What were they thinking?

Our annual compendium of the absurd, outrageous and puzzling

Clem Edwards

Clem Edwards

Photo By Shannon Rooney

Every year at this time we try to remind readers that life is invariably peppered with examples of bizarre, inexplicable or plain foolish behavior that somehow makes its way into our news reports. Herewith are some of the best examples from 2010.

Street musician told to get (nonexistent) permit

What was Chico Police Officer Bill Dawson thinking when he told amiable street musician Clem Edwards that he needed a permit to play music on a downtown sidewalk?

Edwards, who plays guitar and harmonica accompanied by Mud, a well-behaved dog who occasionally “sings” along with him, is a familiar sight at the Saturday farmers’ market, among other places.

Apparently no such permit exists, according to city officials; playing music on the street is considered free speech. Dawson contended that Edwards’ guitar case was open—a supposed code violation—which Edwards denied. A subsequent check of the municipal code turned up no mention of open guitar cases.

Selling pot to pay a lawyer

What did Jimmy Flores do after being accused of being high on marijuana when he struck and killed a jogger while driving along the Oro-Chico Highway in Durham?

Well, a month later, according to the Butte County Narcotics Task Force, which set up a sting, Flores allegedly instructed his girlfriend, Rachel Hartfield, to sell pot to pay for his defense.

So, now, in addition to being charged with vehicular manslaughter, he’s also charged with illegal sales. Hartfield is facing the latter charge, too, as well as child endangerment, since an 11-year-old kid was present when she sold to a BINTF agent.

Kelli Saam and Jerry Olenyn

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

You’re fabulous! You’re fired!

Less than a month after the CN&R published a flattering portrait of local married Action News anchors Kelli Saam and Jerry Olenyn (“The first couple of TV news,” May 20), their employer, Catamount Broadcasting, decided not to renew their contract.

The couple took the news with as much equanimity as possible and refused to criticize the company, but local TV viewers couldn’t understand why such attractive and skillful journalists had been let go. Saam has since taken a full-time job with the KRCR Channel 7 news team, and Olenyn is doing freelance work in the Bay Area.

Cemetery snafu

Back in February we got a tip about an old piece of Chico history that had been buried—literally—for decades. Willie Hyman, president of the Butte Community Coalition, had been in contact with a former employee of the Chico Cemetery, who said that word around the cemetery was that a section of road near the oldest part of the cemetery had paved over up to two dozen bodies. Say what?!

We didn’t want to believe him, but with help were able to track down writings from now-deceased cemetery historian Larry Richardson that said this was likely true. The bodies were of early black settlers in Chico. The state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau is currently investigating the allegations.

Strong-armed by the law

When the U.S. Forest Service found an illegally posted flier on a billboard in Lassen National Forest, it came down hard on Chicoan Jeff Newman. The avid skier had posted the flier for his side business of tuning skis (he’s a painter by trade) on a billboard he’d helped build in a remote part of the forest.

Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call from a prospective client and arranged a meeting. Little did he know that client was actually U.S. Forest Service Officer Paul Zohovetz, who arrived at Newman’s East Eighth Street house in “full battle dress.”

After pointing his Taser at Newman, a diabetic, and trying to chase him into his house, Newman said Zohovetz called for backup and slapped him with a citation for “threatening an officer,” which carries a $5,000 fine.

Talk about using a cannon to kill a mosquito …

Grasping at straws

District Attorney Mike Ramsey sure has a negative view of medical marijuana. That became evident following the police raids on local medi-pot collectives and their owners’ homes at the end of June.

“Generally, storefront collectives are illegal because you can’t sell marijuana,” Ramsey told the CN&R for a September follow-up story on the raids.

One of his arguments was that by continuing to accept new members, there is no way for a collective to have a set price for marijuana, because that money is supposed to go only to overhead costs—it cannot be profit. “In no way can you say that this new member is figuring into what the overhead cost is,” he said.

If that were true, everyone involved in the eight collectives raided would have been arrested and charged with a crime. To date, only one arrest has been made following the raids, and it was unrelated to selling marijuana.

Joel Castle

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

King of the Castle

January 2010 was not a good month for Joel Castle. The Chico poster child for medical marijuana got popped by the Chico Police Department following a Craigslist trade-turned-sting in which he allegedly offered medical marijuana for a guitar. He spent some time in Butte County Jail, where he says he was treated poorly, before getting let out on bail.

A few months later, as a protest against the judge’s orders, he remanded himself back into jail custody, where he again resided in poor conditions until the judge let him out on his own recognizance.

Not able to abide by the judge’s orders not to smoke pot or hang around people who smoke pot (“I’m going to go tell her I couldn’t find anyone to talk to!” he quipped), Castle once again put himself behind bars in November. We understand his principle, but really, Joel ….

One very bad burglar

Chico police had some good clues to follow when they started investigating a residential burglary on Shadowtree Lane back in October.

That’s because the person who stole a big-screen TV and other electronics had left behind a couple of pieces of physical evidence, including a keychain with a child’s photo. Working with Lifetouch (a photo-portrait company), officers identified the child.

That revelation led officers to Madeleine Maria Alvelais, 31, of Chico, the child’s mother, who had the stolen property in her possession.

Shannon and Jamie Anderson

Photo By Leslie Layton

Parents arrested for what?!

Last February, Orland couple Shannon and Jamie Anderson faced felony charges for allegedly failing to get their children to school.

Shannon was handcuffed and arrested at her home—right in front of her kids. Glenn County District Attorney Robert Holzapfel went after the alleged truancy case with gusto. In addition to charging the couple with violating the education code, he tossed in a felony charge of forgery (the DA says they altered a doctor’s note).

The Andersons insisted the absences of their asthmatic son were perfectly valid and denied the forgery charge. A Glenn County Superior Court judge tossed the case against them three months later.

Lance Daniel

Photo courtesy of Lance Daniel

The fabricated candidate

When a group of local business owners, angry about District Attorney Mike Ramsey’s vigorous enforcement of environmental crimes, sought an attorney to challenge him, they went all the way to Sacramento. There they found one Lance Daniel, who agreed to move to Butte County and run against the incumbent.

With the businessmen’s money backing him, Daniel gave it a good shot, appearing at numerous local events and advertising widely. He said all along that he loved the area and fully intended to stay here, but when he lost by a wide margin on June 8, he disappeared, leaving locals wondering whether they’d simply imagined him.