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Members of Take Back Santa Cruz outside the Santa Cruz County Courthouse after the tension-filled arraignment of a 53-year-old man accused of stealing a basket of flowers Friday from the memorial for fallen officers at Santa Cruz Police Department. Judge John Gallagher ruled that Kenneth Eugene Maffei must stay put, in County Jail, until the case is resolved, and that he will not be released on his own recognizance. (Cathy Kelly/Sentinel)
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SANTA CRUZ -- In a tense hearing Tuesday -- which drew a courtroom full of indignant Take Back Santa Cruz members -- a 53-year-old man appeared to face charges for allegedly stealing a basket of flowers from the memorial to fallen officers outside the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Kenneth Eugene Maffei, a transient, stood in the "box" reserved for in-custody inmates during the short hearing. He was calm at times and other times somewhat frantic as he strained against his handcuffs while talking with his attorney about what happened Friday afternoon when he was reportedly seen picking up the flowers and walking away with them.

In a courtroom crowded with misdemeanor cases and other troubled inmates, Maffei's attorney, public defender Jack Lamar Jr., made a careful pitch to have Maffei released from custody.

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Lamar told Judge John Gallagher that his new client had a good history of coming to court, except for one time.

Lamar said he was making the request respectfully and that there "might be some confusion" about why Maffei was at the memorial.

Maffei had been near the spot where Sgt. Loran "Butch" Baker and Elizabeth Butler were gunned down by suspect Jeremy Peter Goulet last week, intimating that was why he stopped at the memorial Friday, he said.


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Maffei was carrying a floral arrangement he had bought for a "lady friend" from a vendor near Burger King on Soquel Avenue when he stopped at the memorial and set the flowers down, and then picked them up again, Lamar said.

But the prosecutor was quick to step in and refute that account and the bid to release Maffei.

"The people absolutely object," prosecutor Jennifer Hutchinson said. "The people in this community are mourning the loss of these two officers ... And Ms. Sparks here (pointing to a woman behind her in the audience) saw him steal the flowers and jump into a taxi."

The witness, Leigh Sparks, stood and told Gallagher that seeing Maffei walk away with the flowers "broke her heart." She said she followed in a car, while calling police on a cell phone, and saw him get into a taxi about 1 p.m. on River Street. She said he told police he was going to another memorial in Scotts Valley. He was unable to explain anything about that memorial.

The Judge rules

Gallagher said the information he had Tuesday showed Maffei has the ability to travel significant distances, plus an extensive history of property crimes, including a felony. He said Maffei has "a severe alcohol abuse problem."

"And the conduct you exhibited in this case -- which I can assume to be true for custodial purposes -- is incredibly disrespectful to this community and the officers who gave their lives," he said. "So you'll stay in custody until the matter is resolved."

"Yes, your honor," Maffei said, sitting down and visibly agitated.

He sat back in his seat, drew a deep breath and said, seemingly to himself, "OK."

Gallagher set bail at $5,000, the standard amount for the charges facing Maffei -- a misdemeanor allegation of being drunk in public and a felony allegation that he vandalized a law enforcement memorial.

Maffei is due back in court March 21 for a pre-trial conference.

Outside court, Take Back Santa Cruz co-founder Analicia Cube and others gathered, cheering Sparks when she walked out of the courtroom. Before court, Cube said the group had researched Maffei's background and found he had run-ins with the law in Arizona and Nevada and in Capitola.

"We're tired of these criminal coming into town and doing things like this," Cube said.

OTHER HEARINGS

Back in Department 2, which typically handles misdemeanor cases, a man who appeared to be affiliated with a gang, with a large star tattoo on his neck and others on his face, twitched a bit while sitting there. He stood at attention when his case was called, speaking in a strong voice to Gallagher as they tackled his problems of violating probation on a resisting arrest charge and then "picking up" a new burglary charge.

A few seats over, Jason Matthew Gerety was facing the music for allegedly trying to head-butt a detention officer in County Jail over the weekend, after being arrested on suspicion of being under the influence. So Gerety "picked up" a possible felony assault on an officer charge too, though it appeared it would be treated as a misdemeanor battery. Per jail records, Gerety was "charged in the alternative," meaning he is now charged with both crimes for that alleged attempted head-butt.

A prominent defense attorney offered a quick reply when an onlooker at the back of the courtroom mentioned the gang member's appearance and behavior.

"You should be a nurse," he quipped.

Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9