Mendocino, CA 95460
By Andrew Scully
The Mendocino Undercurrent
May 12, 2023
It had been cold all day in Covelo, more than 10 degrees below normal for this time of year, and by the time Mike Duncan began to speak at 5, a hard rain was beginning to fall from the low clouds that had been hanging ominously over the valley. Big drops scattered at first, and quickly became more regular and rapid, until everyone in the Circle – more than 100 people – was wet, and it was cold. But Duncan was standing tall in shirtsleeves, his voice booming out, low and resonant over the crowd.
The people had come together and gathered in a Circle. A Circle to remember Ruby-Sky Montelongo, just 15 years old when she died, and Nick Whipple, 20, two young people senselessly murdered, cut down in this place where so much tragedy has happened already.
Mike Duncan is a Spiritual Leader of the Tribal People of this Place. His word and his voice convey quiet authority. Duncan was saying a eulogy for these two people, and he was using the opportunity afforded to review some time-tested truths to his flock..These were young, beautiful indigenous people – just children really – the latest victims in this Valley of many sorrows. In addressing his people and their sorrow, he spoke of responsibility, of actions and consequences. Personal failure to step forward and show leadership and lack of moral character, of failure to set good examples, and general movement away from spiritual guiding principles that clearly point the direction forward.
So in talking about Ruby’s death and Nick Whipple and the violence and hopelessness that has overtaken the Valley, he talked about the needs and hopes of his own people, the native people gathered in that Circle. They are the ones that are doing the dying and the killing.
But surprisingly, he did not talk about the catastrophic failures of the government structures and systems that have abandoned these people, specifically Sheriff Matthew Kendall and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, the CHP, and other entities that are charged with providing police protection in the Valley. He didn’t call out the failure of social service agencies or any level of government.
He called out in his clear and strong voice of the urgent and immediate need for his own people to step up and step forward, to stand up for principles and peace in this moment of crisis; it seemed a message that was well received.
It’s been three weeks now since the declaration of the State of Emergency by The Round Valley Tribal Council, a declaration prompted by lawlessness and violence run amok in the streets and directed at the failure of law enforcement agencies (Sheriff and CHP) to provide adequate police protection services. In our initial coverage, we reported that townspeople projected that there would be an initial show of force by law enforcement- two weeks or so of “Maximum Enforcement”, but that show would quickly fade.
What we observed on the ground in the Valley bore out in fact the first part of that prediction: the sheriffs are indeed making their presence known since the Declaration. When we visited last Friday we saw two Sheriff’s units in and around the Valley (one of them outbound back to Ukiah at 9:00 a.m.).
Rosento Cordova, the personal director of The Round Valley Tribes, and man designated by Tribal President Randall Britton to speak to law enforcement partners about the situation, noted that Kendall’s deputies were “showing more presence on the streets, absolutely” in tne weeks since April 16. He also said there had been an upsurge in criminal activity in the Valley as well, including two highly-publicized threats at the High School. Several other people in town confirmed this activity.
However, each person interviewed also noted that there was no Sheriff’s presence or Patrol activity after dark; indeed none after 4:00 p.m. Sheriff Kendall it seems has increased Patrol presence and activity during the daylight hours (8:00 to 4:00), in the initial “surge” that was predicted after the Declaration of Emergency. But that presences does not extend to the crucial and deadly hours of darkness. There’s no protection for the town after dark. Multiple townspeople said that Covelo continues to be left completely naked after 5 pm, just as before.
Steve McCormack is the tall and weatherbeaten owner and operator of Western Tire and Auto, one of two auto parts stores in the valley and the only tire repair facility within 50 miles. He told a visitor that his business and property have been victimized in a countless series of crimes over the years, all of them unsolved by the Sheriff’s Department. Recently, he said a drunk driver spun out and slammed into his store, crashing through a plate glass window. The drunk driver was loose in the community for over 4 hours before a sheriff’s deputy responded.
He did credit Kendall with a definite uptick in Sheriff’s Department activity during the day in the last weeks, but said “they were nowhere to be seen after dark”.
We also spoke with Selena, the personable owner of the Trading Post on the main drag in the heart of Covelo, and one of her regular customers, an elderly widow. This discussion proved quite enlightening on the topics of town activity, gossip, sheriff activity. Both Selena and her customer are long-time residents of the Valley and said that many things have degraded the quality of life and the life expectancy in recent years, including the takeover in the weed industry from legacy mom and pop operations into high-intensity indoor 24/7 365 grows that have lowered the water table, turned grows into armed security compounds and generally amped up criminal vagrancy and activity in the valley.
In addition, both women cited the lack of police presence in the form of regular Sheriff patrols as the single greatest change over the years, one that has degraded the social fabric of the community to the point where underage drinking and huffing of inhalants takes place on a nightly basis on Main Street. Here under the harsh orange glare of sodium-vapor streetlights, tribal kids ranging in age from 12 on up are smoking weed and worse, and then climbing into high-performance street-rods where they proceed to burn donuts into the wee hours, sometimes slamming into objects or people. These lawbreakers are completely oblivious to any police, because there are no sheriff patrols in Covelo after dark.
It sounds like something out of a 1950s teenage melodrama with Mickey Rooney and James Dean, and it might be funny. Except that Selena and her older customer both describe in graphic detail how they are in fear for their lives after the sun sets and these miscreants take to their pipes and cars, and begin careening around the streets.
As for the main actor in this story – Sheriff Kendall, we are forced to surmise what his comments or reaction might be since he did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The silence from the Sheriff during a defining moment of crisis in his hometown is deafening.
One question that kept getting asked by townsfolk was: “Where is Kendall personally?” One shop owner asked why eight or nine deputies responded to a recent property crime on a ranch, but the murder of it native girl rated only three patrol cars. With Kendall missing-in-action, we can only guess what his answers might be. For the moment at least Sheriff Kendall has joined the rogues gallery of dysfunctional county officials that have made a decision not to respond to reporters and their constituents . Time will tell whether Kendall simply pulls his people out after the initial surge (as predicted by Cordova and McCormack) and things return back to “normal”. The normal, Alice in Wonderland neighborhood known as Mendocino County.