Chico councilwoman’s arrest gets tongues wagging

Flynn faces misdemeanor DUI charge, extra attention

ON THE SCENE<br>The Great Harvest Bread store at Forest and Humboldt shows signs of damage where Chico Police say the car of Mary Flynn contacted the building while she parked Friday evening.

The Great Harvest Bread store at Forest and Humboldt shows signs of damage where Chico Police say the car of Mary Flynn contacted the building while she parked Friday evening.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Of all the DUI arrests made by officers of the Chico Police Department, none has been quite like one last Friday evening. That’s when Billy Aldridge and Jeremy Struthers responded to a call from Great Harvest Bread Co. on Forest Avenue and Humboldt Road about a woman who’d parked her car smack against the building.

That woman turned out to be Mary Flynn—former Chico High math teacher, new director of Chico State University’s Community Action Volunteers in Education and a first-term Chico city councilmember.

Suddenly, this was no ordinary case, even though city and police officials stressed it has been treated that way.

Flynn was arrested under a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. The police report is in the hands of Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who will decide whether to prosecute. The DUI citation does not put Flynn’s job or public office at immediate risk, and Flynn is not up for re-election in November (her term runs through 2010).

Returning a call by the CN&R, Flynn declined to comment. But colleagues at various points on the political spectrum have spoken out on her behalf, calling for the public to suspend judgment until the legal process takes its course.

“My reaction is more of a personal one: I want to support her as a friend,” Mayor Andy Holcombe said. “I want to help her weather the somewhat painful process of speculation.”

Steve Bertagna, the most senior councilman with 12 years’ tenure, was even more direct: “The public needs to know that councilmembers are not above the law and are not given special treatment; however, now that she’s been charged, she deserves the rights accorded to any citizen, and that’s to have her case heard in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. The public needs to hold off so she gets a fair shake.”

Since her attorney, Denny Latimer, says she shouldn’t even have been arrested, that process may take some time to resolve.

The facts of the case have come out in slightly different ways on different days and in different media. According to Police Chief Bruce Hagerty and Interim Assistant City Manager Dennis Beardsley, here’s how the incident went down:

Aldridge, and moments later Struthers, arrived on the scene after 5:30 p.m. July 18. Both officers—neither a Chico PD newbie—responded to the radio call to the strip mall and gas station complex located just a few blocks from police headquarters.

They found Flynn in her car, parked against the building; they did not witness her driving. They administered a field sobriety test, then she was taken to Enloe Medical Center for blood tests.

Mary Flynn was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge (shown in a 2007 photo).

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Flynn has a previous DUI arrest, which she disclosed during her campaign in 2006. It happened in 1990 and involved alcohol.

This time, Hagerty stressed, “alcohol was not suspected.” His officers didn’t smell it on her breath, didn’t think she was drunk and didn’t administer a Breathalyzer test.

“I truly believe it was prescription medication,” Hagerty continued. “She got mixed up in what she took. It was nothing sinister—it’s not like she went on a binge.”

From the hospital, she was taken to the police station. By then, Hagerty had been informed of the arrest; because of timing, he said, he did not check out the scene or go to Enloe. He saw Flynn when she was brought to his office after she was booked, and he released her to a person Beardsley called “a friend” and Hagerty called “her fiancé.”

Police brought her car back to the station—again, Hagerty explained, because of proximity, not preferential handling.

On the latter count, Beardsley says he’s satisfied: “I could not find any situation that she was treated any differently than any individual.”

“Does the chief go to the office any time there’s a DUI? No,” he added. Since a public figure and the media would be involved, though, Hagerty needed to be “aware,” and Hagerty said he determined he “need[ed] to be involved.”

Flynn’s attorney feels other-wise, because he doesn’t think there should have been an arrest at all. Latimer was in court all day Monday and Tuesday, so by CN&R deadline Wednesday morning, he’d only completed part of his own investigation—but he said he spoke to witnesses who “indicated to me that she wasn’t under the influence of anything.”

The officers, supervised that shift by Lt. Mike O’Brien, “didn’t do a good job in making the decision to snatch her—evidenced in the fact that the police chief had to correct himself on if alcohol was involved.” (Hagerty initially was paraphrased in the Enterprise-Record as saying Flynn was impaired “allegedly due to prescription medication and possibly alcohol.")

Results of her blood test should come back within one to three weeks.

Meanwhile, she remains employed by the Associated Students of Chico State, which has a policy regarding driving under the influence on the job but not for hiring or firing someone with a DUI arrest.

Chico’s city charter contains a provision for removing a councilmember for a crime involving “moral turpitude.” Assistant City Attorney Alicia Rock said a conviction is required to trigger such a vote, and in researching case law, she found “misdemeanor DUI with similar circumstances does not fall under that [category of moral turpitude].”

Holcombe expressed displeasure at the amount of public speculation, but said that “the community as a whole—so far as the people who have contacted me—has been supportive of her. That’s gratifying.”