Clash puts Atwater leader in hot water

An argument over a milkshake will land one Atwater official in court and could squelch his hopes for higher office.

A misdemeanor charge was filed Monday against Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham, who's accused of disturbing the peace by "challenging another to fight."

A report from the Atwater Police Department states that witnesses at Foster's Freeze on Winton Way saw Mooneyham become aggressive while "yelling and cussing" at a clerk over the price of a milkshake about 8:30 p.m. Jan. 26.

When bystander Kevin Brazil tried to intercede, Mooneyham challenged him to fight and threatened to assault him, according to witness statements.

Brazil told the Sun-Star he didn't provoke Mooneyham, but felt threatened by him and thought the confrontation might get physical.

"He was trying to intimidate me," Brazil said. "I wasn't going to let him hit me."

Witnesses said Mooneyham, who left the scene before police arrived, appeared to be intoxicated and smelled of alcohol.

However, 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. "I think they're politically motivated."

Mooneyham said Brazil was just as confrontational during the incident.

"I would much rather talk about keeping officers on the street rather than a disagreement over a milkshake," Mooneyham said.

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.

Police: Refused test

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.

"Mooneyham then refused to come back outside and turned off the lights inside of the residence," according to the officer's report. "Several attempts were made to recontact Mooneyham with negative results."

The misdemeanor charge could bring up to six months in county jail, a fine and probation, said District Attorney Larry Morse II. "It's too early to speculate on what the resolution of this case may be," Morse noted.

But because Mooneyham didn't comply with an officer's request for field sobriety tests, authorities said, he could have his driver's license revoked for up to one year. The Police Department sent a report to the Department of Motor Vehicles for possible revocation.

Mooneyham, who recently filed paperwork to organize a campaign committee to run for District 3 supervisor in 2014, said the incident could affect his plans to run for the position.

However, he claimed the situation was nothing more than an argument that started when someone behind him said "something inappropriate."

"I'm a passionate person," Mooneyham said, adding that officers don't have proof he was driving that night.

The police report states that Mooneyham told police he confronted the girl 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 also states Mooneyham admitted to having two mixed drinks during a dinner at the APC Hall in Atwater.

Frank Pietro, police chief and interim city manager, said Mooneyham called him at one point and told him that the other party involved in the altercation at Foster's Freeze was outside his house.

Pietro told Mooneyham not to go outside if the other party was out there.

Ideally, the officers wouldn't have let Mooneyham go back inside during the investigation, Pietro noted.

Morse said Mooneyham soon will have a court date, when he'll be arraigned on the misdemeanor count.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or north@mercedsunstar.com.