Man arrested at downtown Starbucks on New Year’s Day
The new year began with a rough start for a transient who witnesses say was mistreated by employees and responding Chico Police Department officers at the downtown Starbucks.
In his online blog, “Without a Roof,” homeless advocate Bill Mash, who saw the situation unfold, said the African-American man—identified in an arrest report as 28-year-old Gerard Devaughn Hamlett—was told that customers complained he smelled, and that he was told to leave by a Starbucks manager shortly after 8 a.m. on New Year’s Day. After the man reportedly took offense, became argumentative and refused to leave, CPD officers responded and arrested him for trespassing.
Another witness, George Gold of Magalia, independently emailed the CN&R with an account that corroborates Mash’s observations.
In his blog post and a follow-up interview, Mash said the man initially became “belligerent” when confronted by the manager, but calmed down before officers arrived. Gold came in later during the altercation, and said he didn’t observe Hamlett speaking angrily at all, that the man had raised his voice only enough to be heard by the manager across the room.
Both men said they tried to help Hamlett remain calm, with Gold taking the seat directly next to him. Both were in close proximity to Hamlett, and claim he did not emit an offensive odor.
The witnesses said they were even more shocked by the actions of the three CPD officers who responded to the call. Mash recalled the conversation in his blog post:
“He asks, ‘Why did she ask me to leave? I didn’t do anything wrong,’” Mash wrote. “‘Because she’s the boss—that’s why,’ was the cop’s response.
“The cop asks the manager if she wants him arrested, she says yes, and away he goes.”
Gold said that Hamlett had no chance to respond before one of the officers pushed him forward out of the chair and another cuffed him. He said the officers then carried him out roughly. Gold estimated the police arrived, arrested and removed him in less than a minute, taking no time to independently ascertain the situation.
“He absolutely had no opportunity to say anything or defend himself,” Gold said in a phone interview. “I’m 100 percent certain of that.”
CPD Sgt. Matt Nowicki, who was not involved in the arrest but reviewed the police reports, said the officers acted immediately upon arrival because the Starbucks manager’s phoned complaint qualifies as a citizen’s arrest.
“My understanding is that he’d been asked to leave,” Nowicki said. “It’s a private business and they can refuse service to anybody, and he was placed under citizen’s arrest for trespassing.
“They [Starbucks] are basically stating they wish for him to be arrested, they’re willing to appear as a witness, and that this crime occurred,” Nowicki further explained. “There’s no physical arrest done by the citizen, but it’s a legal technicality that establishes they’re willing to testify and want him placed under arrest.”
The CPD arrest log reports Hamlett was arrested on the trespassing charge at 8:18 a.m. The log also reports at 8:30 a.m. his arrest on warrants for failing to appear in court for a November urinating-in-public citation, and an unspecified nonlocal warrant. In both cases, he was cited but not transferred to the Butte County Jail.
The New Year’s Day coffee-shop incident seems to be the latest in a string of bad luck for Hamlett, who could not be located for an interview. The name, birth date and description of the arrested man match that of a once-promising Northwestern University football star who in 2005 was ranked ninth among Big Ten Conference kick-returners, before injuries sidelined his athletic career in 2006.
Mash confirmed the hopeful-looking young man profiled at www.nusports.com, and whose Facebook profile lists him as owning a company called LXL Sports, is the same man he saw Jan. 1. Hamlett stopped posting to his Facebook profile last May.
Hamlett also had a run-in with police the day before the Starbucks incident, on the morning of New Year’s Eve. According to police reports, he was arrested after staff at Jack’s Family Restaurant complained he was asleep in a booth and refused to leave. The report said he was booked for disorderly conduct, but released with no charges filed.
On Tuesday (Jan. 7) morning, a manager at the downtown coffee shop said she couldn’t speak about the incident due to Starbucks’ corporate policy, and provided a number to the company’s Seattle media-relations office. Phone calls initiated an emailed response from Laurel Harper, Starbucks’ global corporate-communications manager.
“Our stores are gathering places for the entire community, and all customers are welcome,” Harper wrote. “This customer’s experience is not consistent with the welcoming and friendly environment we strive to create for every customer who visits our stores, and it does not reflect Starbucks’ core mission and values.
“We want every customer who visits our stores to feel welcomed and to enjoy their visit, and we are currently attempting to contact this customer to apologize for his experience and offer him a gift card to give us the opportunity to serve him again.”