A rush to judgment

The Chico Police Department appears to be favoring businesses over citizens

Two eyewitnesses to an incident at the downtown Starbucks on New Year’s morning say a man who was arrested at the coffee shop was unfairly singled out. We believe that’s because that man is a transient.

According to their accounts, Chico Police officers showed up to arrest 28-year-old Gerard Devaughn Hamlett, whom a store manager reported had an offensive odor. That unidentified female manager called the police when Hamlett reportedly refused to leave the chain coffee shop.

But instead of asking Hamlett to explain his side of the story, the officers rushed to judgment. They pushed him off his chair, cuffed him and forcefully escorted him out of the building. He was arrested for trespassing and on warrants for other infractions homeless individuals face in their day-to-day lives on the streets.

Problem is, the same witnesses say that Hamlett didn’t smell bad to begin with, and that he became belligerent only after being asked to leave. And by the time the CPD got to the scene, he was quite calm. If the officers had bothered to talk to these witnesses, they’d have known all that.

A police sergeant told the CN&R that the store manager called the CPD for what amounted to a citizen’s arrest—only the police would be the ones to enforce it. It happened as a result of a “legal technicality” whereby Starbucks wanted him booted and was willing to testify Hamlett committed a crime.

That alone triggered the arrest. In other words, the officers sided with the manager without investigating the situation whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine that the Chico Police would apply this logic elsewhere. And that seems criminal.

At the very least, CPD officers should have asked Hamlett to leave. They ought to have given him a chance to do so, before slapping him with a citation. Going forward, the department should take a close look at its protocol in these situations. As it stands, it smacks of favoritism.

As for Starbucks and its manager, we understand that businesses have a right to refuse service to whomever they choose, but it certainly isn’t good business to toss people out, especially for no good reason.