by Dave Waddell
While ruling out officer involvement in a missing cell phone mystery, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey also has disclosed details to ChicoSol that bolster a student’s claim of retaliation by Chico police.
Chico State senior Madeline Hemphill has maintained that five minutes or less elapsed between an initial confrontation with officer Steve Dyke and her arrest in front of her nearby residence. Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien, in contrast, issued a press statement two days after the Aug. 27, 2016, incident indicating a gap of 28 minutes between the two encounters.
At ChicoSol’s request, Ramsey looked into the time discrepancy. The district attorney said dispatch records reveal that Dyke, at 2:07 a.m., drove away from a sobriety check that Hemphill had been filming on the Esplanade with her phone, while Hemphill and her roommate, Nicole Braham, were arrested just three minutes later, at 2:10.
“I don’t know where the 28 minutes came from,” Ramsey said of Chico PD’s version of the story.
After being ordered to jail by Dyke and “tackled” to the ground by other officers, Hemphill was never charged with a crime by Ramsey. Braham continues to face a misdemeanor resisting arrest count in Butte County Superior Court.
Hemphill’s phone, which she said contained video proving excessive police force, went missing at the site of the arrest and remains lost. Ramsey believes it was carried off and around town by a “transient.”
O’Brien, who was out of the office last week, said he would issue a statement on the case this week. Hemphill could not immediately be reached for comment. (A ChicoSol story on the incident can be read here.)
What Ramsey called “the saga of the Hemphill phone” began “once we had a concern the phone had disappeared into the bowels of the Chico Police Department or the hand of an officer,” he said. “We took it seriously and spent a lot of effort tracking it down.”
Ramsey said a total of 23 search warrants were obtained by his office for searches, including of the cell phones of five officers at the students’ arrest site as well as communication devices in six patrol vehicles. (Ramsey declined to name the other officers.)
The search yielded “10,000 pages of information and spread sheets, which, of course, was largely Greek to us” and required the use of outside experts to interpret, he said.
The district attorney said the phone did not leave the area of Hemphill’s 2:10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, arrest until after a series of six incoming calls. Two of those calls came from an officer who had returned to the area around 3:20 a.m. searching for the phone, unsuccessfully. The last of the six calls came from Hemphill’s father at 12:44 p.m., after which “someone found her phone and started making it their own,” Ramsey said.
The phone was then tracked to various general locations over the next two days, including:
- North of the intersection Cohasset Road and Highway 99.
- West Sacramento and Nord avenues.
- Cherry and Third streets.
- East Lassen Avenue and Highway 99.
The last recorded use of the phone was at 4:44 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29, just south of the Chico Cemetery, when it “appears to go off the grid,” Ramsey said.
Many of the calls on Hemphill’s phone were untraceable because they were made to and from prepaid phones that don’t track personal data. The movement of the phone, along with so many calls with “burner phones,” led Ramsey to conclude it was probably found and used by a “transient.”
Ramsey noted the exactness of the tracking varied as the phone moved through Chico, affected by several factors, including proximity of the nearest cell tower, geography, vegetation and structures. “The precision is not like you can see in some spy movie,” he said.
Hemphill’s residence is in the 1000 block of the Esplanade. On the night of her arrest, Hemphill, then 21, had been out drinking downtown, while the sober Braham, then 19, was serving as designated driver. Hemphill’s initial encounter with Dyke occurred a couple of blocks to the south of her home while she stood filming in the Esplanade’s east-side frontage road as officers conducted a sobriety check on a driver who had been pulled over on the Esplanade.
According to Hemphill, Dyke aggressively told her she was breaking the law by standing in the frontage road, and she says she immediately backed onto the sidewalk while continuing to film. Ramsey said that Dyke, in his incident report, recounted being called “tough guy” and “big guy,” and claimed it took three directives from him to get Hemphill to return to the sidewalk.
Braham told the ACLU board in Chico shortly after the incident that she was struck by Dyke’s anger. Hemphill, not wanting to cause problems for Braham, said she decided not to get back into the car and instead walked the remaining two blocks to their home.
Dyke, during the encounter, said he had seen a burned-out bulb on the rear license plate of the car Braham was driving. Just prior to stopping the vehicle in front of the students’ residence, Dyke had turned his patrol vehicle right onto East Lincoln Avenue before doing a U-turn at Oleander Avenue and returning to the Esplanade frontage road. He then turned right, headed north and pulled in behind the parking Braham, lights flashing, according to Ramsey.
Dyke claims Braham refused to comply with three directives to remain in the car. She was ultimately taken clumsily to the roadway and arrested, a video of which went viral. Braham’s version is that Dyke aggressively “rag-dolled” her to his cruiser and then held her in a way that bent back her fingernail, causing extreme pain. When Hemphill arrived on the scene and began filming, Dyke, his knee in Braham’s back, ordered Hemphill arrested and she, too, was taken to the ground by officers.
Dyke, co-owner of the Down Range Indoor Training Center, was previously accused of traumatizing a Chico therapist with his gun.
Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.