Despite obvious frailty, Jane McKay was handcuffed to a chain around her waist.
In sheriff's records Jane McKay is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall and 140 pounds. She probably told deputies that her eyes are green and her hair is blonde, that information is there too. But her hair was completely white when McKay was brought into court in March of 2018. Maybe she meant platinum blonde. And her eyes mostly looked bloodshot, maybe from crying.
That morning in the Vista courthouse McKay was dressed in a gray sweatshirt that had S D JAIL stenciled across the back. She had on dark blue denim pants, and thick gray socks and orange plastic flip-flops. She was handcuffed, both hands, to the chains around her waist. This is typical for anyone who is brought into court while in custody in San Diego County. McKay appeared to walk with difficulty but she made it to the defense table, where her public defender greeted her.
Jane Louise Petersen McKay might be the original Baby Boomer. She was born after the end of World War II, in late 1945. She is now 72 years old. She has been living in California for many years, but still speaks with a soft North Carolina accent. She projects a gentle demeanor. She answered the judge with a soft, girlish voice and pleaded not-guilty to felony assault.
Sheri Comaroto lives on Jane McKay's property but pays her no rent. McKay wants her out.
The alleged victim of McKay’s reputed assault was the first person to testify at a preliminary hearing on March 26, 2018.
Witness Sheri Comaroto came into court wearing a well-fitted wig that flattered her face, even if the hair color was a bit purple. She wore a new green shirt, with fashionable angel-flared sleeves, atop a black skirt. Black hosiery and tall black boots completed her neat appearance.
Sheri Comaroto said she was 58 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall and, 160 pounds.
A spectator might think Sheri Comaroto and Jane McKay were well-matched, they looked fairly similar. Well-matched to be roommates. Or for a contest of wills. Except, when Sheri Comaroto walked into court she moved easily and happily. In contrast, McKay moved with difficulty and plainly did not want to be in her predicament.
Public defender Amanda Edmonson said that McKay has been diagnosed with a spinal condition. Her health troubles made it impossible for McKay to manage, by herself, the 26-acre property she inherited from her late husband. The sprawling ranch in Fallbrook has more than 580 avocado trees.
And so in the last few years McKay had been inviting people to move onto her property, to help her with the many ranch chores. And she needed personal help, too; for example, she needed someone to drive her to appointments.
But soon her property became so populated with “helpers” — one witness described them as “squatters” — that her hoped-for blessings eventually became a curse to her.
They had been friends
Witness Sheri Comaroto said she had been friends with Jane McKay for almost ten years. In 2009 she shared a home in Temecula with Jane. Comaroto told the judge. She paid Jane $300 per month rent at that time, and they were housemates for about a year.
In paperwork she filed in a small-claims court case, McKay stated that Comaroto has not paid her any rent since she moved onto her Fallbrook property, that stay began in June of 2016. McKay asserted that Comaroto continued to live on her property and failed to pay any rent up until the present; that paperwork was filed on December 29, 2017.
Public records show that property taxes are past due on the property at 550 Stewart Canyon Road. And that property is currently listed for sale on realtor.com
While she was in the witness box on March 26, Sheri Comaroto confirmed that she continues to live on the property.
In a cottage
“She asked me to move in after her husband died,” the first witness, Sheri Comaroto told the judge.
Comaroto said she is currently staying in a cottage that is downhill from the main home on the acres owned by Jane McKay. In the northern part of San Diego County, Stewart Canyon Road gently curves between two low hills, and is framed by tall oak trees, with lush pasture on either side. It seems an oasis from the harshness of the world. Dotted on the sloping sides of the canyon are custom homes with acreage in between.
Comaroto said she moved into the cottage, near the main house where Jane McKay lived, at the older woman’s invitation. “We made an agreement that I would stay there and help her out.”
Comaroto described how she assisted McKay: “Cleaned, helped her out, fed the animals, and usually drove her when we went somewhere.”
The defense attorney, Amanda Edmonson, asked Comaroto if money ever changed hands between her and McKay. Comaroto thought for a moment and replied, “I have paid her back for the move that she paid for, when I moved there.”
Edmonson asked Comaroto again, if she ever paid any money to McKay for rent, to live there in the cottage, but Comaroto was adamant, “I did fee for service.” Comaroto explained, “I bought products, I fed the animals, I did laundry, things for Jane, to stay there. But I don’t exchange money with her.”
Comaroto admitted that McKay did ask her to start paying rent in money. “Throughout the whole time I lived there, well, the past, since she moved me into the property, this is how much you owe in rent, she would write me notes.” Comaroto said that McKay left those notes around her home.
“But I told her I was paying rent, that was the agreement.” Comaroto insisted the deal was that she would perform her helpful services as payment of rent, instead of paying with money.
Her friend Stephanie
It was a little before midnight, the night of February 13, 2017, that Jane McKay allegedly assaulted Sheri Comaroto.
Comaroto said it happened when she went into the main house, bringing food to her new friend Stephanie. “I just met her when she moved in, the end of last year,” Comaroto explained how she knew Stephanie. “I would consider her a friend.”
Comaroto said she had an arrangement with Stephanie. Her new friend would phone her, “When she wanted something to eat, then I make it for her, then I walk it up to the house.”
Comaroto explained, “I keep her food and heat up her food on my microwave in my cottage.”
Testifying from the witness box, she recalled, “I was in my cottage, just reading magazines, and Stephanie called me.” Even in the middle of the night, Comaroto was glad to make a delivery to her friend-of-two-months. Comaroto said she prepared food and “I walked toward the house and I opened the slider and I walked in to give it to Stephanie.”
When Comaroto came into the main house that night, she said her friend was in her bedroom watching television, and Jane McKay was in the same room, seated, also watching television.
“I went over to take the food, and Jane who was drunk that night, she got up out of the chair and started yelling at me to get out of her obscenity house.”
The judge wanted to know the exact words. “Jane said to me, ‘Get out of my house, you fucking bitch.’”
The judge asked Comaroto why McKay would do that. “Because she wants me off the property,” Comaroto testified. “She thinks I have not contributed or paid rent or done anything in the time I have been there.”
Comaroto continued her testimony, “I was going to step toward the door, and I was only bringing Stephanie some food, and she came toward me and started doing like this.” Comaroto demonstrated in the witness box, flapping and fluttering her hands in front of her face. She said McKay was, “Hitting my shoulders and head and chest, hitting me like an eight-year-old would do.” With open hands, not fists, the judge asked to be sure.
A prosecutor asked Comaroto how many times she was slapped during the alleged confrontation. “I don’t know but it was continuous, and I dropped to the floor and covered my head,” she declared.
Comaroto claimed that while on the floor, she protected her head with her arms and hands, and she then suffered some kicks on her upper buttocks.
Comaroto remembered that her friend Stephanie was yelling for McKay to stop.
Comaroto said she was able to escape and return to her cottage. “I walked down very quickly, I did not run, and I got down to my studio and I called 911.”
Comaroto said she got a cut on her lip that night. “It was bleeding quite profusely at first.” The judge considered evidence photos that were handed him, he saw a cut on Comaroto’s lip and bruises on her right hand. There was not much obvious hurt to her face or head. “I had a beanie on so there was some protection,” Comaroto explained.
Comaroto was asked if she did anything to defend herself, while she was being slapped about the face and head. “I didn’t really do anything, because she was trying to evict several of us, for landlord tenant issues,” she explained. “She is constantly claiming elderly abuse, she has a list of 15 people she is going to sue.”
The defense attorney asked if any of those people ever paid any money to McKay as rent. Comaroto replied, “Not in my knowledge, most of her deals were you do this and this and you can stay here.”
She finished her testimony by telling the court, “I live on the property still, on Stewart Canyon.”
Sheri Comaroto and her pal Stephanie and three more named persons filed a “wrongful eviction” case against Jane McKay on January 22, 2018. They claim that in the summer of 2017, their landlady stopped trash service to the property and told them to take their own trash to the dump. And they claimed that on October 20, 2017, the beleaguered woman had the electricity to the property shut off, trying to get the unwanted persons to leave. In their paperwork, the plaintiffs complained that McKay was “drunk on a daily basis” and that she harassed and threatened them.
In public records, there is a 60-day notice of termination of tenancy filed on behalf of Jane McKay, that paperwork is dated November 28, 2017. There are 12 named persons listed in that notice. The paperwork states persons must vacate the street address of Jane’s home, and a “Shed and RV” on the property are also described. The paperwork is meant to be an eviction for non-payment of rent.
Gun pointed at realtor
The defense attorney called one witness, John Paul Rose. He described himself as a semi-retired mortgage banker.
John Rose, whose wife listed McKay's Fallbrook property, said visiting realtors had received hostility from the squatters. One reported a gun being pointed at him.
John Paul Rose said he has known McKay for 25 years. They were neighbors long ago in Los Angeles County. At that time, McKay went by her maiden name Petersen, and she worked as a school teacher. Rose marveled that the tiny Southern woman worked as a high-school teacher in the tough district represented by notorious politician Maxine Waters.
In all his years knowing Jane Petersen McKay, he never knew her to be a violent person, Rose said. “She was very prone to creating peace, trying to settle situations, probably from dealing with high school persons in her classroom.”
Rose was so impressed with Jane that he hired her to work for him, and McKay worked as a real estate agent and loan originator for five years or so. And John and his wife have kept in touch with Jane as time went by — before and during her marriage, and then after McKay was widowed. He has helped her prepare her taxes since 2010.
Last October, a man drove McKay to a meeting with Rose. “She wanted to do an extension on her taxes, so someone who lived on her property brought her to my house.” Rose was alarmed to see how delicate and enfeebled McKay appeared. “She couldn’t even get out of the car, ‘cause she was so weak.” Rose and the driver had to work together to get McKay out of her car, into the house, and to a chair into which she collapsed.
Soon after that, “She called me from hospital.” Rose remembered his old friend telling him, “I’m in the hospital, it’s the only safe place I can go.” He remembered her saying “there was a barrage of persons living on her property.” Rose went to visit Jane in hospital; during their visits he saw that she couldn’t walk, and was moved only by wheelchair.
McKay decided at that time that she wanted to sell her property. John Rose said, “My wife is a real estate broker, I don’t manage real estate but my wife does.”
On realtor.com the property at 550 Stewart Canyon Road in Fallbrook is described. The main home is 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, approximately 1728 square feet, built in 1958. The home and property and avocado grove was listed for sale on November 3, 2017 for $598,000.
“Jane had asked my wife to list the property,” Rose explained. But the home has not sold. “Realtors complained about it.” He said they received reports that, “One of the squatters pointed a gun at a realtor, trying to prevent realtors from even looking at the property.” John, who is a large man, said his wife asked him to go out to the property, to meet other real estate agents there, so the other agents who wanted to look at the property would feel safe enough.
Jane McKay and John talked about the problem. “She told me about all the people who lived on the property and she wanted help serving them notice,” John Rose testified. He said he went to a clinic at the local courthouse, to learn about unlawful detainers, and he spoke to an expert there.
Rose said it was last November when he walked around Jane’s property, handing out official notices to people he found living there. “I passed out a 3-day notice to pay or quit,” he told the judge. “Of course no one paid.” John said, “They kind of laughed at me when I passed out the notices.”
At that time.“I counted eight people living there on the property.”
Rose said he knew who Sheri Comaroto was, “I have met her several times. I know she doesn’t work.” John said he got a specific request from McKay, “Jane asked me to ask her to pay rent, and she basically told me she doesn’t have any money to pay rent.”
Since the beginning of the new year, in 2018, Rose said he has been to Jane’s property in Fallbrook at least a dozen times. “It was horrendous, it was horrible, it looked like a huge hoarders’ place.” He was dismayed to find people living in different places around the property, “in an RV and motor homes, I think there were 11 people there.”
Public records show that Jane McKay is past due on her property taxes. And another payment is soon due.
De minimis offense
At the end of the hearing, defense attorney Amanda Edmonson argued to the judge that Jane McKay is so feeble that she has very limited ability to inflict any kind of injury to anyone. And she pointed out that the alleged victim had described being slapped with an open hand, and the photo evidence showed no visible bruises to her face.
Edmonson admitted that Jane McKay has been found guilty of two DUIs in past, one in 2007 and one in 2017. She asserted that is the only criminal history for Jane McKay.
The defense attorney pleaded with the judge to reduce the felony assault charge to a misdemeanor offense.
Judge Blaine Bowman admonished McKay, “You can’t result to violence to get people off the property.” He was firm that “You can’t take the law into your own hands, and assault people around the face.”
After more stern words to the defendant, and reviewing the evidence and testimony, Judge Bowman did concluded that the assault was a “de minimis offense.” He noted that the injuries to the victim were not serious, there were no broken bones, and no medical treatment was required. Therefore, he reduced the crime from felony to misdemeanor, and sent the matter to a lower court.
Judge Bowman seemed ready to release 72-year-old Jane McKay on her own recognizance, but then he noticed that she had a Failure To Appear in her record, and he reluctantly left her bail as set.
When she was arrested on March 10, 2018, bail for Jane Louise Petersen McKay had been set at $125,000. At the end of the hearing on March 26, the defendant was taken back to her cell at Las Colinas women’s jail in Santee.
A week after the preliminary hearing, Jane McKay was brought back into the courthouse. On April 2 she pleaded guilty to “disturbing the peace.” She was ordered to pay a $239 fine.