Flower Felony: 18 Days in Jail, Thanks to a Take Back Santa Cruz Mob

Charges dismissed against man accused of stealing flowers from memorial to fallen Santa Cruz police officers

By Cathy Kelly
Posted:   03/21/2013 04:42:31 PM PDT
Click photo to enlarge

Ken Maffei ( SCS )
SANTA CRUZ — Charges were dropped Thursday against a Santa Cruz man accused of stealing flowers from a memorial to fallen police detectives Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker and Elizabeth Butler.

As attorneys said in court, Kenneth Eugene Maffei, 53, bought the flowers March 1 and had been leaving a box of Allbright’s doughnuts at the North Branciforte Avenue memorial to the fallen officers. He lingered there for about 45 minutes when a woman spotted him picking the flowers up and walking off.

The woman called police, who stopped him. Maffei was too intoxicated to explain and made inconsistent statements, defense and prosecution lawyers said. He was arrested and charged with theft and public intoxication.

Maffei had been on his way to a motel with the flowers “for a lady friend,” defense attorneys said. They said he wrote “R.I.P.” on the $1 box of doughnuts.

His arraignment hearing March 5 drew more than a dozen Take Back Santa Cruz members as Judge John Gallagher kept him in County Jail with bail set at $5,000. Maffei was in custody for 18 days, said Larry Biggam of Biggam, Christensen & Minsloff, the primary public defender firm in the county.

“This case was a classic ‘rush to judgment’ — from the arrest, to the high bail (at arrest), to the harsh judgments in the media,” Biggam said. “Mr. Maffei has been demonized and has served 18 days in jail for a crime he did not do.

“Yes, these are difficult and sensitive times in our

community, and I understand people’s concerns.

But we need to address those concerns with facts, not fear, and with fairness, not prejudgments.”

Maffei was nearby when Baker and Butler were killed by a suspect Feb. 26. He went to the street-side memorial to pay his respects, Biggam said.

Another defense attorney, Jack Lamar Jr., came to court with a letter from Erika Hearon of the Davenport Resource Service Center stating Maffei had been a “valuable volunteer” for several years.

Biggam said Maffei was not a “transient,” as police stated, but has lived in Santa Cruz for 31 years.

The defense found a receipt for the flowers among Maffei’s belongings in County Jail, Lamar said.

District Attorney Bob Lee said follow-up investigation raised doubts as to Maffei’s guilt and that his office was “doing its due diligence to determine what had happened.” He said once prosecutors got the new evidence from the defense, it prompted a thorough investigation by inspectors who concluded the flowers belonged to Maffei.

Prosecutor Jennifer Hutchinson requested both misdemeanor charges against Maffei be dismissed. She said searching Maffei’s personal belongings in jail “is something we can’t do.”

“From the DA’s Office, this is a pursuit of truth,” she said.

Judge John Salazar said the District Attorney’s Office could have waited until the eve of the trial to drop the charges, and he said he thought it “was not an unreasonable conclusion” to believe Maffei had stolen the flowers given the circumstances and initial evidence.

“It’s a good reminder that sometimes people charged did not commit the crime,” Salazar said. “And we have a system that finds that out, at least eventually.”

Maffei attended the hearing, as a free man. When questioned outside court, he smiled and said he “probably shouldn’t say anything.”

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Brent Adams  · Video Journalist, Filmmaker at Subcommondante Films comments:
tbsc has their priorities wrong. They are creating and harvesting pain and fear and using it for a political agenda that hurts our community instead of helps it.
More than a dozen tbsc were in court for this?? Is this a “public safety issue”??
I think not. Where are they when homeless people are being cited for just sleeping? Where are they when people’s personal belongings are being trashed??
There is no place for 90% of homeless people to sleep tonight. Census stats show that 70% of local homeless are from here. And yet, they go after basic sustenance food programs at the Homeless Services Center.. is that about Public Safety?
Santa Cruz Sanctuary Camp. Join the conversation.
A special salute to Judge John Salazar for wisely reminding us of the generosity of the D.A.’s office in allowing this flower-filcher to be released after only 18 days when he could (and surely should) have been held until trial.
And to Judge John (“Justice is my Middle Name”) Gallagher for standing firm against any hysterical or hasty action and wisely putting Maffei, the petunia pincher, behind bars on $5000 bail.
Another to the D.A.’s office which has shown in other cases—like my own Santa Cruz Eleven prosecution—that money is no object in Keeping Santa Cruz Safe from marijuana smokers, homeless campers, and political protesters. Though it may cost tens of thousands more in the upcoming trials of the remaining 4 and caused one D.A. To flee town—Rebekah Young left for Texas last Friday– D.A. Bob Lee has assured us that the more trivial cases of murder, assault, and burglary aren’t being stalled because of his focus on ending the “culture of tolerance”.
We can’t be sure, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the Sheriff’s office for holding this rhododendron robber in stir where he belonged instead of embarrassing everyone by revealing the receipt (probably forged anyway).
And a shout-out to the Public Defenders who took only 18 days to find the receipt that showed the apparent innocence of this geranium-grabbing Maffei. These hard-working attorneys were plenty busy saving the County money by squeezing guilty pleas out of the riffraff cluttering up the court docket.
Not to mention the deep research done by the Sentinel in its even-handed investigation of this case (as shown by its wise commentary on the Menace of Illegal Campsites, the Dangers of Needle Exchange, and, of course, the Perils of Keeping Santa Cruz Weird)!
Let’s not forget the ever-vigilant SCPD who saw through Maffei’s clever act in concealing his obvious drunkenness from a crowd of mourners for 45 minutes and had him arrested for being unable to take care of himself (the legal definition of drunk in public). Puzzling, of course, is the disappearance of the surely-justified Drunk-in-Public charge. Perhaps this is another example of our soft-heated drug-tolerating, homeless-enabling community! We know the SCPD would never have labeled a person drunk and unable to take care of themselves without justification!
Finally, a slap on the back to the patriots at Take Back Santa Cruz who roused the crowd at court to demand the judicious Judge Gallagher hold this rose-loving rogue in a safe place. I understand they’ll be advancing the Keep Santa Cruz Straight campaign at City Council, making our community safe from needle-strewing homeless junkie-loving flower thieves and the bureaucrats who protect them.
One can’t but marvel at their broader many-pronged strategy to slash away the homeless cluttering the Santa Cruz landscape like so many toxic weeds: “starve ’em out” by cutting the funding of homeless services; “slap ’em awake” with more police sweeps; culminating in the “strip ’em naked” plan—with Parks and Rec crews confiscating their criminal clothing.
But while I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who want to Keep Santa Cruz Safe, I must insist that we show our own tolerance and good sense: Keep TBSC, the D.A., the Sentinel, the Courts, the Sheriffs, and the Public Defender’s Office Weird!