Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal watches as local attorney Andrea Sullivan delivers a presentation to reporters at a press conference held inside the former theater space of the Carson Block building. | Photos by Andrew Goff.


Attorney Andrea Sullivan.

Local attorney Anakalia “Andrea” Sullivan today accused the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office of evidence tampering and using excessive force in a case involving Brandon and Jesse Widmark, half brothers whose alleged crime spree last April culminated in an officer-involved shooting on the streets of Eureka.

The Widmark brothers, who were shot and seriously injured during their showdown with law enforcement, are facing numerous felony charges including hit-and-run, child endangerment and attempted murder of a peace officer.

Sullivan, who is representing the younger Widmark brother, 19-year-old Jesse, delivered a multimedia presentation that included publicly released body camera footage from last April’s incidents alongside “raw” footage she obtained from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office during the evidence discovery process preceding a preliminary hearing in the case.

The publicly released version of the footage in question starts around the 3:45 mark of the video embedded below:

Though nearly identical, the raw footage shown by Sullivan omits the blurring effects employed by the Sheriff’s Office to obscure Jesse Widmark’s face and the bloody wound in his leg.

Sullivan argued that by obscuring Jesse Widmark’s face, the Sheriff’s Office also obscured “the fact that he was prone on the ground with his hands in the air when law enforcement approached.” 

She also highlighted the “near complete failure of the body-worn camera system,” noting that only one deputy turned his camera on during the incident, and that was by accident.

This one clip of video footage “only exists because the deputy that responded, [his] keys hit his phone and activated the body-worn camera system,” Sullivan said. “The deputies claim that my client was reaching for a weapon during this incident. Later, deputies testified that pursuant to HCSO policy and directions from the undersheriff, they were instructed not to prepare written reports.”

[ADDENDUM, March 29, 9:41 a.m.: Reached via email, Honsal provided this explanation: 

Per our standard protocol, All deputies involved in the shooting, are interrogated by the CIRT investigators from EPD and the District Attorney.   They provide complete voluntary statements in the interrogation which are transcribed and submitted into the investigation; thus a written statement is not necessary. 

The CIRT investigation prepared by EPD and The Lead DA investigator was submitted to the District Attorney, and charges were filed based upon that information submitted. ]

Sullivan displays side-by-side still shots of body-worn camera footage.

While displaying a pair of video still shots side by side — the left version taken from the publicly released video and the right from the raw footage — Sullivan acknowledged that it’s unclear what the deputy is pointing his gun at, whether it’s her client’s prone body on the ground or his half brother Brandon, who is not clearly visible in either version of the video — or something else altogether.

But she said, “The deputies’ claim that my client was reaching for a weapon is contradicted by the raw body-worn camera footage.”

Following the press conference, Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal said it’s standard practice for his office to blur faces and injuries in such publicly released videos, explaining that un-blurred footage is “not the graphic images we want out in this community.”

He also disputed the suggestion that any deputy fired at Jesse Widmark while he was on the ground with his hands up. By the time the video footage begins, Honsal said, Jesse Widmark had already been shot in the leg by Sgt. Conan Moore. Moore had approached the scene in an unmarked patrol vehicle and discharged his firearm from inside his truck after he saw that Widmarks engaged in a shootout with other deputies.

Sheriff Honsal takes in Sullivan’s presentation.

According to Honsal, the video footage comes from the body camera of Deputy Chad Crotty, who is shown holding Jesse Widmark at gunpoint while Sgt. Moore arrives and then fires multiple rounds at Brandon Widmark, who was armed with a rifle and “tucked behind the rear driver’s side tire” of the red Ford pickup truck they’d been driving.

Sullivan played the video footage during the press conference. 

As the clip rolls, Deputy Crotty’s body-worn camera pans to the right, leaving Jesse Widmark out of frame as Moore can be seen (and heard) firing a volley of gunshots in the direction of the red pickup truck. 

The Widmarks had been traveling that Ford F-250 during a high-speed chase through Eureka that ended with a violent collision in the intersection of Dolbeer and Harris streets. The crash injured three civilians in another vehicle, with one of them, a 27-year-old woman, suffering serious injuries.

Two passengers were inside the Widmarks’ F-250: a 37-year-old woman and a two-year-old child.

According to the sheriff’s office, both of the Widmarks were carrying rifles and fired at least one shot, striking a patrol vehicle. The half brothers were both shot multiple times and taken to a local hospital before being arrested when they were discharged. 

I asked Sullivan if she’s arguing that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office blurred out certain spots of the footage to deliberately misrepresent the incidents.

She said that while she can’t speak to intent, she believes that this “material manipulation” of the footage “alters the tenor and tone of the video.”

“From the original press release video, it is not clear that Jesse Widmark clearly surrendered before law enforcement approached,” she added.

Standing outside the building afterward, Honsal disputed those allegations.

“Everything that she had to say today did not represent excessive use of force and did not represent evidence tampering whatsoever,” he said. “I think she misrepresented the facts of this case to push a narrative that she wants in this community.”

In an earlier statement emailed to the Outpost, Honsal noted that the District Attorney’s Office has filed charges against both of the Widmarks in a case that’s now headed toward a jury trial. 

“I cannot speak for the District Attorney; however, I believe [her office] would not have filed this case if they found there was unlawful force used against Jesse and Brandon Widmark,” Honsal said.

A multi-agency Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) led by the Eureka Police Department and the DA’s Office has conducted an investigation into the April 18 incidents, but Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said the resulting report can’t be released to the public until the trial concludes.

Honsal, meanwhile, said his department’s deputies are victims in this case and also heroes.

“They stopped a crime spree that day,” he said. “And if [the Widmarks] didn’t get in that collision on Dolbeer and Harris — and I feel very bad for the community member that got struck; it was an absolute tragedy — but they were aiming right towards a hospital. They were going right towards a preschool. Who knows what would have happened if they would have stopped in front of preschool [or] if they would have ran into the hospital with two rifles?”

As for why only one officer had his body camera turned on, Honsal said that this model of camera was new at the time and deputies weren’t used to activating them. 

“In this dynamic situation, they didn’t activate them because it wasn’t muscle memory at that point in time,” he said. “We have since made sure that deputies are following up with this to make sure that they are activating their body-worn cameras on every incident where it’s required by law. It’s our policy that they do so.” 

Regarding the Widmarks incidents, Honsal said his deputies gave the them several opportunities to surrender and used “the reasonable amount of force necessary to overcome their resistance.”

The press conference was held inside the former theater space of the Carson Block building.