A series of tragic events culminated in the deployment of Marin County’s version of SWAT, a four-hour standoff, two destroyed boats, a fire and a dead dog earlier this month.
On April 2, the anchor-out community living in Richardson Bay watched helplessly as one of their own, Paul Ray Smith Jr., 53, was bombarded by flash-bangs, bean bag rounds and tear gas before being extricated from a boat and arrested by Marin County Sheriff’s deputies. A few moments later, the boat’s cabin was engulfed in flames. Smith’s dog died as firemen from the Southern Marin Fire Department looked on, a bystander’s video of the event shows.
It all began in the name of confiscating and crushing boats anchored-out in Richardson Bay. The policy is part of the controversial Transition Plan adopted by the Richardson Bay Regional Authority (RBRA) in June 2020, which aims to rid the anchorage of the 97 boats currently anchored offshore.
“It clearly says in the Transition Plan to work the number of liveaboards down to zero,” RBRA Harbormaster Curtis Havel said.
Caught in the middle of the RBRA’s mission, Smith was involved in two recent incidents that resulted in warrants for his arrest. In hindsight, the debacles seem avoidable.
Smith, who believes he’s a high-ranking army officer and the owner of a million-dollar steamship company, lived on his boat in Richardson Bay with Runt, his constant canine companion.
On March 17, Havel seized Smith’s boat, Warlock, and began towing it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ boatyard in Sausalito, where the confiscated boats are typically crushed.
“Paul wasn’t on his boat at the time, but he saw Curtis towing it,” Michael Ortega, a fellow anchor out, said. “He jumped in his skiff and took off after Curtis to tell him it’s his only boat. Paul shot a flare gun for help.”
The Marin County Sheriff’s Office version is a bit different. Smith fired the flare at Havel, but missed him and his boat, according to Sergeant Brenton Schneider.
Later in the day, Smith, accompanied by activist Robbie Powelson, visited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers boatyard to ask if he could retrieve his personal property from Warlock. The RBRA denied his request.
“There was no compassion for Paul,” Powelson said. “They destroyed everything he had. Wouldn’t let him get a damn thing off his boat.”
Havel wouldn’t comment about the specific incident, citing an ongoing investigation; however, he said, prior to a seizure, he posts a notice on the boat stating it is slated for disposal in 10 days.
“We leave the boat alone for 10 days,” Havel said. “I usually wait more than 10 days. That’s the time for them to move the boat or remove their possessions.”
After Smith’s boat was seized, he moved onto Ortega’s boat, Projectile, which is also anchored-out on Richardson Bay. On March 23 at about 8am, deputies arrived at the boat to question Smith about the flare gun incident.
“When deputies boarded the vessel in an attempt to interview Smith, he was argumentative and retreated into the cabin of the vessel,” Schneider said. “Smith returned with a pistol in his hand.”
Deputies pulled their guns on Smith and ordered him to drop his weapon. Instead, he went back into the boat’s cabin and allegedly pointed the gun out of a window toward the deputies and their patrol boat.
Again, there is another side of the story. Ortega maintains Smith was attempting to show law enforcement he had a flare gun, not a pistol.
Either way, deputies left the area. They tried to contact Smith for a week to interview him about the March 17 incident, even watching to see if Smith came ashore, Schneider said. He didn’t. Finally, search and arrest warrants were obtained.
On the afternoon of April 2, law enforcement made their move, which many say resulted in an excessive show of force. The Marin County Sheriff’s Special Response Team (SRT) was staged at the Clipper Yacht Harbor parking lot in Sausalito, with numerous deputies, a large communications truck, an SRT equipment trailer and a collection of sheriff’s vehicles. Novato Police Department arrived on the scene with a canine unit. On Richardson Bay, the U.S. Coast Guard, Sausalito Police Department and Southern Marin Fire District assisted the sheriff’s team.
Negotiators contacted Smith by phone and asked him to surrender. He rambled, said he had a bullet proof vest and refused to give up, Schneider said.
Smith remained anchored-out on Projectile with his dog and kept law enforcement at bay for four hours. The SRT used flash-bangs, bean bag rounds and tear gas to distract him, but he held his ground. When deputies boarded the boat, he attempted to stab them with several long, pointed instruments, according to Schneider.
Law enforcement finally towed the boat to a dock at Clipper Yacht Harbor, removed the top of the cabin with a chainsaw and tased Smith. He was then removed from the vessel and arrested.
Shortly after he was taken into custody, the boat caught on fire. Though a fireboat was nearby, the firemen delayed putting out the fire for more than 18 minutes, a bystander’s video shows. When it was finally extinguished, Smith’s dog was found dead on the boat. Schneider said he does not know the cause of the fire.
“Paul didn’t want to go to jail,” Ortega said. “He was afraid of going to jail and not being able to take care of his dog.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly where he ended up. Smith was booked into the Marin County Jail on 10 charges, including exhibiting a firearm in the presence of a peace officer, committing an assault with a firearm and committing an assault with a deadly weapon or instrument on a peace officer. He is being held on $305,000 bail.
As if the raid wasn’t enough, two other incidents involving law enforcement occurred on the anchorage recently. Both started with the RBRA towing a boat, and both ended with arrests.
Another anchor-out on Richardson Bay, Timothy Logan, heard Smith yelling for help on March 17 when Havel was towing his boat, according to Ortega. Logan, 42, tried to wave down Havel to speak with him. Either Havel didn’t see him or chose not to respond, which prompted Logan to maneuver his skiff in front of the harbormaster’s boat to get his attention. Havel continued straight ahead and the boats collided.
Two different stories emerge from this point.
Logan contacted the Marin County Sheriff’s Office to file a complaint against Havel for pinning his skiff against the much larger RBRA boat, according to Powelson. On March 22, a deputy called him back and lured him to the Marin City substation with the assurance they would take a report and arrest Havel. Logan gave his statement the following day.
That’s not exactly the way it happened, says the Marin County Sheriff’s Office.
“Logan agreed to come to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office Southern Marin Substation to provide his side of the story, as we were already investigating the incident,” Schneider said in an email.
Whatever led to Logan visiting the substation, after speaking with deputies, he was arrested and booked into Marin County Jail on charges, including delaying or obstructing a public officer and using a vessel in a reckless manner. His case is now working its way through the court.
Two days after Logan’s arrest, Powelson, 26, was arrested for trespassing when he refused to leave another boat Havel towed off the anchorage.
Diane Moyer, 75, an artist who lived on a houseboat anchored-out in Richardson Bay, died on March 22. Havel towed her boat to the Army Corps of Engineers two days after her death.
On March 25, the houseboat was found anchored in the water next to the Sausalito homeless encampment located near Dunphy Park. Powelson said whoever moved the boat was likely fearful it would be crushed with Moyer’s paintings and other personal property still on board.
People were on the boat engaged in a service honoring Moyer when the Sausalito Police Department arrived, Powelson said. They ordered everyone off the boat.
Powelson refused to disembark and was arrested for trespassing.
All the incidents are the result of the RBRA’s transition plan, which was implemented to fulfill the mandate of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), a state agency. The BCDC has directed the RBRA to enforce the applicable law stating that vessels in Richardson Bay may idle only for 72 hours, unless granted permission to stay longer.
In other words, the BCDC wants the anchor-outs removed from Richardson Bay, and the RBRA is its enforcer. It points to environmental reasons as one basis for the policy.
To meet the BCDC’s demands, the RBRA is forced to displace people from their only homes. Although social workers assigned to the anchorage try to find alternative housing for the anchor-outs, their work is impeded by Marin’s shortage of affordable housing. Unfortunately, the wait list is long, leaving displaced mariners to live in homeless encampments on shore.