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Free Cliffton McIntire!

A narcoleptic college instructor serves time after the county screws up his work furlough program

By William Dean Hinton

TWO HOURS before daylight on March 23, 2002, Cliffton McIntire was busy in a rented unit at the Storage USA facility in Campbell, using denatured alcohol to turn marijuana into oil. Friends and family would later say he was attempting to make pot butter for brownies, because he didn't smoke.

McIntire, who turns 29 in December, has been described as the absent-minded-professor type. He is known as a free spirit, a harmless adventurer who slept in the back of his van at state parks whenever he was without an apartment. For several years, he taught at UC-Santa Cruz while pursuing a master's degree. He also had a habit of nodding off at inappropriate times—while driving his mother's car, for example.

Because of the narcolepsy, or because of the late hour, McIntire fell asleep in his storage unit while the marijuana was still cooking.

The storage facility's fire alarm woke him up. Some rags had caught fire, which McIntire snuffed out with his hands, severely blistering them. The fire department arrived, followed by police, who surmised, inaccurately, that McIntire was cooking methamphetamine. He permitted them to search the unit, but officers remained suspicious. They wrote in a report that McIntire's space was filled with Coleman fuel, plastic and copper tubing, ice, sulfuric acid, charcoal, ether, beakers, flasks and so on. No meth was recovered from the storage unit, but police did find a vial with a greenish substance found to be marijuana resin.

McIntire's case strung along for more than a year, in part because his attorney, Paul Dennison, was out of the country. In June 2003, McIntire pled guilty to two felonies: manufacturing marijuana and possession of concentrated cannabis. One former employer, Joel Ferguson, former chair of the UC-Santa Cruz computer engineering department, pleaded for leniency, saying, "Cliffton's teaching was clearly superior to mine."

Since McIntire had no history of crime and was imminently employable, he was eligible for the county's work-furlough program, one of a handful of jail alternatives defendants can apply for in lieu of, or to curtail, serving time. Work-furlough defendants live in a 264-bed dorm in Mountain View where they are offered a range of self-help classes, from anger management to substance-abuse education.

McIntire attempted to apply to the program on a number of occasions, his mother, Melissa McIntire, says. She documented 37 calls, usually lasting from one to two minutes, Cliffton made to the Santa Clara Probation Department between April 6 and Sept. 19 on a Verizon cell phone she lent to her son.

Two weeks ago, on the morning of Oct. 12, McIntire reported to the probation office to begin work furlough. Instead of being admitted, according to his friend Nicole Wilson, a UC-Santa Cruz doctoral cognitive psychology student, Cliffton was ordered to turn himself in at the Elmwood Men's Facility. "He showed up on time, at 9am," she says, "and was asked to wait. Every hour, he checked with the receptionist and was simply told to wait further. At 11am, noon and 1pm, he left messages with his parole officers—Robert Haiglen and Robert Rose. He continued to wait. At 4:45pm, after waiting all day, he was finally seen by officer Leticia Chavez, who was in charge of his case, but whom he had never met. She simply informed him that because of the many delays, she had decided he was no longer eligible for house arrest and that he would need to surrender to the county jail immediately.

According to a Probation Department spokeswoman, McIntire apparently missed his "stay date," the appointed time post-trial in which defendants must surrender to law enforcement—either to be sent to jail or to a jail-alternative program. McIntire's stay date was Dec. 29, 2003. Melissa McIntire says Cliffton turned himself at least five times to the Probation Office, but his paperwork was never ready. She adds that the office sent mail to the wrong address and that he was given the runaround when he called in.

A solution might lie with McIntire's sentencing judge, David Cena, who made a 1998 campaign vow to recommend rehabilitation and treatment in appropriate drug cases. Cena, though, hasn't been involved in McIntire's case since last year, during sentencing. McIntire's friends and family say there's never been a more appropriate case for Cena to act on. Even newfound friends, like San Poisson, who met McIntire several months ago, say perspective is in order. Poisson says McIntire started a recycling program and was in the process of building new mailboxes at their Mountain View apartment complex when he was ordered to Elmwood.

"He was going to get his Ph.D., for crying out loud," Poisson says. "He was not a terrorist threat. Cut him some slack. There was no intent to set off the fire alarms. He was making brownies, which a lot of my friends have done, and it doesn't do anything to them. It's the ignorance of the society we live in that doesn't allow for these kinds of things. It's ridiculous how the system is failing us."


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From the October 27-November 2, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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