Kevin L. Hoover
DOWNTOWN – The McKinley-encircling phalanx of police officers that kept the Plaza’s core free of destruction last New Year's Eve did the same on Halloween last week, but it didn’t stop those committed to spoiling the evening from doing so just up the street.
The idea of swarming the Schwazz with blue didn’t appeal to many citizens – or, in fact, the police themselves. But lacking a community or City Council alternative, the potential public safety consequences of an out-of-control crowd fighting and dangerously climbing the much-abused statue as occurred last Halloween left the City with only that costly, draconian solution.
Well-intentioned “visioning” sessions held at City Hall and elsewhere earlier this year yielded lofty sentiments and lots of creative suggestions, but interest petered out afterward, with no practical follow-through.
Unfortunately, driving the crowds from the Plaza concentrated the partying population into adjacent areas along Tavern Row and points north.
A City of Arcata/APD press release the next day offered a basic summary of the night’s events:
“The Arcata Police Department, along with officers from the Eureka Police Department, Fortuna Police Department, Ferndale Police Department, Rio Dell Police Department, HSU Police Department and California Highway Patrol patrolled the Arcata Plaza on Halloween due to past incidents of unruly behavior.
“Halloween saw a couple thousand people in the downtown area once again. While officers were successful in keeping the Plaza from being vandalized, some people in the crowd turned violent.
“While arresting a female subject who had been involved in a physical fight, officers became surrounded. Several objects were thrown at the officers from the crowd. An APD sergeant was struck in the face with a bottle. He sustained a large laceration to his upper lip and had to be transported to Mad River Hospital where he received several stitches. The crowd continued to be unruly and several more arrests were made throughout the night.
“During the evening officers located a male subject with an AR-15 assault rifle slung around his neck. The firearm had an unusable unloaded magazine in the weapon. He also had a loaded, operable 10-round magazine in his pocket. The weapon was taken for public safety reasons.
“During the evening there were nine Public intoxication arrests, and numerous medical aid calls which consisted of a broken nose, broken jaw, severed ear (which were sustained during physical altercations in the downtown area) and other alcohol-related issues. There were approximately 101 calls for service during the night.”
In the aftermath of the evening, troubling details emerged.
The ear attack
The individual whose ear was described as “severed” reported being attacked from behind with a machete at Ninth and J streets.
His assailants, described only as two men wearing ponchos, were last seen running south on J Street.
Photos of the victim, which Chief Tom Chapman declined to release, show a bloodied man whose ear is still attached, though how securely wasn’t apparent. He apparently suffered a scalp wound, too.
Chapman stood by his decision to confiscate the AR-15 assault rifle from the man who brought it and 10 rounds of ammunition to the Plaza.
The man wasn’t happy about his rifle being taken away from him, and Chapman acknowledged that the legal justification for APD doing so was tenuous at best.
“His conduct wasn’t necessarily a technical violation of any code or existing law,” Chapman said. “But common sense had to prevail.”
The rifle-toter was clad in all dark clothing, told police he was a “CIA man” or Secret Service agent and that the AR-15 was his “prop.”
Somewhat alarming was that the man made statements about “having to defend himself,” and was accompanied by an individual who was wearing body armor.
Chapman said he chose to act on what might have been advance signs of an impending incident – signs which law enforcement and other authorities have been castigated for ignoring prior to recent mass shooting incidents.
“My fear was that if he walks away, loads that gun and shoots somebody, the issue will be, ‘the police knew.’”
APD told him he could reclaim the rifle after Halloween was over, but at press time, the individual’s weapon had not been returned to him. Chapman said that the man is required to present APD with proof that the federal Department of Justice has cleared the weapon for return.
Meanwhile, a Second Amendment activist group called The Calguns Foundation has filed a Public Records Act request with the City for details of the AR-15 confiscation. The group is known for filing lawsuits against municipalities for what it believes are gun rights violations.
Another person who felt ill-served by police on Halloween was International Superclown Shea Freelove. He was arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness and jailed after a sub-optimal encounter with what turned out to be a Eureka Police officer.
Freelove, who is concerned about evolving regulations governing public fire art in Arcata (Eye, Oct. 24), said he simply wanted to discuss the regs with an officer.
Wrote Freelove on his Facebook page, “I approached the police blockade around the Arcata Plaza with a question regarding the new fire performance regulations. An officer pushed me in the chest and almost knocked me down. I came back later to ask the same question and an officer grabbed me by the throat and pinned my arm behind my back and immediately put me in handcuffs. I was left in the police car for over an hour before being put in a detaining room. Four hours later I was released without charges. Hello, police state.”
Chapman said APD had no details of the encounter, since Freelove was initially contacted by an EPD officer, then turned over to APD for booking. An EPD spokesman said that department had no details either, referring inquiries to APD.
According to public records, it was Freelove’s fifth arrest since 2001. Three were for disorderly conduct, one for DUI, plus the Halloween drunk in public arrest.
While Freelove’s plight drew many expressions of sympathy and solidarity, Brigit Fraga, reflecting the sentiments of many friends and allies, offered Freelove some toughlove and a reality check:
“Shea, I love ya, but I also know you, and you love to freak people out and cause a ruckus wherever you go. I’m pretty sure you didn’t think you were going to have a lovely conversation about future fire shows when you went and talked to the cops. Keep it real. You wanted to be annoying and irritate the cops. I can’t get to het up about privileged white kids in a bumfuck college town dealing with ‘police brutality’ when they choose to repeatedly bug cops in the middle of Plaza Idiot Hour. Next time, call the police station and make an appointment so they will take you seriously and you can make real plans about this fire show you are hoping to have. Nonetheless, it really sucks that you were roughed up and I am sorry to hear that. But quit being facetious. Everyone knows you well enough to know that you weren’t actually thinking that being drunk on a crazy night in the Plaza was a good time to chat up the cops. Or, if I am right and you are loving every second of this drama, keep it up. All the world’s a stage, am I right?”
Perhaps the most grievous incident was one which took place outside Don’s Donut Bar.
Responding to a fight there, officers took a woman into custody as the usual crowd of drunken agitators surrounded them, hollering.
Individuals Chapman described as “a couple of jerks” threw bottles at police, one of the bottles striking an officer in the face.
Chapman would not disclose the officer’s identity, but it was Det. Sgt. Todd Dokkweiler, who heads up APD’s Special Services division. Dokkweiler, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was assisting with enforcement duty that night.
The bottle split Dokkweiler’s upper lip all the way from the base of his nose to his mouth, causing a deep gash that required subcutaneous tissue to be surgically mended even before the skin could be sewn up.
Dokkweiler is back on duty this week with his mustache shaved and the lip stitches apparent. "I have a tooth that isn't where it used to be," he said. He will bear the facial scar from the bottle for the rest of his life.
Dokkweiler previously earned recognition for saving the lives of two women during the Feb., 2011 fire at the Tea Garden Apartments. Using his body as a "human ladder," he bodily spanned a gap between a retaining wall and a balcony to allow the women to climb down to safety.
APD has initiated an investigation and is reviewing video surveillance from cameras in the area in an effort to identify the suspects. If that fails, APD may issue a public appeal for tips, with a reward.
All in all, meh
So, while arrests were down from last year, the Plaza wasn’t trashed and no one fell off of or got peed on from McKinley, “I can’t say it was successful,” Chapman said. He ballparked the cost to the City of the additional enforcement at $3,000 to $4,000.
Mayor Michael Winkler said he was disappointed that the City had “come down heavy handed because we didn’t see an alternative.”
“The police presence was necessary, but it is NOT a long term plan,” said Councilmember Susan Ornelas, I am sorry to have let the ball drop on the ‘alternative’ party, as I thought it was moving forward, but was mistaken. An HSU student tried to put together an alternative celebration at the last minute, but unfortunately he applied for permits too late - there were fire and safety issues, etc. I hope to see an alternative gathering planned earlier, and intend to help plan it this year!”