Women Ward Off Drunken Intruder – August 27, 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

J STREET – A prominent business owner has been charged with public drunkenness and probation violation after a bizarre, frightening several minutes during which he seemed to be trying to break in to the home of two Arcata woman.

Eli Meade LaRue, 32, has since issued a written apology for his one-man siege of the J Street home of Jen Ables and Maral Attallah.

Attallah awoke early in the morning of Saturday, Aug. 18  to the sound of her roommate, Abels, pounding on the common wall between their bedrooms.

Abels thought Attallah was making too much noise shutting her window, and it had woken her up. “Hey, I’m sleeping!” Abels called out.

But Attallah, an Ethnic Studies professor at Humboldt State, wasn’t even in her room – she had fallen asleep on the living room couch. That was around 4:15 a.m., and once Abels pounded, the noise stopped, and she went back to sleep.

But something less than a half-hour later, even more violent sounds woke both if them up. This time, the sound was coming from the back of the house.

“We both woke up to, Boom! Boom!” Attallah said. “I knew immediately someone was trying to break in the door.”

The two women were prepared. Their downtown home is within stumbling range of the bars, and they’ve called police on many occasions – for people urinating in their yard, having sex, camping, doing drugs and more – but never for anyone trying to bash their way into the house.

Eli Meade LaRue

Going around to the back door, Attallah looked through the window to see a large, bearded man, later identified as LaRue, on the porch violently kicking at the door. In a voice loud enough to make sure he would hear, Attallah called out to Abels, “Get the shotgun! Get the handgun! If anyone comes in, shoot!”

At that, she said, the man said “Heeeyyy, heeeyyy…” but kept kicking the door.

This time she addressed him directly: “I have a shotgun. You need to leave now!”

She said he replied, “I’m coming in!” And continued kicking. So she issued a last threat, “I will blow your fucking head off!”

The kicking stopped, she said. After peering in the window,  LaRue took a step back and went down the porch steps, looking toward the back of the house. It seemed to her that he might be looking for a cohort in the backyard.

He then headed toward the street, traversing a low chainlink fence in the yard.

By this time, Abels was on the phone to Arcata Police, repeating the description to the dispatcher as Attallah called it out to her – “White male, six feet, white shirt, jeans, black jacket, dark shaggy hair!”

“Whenever we’ve called, they’ve always been spot on, amazing,” Attallah said. This time was no exception, with an officer arriving at their home 121 seconds after APD’s phone first rang. The call was logged at 4:47:58 a.m., an officer was dispatched at 4:48:40 and arrived at 4:49:59.

Police quickly located LaRue at 11th and J streets, detained him and asked Attallah to confirm his identity. She walked to where they had him detained on the sidewalk, and said, “That’s him, 100 percent.”

LaRue is co-founder of the popular Redwood Curtain Brewing Co. and was at that point a newly appointed City of Arcata planning commissioner. (He resigned Aug. 21 without ever having attended a Planning Commission meeting, citing “personal reasons as well as potential professional conflicts.”)

Attallah returned to her home, and after police checked her yard and a neighbor’s to make sure there were no more intruders,  she and Abels  – obviously unable to sleep – watched TV and talked out the morning’s unexpected events.

On Monday, Attallah visited APD to follow up, get details and ask some questions. She was shocked to learn that LaRue had only been charged with being drunk in public – no vandalism, no trespassing, no harassment – just the single misdemeanor.

She said police told her LaRue blew a .214 blood alcohol level – almost three times the .08 legal definition of drunkenness.

Abels was, and remains “terrified” at what the two women view as a violent attempt at intrusion into their home. “Any little movement sets her off,” Attallah said.

Attallah’s reaction is the opposite: outrage – at LaRue’s alleged conduct, the unknown consequences that might have ensued had he managed to enter their home, and at the flimsy charge for an incident that has turned her and Abels’ lives upside-down.

She said  the police told her LaRue had no history of violence and was “too drunk to know what he was doing.” That, she said, isn’t satisfactory.

“Him just getting a ‘drunk in public’ is a slap in the face and doesn’t reflect the severity of the situation,” Attallah said. “The fact of the matter is, he was trying to get into our home. I gave him the opportunity to leave, and he wasn’t taking it. A few more kicks and he would have been in. We had no idea if he had a gun, or [was with] multiple people.”

APD Lt. Ryan Peterson said LaRue was on probation for a DUI conviction dating from March, 2011.

The criteria for a drunk in public charge involves whether the intoxicated individual can properly care for himself or others. LaRue clearly could do neither, Peterson said.

He said that his department has learned over the years what charges will actually stick, and tries to submit prosecutable cases to the DA’s Office.

“We want to send a solid case that we feel is going to be charged,” Peterson said. “That was where we felt the most good could come out of it.”

He added that the DA’s Office may also add charges it considers prosecutable.

He said there was nothing to distinguish LaRue from the other mixed-up drunks who try and barge into the wrong homes virtually every week.

He acknowledged that accidental or otherwise, such an intrusion can be wrenching for victims. “I’ve been to numerous ‘drunks at the wrong house’ calls, and it’s a very traumatic thing,”  he said. “It’s frightening.”

Attallah didn’t say whether she has the weapons she had warned LaRue about as he banged on the door, saying only, “We can defend ourselves.”

The deadbolt locks she and Abels had installed on the door did much more than just prevent LaRue’s entry, she said. “They saved his life, not mine,” Attallah said. “His family is so lucky he came home.”

Had she been forced to defend herself, the newspaper headlines would have screamed, “HSU professor shoots drunk,” she said. “Then I would have been put into scrutiny. It would have changed my life.”

In significant ways, it already has. Her expectation of safety in Arcata has been shattered, and she has further beefed up security at her home in order to stand her ground.

“I know my rights,” Attallah said. “There’s no reason I’m going to let someone scare me into moving.”

It’s what she doesn’t know that most disturbs her.

She wants to know why LaRue so persistently tried to enter their home, and she openly speculated about assaults, robbery and physical harm.

“He heard dogs barking, us yelling and he knows that potentially he could get shot,” she said.

Further, she wonders where he had been drinking to such severe excess. “Who served him?” she wanted to know. “Was he drinking in an establishment?”

LaRue declined comment on these and other questions about the incident, but submitted an apology (see below).

Compounding her dismay is the reaction she experienced online. When friends posted calls for a boycott of LaRue’s business on Facebook, his friends replied with comments to the effect of, “He’s sorry, get over it.”

“Just because we were pro-active doesn’t mean we weren’t victims,” she said. “Unless you’ve woken up to someone trying to kick your door in, you have no idea what it’s like.”

Catherine LaFleur, executive director of Arcata’s Emma Center, said the incident will likely affect their outlook for some time. “It’ll probably bother them for quite a while,” LaFleur said. “They can get PTSD from this that can last forever.”

As a first step, she said that “they need to get back their sense of safety.” She suggested that the two avail themselves of the Emma Center’s many resources for supporting women who have experienced trauma and abuse. The center is located at 5251 Ericson Way Suite #3, Arcata, CA, 95521. (707) 825-6680, emmacenter.org

One thing Attallah won’t let the incident take away from her is her faith in human nature.

“I truly believe people are good until I’m shown otherwise,” she said.

 Eli LaRue’s statement

I wish to offer my sincerest apologies to the two women Jen Ables and Maral Attallah. I would like to assure them that I meant them no harm, and am truly sorry that I put them through an experience that made them feel unsafe in their own home and community.

I would like to offer whatever I possibly can to rectify this situation that I caused. I went out on Friday night with a friend to show him a good time while he was in town.

When calling for a cab ride home at 1:23 a.m, I was informed that the soonest I could get a ride was 4:30 a.m. At this point, I attempted to walk home, and became disoriented and separated from my friend.

I had no intent to harm anyone, or any property; I was simply trying to get home. I have been reluctant to comment on the matter due to a very unclear recollection of the events that evening and being unable to get a copy of the police report.

When some information started coming forward through social media, I made my best attempts to apologize to Jen Ables and Marl Attallah. These attempts, however, failed.

My actions in the morning hours of Aug 18 are indefensible, and embarrassing. All I can do is ask these two women and the community for forgiveness.


Eli LaRue