Tue 24 Apr 2007
Despite not holding the reins on his team, the ever-political Sheriff Bob Doyle takes part in the Western Weekend Parade.
As some of you no doubt read in The Marin Independent Journal, atty. Ladd Bedford on April 12 filed on my behalf a false-imprisonment lawsuit against the County of Marin and sheriff’s deputy Josh Todt.
The lawsuit also lists as defendants “DOEs One through Five” to be identified by “their true names [and] capacities when ascertained.”
In an incident which Sheriff Bob Doyle later blamed on my talking over the head of a “beat deputy,” I was chained and handcuffed on March 1 a year ago and taken to the psych ward at Marin General Hospital as supposedly being at risk of suicide.
Atty. Bedford in presenting a claim against county, which was routinely rejected, described what happened to me on that Wednesday morning while I was reading that day’s Chronicle and finishing breakfast:
“Without warning, a deputy from the Marin County Sheriff’s Department appeared at Mitchell’s home and asked to enter the residence. The deputy questioned him at length about his mental state and suicidal tendencies.
“Mitchell cooperated with the deputy and explained that he did not intend to commit suicide anytime in the near future and that he was not a danger to himself or anyone else.”
In fact, as atty. Bedford’s claim notes, I “was busy at home preparing for a court hearing scheduled for the following morning involving a civil matter and was preparing to receive two major achievement awards.”
The Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter was about to present me with a “lifetime achievement” award during a ceremony in San Francisco, and I was in the midst of lining up rides for friends attending from West Marin. Presenting the award would be KQED radio host Michael Krasny (to my left above) and CBS-Channel 5 news anchor Ken Bastida (to my right).
The second award was a Resolution of Commendation from the Marin Board of Supervisors on the occasion of my retirement. During the presentation ceremony, I would also receive US House of Representatives honors thanks to Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.
I was hosting a reception in a Civic Center garden following the ceremony, and that week, I was working out the details with a caterer. Ironically, among the guests I had invited was Sheriff Bob Doyle, but after I asked him how it happened that I was mistakenly taken into custody, Doyle chose not to attend.
“Furthermore,” atty. Bedford noted, a windstorm Sunday night-Monday morning had ripped shingles off my roof, and I “had scheduled roofers to come and fix [my] roof in two days.”
After receiving my awards, I planned to spend much of the rest of the year taking “victory lap” to see cousins elsewhere in the United States and in Canada, I told deputy Todt. And, in fact, I subsequently did.
Well, what about next year — after my “victory lap?” Todt asked. Would I commit suicide then? I laughed and told the deputy it was a ridiculous question, mentioning a character in French literature who was about to commit suicide, but the national elections were that day, and he wanted to know who would win. By the time the results were in, I told the deputy, the guy was no longer interested in suicide.
You can’t predict how anyone will feel about much of anything in a year, five years, or 20 years, I pointed out with good humor. And if I were to someday kill myself, I twice told deputy Todt, “it would almost certainly take the form of smoking myself to death.”
Deputy Todt, who presented himself as having developed expertise in dealing with people in crisis, asked me a few more questions about suicide in general. Because of the generality of the questions, I told him what some important thinkers had written about it. Having taught college World Literature, I was familiar with, for example, what Herman Hesse in Steppenwolf and Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus had to say about suicide.
The opening sentence of Camus’ famous essay, I told Todt, is: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” However, I stressed that Camus also wrote that even if one decides life isn’t worth living, that doesn’t mean he will, or should, commit suicide. I quoted Camus as pointing out, “The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and the body shrinks from annihilation.”
The fact that I was conversant on a topic Camus considered the “one truly serious philosophical problem” apparently caused deputy Todt to assume I must be ready to commit suicide. I was then handcuffed, chained, and hauled off in the cage of a patrolcar to the psych ward. I didn’t resist; there was no point; but I was mortified.
“Mitchell suffered much of the day in an austere sitting room with drunks and mentally disabled people,” atty. Bedford’s claim noted. “Later that day, Mitchell was eventually examined by personnel at the hospital. Those personnel determined that Mitchell was not suicidal, that he had no emergent psychiatric issues, and that he should be released to go home….
“The personnel at the hospital called a taxi for Mitchell and arranged for payment of the $70 cab fare from the hospital back to Mitchell’s residence in Point Reyes. Mitchell gave the cab driver a $10 tip.”
I later complained to Sheriff Doyle that I apparently was taken into custody for merely giving straightforward answers to an unsophisticated deputy who was posing as sophisticated in such matters. “What got you into trouble,” the sheriff responded, “was answering the door.”
Wow! I had always considered the sheriff’s deputies my friends, and now the sheriff himself was telling me I was putting myself at risk by answering their knock at the door. “Unless they have a warrant,” atty. Bedford has since added. Doyle’s response was as threatening as Todt’s had been humiliating.
Doyle bristled when I pointed out that the timing of the deputy’s arrival that Wednesday morning was suspicious and that perhaps his deputies had been deliberately misled.
As it happened, I had learned at midday Tuesday that I had a court hearing with the new owner of The Point Reyes Light, Robert Plotkin, Thursday morning. After talking with atty. Bedford, I discovered I had only a few hours to collect witnesses’ statements against Plotkin and had begun doing so. Todt’s action effectively sabotaged my ability to adequately present my side of the case.
So why did deputy Todt come to the door that morning? Supervisor Steve Kinsey told me that, according to Sheriff Doyle, Lt. Scott Anderson, commander of the West Marin substation, sent Todt to my home in response to statements from Plotkin. In a deposition, Plotkin later admitted he’d told deputies I was suicidal.
The new owner of The Light Robert Plotkin lives well but currently owes former staff and his former printer thousands of dollars.
Before my lawsuit was filed, I told Supervisor Kinsey my main concern was to have government records cleared of my having been mistakenly taken into custody as supposedly on the verge of suicide.
In this age of Homeland Security checks and a few officers, such as Todt, who sometimes don’t exercise common sense, having a Sheriff’s Department blunder on my record could come back to haunt me.
Kinsey did his best to intercede on my behalf but got nowhere. Doyle and the County Counsel seemed to think I wouldn’t risk the embarrassment of publicly admitting what happened to me. That’s the way rape victims were intimidated from pressing charges until the courts stopped identifying them by name.
Because Sheriff Doyle refused to take an administrative action to clear my name, we now have a lawsuit that will set the record straight and inevitably cost county government thousands of dollars to defend.