Other notable stories

The best of the rest of what made headlines in 2016

Samuel White Swan-Perkins and other protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline made their mark in Chico, at national banks with financial interests in the project.

Samuel White Swan-Perkins and other protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline made their mark in Chico, at national banks with financial interests in the project.

Water is life

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe started the Sacred Stones encampment to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in April, laying the groundwork for a massive Native American protest. Thousands of people traveled to North Dakota in the following months to stand with the self-described water protectors trying to stop construction of the pipeline, a $3.8 billion project designed to transport fracked crude oil to Illinois that DAPL opponents contend endangers water supplies and sacred sites.

Standing Rock became a household name in September, when Democracy Now! reporters filmed DAPL security guards attacking protesting men, women and children with pepper spray and dogs. Clashes between law enforcement and protesters grew increasingly violent from there.

Thousands of military veterans headed to Standing Rock early this month to shield the activists from guards and law enforcement and a Dec. 5 evacuation ordered by the Army Corps of Engineers. But on Dec. 4, the Army denied a permit for an easement pending further environmental review and halted construction—a temporary victory for the opposition.

Locally, there have been numerous protests and actions aimed at expressing solidarity with Standing Rock and urging people to divest from banks funding DAPL. Those efforts likely will continue until the situation is resolved. Several North State activists also have made the trek to the frontlines of the conflict.

Brutal murderer sentenced

This past April, Christopher Swihart pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the killing of Chicoan Cass Edison the previous March. Edison’s body had been found on a trailer he owned, and he confessed to a friend that he’d lured Edison, who was homeless and an alcoholic, to his place with booze. When she made him angry, he bound her and beat her to death.

Paul Lieberum of the Chico Heritage Association was one of many community members who lobbied for the preservation and repair of this Gothic revival home.

“Murder is always horrible, but this particular crime had a level of brutality we rarely see here,” Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey told the CN&R. Swihart was sentenced in May to 17 years to life in prison, partially based on previous domestic violence convictions. He currently resides at High Desert State Prison in Susanville.

A real fixer-upper

The impending demolition of a historic house on West Fifth Street had the Chico Heritage Association scrambling early this year to find an owner willing to relocate and restore the building. The house was built in 1883 and is the last example of Gothic revival architecture left in Chico. However, it had fallen into disrepair over the years.

Brothers Josh and Scott Hubbard stepped up with a plan to relocate the home to their Humboldt Avenue property, believing the move and restoration would cost a total of about $200,000 based on communication with city staff. When development fees jumped from the expected $4,799 to nearly $22,000, the Hubbards lobbied to have all but $5,000 of the fees waived. The council said no, but the brothers opted to move forward anyway with plans to restore the home, which was moved to its new location in August.

Heat's comeback season

Chico had been without high-level summertime baseball since the Chico Outlaws, a professional team, folded in 2011.

This summer, at Chico State’s Nettleton Stadium, the national pastime came back in a big way with the return of the Chico Heat, one of six teams in the newly formed, all-collegiate Great West League. (The first iteration of the Heat was a professional team that played in Chico from 1997 to 2002.) The team’s first season back was a success. The gameplay was at times wacky but usually entertaining, the fireworks shows were awesome, and the events brought the community together in a great way.

To cap it all off, the Heat beat the Medford Rogues in a three-game series to take the league championship on Aug. 14. This time around, maybe Chico’s summertime baseball team will stick.

Oroville Inn opens its doors

After six years of vacancy, the once-mighty Oroville Inn made a comeback in 2016. Local developer Bud Tracy bought the place and began restoration work last year with plans to open up the residential wing of the building to students from Oroville’s Northwest Lineman College. His dream was realized at the end of November, when about 80 linemen moved in.

The historic Oroville Inn is now open for business, providing housing for students of the Northwest Lineman College.

The restoration of the old inn, which was built in 1929, has done much to revitalize historic downtown Oroville. And there’s more to come. Tracy is now moving on to stage two of his project, which will include opening a restaurant, hair salon and other businesses in the streetside retail portion of the building.

Caught 'em all already?

In July, video game developer Niantic tore a rift between the real and virtual worlds, unleashing a global infestation of pidgeys, squirtles and their ilk—adorable, computer-animated creatures called Pokémon. The free Pokémon Go app became a sensation, motivating millions to leave their houses—smartphones in hand—to hunt, collect and do battle with the beasties.

Large crowds of so-called “Pokémon trainers” gathered around the clock at City Plaza, Chico State and other places where Pokémon were plentiful. The game was lauded for getting players off their couches, but it wasn’t long before (mostly exaggerated) news reports started circulating about robbers using the game to entrap victims and distracted players wandering off of cliffs.

Pokémon Go still exists, but the initial craze was short-lived. Still, it was among the most profitable and popular apps of the year, and offered a glimpse at the potential of augmented reality games.

Cops versus coeds

On Aug. 27, video of an encounter between Chico Police Department Officer Steve Dyke and three female Chico State students went viral, sparking questions about the level of force employed by the officer and the circumstances that led to the women being detained.

The video, filmed early that morning by Telvina Patino, shows Dyke arresting Nicole Braham and Madeline Hemphill filming the incident. During the encounter, Dyke twists Braham’s arm and she falls or is forced to the ground, then handcuffed; moments later, Hemphill is forced to the ground and arrested. Both were charged with resisting and delaying a peace officer.

In a lengthy press release regarding the incident, Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien said that Dyke pulled Braham over for a broken license plate light and that the women were arrested after they disobeyed his directions and acted in a manner that endangered the officer’s safety. It also notes Hemphill’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit, though she was not driving nor charged with any crime related to drinking.

Zir Weems

The women contend Dyke followed them and pulled Braham over because Hemphill had filmed him performing a DUI stop just prior to the main encounter. Hemphill claims her cellphone—containing video of the earlier stop and more video of Braham’s arrest—was taken by police when she was arrested. O’Brien claims Hemphill lost her phone during the arrest, and that searches at the scene and police station have been fruitless.

In the wake of the incident, O’Brien told Action News Now he believes Dyke was right in his actions and the situation could have been avoided had the women obeyed his orders. Meanwhile, the Butte County District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation into the whereabouts of Hemphill’s phone. No word on the outcome … yet.

Major mud-slinging

Without a doubt, 2016 was a year of negative campaigning. It started with Rep. Doug LaMalfa sending out glossy mailers implying that primary election challenger Joe Montes was a criminal. Fellow Republican Montes announced his bid for Congress shortly after the first of the year, but the mud-slinging began in earnest during the last couple of weeks leading up to the June 7 election. That was just enough time for LaMalfa’s camp to misrepresent Montes but not allow him to undo the damage. Montes got trounced.

Months later, during the general election season, political action committee Butte County for Awareness and Accountability, backed by conservative local businessmen, went after the progressive Chico City Council incumbents Ann Schwab, Randall Stone and Tami Ritter. The PAC charged that the trio had voted to “destroy” The Esplanade by voting in favor of roundabouts. However, there was no mention that Stone and Ritter changed their minds when the issue came back to the council.

Around the same time, Stone became the target of negative campaigning by a PAC (Chico Citizens for Accountable Government) to re-elect conservative incumbent Sean Morgan. Led by retired Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney, the PAC sent out mailers that, among other things, accused Stone of lying about his voting record. Stone and Schwab were re-elected, while Ritter lost her seat to fellow progressive Karl Ory.

Speaking of whom, Ory, a former mayor, tried to unseat Morgan with a mailer that called him a “Trump Republican,” among other things. And lastly, Councilwoman Reanette Fillmer went after Schwab from the dais and on Facebook (see “What were they thinking?”).

Jury convicts Zir Weems

Early this year, Zir Weems stood trial in the strangling death of his wife, Angelica. The trial, which took several weeks, revealed the story of an abused young woman who knew her time was running out.

Many Chicoans are concerned that the mural inside the El Rey will be destroyed if the old theater is sold.

One evening in September 2014, while the couple and their four children were staying at Zir’s grandmother’s house in Willows, Angelica reportedly went for a walk and never came back. The next morning, paramedics were dispatched to the Willows house and Zir was flown via helicopter to Enloe Medical Center with life-threatening, self-inflicted wounds.

The trial involved testimony of co-workers and family members, the majority of whom recalled bruises on Angelica’s body and Zir’s controlling nature. One confidante of Angelica’s recounted a conversation in which Angelica told her Zir had strangled her multiple times, and that she feared her own death. Family members found her body along the bank of the Sacramento River weeks after her disappearance.

During trial, Zir took the stand in his own defense, but it didn’t sway the jury, which convicted him of first degree murder. In May, he was sentenced to 25 years to life. He now resides in Stockton State Prison.

Long live the El Rey

Word that Chico’s beloved El Rey Theatre was in the process of being sold to out-of-town investors with plans to gut the building to create commercial and residential space spread like wildfire at the end of August. This spurred the El Rey Theater Alliance (ERTA), a nonprofit group formed to oppose a similar plan in 2007, to revive its effort to preserve the 110-year-old building as a theater.

El Rey owner Eric Hart answered objections to the sale by offering to sell it to ERTA if the group could raise the asking price of $1.4 million in just nine days. Failing to do that, the group began exploring other ways to save the building. El Rey supporters rallied at an Oct. 4 City Council meeting to discuss possible actions, but the council reported it had little recourse to stop a sale or renovation of the building.

For the moment, the theater remains unsold. ERTA’s Lisa West reported earlier this month that the group has developed a business plan to keep the El Rey a movie theater and develop it into a community performance space, and is working with possible investors.

Ridge residents rise up

Customers of the Paradise Irrigation District just weren’t having it this year. In January, hearings were held regarding a proposed rate increase that some customers feared would raise their bills beyond their means. They rallied and showed up en masse to a meeting Jan. 28—so much so that the meeting had to be rescheduled for a larger venue.

Again, customers filled seats and submitted enough written protests to halt the hike. Then, in March, they rallied and gathered enough signatures to recall two members of the board—President Sep Carola and Larry Duncan. Earlier this month, they faced off against challengers Marc Sulik, Ann Rice and Wally Schmidt in a candidates forum. The election will take place via mail-in ballot in January.

Beauty college impropriety

In February, Chico lost one of its trade schools when Marinello Schools of Beauty shut its doors. The beauty college, which trained students in everything from hair styling to waxing to makeup application, had 56 campuses nationwide and at least 100 students at its Chico location.

The closure came after federal aid was denied to 23 campuses, including Chico’s. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Education found that Marinello “was knowingly requesting federal aid for students based on invalid high school diplomas, under-awarding Title IV aid to students, charging students for excessive overtime, and engaging in other acts of misrepresentation,” according to a press release from the federal agency. All 56 campuses are now closed.