By Zappa Montag
The following is a detailed account of how the Mendocino County Sheriff Department, and law enforcement community, painted me as Meth dealer for an arrest that had nothing to do with Meth, and in fact involved a small amount of Psilocybin Mushrooms. It is also intended to show the steps I have taken to try to fight this abuse, and how I have been met by various techniques that seem designed to thwart my efforts and cause me to give up. I also want to convey some of the harm and stress this has caused me. It is a long read because I wanted to cover all the bases, and introduce some important issues for further exploration. I also list some concrete steps at the end that can be done to help me and others in my situation as this does not appear to be an isolated incident.
The Mendocino County Sheriff Department appears to have been, and may still be, engaged in an unethical, dangerous, and perhaps illegal practice, of misrepresenting non Meth related arrests(in particular for Mushrooms) as involving Meth. When they have arrested people for drugs such as Mushrooms, they have chosen to use the statute that is most closely related to Meth, the Health and Safety Codes 11378, and 11379, and more egregiously, the have listed the arrests in the booking log as having been for “Meth/ETC”, rather than specifying that the arrest was for “Psilocybin”, or using the more generic catch all phrasing of “Controlled Substance”. When a booking log for an arrest is created there are far reaching consequences as local media outlets in a place like Mendocino County (where news is slow apparently), and bottom feeding Mugshot extortionists websites, immediately publish the arrests details and the world is now privy to the information as provided by the arresting/booking agency. Therefore, how these arrests are phrased have immediate and serious consequences.
There is already a basic problem with relying on arrest reports from the police as an accurate source of information. When the police arrest someone they often jack up the initial charges so as to, make the arrest look big, create leverage to force the person arrested to accept an unfavorable plea deal, increase bail, and punish people they don’t like. Furthermore, the cops often lie or make mistakes, and thus the information contained in a booking log can be wildly inaccurate. Yet, this is the information that the world is given, and once it is on the internet, it is forever. You would think and hope that the police and media would take this responsibility pretty seriously, but it appears they do not.
In the case of the Mendocino County Sheriff department, invariably when they attached the METH/ETC label to an arrest, the local papers would drop the ETC part and just report that a person had been arrested for Meth. It is not surprising, as that is a logical assumption to make. It is kind of shocking that there was no communication between the local media and the police, as the Media left themselves open to some serious lawsuits based on their actions. I don’t know if the Sheriff Department has engaged in this behavior to punish people they don’t like, to misrepresent the nature of the arrests they are making to cover for some type of cooking of the books they are engaging in, or merely because they are lazy and don’t care. Whatever the case, these actions have serious negative consequences for the victims, and I am one of those victims.
so here is my story from the beginning until today..
On September 3, 2015, I was pulled over by Mendocino County Sheriff Officer Joseph Comer, in Fort Bragg, California. Under the guise of smelling Marijuana, Officer Comer searched my car and person, and found what was alleged to be over $45,000 in cash, around 3 pounds of weed, a baggy containing about an oz of psilocybin mushrooms, and various edible marijuana items, and various other items that indicated that I had been engaged in selling marijuana. Before I go any further I want to say a couple things in regards to this.
I don’t want to glorify the selling of weed, or make it sound like I was without any karmic fault for engaging in the practice of the hustle. I grew up in Mendocino, and my father was a grower, and one of the first people to be busted for growing by CAMP in 1984. He was/is a wise and humble man and he was never in the grow game to get rich. He was a true believer hippie at heart, who loved growing amazing plants. He used to warn me that the relatively easy money that some of my generation were starting to garner from growing weed in Mendo county, and the Emerald Triangle, was a corrupting influence, and that many people stopped pursuing other dreams in life and got stuck in the weed game. Although I was always a bit player in the hustle myself, I took his message to heart. I moved to the Bay Area, went to college, pursued an education career, started raising kids and so on. It wasn’t until I moved back up to Mendocino so that my daughter could get a better high school education in 2013, that I got more involved in the ever changing weed hustle.
For the first time in my involvement with selling weed I was starting to make a decent amount of money, especially in summer when pot was scarce, and the new style “light dep” crops could fetch a good chunk of change in the Bay Area. I admit that my father’s warning got lost on me. I had always been an activist, and I was trying to build a couple of community driven concepts, as well as start a legal weed business. In the past I had relied on working closely with fellow community activists to build initiatives, but now with the weed money I was in a “I will do and fund it myself” mentality. I was able to create a couple of great community events, and get my concepts rolling, but I had lost focus on actually building with the community.
I had also lost sight of the risks I was taking, and how those risks could affect others around me, especially my two kids. It was somewhat ironic that I was carrying the shrooms with me because I didn’t want to leave them at home where one of the kids might accidentally come across them. I had scored them at one of the summer music festivals, and really should have known better than to be carrying them around. The long of the short of it is, that my arrest caused a domino effect of bad consequences and stress for my kids. My daughter was just entering her senior year of High School. I had been her sole custodian since she was 10, and she was very reliant on my support, but I was now facing troubles that threatened our stability in many ways. My younger son, who still lived in Berkeley faced more subtle, but perhaps even greater stress due to my arrest. I had been traveling to the Bay as often as possible to see him, and had maintained a room in residence so we could spend nights together. With my arrest, and the financial fallout that came with it, I could no longer get to the Bay Area regularly to see him, and had no place to spend time with him. He was already feeling like I had made choices that didn’t take him into account, and this period of time strengthened those feelings. Bottom line is, regardless of how fucked up the laws are, I made choices that made my kids suffer.
I had however, always been mindful of being able to live with one’s choices. Perhaps because I grew up with such a unique name, in a very small town area, I was always mindful of how one’s reputation or “good name” was paramount. My dad used to quote Bob Dylan’s line which was something like “to live above the law, you must be honest”. To me this meant, live with your actions, and don’t do anything you can’t live with. I didn’t feel like there is anything morally wrong with selling weed, after all it was practically legal, and had always been accepted in the cultures I associated with. Magic mushrooms were also considered morally ok, and in fact myself, and others around me see them as a holy sacrament, a gift from mother nature to help guide us. Therefore, I was willing to live with the association with weed and mushrooms, should I ever get caught up, even if the karma and real life consequences were harsh.
So when I was bailed out of jail ( a $50, 000 dollar bail for a non violent first offence), thanks to some dear family friends who took a big chance using their house as collateral, my spirits were high. That is until the jail clerk who was releasing my property looked at me all crazy and said, “You seem to be in a pretty good mood, all things considered. They got all your money. ” I replied, “ I will survive, there is more to life than money”. She then said, “yeah, but Meth, that is some pretty serious stuff.” WHAAAATTT? That was the first I knew of the fuckery that Mendocino County was about to put me through. When I looked at booking papers my charges read… 11379 HS-F Sales of Meth/ETC, 11378 HS-F Possession for sale Meth/ETC, 11359 HS-F Possession for Sale Marijuana, 11360 Sale/Furnish Marijuana, 11370 HS-F Proceeds acquired from Drug Transactions.
I was simultaneously befuddled, outraged, and hopeful that this error would lead to getting my charges dropped. At the time I had bigger worries however, as I was looking at 5 felonies, some of which carried maximum minimums of years in prison. I gathered what was left of my funds, and hired a lawyer, Omar Figeroa, who was known as the best pot lawyer, and who also had working relationships with law enforcement in Mendocino County. He told me that based on my lack of a record, and the large amount of cash I had, it was likely that he could work a deal that would involve forfeiting the cash, in exchange for a my charges being dropped to a misdemeanor. This was pretty standard for Mendocino County ( they call it the Mendo Shakedown). When I asked him what the fuck was up with the Meth/ETC charge, he told me that the Sheriff Department in Mendo did this to “fuck with” people who had been busted with psychedelics. I was told the same thing by a couple of other people I knew in Mendocino. I was outraged, but also felt like I had to keep quiet and make a deal to stay out of prison without angering anyone by speaking up. I made plans to deal with it down the road.
Unfortunately, as soon as a Sheriff’s Department enters a person into a booking file, this file goes out to the public, and local media, as well as parasitic Mugshot extortion websites, publish whatever info is found in the Booking logs. here is an article discussing the nature of these sites. https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article211255899.html. These Mugshot sites are insidious and evil. They have set up parallel businesses that claim to be able to remove your entry, but as soon as you pay them off, another site pops up. There literally may be no way to remove your information from the web once you have been arrested. Google has tried to bury the Mugshot links deeper in a search so they don’t show up prominently by changing the algorithm. Other than that there may be no escape for the victims of this extortion racket, although many people are trying to fight them.
I assumed that Meth/ETC was a clever way of saying a drug that was in the Meth Category, that was not Meth, but of course everyone who reads the charges assumes that they mean Meth. Clearly the local papers made this assumption because in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, The Ukiah Daily Journal, and The Willits News, the editors had gone ahead and dropped the ETC, and just went ahead and published that I had been arrested for Meth. Later on when I contacted the Editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal, she admitted that she did not know what Meth/ETC meant, and had assumed that it meant Meth.
ME: This is not what your paper wrote. Meth/ETC is not the same as Methamphetamine. I was in fact arrested for suspicion of possession of Mushrooms. Why the Sheriff chose to characterize that as Meth/ETC is something you will have to ask them. You, however have a responsibility to correctly transpose such sensitive information. You completely mischaracterized my arrest, in the public. I need this to be rectified.
K.C. Meadows, at the time the editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal: We will check with the sheriff’s office about their definition of METH/ETC. If it is not methamphetamine, we will correct the log item but we will not remove the record entirely.
Me: Why haven’t you checked on this policy a long time ago? It is not up to you to decide how to characterize peoples arrest. Surely this is something that has come up many times. How is it possible that the policy is not clear?
K.C. Meadows, at the time the editor of the Ukiah Daily News: This is the first time the definition of METH/ETC has been brought up to us in a booking log item. As I said, we are happy to correct it, but I need to get their input so that we don’t incorrectly characterize it yet again. Once we correct it, you can show that to potential employers and accusers.
Ultimately she changed the wording to say Meth/ETC which it still says today.
I was very concerned with the false Meth branding from the beginning of my situation, but like I said I had bigger concerns initially. I was glad when my Lawyer struck a deal with the District Attorney to drop all my charges if I plead to a Misdemeanor Possession of over an ounce of Marijuana charge, and agreed to forfeit the $45,000 in cash without a fight. Although the cash was mostly not mine ( I was on my way to drop it off when I was arrested), I could see that I had no choice. Even though I was operating in an area of shadowy legality (selling to Medical dispensaries) there was not much chance of proving that I got the money “legally”. I took the deal. The terms of the deal were that I was to serve 2 years probation, follow all laws, complete 150 hours of Community Service, pay various court fees and fines, and register any weed plants with the county tag.
This seemed easy enough, but when I was pulled over by the Navarro Bridge about a month into my probation, due to a bad tail light, I saw how tenuous my reality was. My daughter was in the car with me, and we were searched as I had given up my protection against search by the terms of my probation. Luckily we were clean, but my license was suspended for a fix it ticket I had blown off. I was given a ticket and had to appear in court, and the DA tried to revoke my probation for lack of following all laws. This would have meant six months in Jail. This petition was luckily rejected as I had restored my license, but I began to really feel what thin ice I was skating on. I felt I had a duty to get my daughter graduated and off to college, and that I couldn’t risk any moves that could jeopardize that. This included making a big stink about the false meth charges. I felt that driving around the desolate roads of Mendo County was not safe, given that the Sheriff’s Department, and particularly my arresting Officer seemed to have something against me. I felt like I could easily be set up. Sounds paranoid perhaps, but given the circumstances, not unfounded.
Staying quiet and getting out of Mendocino as quickly as possible seemed like the best move. I also didn’t want to put my kids through more public shame by making a big thing out of the case. They already had been through enough. I decided to try to ride out my probation, and then apply for an expungement, which at the time I mistakenly believed would allow me to have my arrest record sealed. In the meantime, I told everyone in my social network what had happened, and tried to tell myself that untruths on the internet were not a true reflection of me, and that I would get through to a better day. For a while this worked out ok. My daughter graduated and was accepted to college, I found a room in Oakland, and moved back so I could be back around my son, and I found physical labor work that didn’t require extensive scrutiny of my online profile.
That was until a dangerously disturbed person with a long history of extremely abusive behavior turned her sights on me after we had a dispute which led to me unfriending her and blocking her on social media. I began to get messages from friends saying that this person was posting crazy lies about me, and including my mugshot and arrest record. Among other things she was saying that I had been arrested with large quantities of Meth, and had only been released to narc on people. I tried to ignore it for awhile, but I had so many people contacting me that I knew I had to do something to confront the situation. I knew that only the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department could verify that I had not been arrested for Meth, and I raised a big stink online about it. I knew I had to be loud and public or I would be ignored; and so I was until finally with the help of a small local online news publication, called the Mendocino Country Independent Newspaper, Sheriff Allman acknowledged that I had been improperly characterized as having been involved with Meth. Here is the initial post on the Mendocino Country news site from August 2, 2017
What if your record of arrest is inaccurate? Do you have recourse to get it corrected? We are about to find out. Zappa Montag was arrested in 2015 for what he admits is an illegal substance, psychedelic mushrooms. But according to Montag, the charge was listed as ‘meth.’ He believes meth is a bad substance and would never use that himself and certainly not encourage anyone else to take it. But he believes people do have a right to use a natural plant. So it makes a big difference to him – and his peer group – just what kind of substance is in question. He has always been uneasy about that wording. But it became a real issue recently when an enemy started using ‘a meth arrest’ to slander him. Of course he is now trying to get that wording corrected. Sheriff Allman is looking into it
And the resulting acknowledgement from the Sheriff as posted on their Facebook page
Sheriff Allman has looked into the matter and is poised to meet with Zappa Montag and write a letter stating that the arrest was for psilocybin mushrooms and that meth was not involved. I appreciate the Sheriff for understanding that the misrepresentation is NOT okay and for taking steps to fix this.
Well, you would think that should have been a huge step in the right direction right? Not even close. I had a lawyer, and long time friend of mine, contact Sheriff Allman on my behalf. I wanted everything to be on the official up and up, and I also knew that I had a Failure to Appear warrant out for me in Mendocino County. (The warrant seemed faulty, and ultimately it turned out it was.) Sheriff Allman was initially very friendly to my lawyer. Allman told him that a computer had “spit out” the wrong charges, and that I should have been charged under the natural drug statute. Even though this contradicted what I had been led to believe, I was willing to believe it. It also appeared to be backed up by an early document from my case, which indicates that I was initially charged with HS 11378.5, a sub statute of the 11378 Health and Safety code that covers PCP. PCP being called Meth/ETC seems to make a bit more sense. PCP even has a name, Phencyclidine, that is pretty close to Psilocybin.
Being that a letter alone was only going to do me so much good, and that I had suffered quite a bit from the erroneous charges, accidental or on purpose, my lawyer friend and I decided that contacting the DA to negotiate a more detailed settlement would make sense. I wanted to discuss a letter of apology, and possible compensation. District Attorney Eyster is notorious for being less than personable, and he lived up to his reputation in his return email to my friend from August 8, 2017.
My general policy is that I don’t discuss cases with attorneys when the defendant is subject to an outstanding bench warrant. Surrender on the warrant or post bail — I don’t care which — and we’ll talk. The bench warrant was ordered in the amount of $2000 on March 1, 2017. Apparently the probation failure stems from failing to either enroll in or complete community service hours.
Well then! My friend and I agreed that I should get up to Mendocino as soon as possible and clear the warrant, and then resume discussion. Due to some constraints I wasn’t able to do so for a couple of months. When I went before the judge, I explained to her that my belief was that since I had petitioned to transfer my community service hours to Alameda County, I wasn’t obligated to appear in court in Mendocino providing I sent in proof of completion. To my shock she not only agreed with me, but apologized for the error, and informed me that she was releasing me from probation effective immediately! That felt really good.
With that I asked my friend to resume discussion with the Sheriff and DA about the false Meth charges. In what should have not come as a surprise, he was met with non cooperation. In his initial exchange with the Sheriff, Mr. Allman stated that since he hadn’t heard back from us in a while, the letter must not be that important, and then he stopped returning calls. District Attorney Eyster had set my friends email to a spam setting so they wouldn’t go through, and was unreachable. Clearly they did not want to talk to us, and were no longer going to cooperate. Looking back, I now realize that what was probably going on is that they were stalling for the 2 year statute of limitations to pass on September 3, 2017, so that they would not be liable in a civil rights case for the erroneous charges going out. Once the deadline passed they decided that my concerns no longer mattered apparently.
At that time things in my life were taking a turn. I was confronted with two major family emergencies. My daughter returned home from College showing signs of a mental health crisis which grew worse over the next year and a half. Thankfully we got through it, and she is doing a lot better now. Yes! The other crisis involved my mom, who informed me that she had breast cancer. Unfortunately she had delayed treatment, and it was already approaching late stage. I didn’t feel like I had the capacity to fight it out with the Mendocino law enforcement establishment, but I still was seeking a resolution to the case. After doing some research, with the help of a couple dedicated friends, I discovered that there was a law that allowed for a person to appeal to the State Attorney General to get an improper Arrest Record change or removed. We carefully compiled the proper evidence, completed the paperwork, and sent the forms to Attorney General Becerra. I figured that since Sheriff Allman had already acknowledged that the record was in error, this was a no-brainer. My goal was to get the record amended, and then contact the various websites that contained the false Meth charges, and get them to change them accordingly.
After several months of waiting I received an answer from the State. They had made slight changes to my official arrest record based on information supplied to them by the Sheriff, but these changes were inconsequential, and did not involve amending the Meth charges. The letter stated that absent any more supporting material from the Sheriff, or a court order, they could not change the record any further. At that time, late December of 2018, I wrote a letter and sent it to Sheriff Allman, DA Eyster, and the Undersheriff Kendall, requesting the additional information. This is the letter.
On September 3, 2015, I was arrested in Ukiah, California while in possession of Marijuana and Psilocybin mushrooms. I was charged with 11378 Possession with Intent to sell Methamphetamines and 11379(a) Transport with intent to sell Methamphetamines, and 11359, 11360 for the marijuana, even though I had no Meth in my possession. On November 16, 2015, I pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of Marijuana, 11357(c), and the original charges against me were dismissed for insufficient evidence. I received two years Court supervised probation which I successfully completed.
I am writing to request your assistance in my efforts to have the records for my arrests for 11378, and 11379(a) be removed as I was never in possession of methamphetamine.
I filed for a petition of Removal of Arrest Record with the Records Review section of the state’s Department of Justice. I received a response stating that they could not remove these charges without supporting documentation from you, the arresting law enforcement agency, or from an order of the court.
I am writing in the hope that you will provide me with the necessary documentation. I have attached a copy of my petition for records change and the response that I received from the Records Review Section.
I am hoping that you can respond to this request by Friday, January 4, 2019 so that I might proceed further with my efforts to clear my record.
The date for a response came and went with no reply, but again I was beset by larger, life issues. My mom’s health took a drastic turn for the worse, and she passed away in early February of this year. Soon after that in late March, I received my own shocking health news. My heart was severely blocked and I required immediate Quadruple Bypass Open Heart Surgery. I spent my 50th Birthday, on April 8th, recovering in the hospital.
I am grateful to be here. I miss my mom….and I still want my name cleared, and I want a measure of justice for the stress, the damage to my reputation, the difficulty this situation has put on my ability to make a living. There is only so much physical labor I can do though at this point, even though I do enjoy it. I realize that my arrest makes it difficult, but there is a world of difference in nearly everyone’s eyes between a Meth conviction, and Shroom conviction. Tell me that ain’t true?
So I have resumed my quest. Another lawyer friend has offered to contact the Mendocino County Counsel on my behalf. I contacted the Willits News, and a new editor was much more sympathetic, or concerned that her paper contained libelous information about me, and as of now the listing of my arrest appears to have been removed. I also decided to send a follow up email to Mendocino County Undersheriff Kendall asking why they had not responded to my request to supply the information to the State Attorney General to exonerate me of the Meth charges. I was not expecting a reply, and was surprised to get this response.
11378 HS which covers possession of methamphetamine also makes it illegal to possess for sale non-narcotic controlled substances, including stimulants, “party drugs” psilocybin mushrooms and illegal steroids in addition to methamphetamines. Therefore the charge of 11378, and 11379 was correctly indicated by the arresting officer at the time of the arrest. I am unsure why the charge as possession of methamphetamine, in my experience the narrative description normally reads “Possession of a controlled substance” however based on the criminal report it appears your were in possession or constructive possession of psilocybin mushrooms and the charge was correctly indicated by the arresting deputy.
This response appears to directly contradict the explanation supplied by Sheriff Allman that a computer error had caused the wrong charge to be spit out. It does point to the troubling possibility that I was singled out with misleading and dangerous wording attached to my arrest. I do know that there is more than one statute that shrooms fall under, and that an arrest could be labeled specifically as being for Psilocybin, or generally as being for a Controlled Substance. Either one is far more preferable than the extremely dangerous and false Meth/ETC label. There is hardly a drug that an association with could cause more damage to one’s reputation than Meth. I am not having it!
At this point, I need some straight answers. For this reason, and many others I am writing this piece and asking people to share widely. It appears that either the Mendocino County Sheriff deputy who prepared my arrest report singled me out for extrajudicial punishment by choosing wording that would clearly mark me a Meth dealer for life, or a computer error caused the problem and the Sheriff’s Department has refused to do what is necessary to correct the problem and clear my name. Either way, I am tired of being bullied and abused by them, and law enforcement in general. I am not going to let it slide, and live with a false Meth association for the rest of my life. Had I actually had Meth, I would have dealt with it, and asked the community for understanding, but that is not the case. This has had severe consequences on my life, and stresses me out every day. I already have heart issues. Enough is enough. Community I need your help in a variety of ways.
Here is what you can do to help me out.
1) Contact the Mendocino Sheriff Department, and ask them, in a reasoned manner, to: A) fix this issue by contacting the Attorney General and telling him to remove the false Meth charge, B) contact all the websites that were given the incorrect or misleading information and delete it immediately, C) issue a public apology to me for the pain and suffering they have caused, D) issue a report outlining what went wrong and how they will fix it, including what they policy is regarding the use of the misleading term Meth/Etc, and whether it is still in use (I think they stopped using that term after they realized they were going to face scrutiny based on my case), E) discipline any Officers who acted improperly.
The main Sheriff Dept phone number:
Undersheriff Matthew Kendall
951 Low Gap Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
2) Contact the Ukiah Daily Journal and ask them to do the right thing and remove the arrest record from their archives that falsely label me as a Meth dealer. ( this record shows up prominently in a simple Google search of my name).
|Main Phone Directory: (707) 468-3500
**Late breaking news. The Ukiah Daily Journal may be changing the entry based on my latest request.
3) Support efforts by groups like the Right to Remove, who are fighting against the Mugshot extortion industry.
4) Follow my website and blog at https://blacktotheland.com/ and subscribe even.
5) Donate to my legal defense fund, and help me to clear my name and possibly sue those responsible for damaging my reputation and ability to support myself and my family. Paypal firstname.lastname@example.org
6) Support reparations and justice efforts for victims of the criminal justice system, in general, and victims of the War on Drugs in particular.
7) Refer me to anyone who might have a decent paying job in an area that I would be qualified for.
8) Share this article with people to help me get the word out, and to regain my good name to those who were exposed to the false information about me.
9) Put me in contact with any Civil Rights lawyers who are willing to help clear my name.