Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eureka Appoints Watson Interim Police Chief

Posted By on Tue, Jul 18, 2017 at 4:40 PM

Capt. Steve Watson - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Capt. Steve Watson
The city of Eureka announced this afternoon that police Capt. Steve Watson will take over as interim chief upon Andrew Mills' departure on Friday.

Watson, born and raised in Fortuna, returned to Humboldt County in 2005 after serving in the U.S. Army, working as an elementary school teacher and serving as a deputy in Santa Cruz County. After joining EPD, he helped oversee the creation of the department's Problem Oriented Policing division and was often in headlines as the department struggled to address entrenched homeless encampments within his jurisdiction as a captain, the area of Eureka north of Seventh Street.

Reached for comment on the appointment, Watson struck an upbeat and determined note. He said he will focus on moving forward with "what needs to be done, both inside and outside the department." Immediate goals include completing deescalation training for officers and improving retention of the current force, a majority of which is comprised of officers with less than five years in the department. Watson says he has seen a lot of "ups and downs" during his 12 year tenure with EPD, a time which included a string of officer-involved shootings, a departmental insurrection against a controversial former chief and prolonged budget woes.

"The last four years under Mills have been very rapid paced with a lot of changes," said Watson. "He has also been a steady hand as a leader. I am obviously very pleased with his leadership but it's time to keep moving the department forward."

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Friday, July 14, 2017

UPDATE: Fortuna City Manager Arrested for Second DUI

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 10:35 AM

  • City of Arcata
  • Wheetley
Fortuna City Manager Mark Wheetley was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence yesterday evening, just about 18 months after a DUI arrest derailed his candidacy for a seat on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

California Highway Patrol spokesman Cy May said an officer pulled Wheetley over shortly after 7 p.m. yesterday after spotting him speeding on State Route 255 near Navy Base Road. In addition to allegedly doing about 70 miles an hour in a 55 zone, May said the registration tags on Wheetley’s 2013 Chrysler Town and Country minivan were expired.

“After we stopped him and contacted him, the officer observed Mr. Wheetley displaying signs and symptoms of intoxication,” May said, adding that the officer then gave Wheetley a field sobriety test, which he failed.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

UPDATE: Budget Committee Reverses Trump's Tsunami System Cuts

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 8:39 AM

A graphic showing the buoy system that tracks tsunamis. - NOAA
  • NOAA
  • A graphic showing the buoy system that tracks tsunamis.
The House Appropriations Committee has rejected a proposal by President Donald Trump to gut the nation’s tsunami warning system, a move one local official says could leave the West Coast vulnerable to destructives waves generated by quakes from thousands of miles away.

According to the committee’s report, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriation’s Bill, passed on July 13, includes a recommended allotment of $973 million for National Weather Service and provisions to keep the nation’s two tsunami warning centers open.

The committee’s recommended funding level is $37 million more than the administration’s suggestion, with the committee citing the need to “maintain critical capabilities to provide weather forecasts and warnings.”

“The Committee does not adopt the proposed reduction of the Tsunami Warning Program,” the report states.

The committee also rebuffed the president’s call to eliminate $12 million in funding needed for a system of deep-sea buoys — completed just nine years ago — that transmit information on a tsunami’s trajectory to the warning centers.

The tsunami warning system that has undoubtedly saved lives in coastal communities nestled along the Pacific — including our own — faces an uncertain future under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Trump has proposed shuttering one of the nation’s two tsunami warning centers and eliminating nearly 40 percent of the staff that stand watch 24-hours a day, monitoring seismic activity across the globe for a tsunami threat.

If that were to happen, says Dorie Lanni, who oversees Humboldt County’s Office of Emergency Services, not only would alert capabilities be cut by more than half but there would be no backup warning system in place.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

UPDATED: Chief Mills' Last Day Set for July 21

Posted By on Tue, Jul 11, 2017 at 11:51 AM

Mills in cooler days. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mills in cooler days.
UPDATE: The Eureka City Council is not currently slated to discuss the process for replacing police Chief Andrew Mills at the July 18 meeting, which comes just three days before his last day on the job.

City Clerk Pam Powell said more information on the process may be announced next week and the appointment of an interim chief is likely to come before the council at the beginning of August.

PREVIOUSLY: It’s now official: Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills’ last day with the city is set for July 21.

After nearly four years on the job, Mills is heading south to Santa Cruz, where he’ll take on the same position 10 days later in a city that's double Eureka’s size but faces many of the same issues, including a sizable homeless population.

Mills announced he accepted the position back in early June but the offer was contingent on his passing an extensive background check, which was recently completed.

“It’s bittersweet,” Mills says, adding praise for the men and women of his department. “We truly love the people of Humboldt and we’ve found many like-minded friends and people with similar interests, like grandchildren, and many salt-of-the-earth people who are just fantastic.”

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Sales of Estate Items to County Employees Under Investigation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 5:11 PM

  • Humboldt County Sheriff's Office
  • Sheriff William Honsal
Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal announced today that the sheriff's office has launched an investigation into possible improprieties involving the sale of estate assets managed by the public administrator’s office to county employees.

In a report by the Lost Coast Outpost’s Ryan Burns, Honsal says the situation came to his attention when the Outpost began making inquiries and filed a public records request after receiving a tip regarding the office’s handling of a particular estate. Read Burns’ story and his interview with Honsal here.

Falling under the auspices of the coroner’s office, which came under the sheriff’s oversight in February of 2015, the public administrator’s office takes over if a person dies without a will or anyone coming forward to oversee the settlement of the estate.

Honsal says no one has been placed on leave in connection with the investigation, which will be turned over to the district attorney’s office to determine if there was any “criminal intent.” He has hired an outside investigator to assist with the probe.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Judge Gives Attorney 30 Days to Refile Public Defender Lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 4:02 PM

  • David Marcus
A judge today dismissed a lawsuit alleging the county’s public defender did not meet minimum qualifications required for the post, but gave local attorney Patrik Griego 30 days to refile, saying he should have more information about his contention after questioning David Marcus under oath during an upcoming deposition.

The lawsuit seeking to block Marcus’ controversial appointment centers on the California government code section that states public defender candidates must have "been a practicing attorney in all the courts of the state for at least the year preceding the date of his election or appointment."

While visiting Judge Marjorie Carter noted her “inclination” was to overrule the county’s move to dismiss the case and “get on with this,” she said there needs to be further clarification on the extent of Marcus’ legal work history before the lawsuit could proceed.

“You will probably know more after your deposition,” Carter said told Griego after hearing brief statements from attorneys in the case.

Griego argued that the state code requires more than just practicing law in the previous year, but also making appearances — either in person or via legal filings — in both the criminal and civil courts.

Marcus, he contends, did not meet that threshold, with questions being raised about whether the public defender practiced law at all during the year before his appointment while he was living in Florida working as an insurance adjuster.

Griego said the criteria was included by lawmakers to ensure the indigent defendants being served by the public defender’s office were afforded qualified counsel.

County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck asserted that the state simply requires a public defender to have been a practicing attorney — which could include giving legal advice or preparing documents — before taking office, adding there was no case law he found with a requirement to have “stepped foot in a courtroom.”

“It’s our position he was a practicing attorney,” Blanck told the judge.

Blanck said the statute boils down to the question: Have you done legal work in the past 12 months?

“If the answer is yes, I don’t think it needs to be quantified as to what is too much and what is too little,” Blanck told the judge.

Carter acknowledged an interpretation of the statute’s meaning would need to be sorted out but said that was not the issue before the court today.

Marcus last practiced criminal law when he served as Lassen County’s public defender from 2005 to 2011. According to the resume Marcus submitted to Humboldt County, he worked for the Walnut Creek law firm Cella, Lange and Cella from 2012 through 2016 as a contract attorney while living in Florida. What specific legal work he did for the firm during that time is unclear.

He has faced a bumpy road since being selected for the public defender’s job, from members of the local defense bar criticizing the county's hiring process to a pair of no-confidence letters from public defender's office employees.

Marcus attended the court hearing, but left quickly after the judge’s decision and was not immediately available for comment.

Blanck stated in an email to the Journal that the county agrees “with the Court’s ruling that the Petitioners had not stated sufficient facts to determine whether or not the practicing law standard was met.”

“We will wait and see what they put in their Second Amended Writ,” he wrote.
Griego said there’s zero evidence to show Marcus had done any legal work for Cella, Lange and Cella and he plans to refile the lawsuit after gathering more information, including Marcus’ testimony at Monday’s deposition.

“We feel pretty confident that this idea that he worked for a friend’s law firm was just made up,” Griego said after the hearing.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Huff Among Democrats Suing The Donald

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 4:19 PM

Huffman - FILE
  • File
  • Huffman
Remember last week when 200 Congressional Democrats filed a federal lawsuit alleging that President Donald Trump has been profiting from business dealings with foreign governments in violation of the Constitution? Well, North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman was one of them.

In a Facebook post, Huffman explained that the lawsuit stems in part from Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and “flouting basic standards of ethics and transparency.

“This lawsuit, in which I’m one of the plaintiffs, has a good chance of forcing disclosures that will reveal the extent of his financial obligations and conflicts of interest,” Huffman wrote. “It’s unfortunate that President Trump broke his promise to disclose his tax returns voluntarily, and also broke his promise to create a blind trust to prevent conflicts. Those broken promises, and the GOP Congress’ refusal to step up and do meaningful oversight, are why this lawsuit is necessary.”

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sessions Fights to Fight Legal Weed

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 10:59 AM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Lost in all the reports of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was news that last month U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Congress to give him broad authority to crack down on medical marijuana cultivators and distributors acting in accordance with state laws.

On May 1, Sessions penned a letter to congressional leaders asking them to strike a provision in a spending bill that bars the Department of Justice from using its federal funding to prosecute people operating in compliance with state law. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the check on Justice Department power has been a mainstay in congressional budget bills since first passed in 2014.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” Sessions explained in the letter.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Officials Announce Lawson Reward, Face Charging 'Conundrum'

Posted By on Tue, Jun 13, 2017 at 1:26 PM

Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward.
The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever fatally stabbed David Josiah Lawson on April 15 has swollen to $21,000, the city of Arcata recently announced.

  • Submitted
  • Lawson
Meanwhile, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said the investigation remains ongoing some five weeks after Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen dismissed a murder charge against Kyle Zoellner, APD’s prime suspect in the slaying of Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State university sophomore. Nothing prevents the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office from refiling a murder charge against Zoellner if APD finds additional evidence implicating him in Lawson’s death.

Chapman said his detectives are continuing to investigate witnesses in the case, though he noted that, aside from those initially interviewed, none of the more than 100 people at the Spear Avenue house party where Lawson was killed have voluntarily come forward.

“To date, that hasn’t happened,” Chapman said, adding that all witness interviews are valuable to the investigation, even if the witness doesn’t believe he or she saw anything related to Lawson’s death, explaining that one witness’ testimony about things unrelated to the actual stabbing can be used to test the veracity of other witness statements.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

EPD Chief Mills Accepts Post in Santa Cruz

Posted By on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 7:57 PM

Andrew Mills - FILE
  • File
  • Andrew Mills
Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills has accepted a job offer from the city of Santa Cruz and, pending a background investigation, will be leaving after three and a half years on the job here.

Reached this evening, Mills said the change is bittersweet and comes for a mixture of personal and professional reasons. Personally, he said he’s welcomed three grandchildren to his family since taking over Eureka’s chief position for Murl Harpham in September of 2013 and the remoteness of Humboldt County has made it difficult to see them. Professionally, Mills said Santa Cruz’s police chief position offers new challenges that he feels are in his wheelhouse: The city has a sizeable homeless population, gang issues and the need to continue building a stronger relationship between the community and its police force.

“It seems like a good fit,” Mills said.

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