UKIAH, CA -- Using a large
aerial photo of the shooting scene, Deputy District Attorney Aaron Williams began opening statements with "the people's" version of what happened the night
of April 14, 1995. "This man here," he said, pointing at Bear Lincoln, "concealed himself from
Deputy Davis, so that when Davis started across the road, this man here fired
from his concealed position, intending to kill Bob Davis."
The three killings that took place on the Round Valley Indian Reservation that day started with a confrontation at Covelo's lone gas station. Bear Lincoln and his friend Leonard Peters warned a young adult, Neil Britton, not to testify against Peters' teenage son about an earlier shooting. Neil punched Peters in the face, bloodying his nose. Bear stepped in and told him, "If you want to hit somebody, hit me." Neil's teenage sister told him not to fight Bear because she thought she saw a pistol tucked in his waistband.
Neil and his sister left. She went to her parents' house and told them Neil was threatened and that she thought Bear was armed. The parents, Claudette and Gene Britton, drove to town carrying a rifle. At the gas station, they encountered Leonard Peters' brother Arylis along with his friend Les Lincoln and his wife. Arylis and Les were drunk; one or both stared at the Brittons, waiting for them to leave the station.
When the Brittons drove to the high school to watch a basketball game, the other car tailgated them and pulled into the parking lot behind them. Gene saw there would be a fight and got out of his car. Arylis had a gun. Gene said, "Is that all you've got? I've got one too," and started to reach into his car for his rifle. He was shot in the head in front of his family, and the car with the shooter left.
When first police arrived they found a hostile crowd. Death threats were being exchanged between family members and supporters of the Brittons and of the Lincolns and Peters, who are related. Other deputies arrived including Deputy Bob Davis, who lived in nearby Willits but whose beat included Round Valley. The deputies knew who the suspects were and where to find them. They quickly arrested Les and his wife, who told police that she dropped Arylis off at the foot of Little Valley Road.
up with Deputy Dennis Miller, who was from the other
side of the county and not as familiar with Round Valley. They took a
four-wheel-drive patrol vehicle and began their mission to find and arrest
Arylis, and also to prevent further bloodshed by keeping the Brittons and
the Lincoln/Peters groups apart. They set up a surveillance point where Arylis had been dropped off.
The first car stopped was driven by a Bunny Hoaglen, followed next by a vehicle driven by Bear's mother, Lucille Lincoln. She told them she'd just dropped Arylis off at Hoaglen's house. Davis and Miller, together with other deputies, went to Hoaglen's, but did not find Arylis.
The two deputies returned to their surveillance point. As time passed they heard a radio call saying that the Brittons were out looking for revenge. Davis told Miller, "I don't think this is going to end here."
Because he was more familiar with the area, Davis took the lead in suggesting what to do. People were watching them with binoculars, he said, and told Miller that they would never catch Arylis Peters by staying there. He drove the car up Little Valley Road to the summit of the ridge, backing the patrol vehicle off the road onto an intersecting fire trail. They would have a good view of anyone passing by on the road.
It was a very cold night, but they had the window down so they could see and hear better (although the police radio was also on). They saw two people walking up the road from Little Valley, the one in front carrying a rifle.
Both officers got out and took positions on either side of the patrol car. Davis used his command voice, saying "Sheriff's Department, drop your gun" two or three times.
Leonard "Acorn" Peters, the man in front, yelled back, "Fuck you, drop your gun." Bear Lincoln said nothing; he just started firing at the deputies. The officers fired back with 9 mm pistols, killing Leonard Peters.
says that Peters was in front and fired
his rifle at them, but evidence
shows Peters' gun was never fired. No spent 30-30 shells were found, but a
live round from Peters' gun was found down the road at a point where he
could have heard the deputies' police radio. From Lincoln's position behind Leonard Peters, investigators found a number of spent
.223 caliber shell casings and Bear's hat.
Davis was hit in the hand in that first exchange of gunfire, and crawled behind the patrol car. Miller radioed the first emergency call: "11-99, officer needs assistance." He then grabbed Davis' M-16 military assault rifle, which he was qualified to use. Davis told him, "I think I've been hit."
The second firefight was almost five minutes later. The deputies thought the other man was flanking them. They decided to leave the vehicle and cross the road to take cover in some trees below a drop-off.
Miller turned on a recorder in his shirt pocket. On tape, Davis says, "Dennis, you got me covered?" Miller says yes. Davis says, "Hold on, I'm going to check the guy and make sure he doesn't jam us."
Miller saw a gun flash down the road and fired on full automatic in that direction, took another step and fell over the drop-off. He heard more gunfire while he was down. When he got up, he saw that Davis had been hit. Bear Lincoln took one more wild shot, then fled. Quoting a letter fron Bear, he admitted, "the reason I stayed there is they killed my best friend."
Other deputies were arriving and about 15 minutes later, Lucille Lincoln drove up the road. To help Bear escape, they sent Lucille and younger family members including two babies to the scene of the firefight. The deputies made a felony car stop with guns drawn because they thought Arylis was in the car. There was some strong language from the officers, "fucking this and fucking that."
Deputies learned someone had dropped off Arylis Peters at his house. They thought he was the one who killed Davis. They surrounded his house quietly and took the time to get a warrant. Hours later, they arrested him for the murder of Gene Britton.
County officers were called in; when there is an officer-involved shooting, it's customary to have another agency
investigate to avoid the appearance of a coverup.
Dep. Paul Lozada of Sonoma checked the crime scene. It was a "hot" scene, meaning they were afraid of possible danger to officers. They put out a S.W.A.T. team. The weather was very cold and it was starting to snow. Lozada was told to work quickly and not take the time to make the usual careful measurements which would precisely note the location of all the evidence.
Lozada was looking for evidence of a .308 caliber weapon, which is what he was told that Arylis carried. They felt it was Peters who shot Davis.
Lozada found none of that caliber, but lots of .223 casings. Some were shiny new brass used by the deputies, and the other was tarnished and reloaded. Investigators never found a .223 rifle used by Lincoln, but found shell casings of that size around his house that matched the ones at the crime scene.
Four days later, deputies intercepted a letter from Bear to his girlfriend saying, "The pigs killed Acorn (Peters). They ambushed us, they didn't identify themselves or turn on any lights. We walked right into an ambush."
Said Williams, "The evidence will lead you to the defendant concealing himself and starting the second firefight. He made a choice not to flee, but stayed there, intending to kill the deputies."
As Williams concluded his opening statement he choked with emotion, and spoke so softly that it was impossible to make out his words from the press seats.
Albion Monitor August 5, 1997 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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