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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Grizzly Grotto Trial Had it All -- Even Tyson Beckford

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge When the voice of Tyson Beckford penetrates your head and tells you to enter a dangerous animal's zoo cage, things have become interesting
  • When the voice of Tyson Beckford penetrates your head and tells you to enter a dangerous animal's zoo cage, things have become interesting
There's a fine line between bizarre and transcendentally bizarre, and the just-concluded court trial of Kenneth Herron blazed over it. Herron is the man who, for astounding reasons the public only discovered this week, entered the San Francisco Zoo's Grizzly Bear Grotto in September.

The bar for amazing legal theater shouldn't have been difficult to clear in a case involving a homeless man with a history of mental illness entering a zoo enclosure. And yet, the Herron trial vaulted into the stratosphere on Tuesday, when the District Attorneys prosecuting the case listened, open-mouthed, as an expert witness for the defense calmly explained that Herron breached the vicious animals' lair because the voice of actor and male model Tyson Beckford penetrated his skull and ordered him to save a damsel in distress at the zoo.

"That was so incredibly strange and we were as surprised as anybody," said Brian Buckelew, an Assistant District Attorney and spokesman for the office. "We weren't privy to the psychiatric reports about how Tyson Beckford told him to go into that grotto until it came out on the stand." 

But wait -- it gets better! Did you know that after your lawyer convinces a jury that you're not guilty of unlawfully disturbing a wild and dangerous animal because you've got the voice of Tyson Beckford in your head that you just walk out of the courtroom, scot-free? There's no supervised release, no mandatory mental health counseling (let alone custody) and no reason Tyson Beckford's disembodied voice can't tell you to kick the bailiff in the crotch, too. 

click to enlarge Kenneth Herron
  • Kenneth Herron
Herron, however, didn't skip merrily out of the building, as he was wanted for other criminal allegations elsewhere, and will be turned over to authorities in either Sacramento or Union City.

Meanwhile, one day before Herron beat the bear-baiting charge, Judge Wallace Douglass ruled that, in evading an electric fence, scaling another barricade, and leaping over a moat Pitfall Harry-style, Herron was not "trespassing." Sound crazy? You bet it does -- and when we placed a call to legal expert Profesor Bob Talbot of USF, he was shocked too. Then he perused the relevant law, and he was really shocked

While, in the popular mindset, trespassing is akin to "kids, stay off

my lawn!" the definition of "criminal trespassing" is far stricter. As

Herron's attorney, deputy public defender James Conger, convinced the

judge, it requires not just wandering onto someone else's property but

following that breach up with occupation. Talbot cited a 1967 case,

People vs. Wilkinson, as establishing this precedent -- "It essentially

says that the purpose of the statute is to prevent squatting, and

applies to continuous possession and permanency." ... "Holy mackerel," Talbot told SF Weekly. "You can go into a bear place, spend the night, and not violate any laws."

Confused as well...
  • Confused as well...
By this rationale both Talbot and Buckelew agreed that, if you wanted to get from, say, Vicente Street to Wawona but were too lazy to go around the block, and you cut through everyone's backyard, you wouldn't be "trespassing." You can tell that to all the people who shout at you -- and the cops, when they invariably show up. Good luck with that. But that's the law, and the judge tossed the charge.

"Never in my life have I seen a case like this," said Talbot. "It's a strange case."

And he said that before the whole Tyson Beckford thing.

Photo of Tyson Beckford   |   Jesse Gross

Photo in header of bear   |

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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