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'Escalating Behavior' 

A chilling picture of Arcata's latest murder suspect

Twelve days before Richard Dean allegedly stabbed a 52-year-old man to death in his Arcata apartment, unprovoked, a restraining order was issued against the 18-year-old in Hoopa Valley Tribal Court.

"This court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Richard Dean has untreated mental health issues compounded by substance abuse," states the order, which forbids Dean from coming within 50 yards of his grandfather. "The court further finds by clear and convincing evidence that Richard Dean's behavior is escalating: He is asking a relative for a gun. This escalating behavior poses a threat to the community, and intervention through mental health and substance abuse treatment is the most effective response to Mr. Dean's behavior."

What — if any — treatment Dean received in the wake of the court order remains unclear. Similarly, it's unclear what exactly led to the restraining order. What is made clear through recently unsealed court documents, however, is that Dean was allegedly in the midst of a psychotic break, delusional and increasingly violent.

Officers were called to the Courtyard Circle apartments in Valley West shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 after a resident, Anthony Michael Pennucci, had stumbled from his apartment and collapsed to the ground, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. According to an affidavit in support of a search warrant, detectives canvassed the area and talked to one of Pennucci's neighbors who said she'd answered a knock at her door a couple of hours earlier to find a young man matching Dean's description. She said he was shoeless, wearing jeans, a black shirt and a red bandana tied around his head. He was "talking nonsensically and acting erratically," according to the affidavit, so the woman closed and locked her door.

Detectives found that a window screen had been removed from a neighboring apartment, according to the affidavit, and contacted the resident, Natessalie Donahue, who they learned was Dean's sister-in-law. Donahue told detectives she believed Dean had tried to break into her apartment earlier that afternoon and that his behavior had grown increasingly troubling, culminating in an incident a couple of weeks earlier. "She related a recent incident where Dean had held his brother at knifepoint in Eureka while making threatening statements," the affidavit states. "She stated that Dean has been talking paranoid and delusional about freeing his mother from a subject only known as 'Fernando.' Donahue believes that 'Fernando' is an imaginary subject."

Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said the incident between Dean and his brother parallels the one that ultimately left Pennucci dead. In Eureka, Chapman said it appears Dean was wandering through an apartment complex knocking on doors and talking nonsensically before the altercation with his brother. In Arcata, Chapman said, Dean knocked on at least one random door before allegedly coming to Pennucci's apartment. Chapman speculates that Pennucci, who lived alone, must have either opened the door or simply told Dean to come in. The chief said evidence in the case indicates the fatal altercation didn't begin at Pennucci's front door, but took place within his apartment. "The impression that we have from people who knew the victim is [he] would have invited pretty much anyone inside in a friendly manner," Chapman said.

After allegedly stabbing Pennucci multiple times, Chapman said, it doesn't appear Dean spent much time in the apartment. It appears he just grabbed Pennucci's car keys and wallet and left.

But Pennucci's car was found apparently as he'd left it parked near his apartment and there's no evidence Dean took any money or attempted to use any of the credit cards from the dead man's wallet, Chapman said, which leaves a motive for the slaying a mystery.

A couple days after Pennucci's death, police served a search warrant on a property on Shoemaker Lane in Hoopa, where Dean lived in a small cabin near his grandmother's house. There, they found some blood-stained clothes, along with Pennucci's keys and wallet. They also reported finding a couple of bottles of prescription pills and a soda can with a burnt substance inside. Dean's grandmother, Norean Jones, also told investigators she'd taken her grandson to the hospital on the morning of Oct. 26 after he'd complained of a possibly broken finger.

Arcata detectives also learned that Dean is the suspect in a bizarre and violent incident at Eureka's Discount Cigarettes on the afternoon of Oct. 25, before he allegedly arrived on Pennucci's doorstep.

According to a man who works the counter at Discount Cigarettes — he asked not to be identified, saying the incident was so traumatic he still hasn't told his wife about it — Dean walked in at some point in the early afternoon. The clerk said Dean walked oddly around the shop — an expansive store bordered by glass display cases offering an assortment of bongs, trinkets, incense and all types of tobacco — before walking behind one of the counters and approaching a shelf of cigarette cartons. "I asked if I could help him," the clerk recalled, adding that Dean mumbled something about helping himself. The clerk then asked if Dean had an ID, and the teen said he didn't. "I said, 'I'm sorry, then I can't help you. You need to leave,'" the clerk said, adding that Dean simply turned and walked out.

A minute or so later, the clerk said, he was helping another customer when Dean returned, pulled a red bandana over his face, ran to the shelf, grabbed a carton of cigarettes and tried to run off. The clerk said he grabbed Dean and then wrestled the cigarettes away. "Then he punched me in the side of the face," the clerk said, adding that he was stunned and stood dumbfounded as Dean again ran out of the store. A moment later, the clerk said he heard something smash through one of the store windows and walked to the door to see what was going on. When he cracked the door open, he said, Dean was standing there with a large hunting knife. "He said, 'Come out and I'll stab you,'" the clerk recalled, adding that he quickly closed the door and called police, who arrived after Dean left the premises.

Chapman said investigators still don't know how Dean made his way from Eureka to Arcata, or if the knife brandished at the clerk is the one ultimately used in the alleged murder.

A criminal complaint filed by the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office indicates that Dean had been in trouble with the law prior to Oct. 25, and even before whatever led to the restraining order requested by his grandfather. In addition to charges of murder, attempted robbery, criminal threats and vandalism, Dean's also been charged with two counts of petty theft stemming from incidents at Ray's Food Place and the Hoopa Mini Mart on Aug. 25, just a few months after his 18th birthday.

Social media comments from Dean's family members and others also hint that he has a juvenile record that includes acts of violence, though that's unverifiable as juvenile criminal records are confidential. Perhaps the most chilling comment came via the Lost Coast Outpost's Facebook page. There, someone used the account of Greg Horne — who identifies himself on the page as working for the Humboldt County Probation Department — to comment on news of Dean's murder arrest.

"Bat shit crazy," the comment reads. "Told you fuckers he'd kill someone some day."

The Journal's attempts to reach Horne and verify his employment status with the county were unsuccessful by deadline, though indicates Horne worked as a juvenile probation officer for the county as of last year.

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Thadeus Greenson

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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