Crossing a line?

Chico couple claim sheriff’s deputies overstepped their bounds

Jordan Cole and Finesse Reed stand in front of the window Butte County sheriff’s deputies broke to gain access to the couple’s home.

Jordan Cole and Finesse Reed stand in front of the window Butte County sheriff’s deputies broke to gain access to the couple’s home.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Caught on tape:
A video of the incident has been posted on YouTube under the name “Butte Co sheriff home invasion.”

The Butte County Sheriff’s Department has launched an investigation based on a complaint filed by a Chico couple who say they were rudely and aggressively accosted by deputies who forcibly entered their home in the wee hours of last Thursday morning, July 26.

Jordan Cole said that he and a friend were smoking cigarettes outside his Park Avenue home, while his fiancée, Finesse Reed, was inside the house watching the 1997 comedy 8 Heads in a Duffle Bag. The two men walked back into the house and joined her to watch the movie.

About 15 minutes later, Cole said, they heard noises coming from outside. Reed and Cole’s home is one of two residences at the rear part of a large building housing a computer-service store fronting Park Avenue. Entrance is gained through a cyclone gate on a concrete walkway that runs between the computer store and another business just to the north.

Reed, who contacted the CN&R on the afternoon of the incident, said at just past 1 a.m. she heard the gate being opened as it scraped across the walkway, followed by talking and a knock on the door. Reed said she pulled back the curtain that covers the door’s window, but all she could see was flashlight.

Cole said he then heard movement outside the window on the wall opposite the door. He said the banging on the door continued for about 10 minutes. It wasn’t until about five minutes into it that he realized they were sheriff’s deputies.

“I was afraid the door was going to fly off the hinges the way they were pounding and kicking,” he said. “I still was not going to open the door, deputies or not, because I was scared and have a fiancée to protect.”

Cole began videotaping the situation. The video shows his friend sitting in a chair while Reed is on the phone hysterically talking to her mother, Ramona, saying she doesn’t know what the deputies want because they won’t tell her. She disappears into another room in the house after Cole tells her not to open the door.

Cole tells the deputies they are being videotaped and repeatedly says “sir.”

“I hear ya,” he says. “I hear ya. I’m listening.”

It’s difficult to hear the deputies’ commands over the wailing of Reed, who is still on the phone with her mother.

“What’s your name?” Cole asks the deputy at the back window, obviously in response to the deputy’s asking for his name. Cole then says, “My hands are right here, sir. You’re scaring my family.” The deputy tells him to open the door. Cole says, “I know my rights, sir. Take a glimpse in here, sir. There’s nothing going on in here, sir.”

The deputy asks if Cole is on probation or parole. Cole says he’s not and that he leases the building and is a business owner. He works out of his home conducting eBay sales. The video ends with Cole saying, “No. Why would I open my door, sir? What are we doing wrong?”

Cole said at one point the deputy said, “That’s a 45 pointed at your head, son. You better do what we require.”

Soon after the video stopped, Cole said, the door window was broken and the deputies unlocked the door and walked in. (Cole said the couple had installed new locks on the door soon after they’d moved in two months earlier to feel more secure in their new neighborhood.)

The occupants were handcuffed, and for the next hour deputies searched the home.

Cole said at least four deputies and two Chico police officers entered the home.

“They came in after the deputies,” Cole said, referring to the Chico officers. “We made eye contact, but they did not say anything to us, nor did I hear them talk to the deputies. They were in my residence for literately one minute before they turned around and left.”

Cole said the only thing the deputies told him was that they were in “hot pursuit of a suspect.”

“I asked, ‘Suspect of what?’ and was given no reply. I assured them I had been there all night. We were still in our pajamas. One deputy said, ‘You know where we’re coming from, right?’ I was in tears, shook my head no and said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

The sheriff’s incident log offers this three-word synopsis: “SUBJECTS FOOT BAILED.” Meaning they’d been chasing someone on foot.

Cole said one of the deputies claimed he recognized Cole and accused him of being on probation. Cole responded that the deputy recognized him because the deputy was a regular customer at Fast Eddie’s Sandwich Shop on East Avenue where Cole used to work.

“They searched everything,” Cole said. “Under my mattress, bed frame, closets, dressers and drawers. They just left the place a mess as well.”

Reed said she was wearing a nightgown, and after getting handcuffed was initially left on the floor. She was eventually moved to wooden chair, where, she said, her nightgown shifted and exposed her breasts. She said that a female deputy working a K-9 unit recognized Reed’s discomfort and adjusted the nightgown.

That deputy also swept the broken glass from the window into a pile before the officers left. The next day Reed’s mother, Ramona, and Cole’s father, Joseph, visited their emotionally shaken children. As Cole inspected the damage to the door, he mentioned that the bulb to the outside motion-detector light had been unscrewed, presumably by one of the deputies.

Butte County Undersheriff Kory Honea said he has ordered an investigation into the incident based on a complaint filed by Cole and Reed.

“An internal-affairs sergeant has been assigned to the case to contact those who filed the complaint and gather additional information,” he said.

Honea said he could not talk specifically about the incident because of the ongoing investigation but wanted it made clear the Sheriff’s Department was taking it seriously and being as open about it as legally possible.

Standard protocol, Honea explained, says that in order to make an entry into a residence there has to be a search warrant, an arrest warrant or consent from the residents.

“There are exigent circumstances of an emergency situation that allow you to go in,” he said. “Those would include a hot pursuit, which is chasing somebody who you believe has committed a crime.”

He said the department would conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action, should it be warranted.

“If our staff did something inappropriate, we will hold them accountable,” he said. “We want to get to the truth, to the heart of the matter, and that may take a while.”

He said there are certain legal requirements that must be followed according to the state’s Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act.

For his part, Cole said he wants three things to come out of the investigation.

“I would like an explanation, a public apology and for them to fix the damages,” he said. “We are still very shaken and emotional over this. I have considered a lawsuit, but money isn’t going to make us feel any better. I want to feel safe in my own home again. I want my trust for law enforcement to return.”