Citizen, police accounts differ in two incidents – February 3, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – Arcata Police and citizens are offering contradictory accounts of two incidents that occurred in January.

Jan. 1

Just minutes into 2010, an Arcata Police car driven by officer Don Arminio collided with Antonia Hernandez at Seventh and H streets. Hernandez couldn’t be reached for this story.

According to Interim Police Chief Tom Chapman, the young woman declined medical attention at the scene. There was no damage to the APD car. Nonetheless, a case was initiated, with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) investigating, as is standard practice.

The recently completed CHP report is available only to principal participants, but Chapman allowed a look at it.

The report states that at 12:28 a.m. New Year’s morning, Arminio was southbound on H Street. He stopped at Seventh Street near “The Jacoby Creek Store parking lot” and turned left. There he collided with Herdandez, striking her with the car’s left front fender at three to five miles per hour. Arminio notified APD dispatch, and an ambulance and the CHP were notified.

Hernandez complained of pain in her left wrist, but declined a trip to the hospital.

Arminio said he didn’t see the pedestrian, but that the collision occurred outside of the crosswalk. This is a principal point of dispute, because Hernandez claimed she was in the crosswalk. A final determination was frustrated by rain, though – the wet pavement at the accident scene couldn’t be marked for position of vehicle and victim.

The CHP report states that alcohol was evident on Hernadez’s breath. She was taken to the APD station and breathalyzed twice, returning a .152 blood alcohol level at 1:23 a.m. and .125 at 1:25 a.m. California’s legal limit for drivers is .08. She told officers that over the course of the evening, she had had four beers and four shots of whiskey. Arminio was also tested, and returned a .000 reading.

The report doesn’t assess fault in the collision. “The fortunate part is that she wasn’t hurt,” Chapman said.

A related encounter

After her release from APD, Hernandez reportedly went to the home of a friend, Jason Hunt, who lives a few blocks away on Fourth Street.

Hunt said she told him that she’d been struck by a police car, and seemed dazed. Having been trained in first aid, it looked to him as though she was still in shock from the accident, so he decided to report the situation to APD.

He said he called APD’s non-emergency line, (707) 822-2428, to ask that an officer come to his house and take a report. The first time, he said he was told no officers were available, but after the third call, he was told an officer was on his way.

APD dispatcher logs from that morning differ from Hunt’s account. Beginning at 2:16 a.m., the log states that Hunt called both non-emergency and 911 lines, that he sounded as though he had been drinking, was “talking nonsensically,” that he was told he’d be cited for abuse of 911 and that he persisted in calling the non-emergency line as many as three times in two minutes. Hunt denies ever calling 911.

At 2:59 a.m. an officer finally responded to Hunt’s Fourth Street address. Hunt and APD offering sharply disparate accounts of the encounter at his apartment building. He claims that an officer arrived and stood several feet away as he related his information. The officer, Hunt said, then stepped backward and said, “I didn’t hear you.” Hunt stepped forward to be better heard, and the officer again stepped back and said, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear you.”

“I felt like he was luring me out,” Hunt said.

As he stepped forward again, he said another officer appeared at his side and grabbed him. “I turned to look, and the cop who I was talking to said, ‘You’re resisting arrest,’” Hunt said.

With that, he was taken down and handcuffed. Hunt said excessive force was used, was not asked for identification, that he was never told he was under arrest and that he was never read his rights. He said he was left in an APD car for 20 minutes and driven to county jail in Eureka by a different officer, where he was charged with public intoxication. The APD log shows the incident finally closed out at 5:12 a.m.

Chief Chapman offers a different account of the encounter with Hunt. He said Hunt had called 911 “multiple times.” Officers reportedly found Hunt intoxicated and belligerent, and that he refused repeated requests to go back inside his house. “He was not lured outside,” Chapman said. “For us, it’s much easier if they’ll just go inside. We have other things to do, especially on New Year’s Eve.”

In the time interval from Hernandez’s accident to when officers arrived at Hunt’s apartment, APD officers had responded to a range of calls drawing them all over town. Incidents in progress at the time included multiple public drunkenness arrests on the Plaza, a drunk driving collision in Westwood Court, a fight on H Street, a man trying to knock down a woman’s front door on Spear Avenue, a man breaking the front door of the Hotel Arcata, a drunk driver at 10th and H streets, a false 911 call from Valley West, a hit-and-run at Eighth and H streets, a reckless driver on H Street, a shoplifter at CVS Pharmacy, a fight and head injury at the Portuguese Hall and a man making threats at the Community Center.

“That night, we were out of resources,” Chapman said. The last thing we needed was a 911 caller with no crime.”

Hunt remains bitter about his experience, and said APD was non-responsive in the days following his arrest, having refused to provide an arrest report and failing to return phone calls.

Based on his conversations with Hernandez, he insists that she was struck in the crosswalk. He said her right side was sprained and bruised, and that she missed a week and a half of work.

According to Hunt, the CHP never called Hernandez for any follow-up during its investigation. Her only official contact, he said, was a call from an insurance adjuster for the City of Arcata.

Jan. 15

After what Arcata Police say were complaints about aggressive panhandling, a man was arrested for an outstanding felony warrant and public drunkenness in the Valley West Shopping Center. Since then, what would normally be a  relatively unremarkable incident has become a matter of much discussion between City officials and a witness.

McKinleyville resident Donna Dixon said she and her husband were at the Pantry restaurant at about 5:15 p.m. that afternoon when they saw an APD car drive up on a man outside the nearby Dollar Tree store. She said an officer got out of the car and, with his hand on the butt of his gun, yelled at the man, saying “I told you not to come into the shopping center.”

A second APD car then arrived, Dixon said, and the man was taken to the ground and handcuffed. She said she asked Officer David Miller what the man was being detained for, but that Miller said it was “none of your business.”

She said that 30 or so people witnessed the encounter as the man was harshly pulled to his feet by the handcuffs and placed in the APD vehicle. She said she asked the officer for his name and badge number, but he refused to provide them, only rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

However, she was able to read Miller’s name tag when, after securing the arrestee in the car, he came over to her and said, “You should be supporting law enforcement, not questioning what we do or how we do it.”

The following week, Dixon said she called police departments “from Trinidad to Rio Dell,” all of which said their officers will provide name and badge number on request.

But APD Chief Chapman said Miller was in compliance, citing California Penal Code section 830.10, which states, “Any uniformed peace officer shall wear a badge, nameplate, or other device which bears clearly on its face the identification number or name of the officer.” That last “or” is the key term.

Dixon has since complained to City Manager Randy Mendosa and Chapman about what she believes was verbal and physical abuse of the suspect at the scene.

Chapman defends the forceful tactic, saying “firm voice commands to gain compliance” are a standard tactic.

He said Dixon could have had her concerns addressed effectively without becoming involved at the scene. “She inserted herself while the officer was doing his job,” Chapman said. “There are other avenues than confronting an officer while he’s engaged in his duties.”

“I didn’t insert myself,” Dixon maintains.

As for the suspect arrested that day, dispatcher logs indicate a complaint at 3:56 and 59 seconds about a drunken man with dreadlocks panhandling outside Ray’s Food Place. After being warned by an employee about trespassing, he apparently wandered over to the shopping center’s north side, but police were unable to locate him at the time. The second call, which Dixon witnessed, is not recorded in the log.

Chapman said the second call came in at 5:17 p.m. and Miller responded. “They made it all part of the same call, that is why you don’t see the later call,” Chapman said.  

Arrestee Chad Leroy Macias, 32, of Flagstaff, Arizona was booked at Humboldt County Jail at 6:30 p.m. Chapman said the felony warrant was for “Failure to Appear” and “Dangerous Drugs” out of Arizona. These, he said, are generic descriptions given on the warrant.

But Dixon said she called the jail, and was told that the only person brought in from Arcata at that time was a sex offender picked up on the Plaza.

“The more they try to baffle and bullshit me, the angrier I get,” Dixon said. She said she has contacted a Eureka attorney over the matter, and is confident that he will be able to obtain more specific information.

“If they want to get stubborn, I can get stubborn,” she said.