What were they thinking?
The weird, ill-advised and unfathomable moments of 2017
Sheriff's employee caught stealing
In March, an Oroville woman pleaded guilty to stealing guns and drugs and falsifying documents to cover up the theft while working as an evidence technician at the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
Kathleen Acosta, 48, was arrested and charged with multiple felonies after she was pulled over following a domestic dispute in January. Police found a gun, methamphetamine and prescription drugs—still in evidence packaging, no less—in her car. Acosta had resigned from the BCSO rather than be fired last year when she was accused of mishandling property and attempting to conceal her misconduct.
After the arrest, searches of Acosta’s residence and storage units turned up more property stolen from evidence, including 19 guns. She’d falsified documents so the BCSO believed the weapons had been destroyed. She was ordered to serve nearly a year in jail.
Bros versus nature
In May, a group of Chico State fraternity members made national headlines for defacing a Tehama County campground during an initiation ceremony for pledges.
Pi Kappa Alpha and its former president, Evan Jossey, were charged with 32 counts of cutting or damaging timber, and separate counts related to possessing a firearm and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States. (Authorities reportedly found black blindfolds, a parachute cord and candle wax drippings at the campsite, as well.)
The bros got their comeuppance in October, when the chapter was sentenced to 9,800 hours of community service and a $4,000 fine after pleading guilty to cutting down and damaging trees in the Lassen National Forest.
On the Sunday following César Chávez Day (Friday, March 31), the Chico Police Department issued a self-congratulatory press release about putting out extra patrols and experiencing fewer calls over the holiday weekend than last year. What it failed to mention is that, early Friday morning, police responded to a south Chico home and found 24-year-old Angela Scatena dead of a suspected alcohol overdose. A second young person, Owen Euser, 23, died on Tuesday after several days at Enloe Medical Center. The coroner’s office confirmed both deaths involved a lethal combination of drugs and alcohol.
Painting a rosy picture of the César Chávez Day festivities was a misrepresentation of events. A true account should have been shared with the public, particularly in the case of Scatena, whose death may have deterred others from drinking so heavily over the long weekend.
Homeless service providers were shocked to learn in July that Stairways Programming had deliberately left $72,000 in federal grant money awarded in 2016 sitting on the table—figuratively speaking. The organization’s executive director at the time, Michael Madieros, cited mistrust of and lack of support from the Butte Countywide Homeless Continuum of Care (CoC), which coordinates local grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to justify not accepting the funds.
Madieros also didn’t tell anyone at the CoC until local service providers were preparing for the next funding cycle, and his decision not only jeopardized that chunk of money, but also threatened future local funding to combat homelessness. The CoC’s efforts to redistribute the funds were realized just last week, according to Torres Community Shelter Executive Director Joy Amaro. The money will be used to fund programs at that shelter and Youth for Change, which oversees the 6th Street Center for Youth.
Due to Chico’s ongoing enforcement of a series of ordinances that criminalize essential human functions (i.e., going to the bathroom, sleeping, sitting or lying down), Butte County missed out on about $50,000 in federal monies to fund service providers in the 2016-17 cycle.
A study by Chico State professors on the impacts of Chico’s criminalization tactics published in June revealed the strategy has led to increased arrests and policing costs, and has pushed the homeless population out of downtown and into surrounding neighborhoods. Also, this year’s Homeless Point-in-Time Census and Survey showed many of the 1,983 homeless individuals polled had been cited or arrested because of those ordinances, but 83 percent said the laws would not lead them to leave a community. Meanwhile, Chico police touted increased arrests and enforcement of “quality-of-life” crimes as successes.
The city also abandoned a 90-day trial to provide 24-hour restrooms early, citing “unsustainable vandalism,” though staff also reported such facilities are sorely needed.
Back in March, alt-rock radio station 101.7 FM, aka 101.7X, decided to switch formats to … conservative talk radio. That’s right, what was once a go-to station for new alternative, mixed with a dose of ’90s rock, flipped the script completely and became Supertalk 101.7.
Listeners reacted immediately, switching their radio dials and mouthing off loudly on social media. Advertisers spoke, too, with their dollars. Within three months, Supertalk was no more and 101.7 had gone back to its original recipe—music!—and rebranded itself again, this time as The Edge, playing “today’s alternative.”
Following the hiring of a public relations official at the Chico Police Department named Julia Yarbough, the information from the cops’ shop took on the creative-writing tone one might find in a high school English class.
Among the highlight reel are a couple of flippant press releases: one referring to a gang shooting as “Wild West shooting arrests” and one headlined as “biting arrest situation,” a take on an officer being bitten by a woman he grabbed after she reportedly didn’t listen to him telling her smoking cigarettes is prohibited at City Plaza. Perhaps the finest work came in September, when the department informed the media of a shooting, complete with a description of what the suspects were wearing, eight days after it occurred. (We’re pretty sure they changed clothes since.)
Beware the ankle bracelet
One of the more bizarre crime stories of 2017 involved a 48-year-old Oroville man named Robert Badger who, back in May, allegedly held up a bank. Thing is, Badger was on parole and strapped with a GPS monitor, which made it easy for law enforcement personnel to find him once he’d been identified. Whoops.
During a September Chico City Council meeting at which the panel was considering turning park rangers into so-called sworn rangers—i.e., gun-toting cops—Vice Mayor Reanette Fillmer launched into a nonsensical tangent about crime to justify her aye vote. Among the things she said: “Now rape is a nonviolent crime in the state of California.” While clearly that’s not the case, the CN&R thinks she probably wasn’t aware that California’s governor, Jerry Brown, excluded sex offenders from legislation calling for early parole consideration.
While we’re on the subject of Fillmer, both conservative and liberal attendees at a council meeting in March reported that she stuck her tongue out at the gallery. Fillmer denies having done so, saying she perhaps had fiddled with a dental device.
During a lecture back in May, Chico State statistics professor Richard Rose used a hypothetical that was far from politically correct. He asked his students to imagine that he was an evil slave master trying to find people dumb enough to trick into becoming slaves. Making matters worse, Rose, who is white, approached a black student and questioned her about the example, proceeding to explain that his ancestors consisted of slaves as well as slave owners. She filed a complaint with the university, alleging racial harassment and discrimination. Rose, who told the CN&R he wasn’t trying to be hurtful, was removed from teaching the class.
Failure to plan
Back in February, shortly after the crisis with Oroville dam’s spillway and the threat of a major breach, the CN&R was the first newspaper to press emergency responders about an evacuation order that put tens of thousands of people in the path of potential floodwaters. Indeed, despite the fact that the dam is by far the largest piece of infrastructure in the county, and has been functioning since, oh, the late 1960s, the county did not have an emergency evacuation plan in place for the potential failure of its emergency spillway.
As the CN&R put it in an editorial, “Why the hell not? In what common-sense situation does one create an emergency measure and then not consider the implications of its deployment?”
The good news: There’s now a plan.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa heaped plenty of insults on his constituents in Congressional District 1 in 2017, lashing back following criticism of his efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and throwing personal barbs at attendees of rambunctious town halls in Chico and Oroville.
But perhaps the strangest insult came in August, when the Congressman’s Washington, D.C., office sent a cease-and-desist letter to a constituent whose frequent complaints—delivered by phone, email and text message—apparently got stuck in the good ol’ boy’s craw. That constituent was then-13-year-old Joshua Brown of Redding. After a brief respite—and obtaining some legal advice from one of the many supporters who cropped up after the CN&R and other media covered the story—the tenacious teenager resumed his constitutionally protected campaign of dissent in October.