Tom Abate In Sempervirens – April 15, 2011

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – Former North Coast Journal Editor Tom Abate was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold by Arcata Police last night, April 14, and has been committed to Eureka's Sempervirens mental health facility.

According to APD dispatcher logs, police were called at 8:41 p.m. to the Fiesta Grill and Cantina on Janes Road on the report of a subject yelling and possibly under the influence.

A Fiesta Grill employee who asked not to be identified said two panicked men had entered the restaurant through a door in the the restaurant's rear area, where the bar is located. Shutting the door behind them, one exclaimed, "Call 911! He wants to hurt me and kill me!"

Tom Abate

Tom Abate

When the employee went to look for the alleged attacker, the two warned him, "Don't open the door!" After calling police, the employee said he then observed the individual wandering off northbound on Janes Road carrying something in his hand, which he speculated may have been a screwdriver.

"He looked like he was drunk and probably on drugs," the employee said, describing the alleged attacker's demeanor.

The APD dispatcher log from last night describes a "subject in the middle of the road, taking off his clothes."

The log states that the individual was staying at an unidentified location (the name of which has been redacted). There, the log says, "he picked up transients and gave them clothes and let them stay in his room."

Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said that since no arrest was made, he could not identity the individual per Government Code 6254(c), which protects personal privacy.

Chapman said that an officer discovered the subject flagging down vehicles at Janes and Heindon roads. The man was relocated out of traffic at the side of the road, where, Chapman said, he continued to "exhibit bizarre behavior."

The subject was then taken into custody as 5150 – a possible danger to himself or others – and conveyed to Sempervirens.

Chapman said police found no evidence of weapons or drugs in the subject's possession, nor was any intoxication detected.

Another witness who asked not to be identified but who was present at the scene during the incident, confirmed that the subject in question was Tom Abate. "Call the Journal," the witness recommended, evidently under the impression that Abate is still employed there.

Also citing privacy laws, Humboldt County Health & Human Services spokesperson Heather Muller declined to provide any information on whether Abate is a client at Sempervirens.

Abate, who co-founded the North Coast Journal in 1990, is a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter and Arcata Union columnist. He returned to the Journal in January, serving less than two months in the position before leaving employment there under undisclosed circumstances.

Abate's tenure at the Journal got off to a rocky start when he lost his composure during a radio interview with KSLG host John Matthews. His aggressive reportorial style struck some in the journalism community, as well as news subjects, as unusually abrasive.

Calls to Sempervirens staff and messages left for Abate there have not yet been returned.


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  1. kevpod said:

    That doesn’t work for me, as it is diagnosing someone’s medical maladies based on police reports. We’ll stick with describing the behavior and leave the medical assessments to those qualified to make them.

  2. Spike said:

    Might work to say he appeared to be manic (evidenced by his behavior and his being placed in psychiatric care after the incident) and then define that that as a phase of a mental illness called bipolar that is typified by poor judgment, poor temper control, reckless behavior and lack of self control. A link or two might have served the public good.

    There appears, and I could be wrong, to be a bit of glee on the reporter’s behalf in the reporting of the sad and obviously terribly embarrassing details of the case.

    As a person who puts stories about small communities on the internet for a living, I spend a lot of time weighing the benefits and costs to the rest of humanity of what I do. No right or easy answers, to be sure. But when we have the power to put the written word about people on the Internet, which goes world-wide and that will exist for the foreseeable future, I think it behoves us to really think clearly about how we impact other people’s lives.

  3. Spike said:

    The trick with a story like this one is that Tom was mentally ill — ill! — so the judging and tisk-tisking and mocking that comes with him the description of his behavior as “erratic” or “aggressive” has no place. Would we mock someone who had a seizure? Who passed out? Who threw up? One hopes not. So, yes, it’s news, but it’s the implicit and explicit judgement of the man in question that turns this coverage sour.

  4. Mrs. Gaskell said:

    This is a sad story–I just heard about Tom yesterday. It is surprising and out of character for him. I have known him for over thirty years and hope he recovers.

  5. Linda Truck said:

    Perspective is not something someone who is/was delusional has. Apparently several days before the incident that was reported on here happened, Tom had made a bit of scene elsewhere, looking for a employee that didn’t exist, as he claimed he had picked up a “french woman” hitchhiking and was looking to re-connect… Point being the downward spiral was not an isolated incident and did point to probable cause to commit.

  6. Robert Benson said:

    The North Coast Journal, in my opinion, is the only objective reporting periodical in the area. I, especially, like the article with it’s current Fukishima relevance. The apparent iron grip that the local establishment, whether left or right, has on the area could drive any morally sound human to the brink, who attempts to report on the corruption (see article, above, for example). I pray that Tom gains some perspective from this incident and that the public Abate this matter for inadvertence, if not for possible lack of probable cause to commit; time will tell on the latter.

  7. Linda Truck said:

    I think Rose it attempting to place fault on the Humboldt public blogsphere for Tom Abate’s condition, but he seemed to already be in a bad state, on his arrival here in Humboldt County. The KSLG interview clearly points to this. Good wishes to Tom for a clear recovery.

  8. kevpod said:

    Note to potential commenters: If you’re just going to call people bums, or crazy, or get into Heraldo/Humboldt Mirror-grade personal insults, your comment will be merrily moderated out of existence. If you have some criticism, just add that magic not-so-secret ingredient known as “substance,” and it will get through. Basically you need to give people something to think about, which is why we are doing all this to begin with.

  9. Rose said:

    I don’t think people realize that the journalism community has nothing against Tom. Long ago, he and his wife ran a print shop in Eureka – all of us who had anything to do with publishing and advertising knew them and many did business with them. They founded The North Coast Journal, then left because Tom was accepted to the Columbia School of Journalism – he went on to become a success, writing for the Chronicle, and thus enjoyed local celebrity status. People were happy for him.

    He came back, and, I think, stumbled, and found that this was not the area he left. It has changed. It is not the happy place it once was. He was attacked and mocked mercilessly online. NOT by the journalistic community here.

    Whatever was going wrong spiraled out of control. Pray for him, and his recovery. He is a good man.

  10. Markus Eurekus said:

    Last week I and my coworkers had a strenuous interaction with Mr Abate where he spent considerable time in our store. He was obviously manic and in need of psychiatric assistance. He was borderline hostile and inappropriate with various persons around and for this reason we didn’t feel safe voicing our concerns for his demeanor directly to him. His interview was also very erratic but after meeting him, I certainly didn’t feel bad/negative towards him (he seemed to be genuinely trying to help homeless people), but sympathetic that he find some psychiatric assistance. As someone who has dealt with psychological issues myself, I empathize. I’m sad it came to this, but I’m relieved he has made his way to Semper Virens and hope there is some recognition on his part of the help he needs. He is a public figure, and anyone doing this in Arcata would have made the paper anyway. It is news, not simply gossip. I’m nobody in this area and I would expect the same coverage should these have been my actions.

  11. Grump said:

    Laura did not read the story. No info came from Sempervirens, Looks like most if not all of it came from the police log. It’s a public document.

  12. Laura said:

    I hope that if it was an employee of SV that released this info PROTECTED health information they are fired! This is a HIPPA violation.

  13. Linda Truck said:

    Health is one’s most valuable asset, being of sound body and mind is such a complicated twist as one wonders down the path of one’s life…as I look at this photo of Mr. Abate, he does not look well. His red eyes are the windows into what looks to be a troubled soul…hasty recover to you Mr. Abate.

  14. Rosie Buds said:

    Thanks for this story! I’ve been following this guy since that radio interview I happened to catch on KSLG. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

  15. news fan said:

    Interesting that when the NCJ so quickly parted ways with Abate, many people criticized them (for policy, even those who didn’t like Abate’s style) and that the Journal didn’t say much about why they took the action. As Grump and Kevin alluded to, when someone is discreet, even for good legal or moral reasons, then people think you are hiding something about themselves. I haven’t noticed anything on the NCJ blog about this, I don’t think it’s just shame. As many have pointed out, Abate’s apparent actions on the 15th were public, not private and supposedly included threatening actions. Each of us is “discriminated” against based on our pasts (that’s what credit scores are about). Sometimes it’s not fair, but it goes both ways. How many people would “discriminate” against the NCJ for removing Abate and not giving a reason. Perhaps now we are seeing a bit of what led the NCJ to remove Mr. Abate. Such revelations are not frivolous sensationalism.

  16. Mark Sailors said:

    Maybe I should freak out on the plaza one day soon and see what kind of coverage I get….or not.

  17. kevpod said:

    Madaroda just sent in a libelous comment about me being a suspected sex offender. I expunged it as I would any such anonymous and unfounded comment about anyone.

  18. kevpod said:


    First, we’ve never been “at war” with Tom – where’d you get that gem? Just make it up?

    As to “look[ing] like a hypocritical,” we stand by the story and the criteria for publishing it.

    Again, when prominent people act out in public, with folks fearing for their lives and police called in, it’s news. T’was ever thus.

  19. madaroda said:

    If printing a story about the mental health of someone you have been at war with in the past is an acceptable journalism, for the sake of not continuing to look like a hypocritical, you WILL be publishing the complete health record for every employee of the Arcata Eye, right? Or ANY
    altercation any of you have had with anyone? And EVERY accusation of ANYBODY anonymously accusing you of anything unseemly? Right?

    This is garbage journalism and an abuse of power, period. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

  20. Mark Sailors said:


    Can you imagine the front page story on the NCJ and Times(sub)Standard if this had been Kevin?
    What if it had been on of our council members, or former members.
    Should the Eye have not reported on the kerfuffle at the debates on the campus of HSU when one candidate was arrested and urinated in the police car because it might have affected his chances at getting elected?
    A newspaper that only reports what a certain segment of the population wants to hear is simply a propaganda rag. (Think Fox news)

  21. kevpod said:

    That’s exactly right. The “Oy Vey” person apparently expects us to suddenly overturn the criteria for news coverage on the spot, just for this one person.

  22. Grump said:

    Right, oy vey. And if it hadn’t been publicized, people would be screaming about a cover-up. If journalists had to worry about whether a story might cost someone a job somewhere down the road, no stories would be written. Abate, if he was still at the Journal, would certainly have published such a story about another editor.

  23. oy vey said:

    This is why information relating to mental health is supposed to be private, protected information. Whatever we feel about Mr. Abate, it is inappropriate to make a private medical condition into gossip.

    What if in six months a prospective employer decides to google Mr. Abate and finds this article? What if a landlord refuses to rent a home to him because of this article? What if someone with a grudge against Mr. Abate chooses to use this information against him?

    Three classes of people face strong stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, and personal relationships: People with HIV/AIDS, people with drug and alcohol addictions, and people with mental health problems. It is wrong to publish this type of information, whether other new outlets have done it before or not.

  24. Zoiks! said:

    Wow. After listening to that radio interview, I really do hope Abate does receive some help. I really feel for John Matthews in this case. I think its good to discuss your issues, regardless if provoked to do so or not, it’s just unfortunate that it had to be on the radio. I follow all local news and I think posting this article is important, and responsible as Zoo pointed out, but also it may have been a bit prematurely. I have to admit, it will be interesting what happens at the Journal in the next few months. The Northcoast Journal has become the Northcoast Urinal the last six months or so.

  25. Zoo said:

    I think it is very responsible to publish such news, especially in the case of a public figure whom people might be inclined to give a wider benefit of the doubt if exhibiting eccentric behavior. Keeping psychosis private doesn’t help anybody – the person losing touch with reality nor those around him who may end up being the target of a psychosis induced attack. It’s like a traffic sign: slide ahead! Slow down!

  26. ginni hassrick said:

    I am sorry that anyone chooses to publish the illness of another. I think it demeans the entire world. Mental illness is a disease…do you want your families illnesses published?

  27. carol said:

    Having a psychotic break in public is like having a seizure in public. Afterward, one is embarrassed and wishes that everybody would forget. We are extremely lucky, though, to live where people can be taken to Sempervirens and given the care they need. This is not true elsewhere; I know from family experience.

  28. Jim Ferguson said:

    5150 holds are 72 hours so he’ll be back out on the street Monday. Hopefully then we can find out the rest of the story.

  29. erica said:

    this sad,,,,this person is not well.. if he is in semperviren’s then he is getting the best care his health right now. I don’t think that his name should have been reported and personal private info. that he may or may not be in sempervirens…when your well known everything is reported and sensationalized…it’s wrong…good news never travels but bad news does….and people have nothing better to do than to gossip about this person…if you haven’t walked in his shoes, one does not know what put him where he was and not acting like himself. how would you like to see your name in the paper or on the internet when your not well and need help…..? so cruel…..

  30. Richard Stenger said:

    Sad. Terribly sad. I really wish this story had been posted on April 1, not April 15.

  31. PrivacyisRespect said:

    Yeah, I understand, I didn’t mean to attack you for the story. It’s just a sad situation. Thank you for your understanding.

  32. kevpod said:

    That’s perfectly understandable. There is no joy in writing a story like this, nor in some others that will appear in next week’s paper. This is why there are so many alcoholic journalists I guess.

  33. PrivacyisRespect said:

    I’m sure they will. This fact just makes me sad and I felt I had to say something, even though it will not make a difference.

  34. kevpod said:

    Sell papers? By posting it on a website five days before the newspaper comes out?

    The answer to your question is that it’s news.

    When I lose my marbles in public, draw police and get committed, I have every expectation that the other newspapers will write up the story of a public figure having issues.

  35. PrivacyisRespect said:

    It’s really too bad that this man’s private situation had to be published just to sell papers. It’s difficult enough to deal with mental illness but then to have it publicly displayed?

    By the way, this comment comes from someone who had to deal with this situation last night. I have met the man and he was rude and accusatory. That is still no reason to do this to him. What happened to do unto others?

  36. Elizabeth said:

    Extreme stress will sometimes cause a psychotic break, which actually does resemble intoxication or drug induced behavior.

    Have empathy.

  37. Mark Sailors said:

    Gotta love local politico-journalism……..I can’t wait to hear the rest of this story when it comes out.

  38. kevpod said:

    That’s a good catch. The chief didn’t identify Abate in noting that the subject had no weapons or drugs. Story edited to reflect that.

  39. Rockhouse said:

    Chapman wouldn’t say “police found no evidence of weapons or drugs in Abate’s possession, nor was any intoxication detected” because of Government Code 6254(c) protecting his privacy.

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