EUREKA, APRIL 1 – A tense standoff between Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos and a fast food menu entered its 11th day Monday, as the D.A. pondered a range of meat, topping and bun sandwich options that appeared to overwhelm the county’s lead prosecutor.
“Um... let’s see,” Gallegos said to an increasingly impatient Subway employee while attempting to complete a sandwich order. “Let’s do lettuce, tomatoes and, uh... peperoncinis – no, actually, I take that back, because I just remembered that I don’t really like spicy food,” the D.A. said, before regrouping to give it another go.
“Gimme a minute here,” he said, his eyes slowly drifting over to a stainless steel tray of red onions, then over to a condiment tray, then back to the onions, his brow furrowed in deep thought.
“Let’s start over at the beginning, sir,” a Subway clerk advised, motioning to several small loaves of bread arranged on an oven rack. “Would you like a foot-long or six-inch?”
Gallegos then looked in the direction of the oven rack for several minutes without speaking.
One customer characterized his expression as “a blank, thousand-yard stare.”
Lawn chairs, sleeping bags and pickup games of checkers occupied the 50-or-so customers waiting in line outside the Subway and – although nerves were increasingly frayed – patrons made the best of it, in a scene reminiscent of a Harry Potter film release.
Gallegos’ sandwich odyssey struck a familiar note to those accustomed to the D.A.’s poor – or some would even charge, nonexistent – decisionmaking abilities.
As lead prosecutor, Gallegos’ internal compass has at times displayed all the consistency of a Magic 8 Ball: One minute, offering soft plea deals to violent repeat criminals; the next, engaging in quixotic – and ultimately, failed – attempts at prosecuting elected officials and chiefs of police.
Back inside Subway, Gallegos expressed renewed determination to conquer the sandwich menu: “I will select my chosen condiments and toppings without fear or favor,” he said in his trademark, meandering gravel-voice – but appeared no closer to narrowing down which vegetables to choose.
Putting a cell phone up to his ear, Gallegos was then overheard to say: “Listen, Richard, I need your help making a decision. No, not on that felony plea-bargain thing... and no, this has nothing to do with the investigation into Allison. Richard, can you remember whether I like dijonnaise?”
Meanwhile at District Attorney headquarters in the county building in downtown Eureka, office staff appeared to be coping reasonably well in light of the absence of the county’s chief law enforcement officer.
“He’s still down there, right?” asked Deputy D.A. Arnie Klein to reporters. When told that Gallegos was, indeed, still attempting to place his sandwich order, Klein said, “Good, good. I mean – don’t get me wrong – Paul is a swell guy to have a couple of beers with around the bonfire.
“But God forbid the guy be trusted with an actual decision,” Klein said. “We’re still recovering from the last time he put in a full day’s work around here.
“Thankfully,” Klein continued, “it almost never happens.”