Opinion » Street Talk

Thirty-four across


I never thought I'd say this, but poor Pat Hedges. I almost feel sorry for the guy. If I tried hard enough, I probably could actually feel sorry, but I don't feel like putting in the effort at the moment. I'm in the middle of a particularly thorny crossword puzzle.

By the way, what's a seven-letter word for a cloth made to resemble leather? I tried "vinyl," but it's too short. Maybe I'll just black out the rest of these boxes to make it fit.

Pat's life looked like it was finally getting back to normal, or as normal as a San Luis Obispo County sheriff's life can be after eight years of in-custody deaths, lawsuits, and sniping from media members like myself with nothing better to do than pick on people who were just doing their jobs and trying to avoid the lawsuits when they couldn't avoid the in-custody deaths.

Things have been looking up for Pat, however. A while back, the Department of Justice said that deputies didn't violate Gerald Bernales' rights after a controversial 2001 arrest.

And remember Michael Murphy, Rex Reese, Jeffery Dayton, and Neil Clayton? If not, let me ask it a different way. Remember those four sheriff's deputies who restrained postal worker Jay Vestal to death outside of his Templeton home back in 2003? He was reportedly high, they were edgy, he struggled, they sat on him, he died, I wrote about it for months.

Anyway, a while back, the federal government said that the four deputies involved didn't violate Jay's civil rights.

I think I heard Pat just say a four-letter word for human excrement.

Yes, things were looking up for Pat. Injured parties were settling out of court. Sometimes they received unprecedented sums of money, but the settlements marked the end of some pretty dark clouds that had been hanging over Pat's head for years. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the air was clear.

Then, those four names came up again: Murphy, Reese, Dayton, and Clayton. By themselves, those names aren't inherently ominous, but together and plastered on a lawsuit, they carry a little more of a threat.

I think I heard Pat just say a four-letter word for human excrement.

The fab four recently decided to sue the county for how they were treated after Jay died. Namely, they claim that the department pressured them, threatened them, and denied them rights during its investigation into why their suspect stopped breathing. The lawsuit also mentions that the department assigned them desk work in the interim, during which they were forced to make new notebooks out of old notebooks and help with some landscape architecture around the administration building instead of being allowed to return to active duty.

Personally, I was glad to hear that they were gardening instead of taking down unruly suspects. I mean, I support arrests as much as the next guy, but I also haven't seen any "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters lately. Everyone deserves a break from routine when someone in custody stops breathing, especially when witnesses say the circumstances looked suspicious. Investigations happen, and if these guys are whining because they had to do what amounts to temp work, I say that the situation could've been a lot worse.

Then again, I wasn't there. Maybe the humiliation of being asked to file and dig far outweighed the other ramifications of a man's death on their watch.

The lawsuit also alleges that when the deputies were interviewed, they were interviewed in the "hard" interview room at the detective bureau. That's the one with the bright light and the cigarette smoke, right? One of the guys apparently wasn't allowed to go to the bathroom for quite a while, too, which can be very uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing.

Perhaps I'm being too flippant. Rights are rights, after all, whether they belong to a doped-up, handcuffed postal worker or the sheriff's deputy sitting on his back. Ultimately, the FBI and the district attorney said the deputies didn't do anything wrong. They were just doing their jobs to the best of their ability, which will probably be everybody's excuse when this next lawsuit really gets going. Everybody's just out to make a hassle-free living, and most, if you're optimistic, really are trying to do what's best, which makes placing ultimate blame a thornier problem than this crossword. Anyway, I almost feel sorry for Pat.

Now I better shut up before someone pronounces me an eight-letter word for lawsuit. 

I picked up a copy of the April 13 Tribune the other day - I saw it in the gutter - and found a tire ad/coupon stuck to the front page, smack in the middle of a story about, well, I'm not totally sure. The only part of the headline I can read says that Sen. Abel Maldonado is interested in something, but I can't make out what it is. Other people told me that there were no stickers on their copies of the Tribune, so I may just be lucky. ³

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