ATWATER — Atwater Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham was arraigned Thursday morning on a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace -- an accusation that stems from a January argument over the price of a milkshake at an area fast-food restaurant.
Although the councilman wasn't in court, his attorney, C. Logan McKechnie, appeared and put in a plea of "not guilty" on Mooneyham's behalf.
Mooneyham is facing a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace by "challenging another to fight."
McKechnie said he needs to discuss the case more with Mooneyham before they decide how they want to handle it. "My client denies the allegation, but sometimes you make decisions that have nothing to do with the facts," McKechnie said, adding that he needs to do what's best for his client.
The incident happened about 8:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Foster's Freeze on Winton Way in Atwater.
A report from the Atwater Police Department states witnesses saw Mooneyham become aggressive while "yelling and cussing" at a clerk over the price of a milkshake.
When a bystander tried to intercede, Mooneyham challenged him to fight and threatened to assault him, according to witness statements. Witnesses said Mooneyham, who left before police arrived, appeared to be intoxicated and smelled of alcohol.
In a February interview with the Sun-Star, Mooneyham described the incident as a mutual argument that never became physical. He added that he wasn't intoxicated, didn't use foul language and left the scene because he wanted to remove himself from the situation.
"I absolutely intend to fight the allegations," Mooneyham said shortly after he was charged in February with the misdemeanor. "I think they're politically motivated."
When officers looked for him at a house on Waterfront Court that night, a woman answered the door and said Mooneyham was sleeping, according to the report. Officers asked her to wake him up.
Eventually, Mooneyham walked out the front door and asked what was going on, according to the report. He was wearing a T-shirt, boxer shorts and socks.
Before officers could engage him in a conversation, he asked if he could put some pants on, which the officer allowed, according to the report.
Mooneyham came back outside a few minutes later and at first seemed reluctant to talk with officers, but eventually spoke with them, according to the report, which listed his demeanor as angry and his speech as rapid.
Officers got a partial statement from Mooneyham, but when asked to do field sobriety tests, he told them he didn't need to because he wasn't driving, according to the report.
At that point, Mooneyham's cell phone rang and he said he had to take the call. He then backed into his home before an officer could stop him, shutting and locking the door, according to the report, which noted that several more unsuccessful attempts were made to contact Mooneyham.
If convicted on the misdemeanor charge, Mooneyham could be sentenced to as many as six months in county jail, a fine and probation.
But because Mooneyham didn't comply with an officer's request for field sobriety tests, authorities said, he also could have his driver's license revoked for up to one year. Police sent a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles for possible revocation.
The police report states Mooneyham told police he confronted the female clerk who sold him a $7 milkshake because he thought the price was too high. The clerk told police she charged him $1.50 for extra toppings.
The report states that Mooneyham admitted to having two mixed drinks during a dinner at the APC Hall in Atwater.
Mooneyham's next court date is a pretrial conference set for 9:30 a.m. May 13 in Courtroom 4 of the Merced County Superior Court.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.