Homeless Man Wanted For SoCal Murder Arrested in SoHum

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 6:12 p.m. / Crime

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office press release: 

Dirksen

On 08/06/2017, detectives with the Port Hueneme Police Department (PHPD) contacted the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and requested assistance. PHPD detectives were working on a homicide investigation that occurred within their jurisdiction. Through the PHPD investigation, detectives identified Peter Jeremy Dirksen (age 37) as a person of interest in the brutal killing of a 61-year-old woman. PHPD detectives believed Dirksen had fled to an unknown location in Southern Humboldt after the homicide was committed, and requested that HCSO be on the lookout. Dirksen was wanted for an unrelated felony warrant issued out of Los Angeles County. PHPD detectives requested that HCSO arrest Dirksen on his warrant while they continued with their investigation.

On 08/07/2017, at 6:45 p.m., HCSO deputies assigned to the Garberville Station located Dirksen walking in the 800 block of Redwood Drive, Garberville. Deputies placed Dirksen under arrest without incident and subsequently transported him to the Humboldt County Correctional Facility. Dirksen was later extradited to Southern California where PHPD detectives were awaiting his arrival. Dirksen was charged with murder and is currently awaiting trial.
Click here for further details.

Today, PHPD detectives contacted HCSO to express their appreciation. PHPD detectives stated without the timely arrest of Dirksen, he may have avoided capture.
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.


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Shawn Hof Jr. Appears in Court: Former Fugitive Was on the Run For Nearly a Year After Allegedly Shooting at Game Warden

Rhonda Parker / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 4:51 p.m. / Courts

When Fish and Wildlife Warden Matthew Wells turned on his lights and siren to pull over some would-be poachers in a pickup truck, he didn’t expect to become a target.

But within seconds, Wells testified today, the man standing in the bed of the truck dropped his spotlight, pulled a handgun and opened fire.

Hof.

“I feared for my life,” Wells said during the preliminary hearing for Shawn Eugene Hof Jr., accused of attempting to murder Wells in the early-morning hours of Aug. 22, 2016.

Wells was on routine patrol that morning on Redwood House Road, which intersects with state Highway 36 near Carlotta. He was above the road, looking through binoculars, when he spotted a vehicle traveling “less than 5 miles per hour.”

“I saw the occupants of the vehicle using a hand-held light,” Wells testified under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada. Wells said he drove down to the road and waited about 45 minutes before the vehicle in question passed by.

“I saw a vehicle with its headlights on,” he recalled. “I saw a subject standing in the bed of a pickup truck and operating a hand-held light from the bed of the truck.” Wells said he believed the person scanning the forests and fields with the light was searching for “eyeshine” reflecting from deer or other wildlife.

The warden pulled onto Redwood House Road and turned on his lights and siren. He was about 10 yards behind the pickup truck when the spotlight disappeared and was replaced by something else.

“I saw a flash and heard the report of what I thought was a firearm,” Wells testified. “I observed what I believed to be a handgun in the hand of the subject who was in the bed of the pickup truck.”

He estimated the person fired six shots at his vehicle. Then the shooter jumped through a sliding window into the cab of the truck, but the gunfire didn’t stop.

“I observed and heard what I recognized as several more gunshots,” Wells testified. “They appeared to be coming from the passenger side of the vehicle.”

Wells dropped back but continued to follow the pickup truck, which he said sped up to about 50 mph on the curvy gravel road. He eventually found the truck about 1 mile from Highway 36. It had crashed into a redwood tree. Wells said he waited about 10 minutes for backup, then he and a sheriff’s deputy approached the wrecked pickup. Its only occupant was a tiny pitbull puppy.

The alleged shooter is Hof, 25, who was a fugitive for nearly a year before turning himself in last month. A $20,000 reward had been offered for his arrest. He is charged with attempted murder and a slew of weapons charges, including the so-called “Use a Gun and You’re Done” allegation that could mean up to life in prison if he’s convicted.

Defense attorney Paul Gallegos indicated during his questioning that if Hof was the shooter, and he has been identified by only a person who also has been charged, then his intent was not to kill the officer but slow his pursuit.

The admitted driver and owner of the pickup truck is Fortuna resident Thomas Wheeler, who told investigators he and Hof were looking for deer when the officer tried to pull them over. Wheeler gave a taped statement to Humboldt County sheriff’s Sgt. Greg Musson later the same day.

At first, Musson testified today, Wheeler denied any involvement and stuck to the story he told Fortuna police. He had filed a false report with FPD claiming the truck was stolen. Eventually, though, Wheeler admitted he was driving and Hof had fired at the officer’s vehicle.

“I didn’t know he was going to start shooting at the cops,” Wheeler said during the recorded interview, which was played in court today. He said Hof didn’t start shooting until he climbed into the cab, which contradicts Wells’ testimony.

The tape recording was mostly unintelligible to those in the courtroom audience. But a few statements were clear, such as “He just blind-fired out the window,” and “He said he was trying to shoot the radiator,” and “He was just trying to scare the officers hoping they’d back off.”

Whoever the shooter was, he missed the warden’s vehicle completely. No bullet damage was found on the truck, though Wells testified that at the time he thought it was being hit. Seven .45-caliber bullet casings and one .45-caliber bullet were found within a one-mile range on the road and roadside.

According to Wheeler, Hof seriously injured his leg in the wreck and was having a hard time walking. He begged Wheeler for help, saying “Don’t leave me out here.”

The two men apparently referred to one another as brothers, but that’s not their connection. Musson testified that Hof’s father and Wheeler’s mother were dating, and both were killed some time ago in a car wreck on Highway 36.

“They became close after that,” Musson said.

Wheeler told investigators he and Hof managed to make it to a housing subdivision in the wee hours of the morning. They were confronted by a suspicious resident, who later told law enforcement that one of the men, the one who appeared to be hurt, said his name was Shawn. But the man was unable to identify Hof in a photo lineup. In fact, as Gallegos pointed out, he thought another person in the lineup resembled “Shawn” more.

Wells also could not identify Hof as the man who fired from the back of the truck. That’s despite, as Gallegos pointed out, Wells cited Hof for spotlighting in October 2013 and also pulled him over another time for a traffic violation on Redwood House Road.

The hearing was expected to continue Thursday morning before Judge Dale Reinholtsen, who will determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

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Government Railroad Agency Says It’s Still Looking to Bring Trains Back to Humboldt County, Even as its Finances and Fortunes Spiral Downward

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 4:40 p.m. / Railroad

Railroad cars upside-down in the Eel, from a derailment long ago. Photo: Friends of the Eel River.

Meeting in Eureka today, the board of directors of the North Coast Railroad Authority reaffirmed its intention to someday reopen railroad service in and around Humboldt County, despite having, by its own admission, no idea how it will ever do so.

The proclamation approved by the board this morning declares that the publicly owned railroad agency intends to restore service on any or all railroad segments north of the city of Willits “at the earliest possible time” when and if ever it finds the money to do so, and when and if it ever finds anyone who would actually want to run such trains.

“The entire purpose here is to make clear that the NCRA stands behind the people of Humboldt County and their desire to restore rail service,” NCRA executive director Mitch Stogner told the Outpost this morning, just before the meeting began.

No actual trains have run in Humboldt County for nearly 20 years. During that time, the physical infrastructure of the railroad has deteriorated and crumbled, especially where it passes along the remote and rugged country along the Eel River between Dos Rios in Mendocino County and South Fork in Humboldt. The cost estimates of restoring the line vary wildly but run anywhere from several hundred million dollars to a couple of billion.

But the authority felt that a proclamation trumpeting its commitment to trains in Humboldt – someday, somehow – was necessary in light of comments made by former congressman Doug Bosco at a meeting of the California Transportation Commission in June. The commission had devoted some of its monthly meeting to an attempt to get a grip on the NCRA’s shaky finances, and Bosco – who has some stake in NWPCo, the private company that contracts to run freight trains along the NCRA’s right of way – was there to testify. While doing so, he told commissioners that his company has no plans or desire ever to run any trains north of Sonoma County.

“About 240 miles of this railroad will probably never be operated,” Bosco said at the time. “We as a private company are not going to operate from Napa to Eureka. We are operating profitably from Napa to around Windsor.”

This came as a surprise to many in Humboldt County, at least some of whom remember former meetings of the NCRA board, during which former NWPCo president John Williams loudly denounced and vowed to sue anyone who attempted to build a trail alongside “his” Humboldt County tracks. Today, though, Stogner said that NWPCo only has an “option” on exclusive freight rights on the line north of Willits, and so the authority is free to seek other private companies who might want to get something going in Humboldt County.

No one seemed to have much idea what that thing might realistically be. During discussion of this morning’s proclamation in support of rail, director John McCowen, who represents Mendocino County on the board, suggested adding some numbers that would acknowledge the enormous cost of opening any kind of service along 40-odd miles of track in the Eel River Canyon, which would be necessary to link the northern section of the line to the national rail grid. But Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell, who also sits on the authority’s board of directors, scotched the notion.

“What we’re doing here is reiterating and reaffirming our role in shepherding whatever we can do with the NCRA,” Fennell said. “I think we’re getting down into the weeds, here.”

The proclamation, which eventually passed unanimously, distinguishes between the Eel River Canyon and the “Humboldt Bay Block” of NCRA right of way – that stretch of railroad that runs from Samoa, around Humboldt Bay and down to a point about 30 miles south of Scotia. The final text as approved by the board suggested that the authority was “particularly receptive” to any proposals to restore “passenger, excursion or freight” service along the latter stretch, in isolation from the national rail grid, though there are, as the proclamation states elsewhere, “no foreseeable funding sources to fund the restoration costs.”

The North Coast Railroad Authority has struggled mightily almost since its inception in the early ‘90s, and especially since the federal government ordered the entire line closed for safety in 1997. (A small stretch on the southern end has since reopened.) But the past few months have been especially difficult. At the California Transportation Commission meeting mentioned above, the commission ordered the authority to come up with both a “business plan” and a “shutdown plan” – i.e., a plan for what would happen in case the NCRA were to fail entirely. In late July, the California Supreme Court decided that the authority is, in fact, bound by the California Environmental Quality Act, which the authority strenuously denied. And the agency’s finances are such that it is required to sell off or lease out land owned by the public in order to pay its bills.

That last matter took up the bulk of the rest of the NCRA’s agenda today. The authority discussed new lease arrangements with two businesses that wish to legally use the railroad’s land as crossing points – Recology, Humboldt County’s garbage handler, and grow store Spare Time Supply in Willits. They talked about a pending agreement with PG&E for the utility’s encroachment on railroad land, and about the still ongoing sale of the authority’s Ukiah Depot site for a new Mendocino Courthouse. They put off, for the time being, a pending arrangement to lease railroad easements on part of Eureka’s Balloon Track back to Security National, which proposes to pay the authority a much-needed $15,000 per year for the next 20 years, and also promises to pay for the demolition of the abandoned office building that Eureka fire, police and building officials have deemed a nuisance. Real estate deals like these are the great bulk of the NCRA’s income, these days – and it’s still in the red, according to Stogner’s testimony at the CTC in June.

At this point, the railroad authority’s assertion that it is still eager to run trains in Humboldt may be as much about holding on to these meager funding opportunities as it is about running trains. In the wake of the CTC’s demand for a “shutdown plan” last June, more and more people – especially in Humboldt – are wondering if the North Coast Railroad Authority is nearing the end of the line. On Aug, 8, the Humboldt County Association of Governments sent a letter to Stogner asking that local government agencies be included in any talks about what to do with the authority’s publicly owned right of way in the event the authority gives up the ghost.

For the moment, though, people with dealings before the railroad authority are still careful to talk to it as if trains are real. Hank Seemann of the Humboldt County Department of Public Works – the man leading county efforts on the Humboldt Bay Trail, which will someday run from Arcata to Eureka – gave a presentation to the board this morning to tell them about a grant opportunity from the California Office of Emergency Services that might help pay for the restoration of the very badly degraded railroad prism along Humboldt Bay, near the eucalyptus trees. Seemann’s team estimates that it will take some $3.5 million to rehab just that small stretch of track. Once that’s done, it can serve as an effective levee to hold rising waters back from the Highway 101 corridor, and it can serve as the southernmost leg of the bay trail. And, of course, as a newly restored railroad track, ready for all the trains to roll down. Someday.

The CalOES grant, if the county receives it, will pay for 75 percent of the cost of the reconstruction of this bit of NCRA property, Seemann said. The other 25 percent? The county was working with Caltrans and the California Coastal Commission to see if might want to chip in. Seemann said he had been working on it, and it was hopeful.

The railroad authority applauded the county for doing all this research and preparatory work that, if successful, would fund the maintenance and restoration of its own property. The board urged Seemann to continue working, and it offered its full support. Or, almost full support. As one director made clear at the close of Seemann’s presentation, the authority itself wasn’t in a position to chip in.

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DOCUMENT:



Eureka Settles Lawsuit Over 2011 Arrest, Agreeing to Give Occupy Protester $50K

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 4:15 p.m. / Courts , Local Government

LoCO file photo of Andrew Hamer protesting after this January’s Women’s March in Eureka

Whoa! Blast from the occupied past! The City of Eureka sent out a press release this afternoon announcing that its insurance carrier has settled with onetime Eureka occupier and Humboldt Grassroots member Andrew Hamer — kinda see him, above — to the tune of $50,000 in a case that eventually crept all the way up to the Ninth District Court of Appeals. 

Occupy Eureka, November 2011

The incident in question occurred in the early morning hours of November 11, 2011, when the Eureka Police Department attempted to break up the growing Occupy Eureka tent village on the lawn of the Humboldt County Courthouse (across the street from that bank). 

More than 30 individuals were arrested by EPD for unlawful lodging that morning. At the time, Occupy Eureka claimed law enforcement had used excessive force during the raid, and social media posts from that era singled out Hamer as having received metal baton-blows to the head.

Above: YouTube video by Mark Sailors of the Nov. 11, 2011 arrests

In its press release, today, the City of Eureka claims to possess video showing that Eureka Police Department officers acted properly during the arrests. Nevertheless, mounting defense costs prompted the City to settle in order to ease the financial strain on its insurer, an action, the release stresses, that “is not to be construed as an admission of liability.”

“The City of Eureka is confident that its police officers acted within the law and policies of the department and the City and its officers would have prevailed if this case had moved forward in court.” Read the full City of Eureka press release below: 

 

The City of Eureka’s insurance carrier, Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund (REMIF) has settled United States District Court Case entitled “Andrew Hamer, plaintiff, v. City of Eureka, et al.,defendants,” action number 12-CV-6077-JSW. This action was filed against the City in 2012 after an incident occurring on November 14, 2011 during the Occupy protest at the Humboldt County Courthouse. The County of Humboldt had a separate action brought against them by Mr. Hamer.

Andrew Hamer had alleged that he was injured during an arrest in which Eureka Police Officers detained and handcuffed him. Virtually all of the events during the arrest are captured on multiple videos that support the accounts of the defendant officers. EPD officers made several arrests during the Occupy standoff at the County Courthouse along with officers from the Humboldt County Sherriff’s Office. Officers used great care when dealing with each protestor and during Mr. Hamer’s arrest.

REMIF Counsel, Nancy Delaney of Mitchell, Brisso, Delaney & Vrieze, LLP, defended the City and its officers during the course of this action. The County of Humboldt settled its case with Andrew Hamer separate from the City of Eureka.

REMIF has settled with Andrew Hamer on behalf of the City of Eureka for $50,000. As noted in the settlement, the settlement is an “economic decision” based on the defense costs for a Federal Court trail. Furthermore, the settlement states “It is understood and agreed that this settlement is the compromise of a disputed claim, and that payment made is not to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of any party or parties hereby released, and the said Released Parities deny liability.” The Eureka Police Department and its officers have been dismissed from the action.

The City of Eureka is confident that its police officers acted within the law and policies of the department and the City and its officers would have prevailed if this case had moved forward in court. However, the City does understand the cost to its insurer and ultimately the tax payers of the City of Eureka and supports the decision made by REMIF.

If you are even further interested, you can watch Hamer’s case be heard in front of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals via YouTube below. 



Coastal Commission Approves Coast Seafood’s Oyster Farming Expansion Project

Ryan Burns / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 4:02 p.m. / Bidness Time , Government

Greg Dale, coastal operations manager for Coast Seafood Company and a Humboldt Bay Harbor Commissioner, addresses the California Coastal Commission. | Screenshot from streaming video feed.

After years of fighting, rejection and compromise, things were relatively kumbaya today at the California Coastal Commission meeting down in Cambria as commissioners unanimously approved Coast Seafood Company’s permit application for a consolidated expansion of oyster farming operations in Arcata Bay.

The project had been opposed by organizations such as Audubon California and the California Waterfowl Association, whose members argued it would negatively impact eelgrass and tidal flat areas where shorebirds forage. Hunters of black brant, in particular, were concerned that they’d have fewer of the migratory sea geese to shoot if their habitat were reduced.

But the Board of Supervisors sent a letter of support for the project, and even local environmental groups such as Humboldt Baykeeper were in favor of it, saying oyster farming operations have served to improve the bay’s water quality, thereby allowing eelgrass to thrive.

When the commission rejected Coast Seafood Company’s previous permit application back in June, some speculated that the company might abandon aquaculture in Humboldt Bay altogether. But in August the commission renewed the company’s shellfish permit through the end of the year, and today it approved a significantly modified project application, one that looks drastically different than the original proposal, which called for expanding the company’s aquaculture footprint by more than 600 acres.

Instead, the total acreage of Coast’s oyster cultivation beds will actually shrink — from 300 acres down to 279 acres, according to a staff report. Nevertheless, the company plans “to increase its overall production levels by using cultivation techniques such as baskets on longlines that achieve more production per acre,” the report explains. It also has promised to remove some existing oyster beds in the central and far eastern portions of Arcata Bay and relocate them to a spot further west in an effort to reduce eelgrass impacts.

Those are just a couple of the numerous special conditions imposed on the project as conditions of approval. Coast also must limit its operational footprint over the next eight years to no more than 279 acres, just a fraction of the 4,313 acres the company owns or leases in Humboldt Bay. And the company must also take measures to protect brant populations by following vessel transit lines and establishing buffer zones around areas where the birds collect sandy grit (something that apparently aids in their digestion).

These and other conditions were developed through intensive collaboration. The Coastal Commission staff reports note that they and Coast Seafood Company staff “spent a significant amount of time with other local, State and federal resource agency staff and stakeholders,” including tribal members, environmental organizations and waterfowl hunters, to come up with a plan that threads the needle through their respective concerns. 

Project critics weren’t entirely appeased, though. During the public comment period, Michael Lynes, director of public policy for Audubon California, said that while the proposal was much improved from previous versions, his organization would ask for more amendments and conditions to protect herring, eelgrass, brant and shorebirds.

Scott Fraser, a Humboldt County resident and member of the Black Brant Group, said Coast Seafood Company should be forced to relocate an additional 26-50 acres of oyster culture.

But Cassidy Teufel, a senior environmental scientist with the Coastal Commission who presented the staff report today, said that the project as now designed likely wouldn’t have negative environmental impacts given the updated parameters and the conditions required.

Humboldt County Supervisor Mike Wilson made the trip down to Cambria to address the commission. He said that with his 25 years as an environmental engineer, he believes oyster farmers have “saved Humboldt Bay” on several occasions — preventing new pulp mills from locating on the shores, fighting against waste lines that would have dumped effluent into the harbor and, more recently, helping to finance the removal of four million gallons of toxic liquors abandoned by the last pulp mill operator.

“This is a great compromise,” Wilson said of the updated application.

Humboldt County Supervisor and Coastal Commissioner Ryan Sundberg also thanked commission staff and Coast Seafood Company for their hard work. “There was some panic in Humboldt County when this failed last time,” he said. Addressing Coast, he added, “You guys hopped into gear and listened to the commission’s concerns. I really appreciate it.”

Sundberg made a motion to approve the coastal development permit, subject to the conditions outlined by staff. The motion was quickly seconded, and after some minor staff grilling from fellow commissioners the motion passed unanimously.

For more details on the project and the conditions of approval, click here to read the Coastal Commission staff report.



Someone Snatched a Little Old Lady’s Purse in the Winco Parking Lot Monday; Eureka Police Tracked Down and Arrested a Suspect Today

Hank Sims / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 2:11 p.m. / Crime

From the Eureka Police Department:

Randall.

On September 11, 2017, at about 2:52 p.m., Officers with the Eureka Police Department responded to the parking lot of a supermarket on the 600 block of West Harris Street for the report of a robbery from a female in her 70’s.

The victim said she was putting her shopping cart away when an unknown female approached and pulled her purse from around her shoulder, causing her to fall to the ground. After taking the purse, the suspect jumped into the back seat of what appeared to be an older Nissan Pathfinder.

Based on information provided to officers, the suspect was identified as 25 year old Eureka resident, Michelle Randall. On September 13, 2017, at about 11:35 a.m., officers located Randall near the 400 block of P Street. Randall was in possession of items belonging to the victim. Randall was arrested and booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility for robbery, elder abuse, and probation violation. She is being held on $50,000 bail.



Eureka Woman Barricades Herself in Trailer After Allegedly Assaulting Someone With a Large Stick

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Sept. 13 @ 1:12 p.m. / News

Eureka Police Department press release: 

 

On 09-13- 2017 at about 0900 hours, officers were dispatched to the 1700 block of McCullens Avenue for a disturbance call.

Upon arrival, officers discovered that one of the involved parties had been assaulted with a large stick. After the assault, the female suspect fled into a nearby trailer. The suspect was identified as Jennifer May Cooper (39 years old of Eureka). Officers set up a perimeter around the trailer and attempted contact with her. Officers and mental health staff were able to begin negotiations with Cooper through an open trailer window.

At one point during negotiations, Cooper brandished a knife. Personnel continued to communicate with Cooper and ultimately were able to get her to exit the trailer, where she was taken into custody.

Cooper was booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on charges of Assault with a Deadly Weapon and vandalism. She is being held on $50,000 bail.