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Chico man receives six-year sentence in sexual assault case

LONG SENTENCE<br>Defense attorney Dennis Latimer, left, addresses the court on behalf of his client Derek Rickmers, center, as the court bailiff looks on.

Defense attorney Dennis Latimer, left, addresses the court on behalf of his client Derek Rickmers, center, as the court bailiff looks on.

Photo By Tom Angel

Derek Rickmers shook visibly as Butte County Superior Court Judge Mike Kelly slowly explained why he had arrived at the sentence he was about to issue to the 21-year-old Chico man, who earlier this year pled guilty to two counts of sexual assault.

Rickmers, who’d spent the last year in the county jail because of his actions at a now-infamous kegger party attended by a number of Pleasant Valley High School students last October, faced a range of possible sentences, from simple probation to an upper term of 10 years in state prison. He got a middle term, six years with credit for the year already served and a chance to bank nearly another year for good behavior.

Rickmers slumped in his chair.

In October 2002, a week or so after the party, officials at PV heard rumors and contacted law enforcement. An investigation ensued, and for two weeks in November the story was headline news in the Enterprise-Record, recording salacious details of consensual and non-consensual sex at the party, which took place in a “nice” neighborhood house while the owners were out of town.

According to witnesses at the party, a 16-year-old female PV student had consensual sex—in that she was a willing partner—with a number of young men at the party and then passed out from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Three juveniles and Rickmers, who was 20 at the time, were later accused of sexually assaulting the woman, who was either unconscious or incapable of giving consent at the time.

The most serious charge was that she was sexually penetrated by a foreign object, a pool cue, while passed out or semi-conscious on a pool table.

The story exploded into the public’s consciousness when District Attorney Mike Ramsey, based on his comments in the E-R, angered many in the community for what they saw as his “blame the victim” response to an E-R reporter’s questions. When asked how he would prosecute the case, Ramsey said first he had to consider the victim’s actions leading up to the assault. The paper also quoted Ramsey as saying the victim was “doing the house.”

The three juveniles pled guilty to sexual-assault charges. Two of them served 180-day sentences in Juvenile Hall, and the third was placed on probation.

Rickmers’ attorney, Dennis Latimer, argued that his client was the victim of case gone out of control and was made the scapegoat by a district attorney who’d been criticized and found guilty of being insensitive in the court of public opinion.

Latimer said the event occurred on Oct. 5, and on Nov. 9 the story broke in the E-R.

“Mr. Ramsey said he was misquoted [in the E-R],” Latimer said, “that he never made that statement. I believe he was misquoted, but to the public that didn’t make any difference.”

From that point, Latimer said, Ramsey began focusing his efforts on prosecuting Rickmers, who was labeled as the “mastermind” of the assault.

The prosecution, Latimer continued, made offers to the juvenile defendants, saying that if they failed to accept them they would be charged and tried as adults. That, he contended, left his client to take the fall.

“Would the conduct that occurred that night have occurred even if Derek Rickmers had not been present?” Latimer asked in his statement to the court. “I would submit the answer is this: It probably would have happened. Worse things [could have happened]. Why? I don’t know. I can’t figure it out in my own mind.”

Ramsey later denied using the word “mastermind” but did say Rickmer’s role as the “ringleader” in the assault was investigated.

Kelly, noting he had no responsibility to explain how or why he reached his decision, did so anyway.

“We have in the courtroom two people whose lives were altered forever because of that evening,” Kelly said. “What I do here today will not change that.”

He said that, no matter what the victim did earlier that night, “no one had a right to do what was done to her.”

The victim, wearing a conservative gray over-the-knee skirt and striped sweater, fought back tears as she read a statement recalling how her life at PV fell apart in the weeks after the assault. She spoke of the “name-calling and pointing” that caused her to quit the basketball team and her grade point average to fall from 4.0 to 1.3.

“I know if it weren’t for the crime Derek Rickmers committed against me, I would be a different person," she told the court. She asked the court to issue the maximum sentence.