Friday, October 7, 2016

Starting the Conversation: HSU forum focuses on race, police

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 11:47 AM

A packed house at the Kate Buchanan Room. - JAVIER ROJAS
  • Javier Rojas
  • A packed house at the Kate Buchanan Room.
Against the national backdrop of a recent spate of high profile shootings of unarmed black people by law enforcement, students, police and community members gathered on the Humboldt State University campus Thursday evening for a far-reaching conversation on race and policing.

Local law enforcement and members of the HSU black community sat side by side in the Kate Buchanan Room, discussing topics that ranged from police escalation to racism on campus.

A 13-person panel that included both Eureka and Arcata’s police chiefs, members of the African American Center for Academic Excellence and campus faculty answered questions from audience members throughout the two-hour forum titled “Black and Blue Dialogue.”

The audience filled the room to capacity, with speakers voicing concerns about police brutality and sharing first-hand accounts of racial bias. Among those was Gloria Brown, a child development major who spoke about the fears she faces just being around police.

The 13 person panel at the Black and Blue Dialogue takes questions from audience members. - JAVIER ROJAS
  • Javier Rojas
  • The 13 person panel at the Black and Blue Dialogue takes questions from audience members.
“I’m very cautious when I’m driving next to a police officer,” Brown said. “I just seem to get instantly nervous even if I’m at church, I just don’t feel comfortable if I see that badge.”

Brown wasn’t the only one who shared these concerns. Amy Salinas-Westmoreland, director for the HSU Multicultural Center, said a fear of police has become a basic instinct.

“It’s like something is constantly chasing you and, as an African-American, I fear for my students and staff of color on a daily basis,” Salinas-Westmoreland said. “It's really concerning to see students afraid for their own well being.”

Questions directed at law enforcement ranged from how they deal with racial sensitivity to training protocols. University Police Department Chief Donn Peterson said the department has recently put an emphasis on de-escalation tactics and the topic is something he is constantly looking at.

“Thirty years ago, it was something that we never got training on but things have changed,” Peterson said. “We do an okay job of it but we know we can do a whole lot better.”

Students criticized some of the responses law enforcement gave, citing assumptions and misunderstandings that the black community constantly faces with police. Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills spoke about how the department is trying to grow and overcome those assumptions.

“We’ve got to do a better job at cultural sensitivity,” he said. “It’s a systemic problem that starts at the court and can’t continue to disproportionately stop people of color. It’s embarrassingly stark, but we can’t continue like this.”

The audience also included several members of local police departments who were there to support, as well as gain insight from, the forum.

HSU student Cameron Rodriguez and Humboldt County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Allen sit next to each other taking questions about police brutality and race relations at Humboldt State. - JAVIER ROJAS
  • Javier Rojas
  • HSU student Cameron Rodriguez and Humboldt County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Allen sit next to each other taking questions about police brutality and race relations at Humboldt State.
The biggest applause of the evening came in response to Salinas-Westmoreland, who called out HSU administration for its lack of presence at the forum. She also referenced University President Lisa Rossbacher’s email to students this week that stated “racism is not a norm on our campus,” which drew laughs from students in the audience. The MCC director said the email was a slap in the face to students of color.  

“How many people from administration are here?” she asked. “And how are they not being here helping these students? I’m fed up, quite honestly.”

The forum came to a close with a question to the panel asking what its members would take from the discussion going forward, and how they would apply it to their lives.

Corlis Bennett-Mcbride, director for the Cultural Centers for Academic Excellence at HSU, summed up the forum by tackling an issue many people agreed upon.

“Stop assuming,” Bennett-Mcbride said in reference to the tactics law enforcement have sometimes used on people of color. “If we can just stop assuming every black person is up to no good, we can cut half of the problems.”

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Early Prospects for Crab Season Look Good

Posted By on Tue, Oct 4, 2016 at 2:52 PM

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman and state Sen. Mike McGuire during today's hearing. - JENNIFER SAVAGE
  • Jennifer Savage
  • North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman and state Sen. Mike McGuire during today's hearing.

So far, so good. That's the early word in today's extensively titled forum, "Crab Season Outlook for 2016-17 and Modern Aquaculture in California by the Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture" taking place right now at the University of California Davis Marine Lab in Bodega Bay. Convened by the North Coast's own state Sen. Mike McGuire, who chairs the committee, and attended by our U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman, the hearing offers scientists and fishery experts a chance to give their take on the upcoming California crab season. 

After last year's disastrous crab season was delayed due to high levels of the toxin domoic acid, attendees were visibly relieved to hear relative good news from University of California Santa Cruz's Dr. Raphael Kudela, professor of ocean health, that while 2016 was "warm and toxic," the probability of a domoic acid bloom impacting North Coast crabs has decreased over the last month. This is "really good for crab and fisheries," Kudela said. Ultimately what things look like next year is highly dependent on winter storm conditions, he said, but right now, "good news!" 

Additionally, this marks the first time that the Joint Committee has focused primarily on aquaculture (aka “farming in water"). The farmed fish, oysters and seaweed industry continues to expand and so today's panelists will explore finfish, shellfish, inland production and perspectives from state agencies.  

Huffman noted his pride in the Second District's oyster farmers, noting the industry is not only "innovative" and "sustainable," but also "delicious." Representing that valued part of Humboldt's economy at the forum were Coast Seafood Company's Southwest Operations Manager (and Humboldt Bay Harbor Commissioner) Greg Dale and Hog Island Oyster Company co-founder and CEO John Finger.

The hearing will be live-streamed until 4 p.m. and then archived for future viewing. 

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Fire Up the Chainsaws: Oak Woodlands Restoration Bill Signed

Posted By on Sun, Oct 2, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Firs swallowing a grove of black oak. - PHOTO BY LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Photo by Linda Stansberry
  • Firs swallowing a grove of black oak.
On Sept. 24, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1958, paving the way for landowners with conifer encroachment on oak woodlands to remove the invasive trees without replanting. The bill comes after more than a year of advocacy from small landowners and environmentalists who argued the existing rules by the state Board of Forestry were counter-intuitive to best practices in land management.

While slow-growing oak woodlands have been a dominant part of the Humboldt landscape for centuries, providing acorns and habitat for many species, the absence of fires has given quick-growing firs a chance to gain ground, shading out oaks and overtaking open ground. Previously the Board of Forestry has required an onerous timber harvest plan process to harvest and sell conifers. A.B. 1958 could ease these regulations, creating a seven-year pilot “exemption” to the THP process for smaller conifers and clarifying language around oak woodland restoration activities.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Eureka Takes Police Video Fight to the Supreme Court

Posted By on Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 3:18 PM

Since 2008, the Eureka Police Department has outfitted all of its patrol cars with Watch Guard cameras. Who gets to see the footage they collect remains up for debate. - PHOTO BY THADEUS GREENSON
  • photo by Thadeus Greenson
  • Since 2008, the Eureka Police Department has outfitted all of its patrol cars with Watch Guard cameras. Who gets to see the footage they collect remains up for debate.

The city of Eureka is trying to keep its recent appellate court loss from setting a statewide precedent.

In July, the First District Court of Appeals rebuffed the city’s effort to block release of a video depicting the arrest of a 14-year-old suspect, ruling that the video — and others like it — could not be considered a confidential police officer personnel record, which receive special protections against public disclosure. The appellate court published the ruling, meaning it would become case law and set a precedent throughout the state.

But the city has now petitioned the state Supreme Court to depublish the July decision, which wouldn’t impact the court’s order that the specific video in question be released but would keep the decision from becoming case law and guiding future court rulings. And, in a rare move, on its own motion, the Supreme Court has extended its deadline for deciding whether to take up a full review of the appellate case — a review that would venture beyond the publication question.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

UPDATE: Eureka Approves Containerville Move, $75k in Funding

Posted By on Wed, Sep 28, 2016 at 11:54 AM

The shipping container village at the corner of Commercial and Third streets may soon find itself on the move. - THADEUS GREENSON
  • Thadeus Greenson
  • The shipping container village at the corner of Commercial and Third streets may soon find itself on the move.
The Eureka City Council voted unanimously yesterday to approve a new location and provide $75,000 in funding for the shipping container shelter project for the homeless.

After hours of discussion and public comment, the council voted to relocate the project that currently shelters about 40 people in a vacant lot on the corner of Third and Commercial streets to a city-owned lot at Koster and Washington streets. The new location will be in place for a year, pending the California Coastal Commission’s emergency approval and the city’s following through with a local coastal plan amendment in the coming months.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Klamath Dam Removal Takes a Step Forward

Posted By on Sun, Sep 25, 2016 at 9:42 AM

  • Courtesy of American Rivers and Klamath Restoration Council
  • Irongate Dam on the upper Klamath River.
The newly formed nonprofit Klamath River Renewal Corporation and dam owner PacifiCorp filed applications Friday with federal regulators to decommission the four hydroelectric dams that clog the Klamath River.

The filings were hailed by proponents of dam removal as a milestone in refurbished plans to see the lower Klamath River dams removed in 2020. The dams block fish passage and contribute to the poor water quality on the lower river, which is currently seeing some of its lowest salmon returns in history. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will now determine whether to approve the license transfer and surrender applications, and will ultimately be the agency to decide whether to approve removal of the four dams.

“The deplorable water quality, back-to-back disease outbreaks and bottomed-out fish runs have taken a tremendous toll on our people,” said Yurok Tribal Chair Thomas O’Rourke Sr. “We welcome this major step toward restoring Klamath fish populations and providing salmon once again to our upstream neighbors, the Klamath Tribes.”

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

UPDATE: Judge Allows Budget Motel Evictions to Proceed

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 10:35 AM

  • Thadeus Greenson
In a ruling filed this afternoon, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge has given the city of Eureka the green light to condemn the Budget Motel.

The motel’s owner, David Kushwaha, had asked the court to intervene and stop the city’s forced eviction of his tenants, which was initially scheduled to happen this morning, due to substandard conditions and more than 340 code violations. Through his attorney, Kushwaha asked the court to give him 45 days to address the violations, which include bedbug and cockroach infestations, hazardous wiring, inadequate plumbing and heating fixtures and a host of other things.

But Judge Dale Reinholtsen found Kushwaha had little chance of ultimately winning the case and that the alleged violations are “hazardous and pose an imminent threat to occupants of the motel and the surrounding community.”

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Restraining Order Blocks Budget Motel Evictions

Posted By on Wed, Sep 21, 2016 at 4:23 PM

  • Thadeus Greenson
The city of Eureka’s efforts to shutter the Budget Motel on Fourth Street have been put on hold.

This afternoon Bradford Floyd, a local attorney representing the Budget Motel’s owner, David Kushwaha, received a temporary restraining order to halt the city’s plans to clear the property tomorrow. On the heels of a recent code inspection that turned up 341 violations, the city served Kushwaha and his tenants on Monday with notice that it would enforce a notice to vacate the property at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Eureka Chief Building Official Brian Gerving, who’s also serving as acting city manager while Greg Sparks is on vacation, said the city feels the property poses an immediate threat to the health and safety of its residents, first responders and the general public. Specifically, Gerving said widespread bedbug and cockroach infestations, open and unpermitted electrical wiring, rot and mold render the place unfit for habitation. Additionally, Gerving said, inspectors noted missing plumbing fixtures — like toilets and sinks — in some rooms and unrepaired fire damage in others.

This afternoon, the Journal contacted Kushwaha in the office of the Budget Motel and he declined to comment, other than a brief statement: “We got a restraining order against the city. We are not going anywhere.”

The case is set for a hearing at 8:45 a.m., at which point a judge may determine whether the city can follow through with its plans to clear each of the hotel’s 44 rooms, board them up and fence off the property.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

UPDATED: Large Fuel Spill in State Park Amid Crash Cleanup Effort

Posted By on Sat, Sep 10, 2016 at 8:24 AM

Caltrans reported the overturned truck's tanks were intact with minimal leaking observed on Thursday. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Caltrans reported the overturned truck's tanks were intact with minimal leaking observed on Thursday.

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services sent out a press release today with a bit more information about the spill, including that the department doesn't believe the spill presents a threat to public health and that there's currently no evidence fuel has entered the nearby South Fork of the Eel River. Find the full release copied below our original post.

Approximately 4,000 gallons of fuel spilled into state park soil as crews tried to clear the wreckage of a tanker truck that overturned alongside U.S. Highway 101 near Salmon Creek Bridge.

Information is sparse at this point, but State Parks sent out the below press release last night stating that cleanup efforts are underway and noting that about 4,000 gallons of the tanker's 7,000-gallon load "was released." The crash occurred Wednesday night near Miranda and its cause remains under investigation.

According to Caltrans, the plan had been to transfer the 7,000 gallons of gasoline to another truck before using a hoist to pul the tanker back onto the roadway. The truck's tanks stayed intact in the crash, with minimal observed leakage, according to Caltrans.

We'll update this post with additional information as we get it.

Humboldt County, Calif — Recovery and clean-up efforts of an overturned semi-truck carrying up to 7,000 gallons of fuel continued today near north bound US-101 out hot Salmon Creek Road in Humboldt County. The Peterbilt tank truck and trailer that collided with a guard rail and overturned on state park property on September 7 has been removed. Approximately 4,000 gallons of fuel was released.

Planning efforts to remove contaminated soil are underway and environmental monitoring will be ongoing throughout the entire clean-up process The park is open to the public. Park hours and services have not been impacted.

It is anticipated that traffic will be restored to normal conditions this evening, though traffic may be restricted in the near future to aid in clean-up efforts.

The collision remains under investigation by the California Highway Patrol. For further information, please contact Superintendent Tom Gunther (707) 946-1812.

From DHHS:

Sept. 10, 2016

Public notified of gas spill above South Fork Eel River

An estimated 4,000 gallons of gasoline from a petroleum tanker that overturned Wednesday in Southern Humboldt has leaked above the South Fork of the Eel River.

The incident occurred just south of the Salmon Creek exit from northbound U.S. Highway 101.

There is currently no evidence that fuel has entered the water. Assessment of the area continues today, with cleanup efforts expected to begin Tuesday.

The fuel truck overturned with an estimated 7,000 gallons on board. Some of the fuel was recovered in what’s called a “hot stinger operation,” which involves drilling the top of the overturned tank and inserting a pipe to remove the fuel. Recovery efforts, however, were complicated by the position of the truck and its location on the hill.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation is the lead agency for the spill and the recovery. Staff from the Division of Environmental Health (DEH) remain on site and continue to monitor these efforts.

“We don’t believe at this time that the spill presents a threat to public health,” said Susan Buckley, director of the Public Health Branch of the Department of Health & Human Services. “But in keeping with Proposition 65 notification requirements and out of an abundance of caution, we’re making this announcement over the weekend to make sure area residents are informed.”


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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

DA: CHP Officer Acted in Self-Defense

Posted By on Wed, Sep 7, 2016 at 4:51 PM

Killian Shane O'Quinn - EPD
  • EPD
  • Killian Shane O'Quinn
A District Attorney’s Office review found a California Highway Patrol officer acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a man after a routine traffic stop turned into an exchange of gunfire on a Eureka street last November.

In a news release today, District Attorney Maggie Fleming said she has spoken with the family of Killian O’Quinn, who was 20 and allegedly initiated the deadly exchange, about her decision.

Officer Stephen Curtis, who was wounded in the Q Street shoot out on Nov. 1, was lauded by Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills in the following days for his discipline during the tense incident.

That included attempting to disarm O’Quinn before exchanging fire, holding the four occupants of the suspect’s car at gunpoint while waiting for backup, and politely directing citizens away from the scene despite being shot himself.

O’Quinn’s toxicology report showed the 20-year-old had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18, more than twice the legal driving limit, and oxycodone in his system at the time of the shooting.

From the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office:

Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming has completed her review of the investigation into the law enforcement officer-involved shooting that resulted in the death of Mr. Killian O’Quinn on November 1, 2015.

The following summary is based on the District Attorney’s review of the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) report, all recorded statements and audio/video recordings obtained during the course of the investigation, as well as autopsy and toxicology reports.

On November 1, 2015, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Stephen Curtis was on duty in a marked patrol vehicle, wearing his full uniform. At 4:24 pm he was parked on the west side of Highway 255 south of New Navy Base Road, near Samoa, monitoring traffic. A driver pulled up to the patrol car to alert the officer of a green vehicle passing across double-yellow lines and running other vehicles off the road. Officer Curtis then began a search for the vehicle by travelling towards Eureka over the Samoa Bridge. His patrol car Mobile Video Audio Recorder (MVAR) provides information from this point.

At 4:26 pm Officer Curtis caught up to the vehicle, a green Chevy Impala, and began narrating his observations including his reason for a traffic stop. He activated his overhead emergency lights and the Impala signaled to make a right turn onto 4th Street (US101 South). Officer Curtis stated that he can see five occupants in the Impala. The Impala then turned right onto Q Street and pulled over to the curb.

Officer Curtis approached the left side of the vehicle and spoke to the driver, later identified as Killian O’Quinn. The Officer asked, “How’s it going?” and explained the reason for the stop, stating he had a report of “driving like crazy” near the mill. Officer Curtis asked for O’Quinn’s license, registration and insurance. Officer Curtis continued to ask questions and occasionally repeated what is said by O’Quinn.

After a pause he again asked for registration and insurance and suggested it might be in the glove box since it is supposed to be in the car. After again not receiving the requested documents, Officer Curtis asked who owned the vehicle. He then asked questions related to O’Quinn’s statements about staying at a hotel. The Officer then said, “No one’s got ID?”

After standing at the driver’s door for about two minutes the Officer told the driver to step outside and instructed O’Quinn to “Get your hands where I can see them, don’t even think about bolting dude.”

After a slight pause, Officer Curtis asked, “Are you thinking about something?” to which O’Quinn replied, “I’m just thinking about how f—-ed my life is.” The Officer then said, “It’s not, you got pulled over, so there’s beer in the car, I’m not interested about that right now. I want to talk to you outside though.” Officer Curtis followed that directive by telling O’Quinn, “Come on out. You got 3 seconds. Come on, I’m a nice guy.”

As O’Quinn exited the vehicle a struggle began and Officer Curtis attempted to push O’Quinn onto the rear of the Impala. During the struggle a gun (later identified as a Springfield .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol) is visible in O’Quinn’s right hand. Officer Curtis told O’Quinn to, “let go of the gun” and reached for his own firearm after he was unsuccessful in disarming O’Quinn. O’Quinn crossed his own body with the gun and fired two rounds under his left arm, striking Officer Curtis, who was behind him. While being shot, Officer Curtis distanced himself from O’Quinn and fired several rounds at him with his CHP-issued Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

As O’Quinn fell to the ground near the left rear of the Impala, Officer Curtis moved to a position near the right rear of the vehicle. Officer Curtis’ attention was drawn away from O’Quinn when a passenger began to open a right side passenger door of the Impala. During that time, the video shows O’Quinn leaning up and pointing his firearm in Officer Curtis’ direction. Officer Curtis then fired several more rounds at O’Quinn while transitioning to a different position of cover and O’Quinn fired a final round at Officer Curtis. Officer Curtis then twice told O’Quinn to “drop the gun” and O’Quinn finally drops the gun. The last shot was fired at 4:31 pm. When people in the neighborhood start to come to the scene Officer Curtis is heard saying, “Stay back please.” Officer Curtis also transmitted a message to CHP Dispatch, advising that he had been shot but was not down and that he had four passengers in the car at gunpoint.

The first emergency units (Eureka PD, Humboldt Bay Fire, City Ambulance) arrived at 4:36. Eureka PD Officers removed the four passengers (3 men and 1 woman) from the Impala, who were later interviewed by members of the CIRT. Paramedics with Humboldt Bay Fire and City Ambulance, provided on-scene medical care to O’Quinn (including CPR) and Officer Curtis. Both were ultimately transported to St. Joseph Hospital for treatment. At one point during his medical care, O’Quinn vomited. Medical staff noted the heavy odor of alcohol. At approximately 5:10 pm, the treating physician pronounced O’Quinn deceased. Officer Curtis’ medical treatment included the removal of a bullet from his upper right thigh.

The description of the incident by all four passengers and a witness who lived in the neighborhood coincided with the recording. Passengers also made clear that O’Quinn had been driving recklessly. At one point a passenger offered O’Quinn money to drive “normally.” The front passenger stated he initially thought O’Quinn was hiding a beer in his lap and later realized it was a gun. Several passengers gave the opinion that the officer acted appropriately; one stated, “The officer’s life was in danger even before he knew it.”

Evidence collected at the scene included the firearm used by O’Quinn and spent .45 caliber shell casings indicating he had fired three rounds at Officer Curtis. It was later determined that one round entered Officer Curtis’ body, lodging in his upper right thigh and another passed through his uniform without striking him. The investigation determined that Officer Curtis fired a total of 11 rounds at O’Quinn.

Dr. Mark Super conducted the autopsy of Killian O’Quinn on November 4, 2015. He determined the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds. According to the toxicology report, O’Quinn’s blood alcohol was 0.18 (more than double the level for an impaired driver) and he also had oxycodone (0.06 mg/liter) in his system.

From all the evidence and witness statements, the District Attorney finds the shooting was a justifiable homicide under Penal Code section 196(2) which states: Homicide is justifiable when committed by public officers and those acting by their command in their aid and assistance, (2) when necessarily committed in overcoming actual resistance to the execution of some legal process, or in the discharge of any other legal duty. Faced with a clearly lethal threat, Officer Curtis fired his weapon in self-defense.

District Attorney Maggie Fleming has advised Killian O’Quinn’s family of her decision.

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