Saturday, 20 July 2024

News

One of the very best domestic asset protection opportunities available to California residents is their private retirement plan; not to be confused with individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”).


The reason is that California statutory law provides absolute protection against creditor claims to so-called “private retirement plans.” The same cannot be said of IRAs.


Now let’s examine “private retirement plans.”


A “private retirement plan” is a plan “designed and used” primarily for retirement purposes to benefit the retiree and his family.


It is established by the participant’s employer and must operate in accordance with its primary purpose of providing retirement benefits upon reaching retirement age. Thus, it cannot be accessed by the participant prior to retirement to make withdrawals, as if it were a bank account, nor can it be used to borrow money.


There are, however, limited exceptions such as illness, disability or financial hardship, which may justify an early distribution; but, the determination of such justification must be made by someone other than the plan participant.


The private retirement plan must hold assets that are suitable for retirement purposes. Thus, one cannot transfer one’s home and rental properties into a retirement plan in order to shield these assets from one’s creditors. Moreover, the accumulation of retirement funds inside of the retirement plan must be gradual and not spontaneous, aside from a rollover (discussed below).


Private retirement plans do not need to qualify under the federal ERISA standards for so-called “qualified retirement plans”, although many do qualify. ERISA qualified plans are doubly protected because ERISA provides near absolute federal law protection against creditor claims.


IRAs, by contrast, have only limited creditor protection. They are protected only insofar as necessary to meet the IRA participant’s basic retirement needs. What is necessary is determined after taking into consideration the participant’s other available resources and current and future earnings power. The foregoing itself involves a “debtor’s examination” by the creditors.


Fortunately, assets transferred from an IRA into a private retirement plan are fully protected as a “private retirement plan.”


The transfer will not be treated as a reversible fraudulent conveyance if properly done. Nor do private retirement plan assets transferred into an IRA from a private retirement plan lose their exempt status, provided that the existing assets can be traced back to the source private retirement plan. Thus, if one transfers one’s private retirement plan into an IRA consisting exclusively of funds received from such plan, then the IRA is protected like it were a retirement plan.


Lastly, upon reaching retirement age, any funds received by the private retirement plan participant are exempt. That is, any use by the retiree of plan distributions counts as a retirement use. This is true even if the retiree is still working while withdrawing funds.


Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to realizing the benefits of private retirement plans.


Dennis A. Fordham, attorney (LL.M. tax studies), is a State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law. His office is at 55 1st St., Lakeport, California. Dennis can be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 707-263-3235.


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A Sonoma County man who went missing from his job last month was arrested in Nevada on Wednesday .


Bryan William Scobey, 35, of Santa Rosa was booked into the Washoe County Jail on a $25,000 fugitive warrant out of Sonoma County, according to Washoe County records.


On Jan. 13, he left for appointments with customers for his employer, Hitmen Termite & Pest Control Inc., and wasn't seen again by friends or family.


Originally treated as a missing person's case, the investigation into Scobey's disappearance changed course last month after Sonoma County Sheriff's investigators were able to track him to Siskiyou County.


There, he allegedly sold tools from the Hitmen Termite truck he'd been driving and arranged to have someone drive him to Reno in exchange for the truck. The truck and tools later were recovered, officials reported.


The Lower Lake High School graduate's disappearance led to friends and family from around the country mounting a proactive search for answers, including a dedicated Web page, and Facebook and MySpace pages.


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LAKEPORT – Fifth Amendment issues for a witness proved a major point of concern during the second day of testimony in the murder trial of two Clearlake men.


Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and Melvin Dale Norton, 38, are alleged to have murdered 25-year-old Shelby Uehling during an early morning confrontation on Highway 53 in Clearlake on Sept. 22, 2009.


Edmonds and Norton are asserting self defense in what their attorneys allege was a situation that arose over their concern about Uehling and his relationship with Patricia Campbell, Edmonds' on-again, off-again girlfriend. She and Uehling had become briefly involved during a period last August when Campbell and Edmonds were not together.


Before the case's jury was brought into Judge Arthur Mann's Department 3 courtroom Tuesday morning, prosecutor Art Grothe said the attorney for Linda Dale, a witness scheduled to testify that afternoon, was concerned about her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself on the stand.


Mann ordered a hearing before she was brought to the stand in the afternoon.


Attorney William Conwell is representing Dale is a pending case regarding possession of drugs for sale, and he was concerned about the line of questioning that might be pursued by Edmonds' attorney, Doug Rhoades, and Norton's attorney, Stephen Carter. In the homicide case, Dale is believed to have been involved in drug issues with Uehling, to whom she may have been selling.


During the afternoon hearing, Rhoades said he didn't intend to ask Dale about her current case. Carter said he wanted to query her about the nature of her relationship with Uehling, and if she sold him drugs.


Conwell told the court that Dale's current case is now set for arraignment.


Mann said he didn't see anything that would raise a problem with the Fifth Amendment, and Dale was called to the stand.


On the stand, Dale testified to knowing Uehling for about nine months previous to his death last September. He occasionally stayed at her place and the homes of other friends, although his main residence was his uncle's Cobb home.


She had last seen him about three days before he died, but he had called her between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the night before he died and said someone was chasing him, and later called and asked to speak to a Joseph Taylor, who was staying at her residence, who he asked to help with “watching his back.”


As Carter was questioning Dale, he asked if she had done drugs with Uehling, which caused Conwell to speak up from his seat in the audience, and Mann called Grothe, Carter, Rhoades and Conwell up to his bench for a sidebar.


Afterward, Mann asked the jury to leave the room while he heard Conwell's objection to the line of questioning based on his Fifth Amendment concerns.


He said the questions could influence Dale's current drug case. Grothe said that current case involves allegations that came up well after Uehling's death.


Carter said he had a line of questions about drug use, and if Dale was allowed to assert the Fifth Amendment, he would ask for all of her testimony to be stricken, as it would go to the issues of bias and her ability to perceive what is happening.


Rhoades added that he believed Carter's question about drug use with Uehling was well founded given the information about her allegedly Uehling with drugs.


“I certainly think it's an area that's ripe for exploration because it goes to bias,” he said.


Grothe told Mann, “In my opinion, I don't see any way in the world that anything she said about that transaction with Mr. Uehling could in any way lead to a prosecution,” especially since Uehling is deceased.


Conwell said there is a search warrant in Dale's case and he doesn't have access to either that or the police reports. Grothe said he could have access to the search warrant “if he walked down the hall 45 feet” and went to the court clerk's office.


Mann overruled Conwell's objection and said he didn't see anything that would incriminate Dale.


Conwell replied that her testimony goes to knowledge of what the substances are, which she would not be able to deny in her current case.


When the jury was brought back in, Carter asked Dale if she saw Uehling use illegal drugs like methamphetamine. She said she saw him use the drug two to three times. When Carter asked when those instances were in relation to Sept. 21, 2009, Conwell asked to approach the bench.

Following another sidebar with the attorneys, Carter resumed his questioning, and Dale said she couldn't remember dates very well because of neurological issues with her brain.


When Carter asked if she ever used methamphetamine with Uehling, she replied, “Once.”


Carter asked if she had supplied methamphetamine to Uehling and Conwell objected, with Mann sustaining the objection.


Police recount scene, investigation


The second day of testimony began with Clearlake Police Officer Michael Carpenter back on the stand to complete his testimony.


Carpenter, the first witness called by the prosecution last Thursday, was the first to arrive on the scene on the morning of Sept. 22, 2009, and discovered Uehling's body, face down, next to an oak tree on the shoulder of Old Highway 53.


Under cross examination by Rhoades, Carpenter related that he saw two unidentified people in the area of the fatal fight and spoke briefly with them, and they were not involved in the case.


“What was the first thing that caught your attention?” Rhoades asked about the scene.


“It was the pool of blood on the shoulder of the road,” said Carpenter, who explained that medical personnel arrived about 10 minutes after him.


Carter asked Carpenter about the handle end of a golf club that was lying in the roadway. Carpenter explained it was run over by the passenger-side tires of a medical vehicle arriving at the scene.


Carpenter testified that medical personnel put Uehling – who hadn't yet been declared dead – in an ambulance and transported him to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, with Carpenter following behind.


At the hospital, medical personnel removed Uehling's clothing, and Carpenter photographed both Uehling's body and the clothing, discovering a fixed-blade knife in Uehling's shoe when he inspected it.


At the scene, Uehling's red Honda had been found on Lotowana, a side road off of Highway 53, located about 15 yards from Uehling's body. The car was still running, Carpenter said.


Sgt. Brenda Crandall, a patrol sergeant for Clearlake Police who was the second person on the scene, was next on the stand.


At around 11 p.m. on the night of Sept. 21, Crandall had seen Uehling's red Honda parked in a way that she thought looked unusual – backed up in a parking space and unlocked – at Mendo Mill on Highway 53. When she checked it, it was unoccupied and the vehicle's hood was still warm.


She didn't see the vehicle again until she arrived at the crime scene, where she and Carpenter were dispatched on a report of a battery. Crandall said Carpenter arrived about a minute before she did, and said he had checked for Uehling's pulse and didn't find one, and checked again in Crandall's presence.


Crandall, who noted that medics arrived about a minute or so after she did, said she saw a large gash on Uehling's neck, and after assessing the scene asked fellow officers to contact Det. Tom Clements.


She also began taking photos, asked another officer on the scene to seek witnesses as there was a residence nearby, and then locked down the scene until detectives arrived. She had another of her officers do a crime scene log to track everyone who came and went from the scene.


Det. Martin Snyder arrived at the scene and took items into evidence, said Crandall.


After the scene was secured, Crandall said she turned off Uehling's car's ignition, using a gloved hand to do so.


Rhoades drew a diagram and asked Crandall to draw in Uehling's car at the scene. It was sitting on Lotowana around the corner from his body, which was alongside Highway 53. Crandall agreed Uehling's car could have been parked in such a way as to allow him to watch traffic.


Snyder, the last witness in the morning session, processed the crime scene at Old Highway 53 and Lotowana, and later would fully process Uehling's car at a secure facility.


He also measured the distance of the scene from Norton's home – 582 feet – and Edmonds', which was three-tenths of a mile away, he said. Snyder described the area in which the homes were located as “condensed mobile home parks.”


Grothe presented Snyder with a cell phone and charger found in Uehling's car. After that cell phone was admitted into evidence, Grothe showed Snyder another phone, which he took from Edmonds' teenage daughter.


The phone number of that phone had been logged into the Clearlake Police Department's RIMS record management system as belonging to Shannon Edmonds, Snyder said.


As Snyder searched the vehicle, he said he recalled finding no knives.


Under Grothe's questioning, Snyder described a series of photos he took of the car's interior, which he described as “very dirty.”


The photos showed money and bank cards under a front floor mat, a hammer handle sticking out from between the front seats, a cell phone on the driver's side seat, a screw driver on the floorboard, numerous personal items on the floor and seats, as well as a variety of prescription medication.


He also photographed the trunk and the passenger side dash board, where a golf club head was seen protruding, with the broken end of the club's shaft pointing out the passenger side window.


Snyder's testimony was interrupted by the lunch break, and didn't continue until late in the afternoon, after Valerie Alderson, Pat Hand and Dale were on the stand.


Rhoades cross-examined him about the evidence he found and the processing of the evidence taken from the scene and the car.


Other witnesses supply more details about events


The court heard briefly on Tuesday afternoon from Clearlake resident Valerie Alderman, who last Sept. 7 sold Uehling the red 1988 Honda that was found about 15 yards from his body.


Alderman said she didn't know Uehling before he called to inquire about the car, which she had a sign on and had been driving around town.


Grothe showed her pictures of the car's interior and asked if the front seats' headrests were broken when she sold him the car. She said no.


Rhoades asked Alderman about the car's condition when she sold it to Uehling for $500. She said the car had all of its windows. He asked if there was anything unusual about the two-door vehicle's passenger-side door. She said once when she opened that door the horn honked.


Also on the stand Tuesday was Pat Hand, who had been hanging out with Edmonds and Norton at Edmonds' motor home on Sept. 21. Hand and Edmonds lived about four spaces apart at the Lakeside Mobile Home Park.


On the afternoon of Sept. 21, Hand and Edmonds drove to the Flyers convenience store to buy cigarettes. Hand said he stayed in the car while Edmonds went inside, and didn't see him make any calls or speak to anyone.


Later that night, between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., while watching movies in the motor home – where Edmonds' girlfriend, Patricia Campbell was asleep in the back room – Hand said a call came in on Campbell's phone. Edmond saw the number was from someone he called “Dude” and he handed the phone to Norton, who answered it.


“I heard Melvin say, 'No, you can't talk to Patricia. No, you can't talk to Patricia. Do you want to handle this? Do you want to handle this?'” Hand said.


Norton then hung up, but the person called back, and Norton suggested they meet there at the trailer park to “handle” the situation.


Rhoades asked Hand how long he had known Edmonds before Sept. 21. Hand estimated about two months.


He left Edmonds' home on Sept. 21 between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.


At times frustrated and confused, Hand said during questioning that he was having trouble remembering the details of his interactions with Edmonds.


Hand was awakened at 4 a.m. Sept. 22 by police, who had found his car still sitting at Edmonds' home.


Testimony is set to continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKEPORT – A young woman who dated both an alleged murder suspect and the man he is charged with killing was the main witness on the fourth day of testimony in the murder trial of two Clearlake men on Thursday.


Patricia Campbell, 23, began the day on the stand and continued giving testimony well into the afternoon in the murder trial of her former boyfriend, Shannon Lee Edmonds, 35, and his friend and hers, Melvin Dale Norton, 38.


Norton's former girlfriend, Jackie Shelafoe, also would take the stand on the trial's fourth day.


Campbell had dated both Edmonds and the man he and Norton are accused of killing last Sept. 22 – Shelby Uehling, a 25-year-old Montanan who had moved to the county several months earlier.


Defense attorneys Stephen Carter, representing Norton, and Doug Rhoades, defending Edmonds, have argued that their clients acted out of self-defense and concern that Uehling was not leaving Campbell alone after she broke up with him.


Uehling's battered body was found on the shoulder of Old Highway 53, with his throat slashed and his body showing the marks of having been beaten with weapons which the prosecution alleges included a fold out billy club – also called an asp – and the shaft end of a broken golf club.


Testimony started about an hour late on Thursday as the court was waiting for a juror to arrive.


Once the jury was assembled, prosecutor Art Grothe called Campbell to the stand.


The young woman, who swiveled her seat back and forth and crossed her arms in front of her, recalled under questioning how she met both Edmonds and Uehling last year.


She met Edmonds last spring and moved in with him in his motor home at Lakeside Resort in Clearlake last June 11. He lived next door to her mother.


About two months later, sometime in mid-August, Campbell met Uehling at the home of a friend of her mother's. At that time, she was still with Edmonds.


However, she recounted during direct and cross-examination that she and Edmonds had an on-again, off-again relationship, in which she would sometimes leave for short periods of time.


A short time after meeting Uehling, Campbell took one of those breaks and moved out of Edmonds' motor home and into her mother's trailer next door.


She contacted Uehling about cutting the hair of a friend of his and a brief relationship began, with the two constantly using methamphetamine which she said Uehling supplied.


After about a week she broke off the relationship and moved back in with Edmonds, with whom she denied speaking about dating Uehling.


She estimated she was back with Edmonds about two to three days before Uehling's death.


Not long after she and Uehling broke up, Campbell – who slept for several days after coming down off of the methamphetamine – was at her mother's home with Edmonds and Norton when Uehling showed up and knocked on the door.


When no one answered, Uehling went around knocking on all of the windows. That was the only time Campbell said she was scared of Uehling, which she said she shared with Edmonds and Norton, the latter being a longtime family friend. Edmonds and Norton went out and told Uehling to leave, which he did.


However, Campbell said Uehling never threatened her.


Grothe showed her an envelope with writing on it describing Uehling's red 1988 Honda and the license plate number. Campbell said she didn't write on the envelope and didn't recognize the writing on it.


On Sept. 21, Campbell was asleep at Edmonds' motor home when he and some friends, including Norton and Pat Hand, who testified on Tuesday, were there for a barbecue. Later, they watched movies. She woke up, Edmonds brought her something to eat, and after she ate she went back to sleep.


The next time she woke up, she said, was “when the cops were there” early on the morning of Sept. 22, within hours of Uehling's death.


Grothe showed her pictures of the billy club, which she recognized as belonging to Edmonds, but she didn't remember where Edmonds kept it. She also identified a knife she had seen Edmonds carry on a regular basis.


Campbell said she couldn't be sure that a black pair of jeans shown in a photo belonged to Edmonds, although she had seen him wear black jeans. She positively identified as Edmonds' a pair of black, steel-toed boots in a photograph Grothe showed her.


Both the prosecution and defense would ask Campbell about a series of text messages she and Uehling exchanged after their breakup, including a photo of her and her 4-year-old daughter that she sent to him. Many of his messages asked her about the reasons for their breakup, and she said her brother told her that Uehling had gone to her father and said he would get off drugs and get her a house if she would get back together with him.


Campbell said she didn't remember getting many of the texts – the screen of her cell phone had broken after she threw it while coming off of methamphetamine – or writing some of them, including one in which she told him to lose her phone number and stay away from her family.


When Rhoades questioned Campbell about her relationship with Uehling, she said she broke it off after about a week not for any particular incident but because she was just “pretty much tired” after doing methamphetamine every day.


Rhoades also questioned her about her statements to Clearlake Police Det. Tom Clements about Uehling being heavily into drugs, having lost his family – his mother and brother had died the previous year – and that Uehling was “stalking” her. Campbell didn't remember the statements until Rhoades showed her transcripts of the interview with Clements.


Following the morning break, out of the jury's presence Grothe informed the court that a district attorney's investigator seated in the audience told him that Campbell said Edmonds was mouthing words at her while she was testifying.


Rhoades said Edmonds was a “prolific note taker” and he hadn't seen him doing it. Neither did Judge Arthur Mann, who said he was focusing more on Campbell, but he said he would be watching for it.


Mann also disclosed that, when Campbell mentioned her brother's name, it brought to mind that he is slightly acquainted with the young woman, and had been recruited by a friend to take part in a bowling league about 10 years ago. In that league Mann and his friend were teamed with Campbell's parents. He said his son had bowled with her brother in a youth league.


None of the attorneys had any issues and testimony continued.


Carter led Campbell through the list of texts she and Uehling exchanged in the early morning hours of Sept. 21, the day before he died.


She recalled being disoriented and confused, as well as mentally and physically exhausted in the days after her breakup with Uehling. When Carter asked her if she didn't write the texts or just couldn't remember, she said the latter.


The texts they exchanged included Uehling questioning her about their relationship, and trying to get answers about her decision to leave. He said he didn't understand her thinking or intentions, and asked, “Do you like me wondering all the time?” Another message asked, “Do you like keeping me on the edge of doubt?”


During that exchange she confronted him about going to speak with her father. Later, she sent him the photo of her and her daughter.


“Oh, man, wow, now you two are gorgeous,” he wrote, quickly following up with “Stunning, even,” in another message. A third message suggested, “Now that's what I call a MILF,” that being a term about a mother with whom someone would like to have sex.


At that point in the texts, Campbell replied, “F*** off, lose my number and stay away from my family,” although she said she didn't remember writing it. That was the last message she sent him.


However, Carter pointed out that phone calls from Uehling to Campbell's phone were logged at 2:24 p.m. and 10:09 p.m. Sept. 21, although Campbell said she didn't remember them. She said after she broke up with Uehling, she didn't speak with him again on the phone, but only exchanged text messages.


Carter questioned Campbell about her romantic relationship with Uehling, which became physical about three days into their week-long relationship. She said she didn't feel pressured to have sex with Uehling, and that it wasn't in exchange for drugs.


However, she told Carter that she wasn't in love with Uehling, and ultimately she returned to Edmonds because she loved him.


She also said she didn't consider Uehling's attempts to contact her stalking, but noted that he wouldn't leave her alone and that she was no longer interested in any relationship with him. Carter brought up her testimony in the Oct. 6 preliminary hearing in which Campbell said she had told both Edmonds and his teenage daughter that she was having problems with Uehling.


Norton's former girlfriend recalls events after murder


Shelafoe, who like Campbell had testified during the Oct. 6 preliminary hearing in the case, took the stand late Thursday afternoon.


She and Norton lived together in a trailer at the Lotowana trailer park on Clement. On Sept. 21, she went over to Edmonds' motor home, where Norton was already there with other friends for a barbecue. She returned home at around 9:45 p.m. and went to bed.


Shelafoe said Norton came home some time later, waking her and her dog. She went into the living room where Norton was on his cell phone saying, “He's up at the top of the hill – no, not yours, mine.” Grothe asked her if the road out of the resort and the road out of the park where Edmonds lived both ran up to a hill, and she said yes.


Norton, who was wearing shorts, then changed clothes and “grabbed my mom's golf club and ran out the door,” she said. Shelafoe said she had kept the golf club at the front door.


Grothe brought out two pieces of evidence, separately packaged in plastic – the broken shaft end of a golf club and the head of a club. Shelafoe identified them as being parts of her mother's golf club.


She said Norton returned about 15 to 20 minutes after running out, accompanied by Edmonds. “There was blood on Melvin's pants,” said Shelafoe, and Edmonds had a cut on his arm that she hadn't previously noticed. Edmonds' pants were dark and so she didn't notice blood on him.


Norton allegedly told her, “Don't worry, we didn't stab nobody.”


The two men changed in another room and came out in fresh clothes, with Edmonds wearing clothes he borrowed from Norton.


“What did they do with the clothing they were wearing?” asked Grothe.


“They hid it in my front bedroom,” she said, explaining that the clothes were placed in a Safeway bag that was put in between cushions on the bed. She later found the bag and turned it and other materials over to police.


Shelafoe said she didn't see the weapons, but she had seen Edmonds playing with the asp, and carrying the double-bladed knife and a smaller knife in a sheath on previous occasions.


After they changed clothes, Edmonds and Norton left the house and Norton returned about 10 to 20 minutes later. Shelafoe said she went back to bed after they left.


Rhoades asked Shelafoe if she remembered being at Edmonds' motor home several days before the murder when Uehling showed up at Campbell's mother's next door. She didn't. He then read to her from a transcript of an interview she had with Clements. Reference to a “stalker” reminded her of the occasion, but she said she didn't remember the day it happened.


Carter asked Shelafoe about what she did after Norton and Edmonds left. She said she went back to bed. “There was nothing I could do,” said Shelafoe.


He asked if she called police, and Shelafoe said she didn't have a phone. Carter pointed out there was a cell phone there.


Grothe asked to approach the bench, and afterward Mann asked the jury to leave the room. Grothe said he wanted to ask Shelafoe some additional questions and Carter asked that Shelafoe leave the courtroom during the arguments.


“I just don't want the witness to become tainted by argument,” he said, and Mann had her leave for a few minutes.


Referring to Carter's questions about Shelafoe not calling police, Grothe said that the implication was “that she either wasn't concerned about it or she was not doing her job.”


He related to parts of her interview with Clements where she referenced previous domestic violence issues and told investigators that she was afraid to ask Norton any questions.


In light of Carter's questions, Grothe wanted to ask Shelafoe about why she didn't make the call.


“I think it's highly inappropriate to ask her that question,” Carter replied.


He objected to Grothe's proposed line of questioning because he argued that it was prejudicial to go into uncharged and previously unalleged misconduct that has never been proven.


Carter said Grothe wasn't including all of the information in that transcript. He said there is an indication that Shelafoe has had anger, alcohol abuse and domestic violence issues, and there was no evidence Norton was involved.


Rhoades said Carter “pretty well covered” his concerns, adding that he felt the information also was prejudicial to Grothe's case.


Carter added that it's a mistake to open up to a mini trial about Shelafoe's statements to police, which could end up scrutinizing her.


“Counsel thought it was appropriate enough to ask the question why she didn't call the cops,” said Grothe. “He's the one who brought it up.”


If there was going to be an attempt to blame Shelafoe for not taking action, Grothe wanted to ask her why she didn't.


Mann ordered Shelafoe to come back in and answer the question out of the presence of the jury.


With Shelafoe back on the stand, Grothe asked her why she hadn't called police. “I was scared to,” she said, explaining she feared Norton.


“Were you scared of what he would do?” asked Grothe.


Carter objected, saying that Grothe was leading Shelafoe's answer. Mann overruled, and Shelafoe answered in the affirmative, telling the court she was afraid of Norton hurting her.


“That's as far as I'm going to go,” said Grothe.


Mann said he would permit the testimony in front of the jury, and had the jury brought back in.


Grothe repeated his questions of Shelafoe, who gave the same answers. Rhoades had no further questions of her, but Carter asked her if she had gone to bed after Edmonds left and she said yes.


Testimony will resume next Tuesday and Wednesday, but the trial will not be in session on Thursday, Mann said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY – This weekend, a year's worth of strenuous study will be put to the test in Lake County’s 30th annual Academic Decathlon.


The public is welcome to attend the last part of a 10-part testing process – the Super Quiz – as well as the awards ceremony right after, which will be held this Saturday, Feb. 6, at Upper Lake High School's multi-use room, 675 Clover Valley Road.


Doors to Upper Lake’s multi-use room open at 4 p.m., yet the students will have been testing since 8:30 a.m., according to Robin Totorica, Lake County’s Academic Decathlon coordinator. The competition's essay portion took place on Jan. 22


“The academic decathlon is a valuable program,” said Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck, whose office sponsors the event. “It is an opportunity for the community to celebrate their students’ academic excellence.”


This year’s theme will be the French Revolution.


The Super Quiz will focus on the history of the French Revolution. Afterward, the event will relocate to the gymnasium where Upper Lake’s school band will treat attendees with music relating to the French Revolution and its time period. After the entertainment, the awards ceremony will begin.


Bronze, silver and gold medals will be awarded in most of the categories, as well as trophies, Totorica reported. The testing and awards are based from three levels of academic excellence – honors, scholastic and varsity.


Nancy Harby has coached Lower Lake’s decathlon team for 11 years and never tires of witnessing the positive impact that the event has on the student participants.


“No matter what happens I am so proud of them for balancing multiple academic subjects at the college level,” said Harby. “As far as my experience, almost all of the decathletes go on to college after high school.”


This year, Lower Lake has assembled two eight-person decathlon teams since more than nine students, the normal size of a decathlon team, signed up for the event.


Upper Lake High School, this year's host, produced last year’s championship team, which went on to compete at the state level.


Upper Lake’s coach, Anna Sabalone, and Middletown’s coach, Ryan Callen, are both in their second year of coaching in the Academic Decathlon.


The competition will be as fierce as ever, especially since Middletown High School has now established a dedicated course to prepare its students for the event, just like the other Lake County schools have done in the past, Callen said.


“Last year’s course was more or less a learning process,” said Callen. “But this year, anything can happen.”


Sabalone has been a part of the Academic Decathlon ever since she participated her senior year at Upper Lake High School during the 1999-2000 season.


“It was almost surreal seeing it from the other side. But, it is also great seeing how the kids grew from last year,” said Sabalone. “They seem a lot more comfortable with the format.”


Upper Lake High School is planning a field trip for its decathletes regardless if they make it to state or not, said Sabalone.


At Saturday's Super Quiz competition refreshments will be available for sale, with the proceeds going to help fund Upper Lake's field trip – possibly to a musical or play in San Francisco.


When the Academic Decathlon started in Lake County, five high schools took part, Totorica said. However, this year only Upper Lake, Middletown and Lower Lake high schools have assembled decathlete teams.


Kelseyville stopped participating after the 2004-05 decathlon season and last year was Clear Lake High School’s final participation, said Totorica. Lake County News was unable to contact Clear Lake High officials about the reason for not taking part.


“I would love for all of the schools to participate,” said Totorica. “But, perhaps due to funding issues, this year we only have three.”


Geck said that participating in the competition takes resources – whether money or time.


“This spring we will have to decide as a community what we want to see survive – we are in survival mode,” said Geck. “I think schools will end up having to look at the academic programs that they alone can provide.”


All high school decathletes can expect to gain much more than mere medals. Some of the core values encouraged by the United States Academic Decathlon Association include multidisciplinary learning, high standards of honesty and integrity, and a respect for diverse points of view.


The student participants and teams are:


  • Lower Lake High School, Team 1: Justin Harrison (H), Elizabeth Perkins (H), Alyssa McCosker (H), Joe Riggs (S), Corey Cherrington (S), Victoria Hanners (S), Kenneth Cates (V), Spence Hadden (V), Carina Ruedas (V); alternate includes Stephen Whitcomb.

  • Lower Lake High School, Team 2: Teodora Toshich (H), Bianey Madrigal (H), Cesar Ruiz (H), Sean Grant (S), Carla Martinez (S), Leslie Sweeden (S), Gerald Skinner (V), Samantha Weatherly (V), Shawn McAlister (V).

  • Middletown High School: Nick Speridon III (H), Seamus O’Herlihy (H), Jolon Cisneros (H), Donald Albright (S), Terry Marley (S), Haley Tallman (V), Melinda Dixon (V) Nicole Lawrence (V), Julia Rebolledo (V); alternate includes Breeann McKnight.

  • Upper Lake High School: Courtney Havrilla (H), Laura Wold (H), Justine Moran (H), Ian Weber (S), Roy Hankins (S), Devin Hoyt (S), Ben Mullin (V), Tiffany Criss (V), Cameron Beighle (V); alternates include Yessica Ayala, Jose Ruiz Olguin, Megan Morgan and Sean Gay.


Saturday's Super Quiz will last until about 7 p.m., said Sabalone.


Winners can expect to participate in the statewide competition beginning on March 12, and if they make it to nationals, the competition begins on April 17, said Totorica.


E-mail Tera deVroede at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKEPORT – On Tuesday a former county correctional officer under investigation by local and federal officials was arrested on several charges including grand theft and embezzlement.


Russell Leslie “Rusty” Wright, 37, of Kelseyville was arrested without incident at about 1:30 p.m. in Lakeport, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.


Deputies booked Wright into the Lake County Jail on felony charges of grand theft, embezzlement by a public officer, receiving stolen property and possession of dangerous fireworks, Bauman said.


Wright's bail was set at $15,000. Jail records showed that Wright posted bail and was released later Tuesday afternoon.


Bauman said an ongoing sheriff's office criminal investigation involving Wright resulted in the agency submitting a criminal complaint to the Lake County District Attorney on Monday morning. Judge Arthur Mann signed Wright's arrest warrant Tuesday morning.


Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff told Lake County News on Tuesday that Wright, who was terminated for serious misconduct earlier this month, is alleged to have taken items including a Taser, several sets of handcuffs, a belly chain and leg shackles.


Sheriff Rod Mitchell confirmed to Lake County News this week that Wright – a former sheriff's office rangemaster – also is the subject of an investigation regarding his alleged possession of assault weapons, parts of such weapons as well as a large amount of ammunition.


Some of those items were seized in a Jan. 16 search of Wright's home but he allegedly told investigators that he transported a .50 BMG caliber rifle and another assault weapon to a friend in Utah, as Lake County News has reported.


In addition, county documents indicate that sheriff's officials are investigating the disappearance of a trigger mechanism from an M16-A1 rifle that was one of 10 the sheriff's office received from a US military surplus program.


The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is involved in the investigation and working with the sheriff's office, an official confirmed this week.


Wright's first appearance in court is tentatively scheduled for April 9, according to jail records.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LUCERNE – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will hold a March 4 public participation hearing on California Water Service Company's (CWS) current rate increase proposal in its Lucerne district.


The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at Lucerne Alpine Senior Center, 10th and Country Club Dr., Lucerne.


Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey O'Donnell will be present to receive public comments.


CWS seeks CPUC authorization of rate increases of $70,592,000 or 16.75 percent in test year 2011; Jan. 1, 2012, by $24,777,000 or 5.04 percent; and Jan. 1, 2013, by $24,777,000 or 4.79 percent.


The case is A.09-07-001 on the CPUC Web site, http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/water .


The Lucerne Community Water Organization (LCWO) is circulating petitions asking the CPUC to reject the rate increases on the grounds that the community can't afford to pay any more for water.


CWS reported on Jan. 27 that its board of directors has declared the company's 260th consecutive quarterly dividend, increasing the annual dividend from $1.18 to $1.19. This represents the company's 43rd consecutive annual dividend increase. The quarterly dividend of $0.2975 per common share will be payable on Feb. 19 to stockholders of record on Feb. 8.


In 2005, when CWS asked for a 246 percent rate increase, LCWO formed to protest the increase and intervene in the ratemaking proceedings.


With the free legal help of Lakeport attorney Stephen Elias the approved increase was 120 percent and low-income relief measures were adopted which made the increase about 64 percent for ratepayers who qualified.


The organization did not intervene in subsequent increases and will not this time, according to Craig Bach, a Lucerne electrician who was president of LCWO in 2005 and later.


“We can't afford to intervene and don't have time,” he said Wednesday. He said the core group of members is no longer active because one, Ed Moore, has died and others are pursuing different interests.


Judge O'Donnell said anyone who wants to file a motion to intervene in the case must do so very quickly because “Intervenor pre-served testimonies are due to be served later this month. The schedule will not be revised to accommodate new intervenors.”


He added “The March 4 hearing in Lucerne is a public participation hearing. The purpose is to hear from customers about the application. Customers do not need to intervene in the proceeding to give their comments at the public participation hearing.”


The CPUC hearing will be held in San Francisco April 26 to May 10.


Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

SAN FRANCISCO – Lake County wines won nearly 80 awards this year at the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, with approximately 50 of the top medals going to Lake County Winery Association members.


The annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition is touted as the “largest competition of American wines in the world.”


The 2010 event concluded Jan. 8 following five days of tasting and evaluating 4,913 entries, a world record number, according to the event’s Web site.


“We are ecstatic to learn that Lake County wines and wineries stood out among the 4,900 entries,” said Monica Rosenthal, executive director of the Lake County Winery Association. “It helps distinguish Lake County as a premier winegrape producing region. We know we have excellent grapes and wine, but it is especially nice to get that recognition from panels of professional judges ranking entries in such a renowned competition.”

 

Members of the Lake County Winery Association receiving bronze, silver, and gold medals for their wines are Bell Hill Vineyards, Brassfield Estate Winery, Dusinberre Cellars, Gregory Graham Wines, Noggle Vineyards & Winery, Red Lava Vineyards, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, Shannon Ridge Vineyard & Winery, Shed Horn Cellars, Six Sigma Ranch and Winery, Tulip Hill Winery and Wildhurst Vineyards.


Gold medal winning Lake County wines produced by association members include: Brassfield Estate’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50-$59.99) and its 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99), Gregory Graham’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99) and 2008 Riesling, Rosa d’Oro’s 2007 Sangiovese, Shannon Ridge Winery’s 2008 Chardonnay ($20-$24.99) and 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($14-$19.99), Sol Rouge’s 2007 Syrah ($25-$29.99) and Wildhurst Vineyards’ 2007 Merlot ($15-$19.99).


Other wineries receiving gold medals for Lake County wines include VIE Winery, which captured gold with its 2008 Lake County Roussanne, and Robledo Family Winery which received a gold for its 2007 Lake County Tempranillo.


Awarded the highest honor among all the Lake County wines entered, Obsidian Ridge Vineyard’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected as Best of Class and Judges’ Choice in its category (Cabernet Sauvignon $25-$29.99). It was one of six Cabernet Sauvignons selected as Judges’ Choice winners, qualifying it for the Sweepstakes Round.


The win “comes on the heels of a tough year for us,” said Peter Molnar, partner and general manager at Obsidian Ridge. “It shows that we have what it takes in Lake County to produce a really good Cabernet.”

 

Molnar was “particularly happy,” he said, because it was a 2007 that was “just released.” He described the wine as one made from small berries with intense flavors. He emphasized that the honor indicates that for Lake County’s wines “recognition is happening.” Obsidian Ridge also received an award for its 2007 Lake County Syrah.


Awards were presented to the following Lake County wineries and wineries that produce wines from Lake County grapes: Beaver Creek Vineyards, Bell Cellars, Big Valley, Bonterra Vineyards, Charles Creek Vineyard, Dacalier, Fortress Vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery, Main Street, Matchbook, McDermaid Family Vineyard, Sunce Winery and Zina Hyde Cunningham.


Two Lake County wineries were the recipients of Double Gold awards. Double Gold indicates a unanimous Gold choice by the judges in any particular category. Double Gold awards were presented to Robledo Family Winery for its 2006 Los Carneros Pinot Noir ($40-$49.99 category) and to Sol Rouge for its 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (over $60 category).


Winning entries in each category can be found on the competition website, www.winejudging.com . Tickets for the public tasting portion of the event may be purchased online.


The public’s opportunity to taste entries from the competition is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 20, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Tickets are $60 per person in advance and $80 per person at the door.


For more information about the Lake County Winery Association, visit the association’s Web site, www.lakecountywineries.org or contact Monica Rosenthal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Information about Lake County winegrapes and vineyards may be found at www.lakecountywinegrape.org , on the Lake County Winegrape Commission Web site or contact Shannon Gunier at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY – A Local Food Summit is scheduled for March 15 as a means to launch a grant award from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) designed to benefit Lake County residents and farmers.


The Health Leadership Network is coordinating the event and is asking all specialty crop farmers, restaurant owners, and other establishments/institutions that serve food, as well as grocery store

produce managers to save the date.


A.G. Kawamura, California’s Secretary of Agriculture, will give the opening remarks.


More details on the event will be announced in the near future, organizers said.


An exciting grant project, “A Growing Movement to Seed Healthy Eating,” was awarded to the Lake County Department of Public Health in coordination with the Health Leadership Network (HLN) to enable new and existing HLN partners to rally under a shared vision to build a vibrant local food system.


The grant focuses on the consumption and production of “specialty crops,” defined by the CDFA as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

Specialty crops do not include eggs, grains, or dairy, and does not distinguish between conventional and organic production methods.


The Local Food Summit will kick off the work plan the HLN will undertake for this grant.


Other components of the grant include marketing, education, expanding the farm-to-school/institution program, coordination to connect the “eat local” efforts within a food delivery system that works in tandem to optimize consumer nutrition, and expanding market opportunities for farmers including the creation of an online ordering system.


The HLN will continue to act as the coordinating hub for implementation of the project. It has been at the forefront of obesity prevention efforts with the launch of the farm-to-school program, school nutrition, and a countywide food assessment.


For more information contact Jackie Armstrong at 707-274-2459 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

NORTH COAST – Nearly a month after a 6.5 earthquake hit off the Humboldt County coast and caused millions of dollars in damages, another large temblor rocked the area on Thursday.


The 5.9-magnitude earthquake occurred at 12:20 p.m. Thursday 35 miles west northwest of Petrolia and 36 miles west southwest of Ferndale at a depth of 7 miles, according to the US Geological Survey.


The location of Thursday's quake was about 9 miles farther out into the ocean than the 6.5 quake that occurred on Jan. 9, based on US Geological Survey records.


The National Weather Service's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue a tsunami warning as a result of the earthquake.


The US Geological Survey received more than 3,000 responses from people in nearly 300 zip codes who reported feeling the quake.


Reports came from around California, as well as Oregon, Washington, Utah and even British Columbia.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAYTONVILLE – The search for a Laytonville man missing since last month led to a murder arrest Tuesday afternoon.


Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies arrested 62-year-old Phillip Frase of Laytonville for the murder of 49-year-old Steven Richard Schmidt, according to Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.


Schmidt, a transient, was reported missing from Frase's home at 59659 Bell Springs Road in Laytonville on Jan. 17, Smallcomb said.


An investigation led to Schmidt's motor home being located and unoccupied in the Fort Bragg area. Smallcomb said the vehicle was towed to the sheriffs office for further investigation.


At 7 a.m. Tuesday Mendocino County Sheriff's detectives and other personnel, along with assistance from the Major Crimes Task Force, search and rescue personnel, Nevada County Cadaver Canine personnel and others, went to Frase's residence, which was Schmidt's last known address, Smallcomb said.


They served a search warrant at the property, and Smallcomb said Frase told investigators that Schmidt wasn't at the residence.


However, after three hours of searching, investigators found Schmidt's body adjacent to a tree and covered with fresh cut brush and branches, said Smallcomb. Detectives and officers continued their investigation at the scene for further evidence.


Frase was booked into the Mendocino County Jail on the murder charge, with bail set at $500,000, Smallcomb said.


On Wednesday afternoon, an autopsy was conducted on Schmidt's body. Smallcomb said preliminary results revealed that Schmidt died of blunt force trauma to the head, and that it appeared a large object was used to inflict the injuries.


Smallcomb said the murder investigation is continuing. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to telephone the detectives tip line at 707-467-5159. Callers can remain anonymous.


Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

 

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN CLARIFIED REGARDING A REFERENCE TO BARRETT RIFLES.

 

LAKEPORT – A former Lake County correctional officer is the focus of an investigation by local and federal officials regarding machine gun and assault weapon parts and ammunition found in his home earlier this month.


During the Jan. 16 service of a search warrant at his ranch on Wight Way in Kelseyville, Russell “Rusty” Wright, 37, was alleged to have been found in possession of hundreds of rounds of machine gun ammunition as well as parts of what appeared to be assault weapons, according to documents obtained by Lake County News.


“No, I don't have anything to say right now,” Wright said when contacted by Lake County News on Monday.


On Monday Sheriff Rod Mitchell said his department's investigation into the matter is still under way, and that they are coordinating with federal agencies – including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) – because Wright is alleged to have transported across state lines unregistered weapons that are illegal in California except when possessed by peace officers in the course of their duty.


“The rules apply to everybody,” Mitchell said.


Nina Delgadillo, a senior special agent with the ATF's San Francisco Field Division, confirmed late Monday that they were working with the sheriff's office “and currently reviewing the case for potential federal prosecution.”


She said that the ATF investigates violations or potential violations of federal firearms and explosives laws. When such a case comes across their radar screen or if a local agency asks them to investigate, they become involved.


“That's, in general terms, how it would work,” she said.


Although the local investigation remains “dynamic,” Mitchell added, “I can confirm that some aspects of what we found have been turned over to the district attorney for review.”


Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, who signed the search warrants in the case on behalf of the District Attorney's Office, said on Monday that he couldn't comment on the case at that time.


Any person found manufacturing or transferring into the state any assault weapon or .50 caliber machine gun can be convicted of a felony and face as much as eight years in state prison, according to California's Dangerous Weapons Control Law.


Mitchell, who said he has not seen any similar situation in his time in the department, said he and his command staff are implementing new policies to prevent similar occurrences in the future.


According to county documents, Wright – who started with the county as a correctional officer at the Lake County Jail in October 1995 – was terminated on Jan. 8, eight days before the search warrant service, following the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation that began Oct. 9.


Wright, was one of six rangemasters for the sheriff's office. Correctional officers who serve in that capacity receive 2.5 percent above their base pay, according to the memorandum of understanding between the Lake County Correctional Officer's Association and the county of Lake.


He also was a member of the California National Guard and deployed several times to active duty around the United States and overseas, according to documents supporting the investigation.


Wright was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, which focused on “serious misconduct.”


Search warrant documents prepared by Sgt. Brian Martin of the sheriff's office explained that Wright “was terminated for conduct that will certainly prevent him from obtaining employment in law enforcement if it is discovered during a hiring process.”


The nature of the conduct for which Wright was fired was not specified and Mitchell could not address it because of personnel privacy rules.


However, he said that the search warrant service and the internal affairs were unconnected, and the investigation into the weapons allegations arose because of a separate audit of assault weapons conducted by the sheriff's office on Jan. 11.


On that day, Senior Rangemaster Sgt. Don McPherson conducted an audit of 10 M16-A1 rifles the sheriff's office obtained about two years ago from the US military through a program that allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military firearms.


Based on the requirements of the weapons grant program, the weapons must be inspected every 24 months, Mitchell said.


Rather than just looking at the serial numbers, McPherson went further and checked out each rifle more closely, and discovered that the trigger of one of them had been replaced with one from an AR-15, a weapon similar to an M16-A1.


“This was good, thorough work,” said Mitchell. “We interviewed everybody who has access to our armory.”


None of the other rangemasters, when questioned, said they knew anything about the replaced parts, according to Martin's search warrant narrative.


“I'm just very pleased that the audit was as detailed as it was so that we could get started toward assuring that all of the things that we're responsible for are in our proper care,” Mitchell said.


On Jan. 12, sheriff's officials discovered that when Wright had returned his keys to the sheriff's office when he was placed on administrative leave in October, the key to the armory – which he had held as part of his rangemaster duties – was missing. On that same day, the armory was rekeyed.


“We're committed to tracking our resources, protecting the things that we own,” said Mitchell. “I think it's going to hold accountable the person responsible.”


Questions and the search warrant service


Deputy Lucas Bingham, a sheriff's detective, told Capt. Cecil Brown, who was leading the investigation, that he believed Wright owned several assault weapons.


Bingham told investigators that he had seen Wright at the sheriff's firing range with a a .50-caliber BMG rifle in 2005 or 2006, shortly after Wright returned from a National Guard deployment in Utah. He said he believed Wright purchased the rifle while on deployment and brought it back to California.


One of the kinds of rifles referenced in the search warrant was the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which ranges up to 57 inches in length, use large 6-inch rounds and have a firing range of up to 6,800 meters – or just over four miles, with a suggested safety range of five miles, according to specifications offered by the manufacturer, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc. of Mufreesboro, Tenn.


On Jan. 14, another correctional officer, Chad Holland – also one of the department's rangemasters – disclosed that he had several assault weapons that were not legally registered, which he then turned over to the sheriff's office.


Mitchell said Holland's case was investigated and he faces no criminal allegations.


On Jan. 14 Brown and Capt. Rob Howe went to Wright's horse ranch and offered him the opportunity to surrender any unregistered assault weapons. Investigative documents said that Wright stated, “I don't have 'em any more.”


Wright told them that in October – the same month he had been placed on administrative leave – he had taken the weapons to Utah, where he gave them to a friend. At the same time, he denied knowing anything about the changes to the M16-A1 rifle.


At that point Brown also demanded back the armory key, which Wright said he thought he had returned earlier. He then went into his home and returned with a ring of keys for the armory and the sheriff's firing range at Highland Springs, according to the search warrant's supporting documents.


During previous encounters, Wright reportedly had to be admonished to return other department belongings, including other firearms and his badge.


The search warrant affidavit explained that Wright did not provide the sheriff's office with a dealer record of sale for the assault weapons and a search of the Automated Firearms System for firearms registered to Wright found only two weapons – both handguns.


Believing Wright might have a .50-caliber machine gun and a Bushmaster Model SX-15 .223 caliber assault rifle in his possession – both of which he could have lawfully purchased out of state – investigators filed an affidavit for a search warrant signed Jan. 16 by Judge Stephen Hedstrom and executed the same day.


Items seized during the search included 125 live .50 caliber rounds; 225 spent .50 caliber rounds; a box of what appeared to be assault rifle parts, including triggers, hammers, grips, barrels, pistol cylinders and more; 55 rounds of 7.62 millimeter by 39 millimeter live ammunition; 12 long AK-47 style magazines; seven shorter 7.62 mm by 39 mm magazines; three drum-shaped magazines capable of holding 100 rounds of 7.62 mm by 39 mm ammunition; one drum-shaped magazine that can hold up to 75 rounds of 7.62 mm by 39 mm ammunition; other items including staff sergeant military insignia and pins; six high capacity Glock handgun magazines, including two .40 caliber magazines that each have a 15-round capacity, and four .45 caliber magazines that each can hold up to 13 rounds and were stamped “Restricted LE/Govt only.”


Mitchell said his department issues .40 caliber magazines, but not .45 caliber magazines, so it's not believed the item marked “Restricted LE/Govt only” came from the sheriff's office.


The items were taken and stored in sheriff's evidence facilities, according to search warrant return documents.


The law and machine guns


California, which has more restrictive gun laws than some other states, prohibits the ownership of machine guns and assault weapons, including the .50-caliber Barrett rifle, for which Wright was found to have had hundreds of ammunition rounds, according to investigative documents. Those laws also prohibit possession of parts meant to convert a regular weapon into a machine gun.


Under the California Dangerous Weapons Control Law, peace officers may possess the weapons but they are not exempted from following registration requirements, which include written permission from their department head, in this case Mitchell. The investigation documents stated that Mitchell didn't authorize Wright's purchase of such weapons.


Mitchell said his department's interpretation is that such an exemption only applies to individuals employed as peace officers, who are certified under the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and not correctional officers.


“Although they are listed as peace officers, the way the law is written, they do not quality for that,” he said.


The memoranda of understanding for the county's correctional officers and peace officers also differentiates between the two classifications.


In the investigation so far, the missing trigger mechanism from the county's M16-A1 rifle hasn't been accounted for, said Mitchell. Nor have they located the weapons Wright is believed to have had.


Investigators haven't yet disclosed where Wright got most of the materials found at his home, although they've stated in the search warrant affidavit that they believed he purchased them lawfully in other states.


The new policies the department is implementing in the wake of the investigation will include new signing procedures, and tightened restrictions on who can access the items and when, he said.


In addition, Mitchell said the frequency of inventories will be increased and spot audits will be conducted regularly.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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