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From hooligan to Manteca’s Santa
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The slice and dice style of social media today — thanks in part to everyone now being a “Little Brother” version of George Orwell’s Big Brother armed with smartphone videos and the ability to instantaneously upload all transgressions that are perceived and real — makes second chances almost history.

If the high tech flogging many of us participate in while operating in a vacuum without perspective hiding behind a screen name whether it is about some inane remark a baseball player made as a teen or some stupid group photo on a courthouse step had been around in 1981, some 3,000 people may have gone without a Thanksgiving meal in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon.

Impoverished kids and adults in Honduras that have blurry vision may not have a clear view of the world and a jovial Santa may not be coming to town next Saturday at the tail end of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce downtown Christmas parade.

That’s because the man at the center of it all that makes the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame look lethargic was caught red-handed as a 16-year-old siphoning gas.

Let’s be clear on this point. He siphoned gas on a routine basis to bankroll the illegal purchase of beer that he’d put on ice in pilfered cardboard boxes used to ship televisions that he lined with plastic so he and his buddies could cruise  Modesto’s McHenry Avenue —  the cruise immortalized in “American Graffiti” — and do so in style.

The young hell raiser also racked up other demerits that would have had the public shaming Greek chorus that the Internet Al Gore famously invented hyperventilating and clutching their chests.

He was well known to Ripon’s legendary police chief Red Nutt who spent many a day chasing the teen that turned the streets of the town into his version of the Long Beach Grand Prix while he laid down rubber piloting a racing go-cart with a modified 18.5 horsepower engine.

The hooligan was Jeff Liotard and the Manteca Police officer that collared him was a young patrol officer by the name of Charlie Halford.

That’s the same Jeff Liotard and Charlie Halford that headed up to Paradise on the spur of the moment over a week ago taking 80 pizzas to firefighters and four pallets of food for fire victims. Liotard followed that with an encore caravan of a semi-truck and eight other vehicles laden with mostly new items such as sleeping bags, coats and more donated by people in Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop.

That’s the same Jeff Liotard and Charlie Halford that fire up Manteca Rotary grills and lasso volunteers to not just cook breakfast at Phil Waterford’s annual Manteca Ford Christmas Eve breakfast and toy giveaway but at various impromptu events during the year.

 Liotard’s first encounter with Halford didn’t go well.

“He didn’t treat me with respect,” Liotard recalled.

It could have something to do with Liotard siphoning gas and Halford having been sworn to uphold the law.

As for Halford, his first impression of Liotard was that he was “wild and crazy.”

“He still is,” Halford said Thursday at Mt. Mike’s Pizza where he was coordinating the kitchen crew that churned out turkey dinners with the fixings sponsored by the Manteca Rotary and Sunrise Kiwanis that ended up feeding 3,000 people at five locations in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon as well as countless take-outs and home deliveries to shut-in folks. “He’s slowed down a bit, but age does it to us all.”

Let’s pause for a second.

That hooligan who fell madly in love with the girl with grass-stained feet (more about that in a minute) ended up in a blissful partnership that yielded two daughters and five Mt. Mike Pizza locations  including a fifth he opened between delivering desperately needed supplies to Paradise fire victims and handling the logistics to feed 3,000 on Thanksgiving.

That young officer went on not just to become police chief active in the community but in retirement has taken the concept of service above self to new levels.

Think about it.

What today we would call a young thug was able to get a second chance and touch the lives of tens of thousands of people in both little and small ways and a man — now retired — who is part of the law enforcement community that daily seems to get slammed 40 ways to Sunday are working side-by-side as Manteca’s marathon men of community service.

Yes, police officers have hearts. There are more than a few like Manteca Police Sgt. Stephen Schuler and his family as well as retired Police Chief Nick Obligacion who were working the Thanksgiving dinner as they do every year. It sounds cliché but most of those who become peace officer do so out of a sense of service. Even though they will protect a community against the real bad guys, they’d love nothing more than to turn around people if they can. Redemption, you might call it.

There’s a better word for it — grace. Despite being dumped on constantly that is a concept that many officers hold onto and employ when they can.

If you doubt that, just ask Liotard about who his probation officer was after his gig as fuel entrepreneur was up. It was Dave Thompson.

The same Dave Thompson who after retiring from the Manteca Police Department served as HOPE Family Shelters executive director for 14 years. During that time no less than 3,000 homeless — mostly children — were helped off the streets. HOPE expanded from one to three shelters and did a major rehab of the original shelter in the 500 block of East Yosemite Avenue.

Thompson was tough and invested time in Liotard.

He was encouraged to do so by Liotard’s father, Leo, a longtime Caltrans worker. When police were giving the impression they were going to go easy on his son, he made it clear — “Hell no, throw the book at him.”
Those were words the 16-year-old Ripon High football player that a few of his teachers voiced their opinion that he’d never amount to much did not want to hear.

But a firm application of the law wedded with genuine no nonsense concern and grace from Thompson sparked a desire in Liotard to steer his energy and wheel dealing type of thinking into more constructive channels.

Today Liotard shares membership in the Manteca Rotary Club with Halford, the officer who collared him as a juvenile. That’s the power of second chances and not being weighed down by your foolish transgressions by the albatross that the Internet has become. The Internet holds your every flaw it records for eternity making it hard to redeem yourself and makes you a massive target for those who get their jollies and feed their self-righteousness by trolling the cesspool of virtual reality so they can do the social media equivalent of drive-by shootings.

Liotard’s good deeds are endless including joining optometrist Fred Stellhorn — another Manteca Rotarian — on his frequent forays to Honduras to help give the gift of clear sight.

In all honesty Liotard’s good deeds are magnified 10-fold by his bride Tevani.

Behind every good man, they say, is a good woman.

Tevani is the girl with the grass stained feet when he spied her cutting her parents’ lawn in Manteca decades ago, didn’t simply fall in love at first sight but decided then and there she was the girl he wanted to marry.

“Any girl that would have grass stained feet was the girl for me,” Liotard said.

It was lucky for Manteca that Tevani had only one pair of tennis shoes and couldn’t afford to get them stained while mowing the grass.

Manteca is blessed with a lot of couples as well as individuals such as the Liotards that give freely of themselves. That said it is safe to say business and life partners Tevani and Jeff Liotard are Manteca’s power couple when it comes to community service.

If you don’t know who they are, you might be able to place their faces next month.

That’s because Jeff Liotard and Charlie Halford came up with the idea that Manteca Rotary should take over the downtown Santa Hut. The two along with their not-so-little-helpers have been busy upgrading the hut and booking appearances for Santa.

While Halford has politely declined a supporting role that would require him to don green leotards to serve as Santa’s elf, Liotard has let his beard grow.

You guessed it. The jolly old guy hanging around downtown this Christmas will be Liotard with the classiest Mrs. Claus at his side, his wife.

If you connect the dots this was all made possible because:

*Manteca Police had officers that took their calling seriously.

*Individual officers were willing to work with a young troublemaker.

*That teen was given a second chance and seized it.

*The power of love and the inner and outer beauty of a woman captured a man’s heart.

*A desire one day while toiling at Simpson Paper that once 16-year-old troublemaker who was now pursuing his version of the American Dream wanted to do even more with his life. In his own words, he “wanted to make a difference in the world.”

Remember the power of second chances and of grace and those who strive to improve the next time your impulse is to expose and teach someone a lesson about a transgression you perceive is an absolute sin although in the scheme of things it is merely a zit on the evolving and developing character of a young person. That zit may come and go and not blemish endless possibilities or you can relentless pick at it until it scars that young person for life.

Whatever choice you make to react to slights — real and perceived— just remember if Liotard had siphoned gas as a teen in a world where such an act goes viral before one is cited, released, and has a chance to be mentored how different Manteca’s little segment of the world would be.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email