An internal investigation has been launched into the actions of an officer with Eureka’s Problem Oriented Policing unit after he admitted, on film, to telling a Native American Man to “go back to the reservation.”
On Thursday morning, just after 11 a.m., Officer Drake Goodale and his partner, Det. Neil Hubbard — both with the city’s quality-of-life POP unit — came upon a man who was fixing his car in a parking lot near the city’s Wharfinger Building. They went to tell him that he couldn’t work on his vehicle in the parking lot.
What happened immediately afterward is disputed, but at one point the man — Humboldt County resident Pete Yellow Bird — starts filming the encounter. Yellow Bird, who curses at the officers, asks Goodale to repeat what he said before the started recording.
“Go back to the reservation?” Yellow Bird says. “Is that what you told me to do?”
“Absolutely,” Goodale responds.
(The interaction can be seen at 22 seconds into the video, which is posted above and which contains a great deal of explicit language aimed at the police officers.)
Reached this morning, Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson told the Outpost that he and his senior staff became aware of the video yesterday. He has assigned one of the department’s captains to investigate the matter. And though he said that there is much still to be learned about the incident — including everything that happened before the camera started rolling — he said that what the video showed was troubling.
“What I saw appears to indicate that an officer lost his composure,” Watson said. “We’re going to investigate this, and if we find violations of policy we’re going to address it quickly and we’re going to address it firmly.”
At the same time, Watson said, the video was illustrative of the abuse that police officers habitually receive while out on their rounds. But he said that there is no place for “racially insensitive comments” in policing, and that he couldn’t think of any circumstance in which such comments would be justifiable.
“No matter how nasty someone is to an officer, we have to maintain our composure,” Watson said. “We have to be better than that.”
Yellow Bird told the Outpost yesterday that the interaction started calmly enough. He had just put the ramps behind the wheels of the vehicle, he said, and was on the phone getting advice from someone about how to fix it. He said that he agreed to move the vehicle, and only exploded at the officers after they looked at his driver’s license and Goodale made the “go back to the reservation” comment.
Watson, meanwhile, said that it was his preliminary understanding that the interaction between the officers and Yellow Bird was tense and hostile from the beginning. But he stressed that the department’s investigation of the matter is still in its early stages, and also that no amount of hostility from a citizen would justify racial epithets.
Today Yellow Bird said that he didn’t hold out much hope for the police department’s internal investigation, which he characterized as “rhetoric” and “standard operating procedure” that police use to hide such events.
“In my opinion, he doesn’t deserve to be working on the streets anymore,” he said of Goodale. “He needs to get some training on how to be a better human being.”