Opinion » Street Talk

More than a mouthful

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I have to go to the dentist later today, so I’m feeling crankier than usual. Lucky you. Look, no one’s forcing you to read this column, which really isn’t fair, since several people are forcing me to write it. They’re behind me right now, breathing down my neck like a pack of vampires who gave up blood for Lent, and now it’s Easter Sunday. My editor wants me to strike that image because it “doesn’t make any sense,� but I told him to back off, and that he should be happy to be breathing down my neck. He should be happy to be breathing at all.

Jay Vestal, a local man who died last year when some sheriff’s deputies sat on him while handcuffing him for not appearing in court because of a traffic citation, isn’t so lucky. Remember him? The county certainly does, because it’s now throwing a bunch of money at his two kids as an apology for hastening their dad’s death, only officials call it a “settlement� in a “wrongful-death suit,� which was filed almost a year ago.

So now, I guess, everyone’s supposed to be happy because the 9-year-old and 2-year-old each got $150,000, which will get put into an annuity until they’re old enough to know they were bought off. The lawyers are supposed to be particularly happy because they got $350,000, which they’ll probably use to pay this month’s payment on their boats. Sheriff Pat Hedges is supposed to be super-exceptionally happy because the settlement saved the taxpayers a bunch of money. See, if this case had actually gone to trial, it could have cost the county a whole lot more, since when somebody dies with a cop’s knee in his back, juries tend to react emotionally for some reason and rule against the people who didn’t have their face buried in the dirt against their will. Silly jury, trials are for the bad guys.

What a bunch of hooey. The good sheriff’s happy with the settlement because it keeps blame away from his boys so they can go on using as much force as they deem necessary, from shooting jaywalkers with rubber bullets to macing girl scouts who ignore “No Soliciting� signs. (By the way, guys, “macing� these days means spraying someone with an irritant, not whacking them with a spiky metal ball.) A couple investigations, by the way, cleared the offending deputies of any wrongdoing in the eyes of the sheriff’s department, the district attorney’s office, and U.S. Attorney’s Office, effectively giving sheriff’s deputies permission to sit wherever they want, no matter who they kill. It’s not like Vestal was the only person to die under Pat’s watchful eye.

If I’m wrong about any of this, Pat, I’ll personally allow a half dozen of your huskiest deputies to dogpile onto my spine, just for practice. If they do it just before my root canal this afternoon, I may be able to pass out without the help of expensive anesthetic, and there’s one more taxpayer you’re helping to save money.

Pat will probably also tell you he was thinking of the taxpayers a few years ago when he said that the department teaches it deputies how to do CPR, but only on non-handcuffed people. I guess the handcuffed CPR class at the learning annex was too expensive, and, really, SLO County residents don’t want their hard-earned dollars going toward training that would save the lives of people who are obviously guilty or else why would they be handcuffed? Vestal was, after all, later found to have meth and cocaine in his system, and I’m sure a local homeowner or two thinks that anyone who uses drugs deserves whatever punishment he gets for sullying the good name of our county. That median county home price didn’t dip in October for no reason, right?

Attorneys arguing for Vestal’s family pointed out that most of California’s county sheriffs are trained to avoid what the department calls “positional asphyxiation,� which is the polite term for “forceful — but accidental — suffocation.� For some reason, the lawyers said, SLO County deputies don’t get that training. Must be the sheriff again, always thinking of those taxpayers. Gee, Pat, you should run for office. Maybe you’d have better luck than Julie Tacker and Lisa Schicker, who got the votes but have had some trouble settling into their elected seats on the Los Osos Community Services District board.

The ongoing sewer tragicomedy churns out so many nasty tales of infighting and bickering, my column writes itself each week, which is a stupid thing to say, because if my column really were writing itself, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing my column. Since I do have to plant myself here in front of my keyboard, and since the Los Osos material isn’t actually writing itself, I’m not going to write about it, either.

So there.

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