louis martin
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SUMMER FOR MANY is a time to relax and take it easy. But not for law enforcement on the North Coast of California. In Mendocino County, in particular, Summer means more drinking, more fighting, and more calls to the County Sheriff's Office for assistance.

For some visitors the coast is a place to go and be rowdy-- a wild and rugged place where, they assume, laws are not enforced.

On Friday, August 18, it's alleged, a Mr. Murphy of Hayward decided to be a little rowdy at the Gualala Hotel, and with that decision things went from bad to worse for Mr. Murphy. Or so it's alleged.

A six pack of beer drunk earlier at a house on Fish Rock Road--an area notorious for pot growing--topped off by long slow drags on a hashish pipe, may have not helped Mr. Murphy's situation.

DRESSED IN RED and black plaid shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap--proper redneck attire and wholly fitting in the Gualala Hotel--Murphy walked into the bar of Gualala's historic hotel and tried to strike up a conversation with two young women sitting at the end of the long wooden bar. They didn't care for his vibes and waited in icy silence for him to move on.

Murphy moved down the bar, then made the mistake of grabbing for some money that wasn't his. He got called on that move by the bar tender.

Then, moving further down the bar, and striking up a conversation with a tolerant guy in a T-shirt, Murphy made the mistake of telling the guy that he, Murphy, was the devil. He quickly learned that doesn't create a good first impression.

Murphy, whose voice is normally loud, increased his volume, hoping to become the center of attention, which, in a way, he did.

Though all could hear him, no one cared to converse with the 44-year-old East Bay Water worker who had come to the coast to get away with his son--he's allowed only two visits a year with his son, he later told someone, hoping to gain sympathy for his situation--and to celebrate his own birthday and dive for abalone.

Now the Gualala Hotel is not a quiet place. In theory, Mr. Murphy and his loud voice might fit in just fine there--at least on a Friday night. Photographs of old-timers with prize -winning fish adorn the walls. Near the front door two ferocious boars' heads are mounted high up on the wall, white tusks curved upward toward the ceiling. It is a place where guys--and these days women--can speak their minds and usually do. There is a rosy glow to the room that fits with the constant buzz of conversation. There are "heavy-duty" guys who regularly hang out there. Occasionally voices are raised in the heat of conversation. But voice levels rise, then fall again. There is maybe just one rule of the Gualala Hotel: Don't be obnoxious. And Murphy broke that rule. Or so it is alleged.

Linda Opperman, manager of the Gualala Hotel, asked Murphy to leave, which he did--following two women out the door. Outside he began to tell the women his problems, which included two divorces, and when they did not appear interested and began to drive away, Murphy beat on the window of their car and shouted at them. That did not make a good impression either.

Now Murphy might have just gone home and slept it all off --might have gone abing in the morning and told himself what a bunch of jerks live in Gualala. But instead he decided to go back into the hotel--the first in a series of more serious errors of judgment.

While manager Opperman was poised to call 911--something she doesn't like to do, preferring to handle hotel problems herself--Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy Brian Dressler happened through the rear door of the hotel on his usual evening rounds. But not totally ignorant of the situation inside.

On the rear porch, Dressler had been informed by a customer that there was someone inside causing a disturbance.

The customer described Murphy's appearance--plaid shirt, ball cap--but said, "You'll be able to hear him."

MURPHY ACQUIESCED to deputy Dressler's request to step outside on the front porch. Maybe Murphy thought that he had at last struck up a real conversation. But with a request to see his driver's license, Murphy grew testy. While a moment before Murphy might have just been asked to leave--might have even gotten a ride home--now he was escorted to the Sheriff's jeep. There he was handcuffed and placed in the rear. He wasn't comfortable and let it be known. Loudly.

On the ride to the station, Murphy might have gone silent, reflective. Instead Murphy screamed obscenities.

Or Murphy might have simply relaxed. Instead he kicked at the separation panel between front seat and rear. In that act Murphy, a tall, curly-haired Irishman, proved his considerable strength. He put a one-inch dent in the panel.

Having gotten it, or at least something, out of his system, Murphy could have cooled it and shown a little respect; instead, he threatened to kill deputy Dressler when released from county jail, which was where he was headed. Like a good journalist, he was quite specific: a 45 caliber handgun would be the weapon.

Murphy was told several times to settle down or he would be maced. It was an hour drive to county jail in Ukiah, and an hour of kicking, screaming, and yelling wasn't going to be tollerated. Deputy Dressler spelled out for Murphy the unpleasant aspects of being maced. He was blunt: "Your eyes will burn, your face will sting . . . You can ride over like a man or we can mace the shit out of you and hog tie you like an animal . . . Which do you prefer?"

But Murphy didn't settle down so Murphy got maced. But that didn't do it either. Murphy kicked out a window of the jeep and he spit on deputy Dressler. Backup was called in to help subdue visitor Murphy. Two Point Arena sheriffs, one from Bonneville. At last Murphy had some attention.

Eventually, Murphy lay at the side of Mountain View road, face down, handcuffed from the rear, tied at the ankles, with a nylon strap connecting handcuffs and ankle ties so that he could no longer move. Not a pleasant sight, and certainly not pleasant for vacationer Murphy.

All in all, it was not a good evening for anyone involved.

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