The Coastal Post - September 2000

The Barricade

By Timothy O. Horvath

Bobby Heffelfinger must have felt it was his duty to intervene when he walked over to ask the two Marin County Sheriff's why they were shouting obscenities and menacing me with a nightstick. That is why he did intervene and that is why this story must be told.

It is an unwritten rule in the unwritten doctrine of the Cowboy Code of Ethics (CCE) that, "One never stops a fair fight." The doctrine of the Cowboy Code of Ethics is chock full of "Always" and "Nevers." For example rule of the CCE #23: Always open the door for a lady. Including prostitutes, not barring transvestites.

CCE #1: Never shoot an unarmed man.

CCE #2 Always intervene when (a) there are two guys on one; or (b) The fight is unfair and unjust and no good would come form the imminent result.

Bobby Heffelfinger saw two cops menacing me, a seventeen year old person who he knew to be of reasonable moral character and certainly not deserving of what he was getting. That is why Bobby Heffelfinger felt it was his duty to intervene.

As I see it, my crime was exercising my First Amendment right of Freedom of speech with my middle finger pointing in the air and the rest of my fingers all innocently curled over. I think I may have hurt the cop's feelings when I aimed all this at the bright spotlight that was aimed directly on me by a member of the Marin County Sheriffs Department.

I was standing in what used to be Bagley's lot, across from the Bolinas Store, minding my own business when two Marin County Sheriff's cars came racing to a stop in front of the Bolinas Store. (I heard later that there had been a burglary at the Shop, which was next to the Bolinas Store and is now called the Coast Cafe. Ursula Tacherra called the cops to report the incident. I was not familiar with the deputies and I soon gathered that they were not at all familiar with the ways of Bolinas folk.

The spotlight shone from one of the deputy's vehicles. I stood there watching the light shine around the town, illuminating the parts of the store and the shop. But then the light circled to the left and it was heading in my direction. To my surprise it landed on me. I do not mind that so much, but when the light refused to leave I naturally responded with a hardy "Fuck You!" gesture and held it there. It was not long before a short, pudgy and irritated cop approached me using extremely foul language. I only know this as Officer Miller.

Officer Miller obviously intended to instill in me a sense of fear because I was not intimidated by the spotlight. He decided to thump on my chest with his nightstick. Pulling me with one hand and holding the nightstick over my head we landed at the squad car where Officer Miller continued with his foul language, accusations of my drunkenness and more thumping on my chest. I was pushed back on to the Sheriff's car and getting a night stick bounced off me while the two cops told me I was drunk (which I have been many times in my life but not contemporaneously) and "a fucking asshole." They did ask one question: "Do you have anything to say to me besides flippin' me off?" I replied with "Yeah, I don't like having your lights shined in my eyes."

It was a pretty brave thing for me to say and the only thing I could really muster, since I was only seventeen at the time. I was well aware of fowl language having been a Bolinas School graduate. I was also aware of what it was like to get my ass kicked for mouthing off, so I kept it clean. The nightstick bounced some more as I was told that I was fuckin' drunk and to go home.

Bobby Heffelfinger was just trying to keep things from escalating when asking, "What is going on," and stating, "He is a good kid," referring to me. Officer Wilson responded by asking who he was. Wilson then demanded some identification from Bobby. When Bobby attempted to comply with Wilson's request by reaching for his wallet in his back pocket, Wilson used the opportunity to try and get some handcuffs onto Bobby's wrists.

Meanwhile I had been trying to do as I was told and go home. Reluctantly, I turned and faced out of town and began to walk. When the anger and the humiliation had just become enough, I turned and headed back just in time to see Officer Miller double-teaming Heffelfinger with Officer Wilson (which wasn't enough to hold Bobby). I heard the scuffle and turned to see a struggle with another person, Ursula Tacherra. Then, Bobby Heffelfinger sprinting down towards the wharf, with one handcuff on and Officer Wilson in slow, but heated pursuit, on foot (which again, wasn't enough).

Like Bobby Heffelfinger, Ursula Tacherra would not have intervened unless she felt that her dear friend's safety was being compromised. I know that she said something to the policemen in the effect of "leave my brother alone." I cannot remember verbatim but I do recall her calling Bobby her brother.

Ursula Tacherra was most certainly instrumental in Bobby's rescue from harm. However at great sacrifice to herself. Initially, Peace Officer Miller hit her in the stomach with a nightstick. I later found out that she had experienced more physical abuse at the hands of the Miller and Wilson.

Ursula was under arrest and in one of the cars. This is when Gary Fontan came out of Smiley's and asked Officer Miller why Ursula was under arrest. Miller refused to answer. Gary then approached Officer Wilson who tried to negotiate the release of Ursula for the return of Bobby Heffelfinger. No deal. Meanwhile people began to fill the streets. Appalled by the apparent governmental oppression.

Revolution was in the air that night.

Officers Miller and Wilson could not possibly have ever been prepared for the terror that they had so unwittingly unleashed upon themselves.

Gary Fontan did not look like much of a threat. He was skinny, wore an Afro and spoke coolly and directly. At times, Gary looked more like a white version of Jimi Hendrix. A look which he preferred.

No cop could intimidate a man like Gary. Gary had already looked at death and pain squarely at an earlier time in his life when his kidneys failed and he had to borrow one from his brother Randy (another hero).

Officer Wilson's attempt at negotiating Ursula's freedom was to Gary like trying to negotiate an inalienable right that we all possessed and held from the day of birth. Trying to negotiate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with a man who was willing to die fighting for it was an exercise in futility at best. It was liberty or death for Gary any time anywhere.

Once the cops realized that negotiating with Gary was useless they decided to try and find Bobby on their own.

Miller and Wilson had just turned the corner down Wharf when Gary jumped in his Orange VW and parked it blocking as much of the street in front of Smiley's as possible.

Gary got out of the car in a fury and ran straight for the nearest garbage dumpster, straining to push the thing out in the street. Boaz, AKA Donald Walker, ran over and began pulling it and so did I. The situation had now escalated to an extreme level. It seemed that there were at least a hundred people in the street. We found as many Dumpsters as we could and pulled them all out into the street to form a barricade.

Nobody had a plan except Gary. And that plan was to get his girlfriend back from the cops and get her some medical help.

When the supply of dumpsters down town was exhausted and the barricade was built, Boaz and I blended into the crowd trying to look like we had just watched the whole thing.

But Gary took his place behind the barricade. I was amazed at his courage. He just stood there with his hands on a Dumpster and waited for Miller and Wilson to try and leave this town with a hostage. This was a significant moment in my life when it became glaringly apparent to me that there were some men that could not be intimidated, bought, or sold, and others that would stop at nothing to oppose those who would oppress.

The streets filled with onlookers and cheerers grew silent while we all waited together to see what would happen when the cops came back from the end of Wharf Road. Meanwhile, Bobby Heffelfinger was at a friends house on the mesa, cutting off the pesky handcuffs with boltcutters.

The moment came when the two Marin County Sheriffs vehicles came around the corner of Wharf Road to find the sidewalks full of people and the Street blocked by one Orange VW, several garbage dumpsters and one fearless Gary Fontan.

The first cop car hit the barricade at a fairly high rate of speed, knocking Gary to the ground, getting through and getting out of town. The second car simply went through the same hole the first car had made however the second car hit the side of one of the dumpsters sending it spinning. The Deputies escaped unharmed but Gary was injured and was sent to the hospital.

Epilogue

There were numerous charges filed against Bobby Heffelfinger, Gary Fontan, Boaz and Ursula Tacherra. Bobby Heffelfinger and Gary Fontan were found to be not guilty, the charges against Boaz were dropped due to lack of evidence, Ursula plead out to a much lesser charge such as disturbing the peace or interfering with a peace officers and she was fined $50. Interfering with a peace officer who is beating up your friends is really a duty rather than a crime. Especially if that officer has exceeded his privilege to arrest and detain by using excessive force and generally acting the school yard bully.

Gary later settled a civil suit against the Marin County Sheriffs Dept. The proceeds were used to have a party that lasted a week and included everything.

The defense team was lead by Tony Serra, Diana Samuelson and Jim Guy Tucker. All of whom were totally dedicated to the cause and to affecting positive social change as the outcome.

Unfortunately positive social change did not occur within the Sheriffs Dept. The situation that occurred between Albe Foreman and Marin County Sheriffs Deputy Rodriguez makes me feel that there is a lot more work to be done within our community. Here we have a situation where a citizen feels compelled to intervene because there is a cop who has exceeded his privilege to arrest and detain by using excessive force on two women.

Albe merely did what any good man would do. Forsaking his own safety, Albe intervened and took it to the level that Rodriguez had taken it. Albe Foreman was criminally prosecuted and later exonerated. He should have been given a Congressional Medal of Honor. But the system does not know how to say, "Hey, I am sorry I blew it," instead they vilify a good man in order to save face. But in the fight to save face they really are losing their grasp on the entire peace officer concept by driving a giant wedge between citizens and cops.

If the whacko cops were weeded out of the system by a group made up of citizen calling themselves something like a Police Conduct, Quality, and Standards committee things would be better. They could meet quarterly and review all the police misconduct notes on each local cop and even interview the complainants to get a true and fair feel of the situation.

We would not only have better relations with the Sheriffs Dept., but being a Deputy would become an honorable profession that some of our younger generation see as an opportunity to give back to the community. Imagine anyone of the young people that we know in Bolinas saying, "I am going to be a COP someday because I love my town," and they would carry out there duties as police with a new sense of humility, dignity and being a part of.

What If?

Meanwhile, Bobby Heffelfinger was at a friends house on the mesa, cutting off the pesky handcuffs with boltcutters .

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