Red flags

Chico PD’s narrative of an officer’s encounter with a coed is questionable

The Chico Police Department’s narrative of an officer’s recent scuffle with a teenage coed raises a number of red flags. CN&R received a three-page press release prepared by Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien on Monday. The department has been in damage-control mode since video of the incident went viral over the weekend.

The short version of Officer Steve Dyke’s account is that he’d noticed a woman taking cellphone video of him assisting another officer with a DUI investigation in the wee hours of Saturday on The Esplanade. Turns out her name is Madeline Hemphill. At one point, Dyke “had to command” her to move out of the street. Dyke then saw a car without a functioning license plate light pull up to where Hemphill was standing. The Chico cop reportedly didn’t know whether Hemphill got into the car.

Fast-forward about half an hour. According to O’Brien’s statement, Dyke then pulls over a vehicle without an operational light two blocks from that DUI stop. The driver of the vehicle, Nicole Braham, is at the center of the video in question. What the footage shows is Braham cringing and crying out from Dyke’s restraining technique.

Hemphill is also at the scene. Based on the chief’s report, Dyke recognizes her from their earlier encounter. In the video, she’s heard repeatedly asking the mid-30s lawman why he’s detaining Braham: “What did she do, officer?” Eventually, Dyke flips the flailing 19-year-old Braham on the ground and sits with his knee in her back. Moments later, at Dyke’s command, Hemphill is arrested off camera by other officers who arrive, presumably as back-up. The video is captured by a third woman, who pleads with an unnamed officer that Dyke is “being super aggressive for no reason.”

The press release says that Braham and 21-year-old Hemphill (both Chico State students) were arrested for “resisting and delaying a peace officer.” It notes that Hemphill had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .141.

Questions: Why determine Hemphill’s BAC? After all, she’s of legal drinking age and wasn’t driving. Perhaps to undermine her credibility? Does the department have a record of Dyke calling into dispatch his traffic stop on Braham over that inoperable light? She maintains she was never actually pulled over.

Other sketchy stuff: The press release says “Hemphill lost her phone during the arrest.” Not true, she says. In an email to CN&R, Hemphill says she was tackled to the ground; her phone immediately confiscated. (Hemphill had been filming Dyke during this incident as well. She even tells him she’s doing so.) The next day, after her release from jail, she went to the department to retrieve her iPhone and was reportedly told it was being kept as evidence in her case.

Hemphill says whoever has the device has tampered with it. Her Apple ID log-in has been changed and her Find My iPhone app disabled, according to emailed alerts. She believes the police are claiming the phone is lost because it contains video of them using excessive force.

Given that Hemphill filmed both incidents and Dyke was aware of her doing so, it seems unlikely the phone would simply vanish. In the video, he is clearly annoyed by Hemphill. “Take her to jail,” he yells at one point.

The whole fiasco warrants a thorough investigation, including finding out what’s on that phone.