Chico Police say recent violence is nothing new

More media attention just makes it more real

Chicoans have been talking a lot lately about the recent spate of violent crimes, particularly in the downtown area. There was a shooting at LaSalles a few weeks ago. And in the past two weeks, there’s been a string of seemingly random assaults—two at Annie’s Glen, one at One-Mile Recreation Area and one at the downtown transit center—as well as a rape and several other violent encounters, some of them in broad daylight.

It’s enough to make you think, WTF is going on in Chico?!

For the Chico Police Department, however, it’s business as usual.

“It seems to me that we have violent incidents every week, so is this really unusual? Numbers-wise, I don’t know,” said Chico PD Sgt. Rob Merrifield. “It seems to me it’s pretty consistent.”

Many people in Chico are under the illusion that our little town is safer than it truly is, Merrifield said. When they’re not a witness to it, or it isn’t covered in the media, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Chico PD has issued several press releases in recent weeks, however, highlighting what to many may seem like an upswing in violence. The first—and most unusual, Merrifield said—was a shooting July 2 at LaSalle’s Bar. That evening, at 10:45 p.m., Isam “Sam” Smith was shot several times in the chest and Nicole Chin, thought to be a friend of the victim, was shot in the arm on the back patio of the popular downtown bar. Police identified about 60 witnesses, including bar personnel, and arrested a suspect, Shane Warner, a local hip-hop artist. Warner pleaded not guilty to two counts of attempted murder and is due in court July 26.

Later that same night, a young woman who said she turned down a man’s passes at Bella’s Sports Pub, was followed outside and assaulted in the parking lot of Bidwell Presbyterian Church. Some friends helped her get free, but not before she sustained injuries to her face and a broken leg. Her attacker is still on the loose. (See a letter from the victim’s father on page 6.)

A little more than a week later, on July 11, at just past 5 a.m., a woman was walking near Lost Park at 100 Wall St. when she was approached by a Hispanic man who was about 45 years old. He pulled out a knife, forced her into the park and raped her. She was able to flag down a street sweeper, who called 911. She was taken to the hospital and police detectives are still looking for her attacker.

A few days later, on Wednesday (July 13), two young men were attacked near Annie’s Glen in separate incidents, reported KHSL-TV news. Dustin Chin was taken to the hospital after being beaten with a baseball bat. A few hours later, Kevin Kohler was assaulted by a group of men. Kohler refused medical treatment and neither victim is cooperating with police. A photo of Kohler on his Facebook page shows two swollen black eyes, blood around his nose, mouth, cheeks, chin and forehead. His comment reads, “?3 skateboards and four juggalos vs a pascifist’s face.”

At 7:20 a.m. Friday (July 15), the random attacks continued, with a man being assaulted at One-Mile Recreation Area, according to Enterprise-Record reports. Police arrested four men and cited a juvenile whom they believe were involved in the assault. Those men, Francisco John Ramirez, Nathaniel Dominguez-Feather, Christopher Handy and Anthony Sermeno, allegedly have gang ties and were all intoxicated, Merrifield said.

“If you were going to look to a common theme in almost all of these incidents, it’s alcohol,” he said. “The people at LaSalle’s were drinking. The kids in the gang, they’d been drinking. The incident where the victim was beaten down at Bidwell Pres, they’d been drinking. Alcohol seems to be a pretty consistent theme for us.”

That might not come as a surprise to many in the Chico community, but the fact that it’s summertime, when the majority of Chico State students are out of town, might force some to rethink their belief that crime and drunken brawling is a “student problem.”

“Realistically, we’re arresting people every weekend for domestic violence, assault, bar fights—[these recent incidents] don’t feel that unusual to me,” Merrifield said. “Maybe that’s part of the problem. It’s probably not a very good commentary on how things are going.”

He does acknowledge that Chicoans seem to be paying more attention to what’s going on in terms of these violent attacks. In the most recent incident downtown, a woman threatened to fight with another woman at the transit center on Second Street Monday (July 18). She then started punching the victim, who was able to escape. The suspect, later identified as Talara Cavalli, was approached on the bus, where she allegedly began kicking and hitting a police officer. She was arrested.

“I don’t know what people should feel about it,” Merrifield said. “If you never venture into downtown on weekend nights and you read in the paper about all this stuff happening, you might not believe it. You might not know that that part of the community exists. This isn’t Mayberry—these things happen even here, in a nice, otherwise peaceful community like Chico. People’s perception changes when they start to pay more attention to what’s really happening.”