by Dave Waddell
If Chico police officer Steve Dyke’s intent last summer was to get Madeline Hemphill to quit filming police with her cell phone, that mission definitely was accomplished.
One reason is practical: Hemphill no longer has her cell phone. Police claim it was lost when they arrested her in the early hours of Aug. 27, 2016, and accused her of resisting arrest. No charges, however, were ever brought against Hemphill by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey.
In a ChicoSol exclusive, Ramsey said Friday that his 10-month investigation into what became of the phone determined that police never had it. Most likely, Ramsey said, the phone was carried around town by a “transient.” The DA promised more details this week.
“I find it interesting that I am completely out of the loop with all of this,” Hemphill said when informed by ChicoSol of Ramsey’s ruling. “The DA wants absolutely nothing to do with me. I don’t believe that a transient took my phone, nor do I believe that the DA’s investigation was unbiased. We all know whose team they’re playing for.”
Besides not having a phone, a second reason Hemphill isn’t filming cops on the street is psychological: Her treatment by the Chico Police Department has left her afraid of law enforcement officers, she said.
Hemphill was once confident about her right to videotape officers in public, believing that doing so served as a societal check on abuse of police power. Today, Hemphill says she’s afraid to even look a police officer in the eye, let alone film one.
Hemphill’s fear stems from being “tackled” by police after Dyke ordered her taken to jail while she was filming him arresting her roommate, Nicole Braham, also a Chico State student. The case gained notoriety after a video shot by a third roommate went viral. Misdemeanor resisting arrest charges against Braham are pending in Butte County Superior Court. (The incident can be read about in this ChicoSol story.)
“I have a terrible fear of police… I don’t even make eye contact” — Madeline Hemphill
Hemphill says her phone was pulled from her hand by an officer as she was taken to the ground with the video recorder on. She believes the video would prove excessive police force. She remembers seeing what seemed to be amused officers at the scene of her arrest looking through what she assumed to be her phone. Later, Hemphill says that she and her father were separately told by police the phone was being held as evidence. Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien claims the phone went missing when Hemphill was taken to the ground by officers.
“I haven’t continued to film officers,” Hemphill wrote in a recent email interview with ChicoSol. “I wish I could say I have. I have a terrible fear of police now and, honestly, I avoid them at all costs. I don’t even make eye contact. Being arrested the way I was after doing nothing illegal really messed me up.”
Hemphill, who had been drinking but not driving the night of her arrest, says her treatment by Chico PD left her feeling not only afraid but vulnerable.
“If I am driving and I see a cop on the road, I have a terrible fear of being pulled over by the wrong man and being arrested again,” Hemphill said. “I really can’t let it go, and it overwhelms me. I also feel as though I have no support if I were to find myself in a crisis because I will never call Chico police again. The lack of remorse and effort at making amends on the part of Chico PD has hurt and troubled me to my core.”
Asked for his response to Hemphill’s remarks, Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien said: “Of course we never want anyone to have those perspectives, and regardless of individual opinion, we are always ready to respond to assist all our community, which we do 200 times a day, 73,000 times a year. That will never change as long as I am chief.”
Michael Coyle, a Chico State associate professor who teaches criminal justice courses, said Hemphill’s fear of the police is understandable.
“When you have a personal experience of just how incredibly powerful (police) are and how much they can do to you with little or no consequence, the civics lessons of rights and liberties and how they are always under threat become real in a whole other sense,” Coyle wrote in an email. “When you get arbitrarily tossed around and abused by a legal and policing system, you receive a dose of reality regarding how very little power you have and how very well-rehearsed they are to work in the confines of what we call a democracy.”
Emily Alma, a community activist, after learning of Hemphill’s fear of police, wondered whether she has post-traumatic stress disorder. Asked whether she thinks she has PTSD from the incident, Hemphill replied: “I try to steer away from self-diagnoses but it is entirely possible.”
Regardless whether she has PTSD, Hemphill isn’t the first law-abiding Chico citizen to feel traumatized by an encounter with officer Dyke.
In an account written by former Chico News & Review Editor Robert Speer, Tom Steele, a 30-year family therapist in Chico at the time, was pulled over by Dyke while driving his car to lunch in 2011.
Speer wrote: “Suddenly the officer yelled, ‘Put your hands up!’ Steele looked in his outside mirrors and saw that the officer — later identified as Stephen Dyke — had assumed a shooting stance about seven feet behind him, his Glock aimed at Steele’s head. As Steele later wrote, Dyke ‘was looking down his barrel at the back of my head. I realized that he had lined up a kill shot on this AARP member in good standing, execution style, right here on the streets of Chico, three blocks from lunch.’
“Steele was ‘terrified, traumatized, and sent into a state of shock,’” Speer wrote.
“Then Officer Dyke got a call on his radio, holstered his weapon and approached Steele’s window. It was an error, he said; dispatch had mistaken his car for a stolen vehicle. There have been a lot of car thefts lately, he said. He didn’t apologize.
“Steele, feeling shattered, drove home and canceled his afternoon appointments. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, put on meds and spent four months in therapy.”
Steele filed a complaint with then-Police Chief Mike Maloney, who apologized for the “unfortunate experience” but exonerated Dyke as having followed department policy, Speer wrote.
Dyke co-owns Down Range Indoor Training Center, a gun range along Highway 99 on the north entrance to Chico known for boldly advertising the sale of assault rifles around Christmas and other holidays with controversial billboards. His co-owner is Chico cop Will Clark, who’s been a Navy SEAL, SWAT squad sniper, and president of the Chico Police Officers Association.
According to Chris Constantin, assistant city manager, the city had paid out nearly $13,000 to Down Range during the first eight months, or through February, of the 2016-17 fiscal year that ended June 30. “All the purchases were driven by individual officers who were using their annual $900 uniform allowance,” Constantin said by email. “The city does not control where they can purchase eligible items, but when they do, the City makes the payment up to their annual uniform allowance limit.”
“All the purchases were driven by individual officers…” — Chris Constantin
Hemphill, a 22-year-old senior psychology major from San Diego, went through Chico State commencement ceremonies last spring but will be returning to the university to finish her remaining courses in the fall. After completing her undergraduate studies, she plans to teach English abroad for a year or two and then return to California to work toward a master’s degree in neuropsychology.
Activist Alma suspects Hemphill’s phone will never be found.
“The whole way it disappeared and the police puzzlement of what might have happened to it was fishy,” said Alma. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it is now deeply buried in the Butte County landfill, and that the Police Department ‘disappeared’ it because the video (Hemphill) took showed the police applying excessive use of force …”
Hemphill, though she has given up hope of ever seeing her phone again, said she hasn’t bought a new phone because she still expects the city of Chico to pay the replacement cost, despite the denial of her claim.
“They can’t just say something went missing when I had it in my hand when I was arrested,” Hemphill said. “That isn’t right.”
O’Brien previously told ChicoSol that the district attorney’s office was conducting a comprehensive investigation into Hemphill’s complaint of retaliation and excessive force. However, Ramsey told ChicoSol that his inquiry was focused solely on tracking Hemphill’s phone.
Coyle, the Chico State professor, said having “sister” law enforcement agencies in the same county investigate each other does not provide the accountability the public deserves.
“The whole process of review and monitoring of our legal and police systems in Chico is shocking,” Coyle said. “We don’t even have a citizen review board of police. How long do you think such a board would tolerate this kind of behavior? It’s really a disgrace.”
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.