A Marin Superior Court judge denied Dave McDonald's request to be released on his own recognizance Thursday, saying the 70-year-old downtown Mill Valley shopkeeper's could have led "to potential devastation to this community."
The hearing also added some clarity to the two-month investigation of McDonald that led to his arrest on multiple felony charges related to drug possession and sales.
McDonald, who was arrested March 23 after a on his downtown Mill Valley novelty shop, Tuesday morning to . He sought on Thursday to be released from the Marin County Jail, where he has been for the past three weeks, without having to pay the $50,000 bail he faces.
In making the case for McDonald's release, attorney Camille Bosworth of the Marin County Public Defender's office argued that McDonald was not a flight risk, that he had long-held ties to the local community and that he has no previous criminal record.
"I’ve had contact with a number of individuals who have known Mr. McDonald for a long time and can vouch for his ties to the community," Bosworth said.
Bosworth pointed to McDonald's age, his property ownership in Fairfax and the presence of his at 74 Throckmorton Ave. in downtown Mill Valley for more than 45 years.
"He doesn't even have a passport," Bosworth said. "There is no indication that Mr. McDonald is a flight risk."
Bosworth explained that McDonald owns a home in Fairfax, which he does not occupy, as well as the Fairfax apartment where he lives. While acknowledging the seriousness of the allegations against McDonald, she noted that he has no prior criminal history.
"Any risk of him continuing to do what has been alleged has been obviated by this arrest," she said.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Kensinger didn't deny McDonald's age, ties to the community or lack of a criminal record, but pointed to what he described as "some very suspicious behavior" by McDonald in advance of his arrest.
Kensinger noted that McDonald had sought press coverage of his pending eviction from 74 Throckmorton, a move that was reportedly predicated on his repeated inability to pay his rent on time. That didn't equate with investigators' discovery of $29,215 in cash in McDonald's possession, Kensinger said.
Investigators found both of McDonald's homes “in a general state of disarray, with items piled up all over the place," said Kensinger.
The pending eviction, the large amount of cash on hand and the disarray of McDonald's home - Kensinger suggested that the apartment in which he lived didn't have a bed - gave the impression that McDonald "was wrapping it up and preparing to get out of dodge," Kensinger said.
But Kensinger's primary argument for denying McDonald's request for release hinged on the nearly two-month investigation by the West Contra Costa County Narcotic Enforcement Team (West-Net), a multi-agency narcotic task force that includes officers from seven East Bay agencies and is managed by the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.
That probe produced at least one purported drug sale between McDonald and an undercover law enforcement officer for thousands of dollars, and resulted in the execution of a search warrant on McDonald's business, Kensinger said.
The transactions centered on the sale of one pound of methamphetamine for $18,000, as well as a precursor that is used to make methamphetamine, according to Kensinger.
Tests of the alleged precursor at the Contra Costa County Crime Lab came back positive for Phenylpropanolamine, a known meth precursor, according to Kensinger. But a 2.8-gram sample taken from the substance that McDonald allegedly said was methamphetamine was not found to contain a controlled substance, he said.
Kensinger said that the rest of the substances that were seized were still being tested and that the results of those tests should be known soon.
"The defendant was actively engaged in the sale of drugs in the heart of downtown Mill Valley," Kensinger said, adding that two "very dusty firearms," a loaded revolver and a semiautomatic rifle, were found in the front area of the Pleasure Principle by investigators. "Or else he was ripping off dope dealers for large amounts of money. Either way he’s engaging in conduct that puts everyone in the heart of Mill Valley in danger."
Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson said that McDonald's ties to the community appeared to be strong, but he said the nature of the allegations was too severe for him to approve McDonald's release without bail.
"It is being alleged that a significant drug dealing operation was going on that was estimated in amounts that we don’t often see in this community, leading to potential devastation in this community," Haakenson said.
McDonald remains in custody on $50,000 bail. He is considering a request to put up equity from his property as bail.