Mall during this time and I was fortunate enough to see him in person with my very young daughters.

“I remember having moved to California recently, not yet driving – walking to the Mall from our apartment to see him.  So happy I made the effort to do so.

“He was everything you imagine … so handsome (much more so than in photos), so engaging and he, of course, drew quite a crowd.  People just wanting to touch him – to reach out.  It was a memorable occasion.  I couldn’t find any photos of him online at that location..but he was certainly there. ”

Yes, RFK visited Stockton twice in March of ’68 — really working the Valley in the run-up to the California presidential primary. He he is in the mall.


—Photo courtesy of Bank of Stockton.

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Captured nutria granted clemency

"Thanks for the ride, guys."

If, like me, you worry officials are moving too slowly on the nutria eradication — that super-destructive nutria are going to take over the Delta — this will not reassure you.

It’s from a Department of Fish and Wildlife briefing (see bottom paragraph).

“Nutria captured by Lathrop Animal Services on 4/9/18 (reported to CDFW on 4/20/18), was netted under a vehicle in a residential neighborhood 0.5 mi off the San Joaquin River. Animal Services did not identify the animal but photographed it, and released it back to the San Joaquin River on 4/9/18. The sex and approximate age of this animal is unknown.”

Not only did Lathrop Animal Services fail to identify the nutria, they gave it a ride a half-mile back to the river!

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Dewey defeats Truman

Intrepid journalist Motecuzoma Sanchez posted this on his 209 Times Facebook page last night:

Minor problem: The board unanimously approved Deasy’s hire.

The post was taken down and replaced by an accurate one — with no correction, of course.

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