From candidate to casualty
District attorney declares deputy’s shooting of Durham resident justified
In 2008, Butte County Supervisor Steve Lambert won his re-election bid against two opponents. The runner-up, with 15 percent of the vote, was Mark Jensen, an outspoken ultra-conservative Navy veteran former CN&R Editor Robert Speer once compared to “the guy at the bar who bangs his glass down every time he gives an opinion” (see “Two pols and a contrarian,” Newslines, May 29, 2008). Jensen again challenged Lambert for his seat, unsuccessfully, in 2016.
On Aug. 22, Lambert was one of the last people to speak with Jensen, by phone, before he was killed by a Butte County Sheriff’s Office deputy on Durham-Dayton Highway, steps away from the State of Jefferson flag marking his driveway. In that final communication with Lambert, Jensen reportedly told the supervisor to “send your dogs over here, they will all leave in body bags.”
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey shared that and other information compiled by the Butte County Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team’s investigation at the BCSO office in Oroville Monday (Oct. 30), when he declared that deputy Matt Calkins was justified in shooting Jensen. According to Ramsey, the deputy acted in self defense.
Ramsey laid out a timeline leading up to the shooting. It began with an anonymous complaint to the county’s Code Enforcement Department regarding marijuana grown at the home on Durham-Dayton Highway Jensen shared with his wife, Lorna, and one of his 26-year-old twin daughters who has severe autism. Interviews with Lorna detailed in the report indicate the Jensens used pot recreationally and to make a salve to help alleviate the daughter’s pain. Ramsey said her twin sister lived in a care facility and has passed away since her father’s killing.
On Aug. 21, code enforcement officers posted a 72-hour abatement notice on the home, as it violated zoning laws regarding outdoor grows in the county: the pot plants were visible over a fence, the property is less than a half-acre and located less than 1,000 feet from Durham Park.
Lorna would later tell authorities, the report reads, that her husband “had a decidedly anti-government point of view and recently had been in a ‘dark, downward spiral’ with his level of paranoia and anger increasing.”
The couple removed the plants the day the notice was delivered, but the visit apparently further agitated Jensen, who placed a phone call to Lambert at 7 p.m., followed by more calls to the then off-duty code enforcement officer’s cellphone. The calls continued the next day, and altogether numbered more than 30. The messages Jensen left—some of which were played during Monday’s press conference—contained racist, homophobic and misogynistic slurs, and repeatedly challenged county personnel to visit his home. Based on the messages, BCSO acquired an arrest warrant for Jensen for threatening a public official.
After attending a Board of Supervisors’ meeting that day, Lambert called Jensen at 2:39 p.m. Lambert spoke to Jensen, who made the aforementioned threat, and, in a separate phone conversation, spoke with Lorna, who informed him Jensen was armed with a rifle on his porch. She took Lambert’s advice and, after leaving the house with her stepdaughter, was taken to the BCSO’s staging area at Durham’s Veteran’s Memorial Hall around 3:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Jensen—armed with a rifle—confronted a woman who’d pulled over to check her text messages in front of his house at 4:32 p.m. She fled and called 911. That prompted the BCSO to mobilize its SWAT and Crisis Negotiation teams and an armored BearCat vehicle. A sniper-surveillance team consisting of Calkins and Sgt. Jack Storne established an observation point nearby.
When the BearCat—loaded with about 10 SWAT and CNT members—arrived at the Jensen house at 6:44 p.m., a female officer addressed Jensen via public address system. The officer, who also has an autistic child, unsuccessfully tried to establish a rapport with Jensen. After about 20 minutes of no response, the vehicle returned to the staging ground.
At 7:25 p.m., Calkins and Storne observed Jensen—now armed with a handgun—walking around his property. He eventually walked onto the highway, and Calkins shifted in his prone position to keep him in his sights. That’s when, according to Calkins, Jensen spotted him and raised the pistol in his direction. Calkins fired his .308-caliber rifle and Jensen—hit in the chest—fell immediately. He was declared dead at 7:36 p.m.
Ramsey said Jensen was carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. In the house, they found a loaded .22-caliber pistol and .30-06-caliber rifle. A toxicology report revealed a moderate amount of marijuana and a high—.22 percent—blood alcohol level.
Though much of the conference focused on Jensen’s rage during his last days, Ramsey offered some balance: “I’m not painting him entirely as an angry, anti-governmental-type person,” he said, “because people did say he had a bit of a sense of humor, that his temper would flash, but then it would usually calm down.
“It did not appear so in this instance. He was, as indicated, very, very angry that the government was telling him he couldn’t grow marijuana in his backyard.”
Contacted by phone Wednesday (Nov. 1), Lambert said Jensen had called him occasionally, mostly about social service issues related to his daughters, which the supervisor believes was Jensen’s main impetus to run for office.
“He was particularly good to those kids and did a lot to take care of them,” Lambert said. He added that Jensen was “pleasant enough” as a political opponent, though he would sometimes lash out.
“It’s really unfortunate he took it to the next level that day,” Lambert said. “Had he not scared the heck out of that woman on the side of the road and escalated things, it might have ended differently.”