Victim Named in Monday’s Rancho Sequoia Homicide

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, July 23 @ 9:41 a.m. / Crime

According to Lt. Wayne Hanson of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the victim in Monday’s homicide in Rancho Sequoia is Scott W. Johnson, age 57. Johnson was a resident of that area. Hanson said that there was only one victim on Monday night not two as initially reported. “There were no other victims,” Hanson said.

He also said an autopsy is scheduled today. Normally, a forensic autopsy in this area can take over a week to occur. However, because a forensic pathologist was already in the area to perform an autopsy on the victim of Friday night’s homicide, Neil Decker, then Johnson’s autopsy can take place relatively quickly.

Hanson was unable to go into details about Monday night’s homicide yet. However, he did say that two deputies had been assigned out in the Alderpoint area because the suspect of Friday’s shooting, Matthew Brown, had been sighted in the area. [See photo right.]

On Monday night, Hanson said, the two deputies were west of downtown Alderpoint when they heard some gunshots. 911 calls started coming in.” The officers were able to arrive at the scene with only a “10 to 15 minutes response time.” This, Hanson said, is very quick for that remote area. Meanwhile other officers had been dispatched from Eureka. So, at this point, the deputies in Alderpoint, “used common sense and waited for more resources to get there.”

Hanson described the deputies in a situation that was “very tense.”

More information should be forthcoming in a press release later today.

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Thunderstorm Warning for Northeastern Humboldt

Andrew Goff / Tuesday, July 22 @ 5:19 p.m. / Weather

National Weather Service press release:  

A severe thunderstorm warning remains in effect until 5:30 p.m. PDT for northwestern Trinity and extreme northeastern Humboldt counties.

At 5:01 p.m. PDT, national weather service doppler radar continued toindicate a severe thunderstorm capable of producing quarter sizehail and damaging winds in excess of 60 mph.  This storm was located over northwestern Trinity County, or 17 miles east of Hoopa, moving north at 25 mph.

The severe thunderstorm will otherwise remain over mainly rural areas of the indicated counties.

In addition to large hail and damaging winds, continuous cloud to ground lightning is occurring with this storm. Move indoors immediately! Lightning is one of natures number one killers. Remember, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.



Supervisors Renew Contract With Wildlife Services, Move Forward on Plastic Bag Ban

Ryan Burns / Tuesday, July 22 @ 5 p.m. / Animals , Environment , Government

In an impassioned and well-attended afternoon session, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to renew the county’s contract with the increasingly controversial Wildlife Services, a federal agency that has recently been accused of overzealous and brutal animal control methods.

Local wildlife advocates showed up in droves to urge the board not to renew the contract, and an attorney from the Center for Biological Diversity threatened a lawsuit if the contract were renewed. But a number of ranchers said the agency provides an invaluable service by removing or killing dangerous predators that threaten livestock.

In all, more than two dozen public speakers took turns at the lectern with the majority urging the board to find an alternative method of wildlife management. Many of the speakers represented local nonprofit the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, which offers nonlethal animal control methods.

Monte Merrick, the co-director of that agency, said volunteers answer hundreds of calls for animal control. “We’ve never had to kill or even trap an animal,” he said, adding that three quarters of calls can be handled over the phone. 

Several speakers accused Wildlife Services of being a rogue agency whose default solution is to kill troublesome creatures, often catching unintended animals in its traps. Amy Atwood, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, was perhaps the fiercest critic of Wildlife Services. “We maintain that Wildlife Services is a rogue federal program that kills millions of animals every year, including hundreds in Humboldt County, without transparency or accountability,” she said. Atwood added that her organization is poised to file a lawsuit if the contract were renewed.

“And if we do that and we win,” she said, “you will have to conduct a comprehensive review of the status quo. We know that if you do that, you will conclude that the most reasonable course is to move toward a nonlethal program. But we — believe it or not — would rather not sue you,” Atwood said. “We’re hoping we can convince you. But in order for us to step back from that threat, we need you to either reject renewal today or commit to taking steps toward a nonlethal program.”

Natalynne Delapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, urged supervisors to consider alternatives. “We know there are creative local solutions that exist,” she said. “They only need to be give an opportunity to take hold.”

Those speaking in favor of contract renewal included current and former employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retired Patrol Captain Nick Albert said Wildlife Services employees are trained professionals, “not some yahoo out there with a gun who wants to kill everything.” He argued that the agency is essential for dealing with rabid animals, wayward mountain lions and coyotes.

Contract renewal also got approval from local ranchers such as Johanna Rodoni, a former county supervisor, and Eel River Organic Beef owner Clint Victorine, who said Wildlife Services has helped him deal (non-lethally) with the massive flocks of of Aleutian geese that descend on his field each year, consuming roughly $45,000-worth of feed each time.

When the issue was brought back to the board for discussion, Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace suggested that there is room for compromise on the issue. “Wildlife Services and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center both work on this, and yet there seems to be zero relationship, coordination or familiarity between the two. It seems to me that one possible outcome is to recognize that there should be a working relationship there.”

He added that there is no alternative to Wildlife Services immediately available and suggested possibly extending the contract for merely a year rather than the four that were on the table, thus giving the county time to potentially work on transitioning to another agency or approach.

Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell addressed Ms. Atwood’s threat of litigation, suggesting that if the Center for Biological Diversity were to sue anybody it should be the federal government, since Wildlife Services is a federal agency. “Why bring [a lawsuit] against Humboldt County? Because we’re small?” Fennell asked. “I don’t like it.” She went on to say that, while a lot of people gave heartfelt testimony, Wildlife Services provides an important service. And sometimes death is inevitable, especially in rural areas like Humboldt County. Mother Nature, Fennell said, “is not exactly tidy and kind all the time, and living with nature is not always simple.”

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg made a motion to approve the contract renewal, and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass seconded the motion. There was a brief testy exchange when Supervisor Lovelace again brought up the idea of a shorter, one-year contract extension, to which Sundberg replied, “I heard your comments the first time” and held firm on his motion.

In approving the contract renewal, several council members said that, while Wildlife Services may have problems elsewhere, there have been few if any complaints specific to Humboldt County. The motion passed unanimously.

After the decision, Atwood, the attorney, expressed her disappointment, saying that at the very least the county should have tabled the issue to allow for more conversation. As for the threatened lawsuit? “We haven’t made a decision yet,” she said. But she insisted that the county has a responsibility under federal law to review the effectiveness of its wildlife management program.

Galvin, also of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the county had basically turned a blind eye to wildlife. “Going in we felt like, if the county was making progress, we were prepared to hold off on litigation,” he said. “Given that the county has basically rubber-stamped [the contract], it doesn’t leave a lot of options for people who care about wildlife.” 

Earlier in the meeting the board also voted unanimously to have staff develop a draft ordinance banning single-use plastic bags, though the local ordinance may be held back until the fate of a statewide ban is determined.

The supes told staff to model its draft plastic bag ban on both the pending Senate Bill 270 and the City of Arcata’s Reusable Bag Ordinance. Both measures ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores, large retail stores and liquor stores and include small fees for paper bags. 

The pertinent questions before the county, staff explained, are (a) when should the ban go into effect, and (b) which department should be in charge of enforcement. It could be assigned either to the Department of Public Works or the Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Division, explained Assistant County Administrative Officer Cheryl Dillingham.

Jennifer Savage, the coastal programs director for the Northcoast Environmental Center, said she personally has been speaking about this issue for at least three years, and meanwhile lots of other jurisdictions have passed plastic bag bans. “We are long overdue for some kind of ordinance addressing this pervasive problem,” she said.

Peter Galvin, director of programs for the Center for Biological Diversity, said that a ban would benefit the fishing industry by improving the ecology of local waterways and help tourism by reducing ugly roadside garbage.

While all five supervisors were supportive of a ban, there was some disagreement about whether or not to include a small fee for paper bags. Staff had explained that such fees, which vary from three to 10 cents per bag, serve to further motivate consumers to choose reusable bags. But Fennell and First District Supervisor Rex Bohn were resistant to the idea, with Fennell calling it an attempt at “behavior modification” and Bohn saying fees would just mean more profit for store owners.

Bass and Lovelace, on the other hand, voiced support for a small fee for paper bags. “I think in some ways this is reminding people that there is a social responsibility to get rid of [plastic] bags,” Bass said.

Sundberg said that, if there is a fee, it should only be enough to cover the actual cost of the bag. Staff pointed out that it would be very difficult to determine exactly what each store pays for each bag.

In the end, the supervisors left it to staff to research the issue and provide more info when it comes time to present the draft ordinance, at which point the Great Paper Bag Fee Debate will likely resume.



HUMBOLDT APPROVED: Who is Humboldt’s Best Singer?

Andrew Goff / Tuesday, July 22 @ 3:54 p.m. / Humboldt Approved

LoCO would like to thank everyone who voted in last week’s highly contested and very important “Best French Fries” popularity contest. In the end “The Trailer” in Arcata just edged out the far more established Mike’s Drive Up in the metro category. (Fortuna’s Bob’s Footlongs marched to an easier victory in the rural category.) We have not been to The Trailer. We will be going to The Trailer. 

Now. If you’ve paid attention to how Humboldt Approved works, you know we are required to follow up a very crowd pleasing category with one where feelings and dreams are mercilessly trampled upon. Thus, this week we want to know, in our readers’ always humble opinion, which local vocal cords do you most enjoy granting access to your earholes. Who is Humboldt’s best vocalist? 

(Please remember that Humboldt Approved polls — and especially this one — are just dumb fun and, like, art can never truly be compared and … beauty … eye … beholder … OK.)

Anywho, here’s your weekly reminder on how to make your vote count. Don’t mess up this very important duty, HumCo: 

To vote, look through the comments of this Humboldt Approved poll. If someone has already nominated the answer you would give for this week’s category, click the upvote arrow. If you don’t see your desired Humboldt Approved answer nominate it in a comment for others to upvote. (Please be careful to not duplicate answers; redundant answers will be deleted and potential associated upvotes will be lost.) Feel free to make your case by replying to/cheering on the answer you love most, but again the number by the arrows on the initial nomination is what counts.

You can vote for as many nominees as you deem worthy but, of course, the more you do that the more watered down your initial vote becomes. That’s math.

We reserve the right to delete superfluous/lame comments that make the voting/comment section hard to sift through. Please try not to get offended when your comment battle reply is deleted. We’re trying to do something here.

While many weeks we look for two winners — one winner from the metropolises of Eureka and Arcata, and one from Humboldt’s smaller communities — due to the nature of this category, this time we’re gonna limit it to one. Voting closes next Friday at noon and soon after a winner will be declared.

Get to nominatin’ voices, LoCO readers! 



County Supervisors Vote to Put Revenue Measure on November Ballot

Ryan Burns / Tuesday, July 22 @ 1:35 p.m. / Government

Press release from the county:

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to place a temporary revenue measure on the November 4, 2014 ballot to maintain and improve essential County services, including public safety. The Board’s action followed input from residents regarding the need for improved sheriff’s services and the results of a countywide community survey which showed residents strongly support additional funds for local county services.

“We know how important public safety and other county services are to local residents,” said 1st District Supervisor and Board Chair and Rex Bohn. “This measure will allow the County to maintain the services our community relies on.”

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints County services have experienced cutbacks. Even sheriff’s patrols have been greatly reduced, and now it can sometimes take several hours for a sheriff’s deputy to respond to a call.

“Many areas of Humboldt County are not patrolled by Sheriff’s deputies at night,” said Humboldt County Sheriff Michael T. Downey. “This measure provides the funds we need to expand patrols, maintain emergency 9-1-1 response times, and make sure calls about violent or property crimes are responded to promptly.”

Additionally, hard drugs and narcotics like meth are growing problems throughout the county.

“We need the funds necessary to fight drug-related crimes, eliminate meth labs, and provide drug prevention and rehabilitation services,” said Sheriff Downey.

Rising costs are also threatening probation services, including the supervision of individuals who are at risk to commit crimes.

“Probation knows who the most serious criminals are in our community, and we know what their likelihood is of re-offending,” said Chief Probation Officer Bill Damiano. “With this measure, we will be able to keep probation officers in the field to manage and intervene with these individuals. When successful, new crimes and new victims are avoided that would otherwise be certain to occur.”

If adopted by voters, the Humboldt County Public Safety/Essential Services Measure, a half-percent sales tax, provides funds to maintain and improve essential services, such as 24-hour sheriff’s patrols, 9-1-1 emergency response, crime investigation and prosecution, drug enforcement and prevention, services for abused children and the mentally ill, fire protection, road repairs, and other County services. If adopted, the revenue measure will, by law, expire in five years.

“This measure provides our area with a guaranteed source of local funding to maintain and improve public safety and local services,” said 2nd District Supervisor and Vice Chair of the Board Estelle Fennell. “Over the past 22 years, Sacramento has taken $286 million in revenue from Humboldt County’s budget. This measure ensures we have funding that can’t be taken by Sacramento.”



Suspect in Rancho Sequoia Homicide in Custody

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, July 22 @ 9:03 a.m. / Crime

Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed that Matthew Aaron Brown suspect in Friday’s shooting in Rancho Sequoia and in last night’s shooting has been taken into custody.

Brown has been named as a suspect in the death of Neil Decker late Friday night.

Last night, scanner activity indicated that there had been more shootings in the Rancho Sequoia subdivision. Knight declined to give details about how Brown was involved in last night’s shooting but promised a press release later today.

# # #

UPDATE. 10:17 a.m.: As promised, HCSO press release follows:

On 07-21-2014, at approximately 9:49 p.m., the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from a resident in the Rancho Sequoia area of Humboldt County who reported there had been a shooting and someone was shot. Two Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Deputies were in the Rancho Sequoia area at the time, looking for murder suspect Matthew Aaron Brown, 30 years old, who was wanted for the 07-18-2014 shooting homicide of Neil Decker, age 49. The deputies heard several shots at the same time the citizen reported the shots, and were on scene within minutes. The deputies were informed by the citizen that murder suspect Matthew Brown was in the area where the shots had been fired. The deputies were also informed that local residents had gone looking for Brown, and that one of the residents was believed to be shot and had major injuries. Medical personnel were called to the scene, along with additional law enforcement from the California Highway Patrol and Fortuna Police department. Medical personnel staged in the area awaiting law enforcement personnel to secure the scene for their safety.

The deputies located a deceased person in the roadway.  Due to an armed murder suspect being in the area, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team was called to the scene.

The SWAT team arrived at approximately 5:00 a.m., 07-22-2014, and located murder suspect Matthew Arron Brown at approximately 6:00 a.m. Brown was arrested and is currently enroute to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.  Humboldt County Sheriff’s Detectives are being assisted by Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office Investigators, Eureka Police Detectives and California Department of Justice .

A Humboldt County Superior Court Search Warrant has been obtained and investigators have begun searching the property.  The area is still an active crime scene and it is unknown if there are any other victims.

Additional information will be released as it becomes available; investigators are still in the process of determining what happened. This is the fourth homicide in the Rancho Sequoia area in the last 24 months.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539. [Booking photo, right, inserted 7/23]

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(UPDATING) Another Shooting in Rancho Sequoia Area

Andrew Goff / Monday, July 21 @ 11:20 p.m. /

UPDATE, 7/22: The following is ten minutes of condensed scanner audio that began at about 12:15 a.m. Note that “1144” is the code for “deceased person.”

(AUDIO)

# # #

Original post: Late Monday night scanner traffic indicates another shooting in the Rancho Sequoia area about 10 miles east of Garberville.

The edited audio below begins at around 9:51 p.m. with a dispatcher reporting two possible gunshot victims and a suspect outstanding. Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputies respond to the area and speak to a man who leads them to a vehicle thought to have been occupied by a victim. The vehicle contained large amounts of blood. Deputies continue to search for one of the victims.

We’ll update as we know more.

(AUDIO)