Kevin L. Hoover
BLUE LAKE – A man was shot and killed Saturday morning by Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) deputies after an incident which began near the Blue Lake Boulevard on-ramp.
An HCSO press release said the man had charged two deputies with a metal rake handle after attacking another man with the entire rake moments earlier. “They didn’t know each other from Adam,” said Lt. Steve Knight. He said the deceased individual had attacked the htchhiker without provocation.
Monday, the man was identified as Robert Garth, 31.
Garth was well-known to law enforcement authorities for erratic behavior. In 2005, he was arrested for an unprovoked assault on a juvenile neighbor with pruning shears. He was known to rove Blue Lake at all hours, sometimes collecting random objects from the roadside. (See 2005 Eye story, below.)
The HCSO press release described the following version of events:
On Saturday, Aug. 7 at about 7:30 a.m. a 35-year-old Arcata man who was hitchhiking called 911 from State Route 299 near the Blue Lake westbound off-ramp. The man told dispatchers he had been assaulted with a metal-clawed garden rake.
It was later determined the suspect, a white male adult, had struck the victim in several places including over the head. The clawed rake handle broke off during the struggle. The suspect maintained custody of the rake handle.
The man said the suspect had left but was still in the area. Deputies were dispatched from the McKinleville Station. While enroute, the dispatch operator received another call from the victim stating the suspect had returned and was again assaulting him near the Blue Lake overhead on State Route 299.
The victim and suspect struggled over the metal garden rake handle, and at one point the suspect reportedly demanded the victim’s wedding band. He also threatened to throw the victim off the overhead.
According to the HCSO, as deputies arrived, they drove up to where the struggle was occurring. The victim let go of the metal rake handle and ran. The suspect turned his attention on the officers who instructed him to put down the metal pole, which was approximately three feet long.
The suspect, who was in close proximity of the officer, reportedly raised the pole to strike the officers and came at the officers, who drew their weapons. The officers told the suspect to put down the pole as he quickly advanced on the two officers, but the suspect refused. The officers repeatedly told the suspect to drop the pole and he continued to advance the short distance.
Both officers fired their weapons and backed up from the suspect. The suspect continued to aggressively advance on the officers even after being shot. The officers repeated their demand to drop the pole, but the suspect still refused and continued to come at the officers.
The officers shot him again, and the suspect fell to the ground. A third officer who arrived on the scene was not involved in the shooting.
Medical aid was called for the victim and suspect. Medical personnel pronounced the suspect dead at the scene. One officer received minor abrasions. The assault victim was treated and released from a local hospital for wounds to his head and upper body.
The California Highway Patrol closed State Route 299 between Glendale Drive and Blue Lake Boulevard for several hours while the shooting was investigated.
The United States Coast Guard helicopter was called to assist California Department of Justice Investigators with overflight photos.
The two deputies involved, one a veteran officer, another an officer in training have been placed on administrative leave which is standard for officer involved deaths and shootings.
The case is being investigated by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the Humboldt County District Attorneys Office, The Humboldt County Corner, California Department of Justice, and the Humboldt County Critical Incident Response Team.
The Humboldt County Critical Incident Response team consists of investigators from the District Attorneys Office, Eureka Police and Arcata Police.
(Note, the following story was published in the Arcata Eye Aug. 31, 2005. – Ed.)
By Kevin L. Hoover
BLUE LAKE – Blue Lake Police officers started their day on Thursday, Aug. 25 at 9 a.m. with a dead deer slamming the front door of a Glendale Avenue home on them. They ended that day 10 hours later, chasing after loose chickens out back of the same residence. In between, they saw enough filth, squalor and subhuman living conditions to cause one officer to lose his lunch and bring others to tears.
The occasion was the service of an abatement order on a home at 3507 Glendale Drive, just north of State Route 299 and Blue Lake Boulevard. The home, occupied by Mary Garth and her juvenile son, had come to the attention of the county’s Division of Environmental Health as early as 2003 because of a yard full of junked cars and car parts, animals, debris and trash.
Repeated attempts by to contact the homeowner had proven fruitless, and last month, Blue Lake Police Chief Dave Gundersen told county Code Enforcement Investigator Jeff Conner that conditions at the home had deteriorated to include smells of sewage and decomposing animals.
So on Aug. 22, Judge Dale Reinholtzen signed an inspection warrant, and three days later, an array of county officials gathered at the home. Included were representatives from BLPD, the Dept. of Fish and Game, Environmental Health, county Animal Control, county Mental Health and Child Welfare Services.
Floor to ceiling
A video shot by BLPD Sgt. Darcie Seal documents the inspection. After an initial walkaround of the residence’s debris-strewn yard, police pushed open the house’s front door, only to find it blocked and unable to open all the way. Wedging their way through the partially-opened door and into the home, officers discovered it crammed with densely-stacked material including furniture, clothing, and all manner of bric-a-brac of negligible value.
Sometimes giggling at the bizarre aggregations of material, other times gasping from foul odors, inspectors threaded their way along narrow corridors through floor-to-ceiling stacks of debris. Though the home has electricity, lights are few and with windows blocked by the mounds of material, at times the video is shot in infra-red light.
In some rooms, the trails through the debris are so narrow that inspectors had to enter single-file.
The item blocking the front door turned out to be the remains of a deer carcass with its skeleton partky exposed, which Gundersen later said was a first for him. “I’ve had people with guns behind the door; I’ve had everything,” he said. “But I’ve never had the door come back at you with a dead deer.”
Conner said Garth told him the deer was a road kill and that it was being used to feed the dozens of chickens kept behind the home. “I noticed that the meat had been cut off all the hindquarters,” Conner said. “I think it’s likely that they were eating it themselves.”
Elsewhere in the home, personnel white plastic buckets brimming with human waste. Conner said Garth paid her monthly water bill, but a leak rendered internal plumbing inoperative. Water was drawn from an outside spigot.
Assisting the public safety personnel was Mary Garth. Though described as “challenged” by Gundersen, Garth appeared aware of the unusual circumstances. “We like to spend our time outside with the animals,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with keeping things in your house.”
How the home came to be jammed with debris is explained in a court document filed by Conner in support of the inspection warrant. It includes observations related to Conner by Gundersen and Seal, who have had “numerous contacts” with Garth’s adult son, Robert. the 26-year-old Garth had last been arrested while riding his bicycle in Arcata on July 15 after an alleged assault on a juvenile neighbor with pruning shears.
Police say the elder Garth son made a practice of riding his bike around Blue Lake in the early hours collecting random objects from the roadside and possibly residenctial yards, placing them in his bike trailer and taking them home. On one occasion, Gundersen reportedly observed Garth placing concrete “playground anchors” from the city’s corp yard.
During the multi-agency inspection, Mary Garth explained that the collections of material saves her trips to the store, as she can often locate needed items amid the stockpile of debris.
Capping the day-long inspection was the collection of numerous distressed animals from the family’s yard. Some 52 chickens, five rabbits and two Guinea pigs were taken into protective custody by HCSO Lt. Steve Knight for storage at the county animal shelter in McKinleyville.
Knight said the animals showed “signs of neglect” – the rabbits’ had matted nap. A once-over at a veterinarian cost $400, Knight said, and daily maintenance costs for the menagerie hadn’t yet been calculated. “It’s not cheap,” Knight said. He said the county will attempt to bill Mary Garth for reimbursement.
Also lodged elsewhere were Mary Garth and her juvenile son. With her home declared unfit for human habitation, the two were put up in a local motel at county expense. A week later, though, Gundersen said the two had “trashed” their motel room and the facility’s management had “had enough,” declining to continue their stay. The two reportedly moved back onto their property, camping in the backyard.
Meanwhile, Garth’s home has been temporarily condemned, with a two-page list of problems requiring correction before it may be used as a residence. Categories include “Inadequate Sanitation” (lack of operating plumbing, toilets, sinks and ventilation), “Structural Hazards” (rotten floors, walls and structural supports), “Hazardous Electrical Wiring” (improperly installed wiring and extension cords), “Faulty Weather Protection” (cracked, broken walls), “Fire Hazard” (accumulated solid waste providing fuel for a potential fire), “Hazardous or Insanitary Premises” (junk, rat nests, combustible materials and more), and “Nuisance” (substandard conditions).
Recommended corrections include disposal of all the junked cars and solid waste and repair or demolition of the ruined house.
The juvenile at the home had been the subject of complaints at school for his ragged clothing and lack of hygeine, but Seal said other students had been supportive, providing clothing and food for the youth.
The condirion of the house took a toll on the personnel who inspected it. One Blue Lake police officer vomited outside after exposure to the filth-packed home, due to what Seal described as “the smell of death and feces.”
Others of the team were overcome by emotion at the deplorable living conditions. “There were people crying,” Seal said. She said BLPD considered providing grief counseling to the distraught personnel.
Conner said that compulsive disorders which cause people to systematically collect and store useless items is “not uncommon,” and though he’s seen cases of severe debris infestation, the Garth home was in a class by itself.
“It’s the worst house I’ve ever been in,” he said.