by Dave Waddell
An 11-year-old girl, whose guardian grandparents had asked police to conduct a “welfare check,” says she was tackled by two Chico police officers, leading to an ugly confrontation recently between cops and kids in Bidwell Park.
Teenagers who were at the scene say they were outraged because, as the officers kneed the prone 11-year-old to the dirt, her small top came up to her neck and her breasts were left exposed. In videos of the July 5 incident, the teens can be seen becoming animated over their insistence that her breasts be covered.
“If anybody fights with (the 11-year-old) here, we got her back,” one boy later told ChicoSol.
In a recent television news account, the girl’s grandfather expressed support for the police response. Police Chief Mike O’Brien, while confirming Thursday that an official complaint over the officers’ actions had been submitted, said it had not been made by the grandparents, who did not return a message from ChicoSol seeking comment. O’Brien said the complaint is under review.
In a press release issued a few hours after the incident, Chico PD said “several … juveniles attempted to interfere and prevent the detention. One juvenile attempted to physically pull a detained juvenile from a police officer’s hands. The crowd of approximately 10 other juveniles interfered and exasperated the already tense situation.”
The confrontation took place at the Council Ring, which is north of Caper Acres in Lower Bidwell Park and “home” to youths who call themselves “the homeless kid group.” About eight were sitting Thursday morning (July 25) on the Council Ring’s benched seating – three weeks after the incident– when visited by a ChicoSol reporter. A middle-aged couple was chatting nearby, unbothered by the youth’s presence.
Only a couple of the kids said they were actually homeless, and several are students on the Fairview High School campus. Some said they consider the other kids to be their family, more so than their biological family.
The young people said they were gathered on the wood benches in a similar manner when police arrived about noon on July 5 to detain the 11-year-old.
“Literally, we were all chillin’, like this,” one boy said Thursday.
At one point after police arrived, the 11-year-old said she decided to walk to a different bench in the Council Ring and was tackled by two male officers from behind, propelling her several yards forward and into the dirt. As the two officers pinned her to the ground, they repeatedly ordered the teenagers to stay back, while the teens continued to insist that her bikini top be restored. The girl also appears to be wearing a bikini bottom that gets pulled upward.
Concerned Citizens For Justice (CC4J), a group working to gain more citizen review of Chico PD, posted several cell phone videos shot by the youths on its website. In one, a large, bald-headed officer comes charging into the Council Ring, yelling and pushing and demanding the teens be seated. At one point, the officer gets in one seated youth’s face and yells: “Want to go to jail, little boy!”
At about the same time, a female officer pulled a girl down by her hair, after the girl rose to adjust her short skirt on the hot bench, according to that girl’s sister. One boy said he was hit in the stomach by an officer.
“The cops are scared of us,” one boy said.
“Terrified,” agreed another.
In the end, five of the youths were arrested for resisting or delaying a peace officer but soon released. The 11-year-old, after being treated for a minor cut, said authorities first wanted to put her into a holding cell, but then decided she was too young for that. Eventually, she was handed off to Children’s Protective Services and returned to her grandparents.
“As soon as I got home, I ran away again,” she said.
Emily Alma, coordinator for CC4J, said she and a friend walked by the Council Ring on July 5 about an hour before the incident. They encountered a group of youths, who she described as polite and friendly.
CC4J, in a news release dated July 22, called the incident similar to when Butte County sheriff’s deputies put a crying 8-year-old boy in handcuffs near Chico in October 2018.
“CC4J is dismayed to learn that another incident has occurred in our community where law enforcement officers used force to subdue a child,” the group said. “It is critical that law enforcement personnel are trained in de-escalation techniques and de-escalation is the first response in every crisis.”
That multiple male officers allegedly tackled a young female also was similar to an incident in August 2016 involving Madeline Hemphill, a Chico State student who has since graduated and joined the Peace Corps. Hemphill was recording with her cell phone officer Steve Dyke’s multiple takedowns of her roommate, Nicole Braham, following a traffic stop when Dyke ordered Hemphill to jail. Hemphill says she was then tackled into some bushes and arrested. Hemphill’s phone – including its recordings of the police – was supposedly lost in the takedown, but Hemphill says she saw several officers looking through it at the scene.
Hemphill was never charged with a crime, and Braham was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest by a jury that reportedly felt Dyke used unreasonable force.
Hemphill said she submitted a complaint to Chico PD alleging retaliation and excessive force by officers. She also has told ChicoSol that she received no response to her complaint, even though Chico PD policy requires that administrators send a letter to complainants notifying them about how their complaint was handled.
Dave Waddell is a contributor to ChicoSol.