What were they thinking?

Our annual compendium of the foolish and maladroit

Teenagers run amok
Angry punk rock and 40-ouncers were said to be what led two teenagers to vandalize more than 250 historic headstones at the Chico Cemetery in early October, arousing a level of community anger that is rarely seen in these parts.

Avery Vance Williams, 18, and a 17-year-old suspect whose name was not released decided to wreak havoc on the oldest, most historic section of the cemetery. Some of the marble headstones, dating back to the late 1800s, were snapped off at the base and lay shattered on the ground. Many of them cannot be repaired, cemetery officials report.

Williams was arrested and booked into Butte County Jail, while the second suspect was taken to Butte County Juvenile Hall. Both pled “no contest” earlier this month for their involvement in the crimes.

The 17-year-old boy was sentenced on Dec. 15 to serve 60 days in Juvenile Hall and ordered to repay thousands of dollars in damage. Sentencing for Williams is scheduled for Jan. 3; he could face up to three years in prison.

The best defense is no defense
In November, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court reversed the 1997 conviction of a Plumas County murder suspect defended by Chico attorney Rick Keene, a former city councilman and current 3rd District Assemblyman, for the lackluster defense of his client.

REST IN PIECES A historic section of the Chico Cemetary was vandalized by drunken teenage vandals who later claimed to have acted under the influence of “punk rock.”

Photo By Tom Angel

Keene was hired by a woman in 1996 to defend her against a charge that she had shot her husband to death. The first trial ended in a hung jury, with jurors split 7-5 for acquittal. In that trial Keene had used a videotape of a death-bed statement from the husband saying his wife had not shot him and that their marriage was “perfect.”

But at the second trial Plumas County District Attorney James Riechle struck a deal with Keene by saying that he would not use an audiotaped statement from a nurse implying the wife was the shooter if Keene would not use the husband’s testimony that she wasn’t the shooter. Without checking the content of the tape, Keene agreed, and his client was convicted of premeditated murder for which she was sentenced to 25 years to life. The court said that if Keene had bothered to look into the nurse’s statement he “would have discovered that the testimony was unreliable and subject to impeachment.”

Freedom of speech? Hey, this is Wal-Mart
All Ryan Crenshaw of Ventura wanted when he was visiting Chico last April was to make a little extra cash collecting signatures for ballot initiatives. Instead he got 10 hours in jail and a court date for a trespassing charge, courtesy of Wal-Mart, whose manager called Chico police and made a citizen’s arrest because Crenshaw didn’t follow proper protocol when he set up his folding table with patriotic tablecloth in front of the store.

The 21-year-old political-science major at Moorepark Community College in Ventura County said he and a buddy arrived at the Forest Avenue Wal-Mart at 10 a.m. to start gathering signatures, for which they are paid. Within 10 minutes, he said, the store greeter came out and asked if they were on the store calendar. Crenshaw said no but also noted there was no one else out there. About an hour later a co-manager told the signature gatherers they’d have to leave because they were not on the calendar.

Finally the store manager came out to put an end to the signature gathering by making a citizen’s arrest and calling the police. Two Chico police officers arrived. “One cop says, ‘They asked you to leave; why not leave? It’s that simple,’ “ Crenshaw said.

“We were out there because the courts have ruled that this is a public forum where we have the right to assemble,” Crenshaw said. “I told one of the officers that I know it’s my right to be there.”

BOOK ’EM DANO Ryan Crenshaw is led away in handcuffs after failing to convince Wal-Mart of his right to collect political petition signatures on the company’s property.

Photo By Tom Angel

The case was eventually dropped.

Rocky raccoon
When it was announced in July that Chico was about to get a new professional baseball team to replace the much-loved Chico Heat, local fans were ecstatic. Then, in December, after holding a contest to select a name, team officials announced, with much fanfare, the team would be named the Chico Outlaws. It went over worse than a bank robbery.

How do we explain this to our kids? people wondered in letters to the editor. Why a name that suggests illegality? That’s not Chico.

The team’s mascot, a raccoon, is cute. Why not the Chico Raccoons?

Terrorists among the stacks?
When the Chico Bill of Rights Committee met with Rep. Wally Herger in March, they asked him to cosponsor a House resolution making a change in the USA Patriot Act exempting libraries and bookstores from having to give the FBI their patron records when asked. Herger declined, saying that he would hate to cosponsor the resolution and find out later “that the next terrorist went to the libraries and got the way to make the bomb.” As if.

When she’s down, smack her
There was never much chance that Democrat Barbara McIver would defeat Doug LaMalfa in the Nov. 2 race for the state Assembly in District 2, which is heavily Republican. But that didn’t stop LaMalfa’s campaign manager (and chief of staff), David Reade, from running a last-minute TV hit piece that marked a new low, even by Reade’s questionable standards.

WHERE’S THE RACCOON? Currently, the logo for the newly formed Chico Outlaws baseball team depicts a bandanna-shrouded thug wielding a baseball bat.

The advertisement in question, which tried to say that McIver was getting support from “porn king” Larry Flynt, he of Hustler fame, was a tissue of deceits based only on the fact that Flynt had bought some anti-LaMalfa ads in retaliation for a LaMalfa vote against Flynt’s Southern California gambling interests.

The long-married McIver, who has four children and is a deacon in her church, hadn’t received a penny from Flynt and had never met the man. LaMalfa won handily.

What was Reade thinking? If you figure it out let us know.

PBID takes a swan dive
In the year of the makeover, the Downtown Chico Business Association looked to transform itself—and in doing so bolster its stagnant budget—by reinventing itself from parking district to assessment district called the Property Business Improvement District, or PBID for short. The idea was to switch the tax collected to sustain the district from the downtown business owners to the downtown property owners.

As it is set up, the DCBA can raise only $32,000 a year through assessments, supplementing its income with special events, like the Thursday Night Market and A Taste of Chico.

To increase its fees, the association would have to dissolve itself and then write new bylaws. But there is genuine fear many of the downtown business owners, if given an out, would opt not to re-up with the DCBA, possibly spelling the end of the association. But the PBID set-up—a complex fee system based on location and linear feet of storefront—would bump that yearly assessment to total $422,000.

PBIS critics noted that business owners would most likely pass the tax onto its tenants in the form of higher rents. Promoters—those folks who run the DCBA—said the district would continue to promote the downtown, build a couple of kiosks, hang banners and hire “guides” who tell downtown visitors where to go, serve as the eyes and ears of the police and, according to a DCBA publication, “enforce the quality-of-life ordinances dealing with issues such as aggressive street behaviors and homeless issues.”

The PBID would have become a reality only if enough downtown property owners—all together accounting for more than 50 percent of the downtown properties—voted in favor. The effort never got that far because its promoters saw the writing on the wall and canned the effort.