This is a tale of how a guy accused of running a stop sign ends up getting a $203,000 payout four years later from Sacamento and Placer counties.
It begins near the Sunrise Mall in suburban Sacramento County, where Richard Malott says he was minding his own business driving around in his Jeep Cherokee on the evening of April 25, 2013.
It ends with a four-year court battle that includes claims of sexual perversion, murder plots, cross-dressing, conspiracies by detectives and cover-ups, and with the two counties eventually writing checks to Malott last month to make his federal lawsuit against them go away.
Malott, 48, is not your typical criminal defendant. He lives on his family’s 130-acre ranch outside Nevada City, where he earns a living as chief executive officer of a real estate company and flies a company plane as a licensed commercial pilot.
He is a former reserve police officer, a onetime U.S. Senate intern and a registered Republican who has a photo on the wall near the front door of his home of him shaking hands with President Ronald Reagan.
He also has the financial resources to fight what he sees as abuse of power, which is how he views that traffic stop four years ago.
“This is right versus wrong,” Malott said in a recent interview in his home, one of five family houses and two guest houses on his family property. “I’m not hurting, I live a pretty decent life, and this was done on principal.
“It’s good versus evil.”
Sacramento County officials, who shelled out $175,000 to settle the lawsuit, issued a statement saying the payout was cheaper than continuing to fight Malott in court.
“These decisions are made by the Sheriff’s Department, County Counsel, County Risk Management, and the County Executive’s office, and often reflect little more than a business decision of a settlement weighed against the costs of defending a lawsuit,” the Sheriff’s Department said.
A Placer County official said essentially the same, that they paid out $28,000 because they decided that was cheaper than fighting what they saw as a meritless case through the courts.
“We didn’t see anything indicating that our deputies had done anything wrong,” Deputy County Counsel Clayton Cook said.
Legal papers filed in federal court in Sacramento by attorney Stewart Katz say the saga began when Sacramento Deputies Javier Bustamante and Darin Epperson pulled Malott over for allegedly running a stop sign.
The deputies had stopped him half an hour earlier, he says, questioning him about why he was driving aimlessly though the neighborhood. Malott says now that he was there driving around because it was God’s will that he be there. During the second stop, Malott says, he got out of his Jeep, was handcuffed and subjected to a pat-down search.
The deputies found a two-shot, .22-caliber Derringer pistol in his pocket that his father gave him in 1989. Malott said he carries it for self-defense. Although Malott has had concealed weapons permits, he did not have the proper permit for that weapon at the time, and the deputies arrested him on a misdemeanor charge.
They placed him in the back of their patrol car, and Bustamante began searching Malott’s Jeep, the lawsuit says. He eventually found a diary Malott had left on the passenger seat.
The deputies opened the diary and “read portions of it out of boredom,” his lawsuit says.
While they were studying the book, Malott says, he was having some sort of medical emergency. He felt chest pain, shortness of breath and profuse sweating, and he asked for help.
Malott says the deputies ignored him, thinking he was faking it and that they waited nearly an hour before calling for an ambulance.
In the meantime, he said in his lawsuit, Bustamante opened the patrol car door while Malott was resting his head on it and then closed the door on his head. Then, he claims, Bustamante began to prod him with a hard, narrow object, pressing it into his sternum to prove Malott was faking illness.
Eventually, an ambulance arrived and took Malott to Mercy San Juan Medical Center for what court papers describe as “a possible cardiac event.”
“And, son of a gun, my EKG was scrambled and I told them I was going to sue them in federal court for what you did to me, for hitting me in the car when they slammed my head in the door,” Malott said.
He later was cited and released, and the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office filed two misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon.
But the deputies kept his diary, and that is where he says his trouble began.
Court papers say the deputies handed the diary over to a Sacramento detective, who then provided a copy to a Placer County detective in Auburn. Why the Placer department was chosen instead of Nevada County’s – where Malott lives – has never been clearly explained, but Sacramento and Auburn authorities then began a “joint investigation” into Malott, his lawsuit says.
Detectives showed portions of it to an ex-girlfriend and to a longtime friend, Julie Ferneyhough, who was living with her husband and three children on the Malott ranch and working for Malott’s brother, an attorney.
Malott’s lawsuit says those interviews placed him in a “false light,” with detectives “asking questions in a way that clearly and falsely implied that the diary contained evidence of sexual perversion, cross-dressing, human trafficking and alcohol and gambling addictions.”
The detectives told the women Malott had a “kidnapping and rape kit” in his Jeep when he was arrested, and told Ferneyhough that she had to move her family off the ranch because authorities planned to raid it and expected a gunbattle.
She was told, the suit claims, “that if children were killed in the process it would be ‘on her.’ ”
The Ferneyhoughs moved away, and the ex-girlfriend obtained a restraining order against Malott, who says the entire story was made up.
“This is untrue,” his lawsuit says. “There is not a scintilla of evidence that Malott ever planned, intended, attempted or even fantasized about kidnapping or raping anyone.”
The “rape kit,” his lawyer says, was a tarp and some ranch tools.
“Malott’s diary contained the type of entries that are typically found in a person’s private journal,” his suit says, including notes about trips overseas, donations to his church, thoughts on girlfriends, and “speculations on the meaning and nature of life.”
Where the notion of cross-dressing, human trafficking and other aspects of the investigation came from is unclear.
A copy of the 69-page diary contains mostly mundane notations: Malott had Italian chicken Parmesan after skiing in Mammoth on Feb. 22, 2013, made a March 9 visit to San Francisco, where he planned dinner on Pier 39.
Others describe his devotion to God, and some appear to be personal musings about his relationships, including the ex-girlfriend.
“I feel weird,” one entry states. “My heart beats faster. I feel evil.”
Other entries would make sense only to the author.
“Sleep 1 am – 4 am 3 hrs,” a March 17 entry reads. “Eating 5 lbs up
“sex drugs violence alc gam
“Intense agitated – drove 110 mph”
As Malott remained under investigation, Sacramento County continued with its prosecution of him on the misdemeanor concealed weapon charges. That changed after Katz filed a claim against the county and an internal affairs complaint with the sheriff, Katz said.
Suddenly, the misdemeanor charges became felonies.
Malott fought the case in court, and a jury found him guilty of two misdemeanor counts. Court records state that he was placed on three years of probation and given 90 days participation on the sheriff’s work project.
But Malott didn’t give in. He has appealed the conviction to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, and he pursued the lawsuit until his lawyer convinced him it was time to agree to the settlement offer, he said.
Sacramento County wrote his lawyer a check on May 23, and Placer County issued its on May 2. The settlement doesn’t cover the cost of his legal fees so far, Malott said, but he doesn’t care. He says he was never in it for money.
“Really, what I did was take on the system and ticked off the system,” he said. “The system was going to bury me, and by the grace of God and the glory of God they didn’t bury me.
“In fact, they had to pay out a large amount of money.”
Malott also found a measure of redemption in his personal life. He says he ran into Ferneyhough, his former tenant and longtime friend, at a gas station in Auburn and the two compared notes about what detectives had told her about Malott. By then, she was headed for divorce, she said, and she did not believe what detectives had told her about Malott.
The two since have married, and she and her three daughters have moved back onto the ranch, where she marvels at the turns their lives have taken since the traffic stop.
“You couldn’t write this kind of story,” she said. “It’s bizarre, isn’t it?”