Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Welcome to Gun Country

Posted By on Tue, Jul 8, 2014 at 3:53 PM

Protesters at a rally for Andy Lopez on Oct. 25, 2013. - NICOLAS GRIZZLE
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • Protesters at a rally for Andy Lopez on Oct. 25, 2013.

What a country we live in: In open-carry states, a mostly white group of chubby second amendment “gundamentalists” have taken to carrying actual assault weapons into retail and fast-food outlets with not much pushback from police, while in California, a 13-year-old Latino kid gets shot and killed by police while openly carrying a toy gun in a semi-rough Santa Rosa neighborhood. Meanwhile, there’s a school shooting practically every week—and thus the battle lines are drawn between arming everybody and, gee, how about some sane gun laws?

Indeed, the Andy Lopez shooting last October has highlighted numerous disconnects in how American society is utterly failing to deal with unpredictable and sometimes foolhardy behavior by teens, within a larger edgy framework of school shootings and in a country that has clearly gone quite nuts over gun rights.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch entered the firearms firestorm this week as she took a pass on charging Sonoma sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus with any crime in connection with the fatal 2013 police shooting of Lopez, who was shot by Gelhaus, an Army veteran, while carrying a replica AK47 in broad daylight.

Against a backdrop of lone-nut school shootings by mostly young white men of a certain disposition (angry, weird and relatively well-off), and within the larger national argument over gun rights in open-carry states, the Lopez shooting flatly underscored the limits of gun possession as a means of self-expression—what’s good to go at a Target in Texas is a total no-go in a poor and Latino Santa Rosa neighborhood.

Ravitch’s decision came after months of speculation and angry charges leveled at her office that she was slow-rolling the investigation of the October shooting out of a concern for her June electoral prospects. Yet Ravitch made quick work of her opponents in winning another term as district attorney.

The 52-page public report issued by Ravitch sheds some light into the great lengths she went to investigate the shooting free of political pressure, no small feat in a city that has been on edge for months, with activists vociferously demanding justice for Lopez and criminal charges against Gelhaus.

There’s two rough through-lines animating the Ravitch report: It emphasizes the obvious tragedy of a young man’s death, and signals empathy by repeatedly calling him “Andy,” even as the report essentially lays out an argument that Lopez played a major role in the events that led to his death.

Did Lopez “deserve” to die for disobeying police orders to drop the fake weapon?

Of course not!

But numerous John and Jane Doe witnesses contacted by police and investigators after the shooting corroborated Gelhaus’ version of the incident—in particular, the critical moment where Gelhaus and his partner Michael Schemmel told Lopez, twice, to drop the weapon he was carrying.

Instead of complying with the police order, the report says Lopez inexplicably turned to face the officers, and that as he did so, the barrel of the replica weapon started to rise, as though Lopez was prepared to shoot at the police. Gelhaus said he feared for his life, his training kicked in, and he shot at the teen eight times, hitting him with seven bullets fired over about two seconds.

There were a couple other key junctures, Ravitch argues in the report, where the entire episode could have been defused without bodily injury or death:

One John Doe witness told police he had warned Lopez from his car, moments before the fatal encounter, to drop the weapon because the police were right behind him, in a marked cruiser. Lopez ignored him and continued walking down the street.

The Lopez friend who gave him the replica weapon, John Doe #2, worried that the orange plastic muzzle-tip wasn’t on the gun anymore—and says he warned his friend about it. According to the report, John Doe #2 told a police officer, “he felt responsible for Andy’s death because he allowed Andy to borrow the gun even though the orange tip of the barrel was broken off, making it look real, although he’d told his friend not to take it since it was broken.”

And, the report notes that Lopez’ judgment may have been impaired because of the marijuana he smoked within 90 minutes of getting shot.

But it’s also true that Lopez was simply victimized by a “wrong place, wrong time” set of social constructs now wrenching at the core of American society—in particular, the rise of the angry and armed young man hell-bent on some kind of justice against a world that done him wrong.

One of the investigators hired by Ravitch, William Lewinski, noted in the report, tellingly, that “it is unfortunate that the single largest threat facing police officers today and the highest demand for police training is responding to the threat of an active shooter. Law enforcement may be more aware today than [any] other time in history of the threat from the lone, young man with a gun or a knife.”

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Monday, July 7, 2014

D.A: No charges for Gelhaus

Posted By and on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 4:32 PM

 


At Monday's press conference, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch compares two toy guns.
  • At Monday's press conference, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch compares two toy guns.

After months of rumors and bitter controversy around the 2103 Andy Lopez shooting in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch announced Monday that she would not pursue criminal charges against Sonoma sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus. The announcement came against the backdrop of a protest that had already been planned at Ravitch’s office on Tuesday.

With Ravitch’s decision today, that protest is definitely and obviously moving forward, says activist Mary Moore, who is part of the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez.

Gelhaus shot and killed the teenage Lopez last October in the unincorporated Moorland Avenue area south of Santa Rosa after a very brief encounter with the child, who was shot while carrying a toy assault weapon that had its orange safety tip removed from the muzzle, rendering the toy difficult to distinguish from an actual weapon.

Ravitch, who was was re-elected to her post in June, told reporters at a Monday press conference that Gelhaus made an understandable split-second decision that fateful day. “While it was an absolute tragedy, it was not a criminal act,” Ravitch told reporters at a press conference Monday.

Ravitch told reporters that she personally reviewed the facts of the case and that “the loss of this young life is a loss for us all.”

She said she personally went through the facts of the case that led her to take a pass on charging Gelhaus.

She said the youth was walking with the toy gun, barrel-down, when officers pulled up behind him. The officers, she said, told Lopez twice to drop the gun, and says a witness testimony bore out that claim.

Lopez turned, and as he did, the barrel rose, Ravitch said.

Gelhaus then fired eight shots from his service revolver, seven of which hit Lopez. Gelhaus was placed on restricted duty as Ravitch reviewed the facts of the case.

Naturally, the parents of Andy Lopez were not happy with the outcome today. Nor the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez, which planned a Roseland meeting for later in the day Monday to figure out what the group’s next move is, beyond the Tuesday protest.

An outraged Moore says she’s not sure what the group’s options are, other than to “yell at the top of our lungs,” or elect better politicians. Or, get the Department of Justice interested in the civil rights of Andy Lopez, she said.

Ravitch’s slow-roll on the decision to charge or not charge Gelhaus raised eyebrows on several occasions.

A few times in recent months, rumors were floated and batted back that a decision from Ravitch was imminent. Lopez activists were eventually convinced she wouldn’t render a decision on Gelhaus until after the June 2 election, which Ravitch won handily.

Yet the District Attorney’s office appears to have jumped its own gun in announcing the Gelhaus decision today.

Moore says the D.A.’s office sent out an email Monday morning that said Ravitch wouldn’t be pressing charges against Gelhaus. Moments later, a second email went out, to the effect of: Forget that last one, it wasn’t supposed to get sent.

But reporters had already leapt to the story. A press conference was scheduled for 2 pm today, and a weary-looking Ravitch released a 52-page public statement explaining her decision. She couldn’t say that the investigation was “extensive and exhaustive” enough times for reporters and note that, “historically, the DA doesn’t release reports this detailed to the public.”

“Obviously we are deeply disappointed,” says Moore, who adds she was surprised that Ravitch made her announcement today, given the Tuesday protest had already been planned.

“Why would she make it so easy for us by putting it out today?” Moore wondered. “When I first heard this, I thought maybe she would indict. They really goofed—and then they drew attention to their goof.”

The City of Santa Rosa issued a statement Monday afternoon calling for calm in the streets: “We hope our community can come together to keep everyone safe, in particular our young people who were so deeply effected.”

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Facebook's 'Social Experiment' is, Literally, Bad News

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM

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There's an adage that's particularly relevant in today's world of “free” technology: If you aren't paying for a product, you are the product.” And nothing highlights this better than a recent study by Facebook that manipulated users' news feeds to show mostly bad news.

The study with Cornell and UCSF was published June 17, and revealed that Facebook alterned nearly 700,000 users' news feeds to see how they respond to a deluge of negativity. The study was authored by members of Facebook's core data science team, UCSF's Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and Cornell's Communication and Information Science department.

The meat of the study can be found in these excerpts:
For people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

No Decision on Gelhaus Was Scheduled Today, Despite Rumor

Posted By on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Teens show support for Andy Lopez at a protest at the Sonoma County Sheriffs office earlier this year.
  • Nicolas Grizzle
  • Teens show support for Andy Lopez at a protest at the Sonoma County Sheriff's office earlier this year.

A rumor that a decision on the fate of Sheriff's deputy Erick Gelhaus is imminent is false, says Terry Menshek, media coordinator of the Sonoma County District Attorney's office.

Widespread emails and internet chatter said a press conference was scheduled for today at noon that would say whether charges would be filed against the deputy, who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez on October 22 last year when the boy's toy AK-47 rifle was mistaken for a real gun. “I've gotten a dozen calls, there was a rumor going around. It even got as far as Los Angeles,” says Menshek. “There was never one scheduled,” adding that this is the second time such a rumor has been started.

A timetable has not been set for an announcement on the case. “It's still under investigation,” she says.

Santa Rosa City Manager Kathy Millison sent an email Thursday to Santa Rosa City Council members and staff members about community outreach regarding the DA's announcement. The email details actions the city has taken in preparation of demonstrations surround the announcement and gives talking points to highlight when addressing the incident.

In the email, Millison says, “We don't know when that may occur and we'll learn of it at the same time as everyone in the community learns of it.” But in a handout sent as an attachment to that email, one of the assigned roles of the internal action plan is for the city manager to “email talking points to council as soon as decision is released.”

Jonathon Melrod, an attorney working with the Justice For Andy Lopez group, says a press conference was scheduled for noon today by the DA's office, but cancelled at the last minute. He says he doesn't know what the subject of the press conference was supposed to be, but that it likely had to do with a decision on Gelhaus. “The whole thing is bizarre to me,” he says.

Protocol in officer-involved shootings is to make an announcement regarding charges 90 days after the incident, which in this case happened on October 22. Critics say District Attorney Jill Ravitch was waiting until after the June 3 election, which she won by a wide margin. “She can't keep waiting,” says Melrod.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

DFW Skeptical of Record Coho Salmon Migration

Posted By on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 3:04 PM

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The coho salmon run in Marin County is bafflingly high this year. In a drought-stricken season with water being diverted from fish habitats to agriculture, this year's estimate of nearly 20,000 juvenile salmon made up the largest migration from Lagunitas Creek since the annual exodus started being recorded in 2006, according to estimates by the Marin Municipal Water District.

“We are a little bit skeptical,” says George Neillands, biologist with the Department of Fish and wildlife, “because it's an estimate.” He said the low water flow could throw off the count because fewer fish can avoid the trap, since there's less room to swim around them. “We take it with a grain of salt until we can really evaluate and review it,” he says.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

High Times Medical Cannabis Cup Comes to Sonoma County

Posted By on Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 3:52 PM

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News that the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup was returning to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds June 28-29 hadn’t yet reached David Rabbitt by Thursday morning, even as the event rolls into the playground, err, fairground, next weekend.

“It seemed to be successful, so it doesn’t surprise me,” says Rabbitt, the 2nd District Sonoma County Supervisor and its board president.

But…what of the quasi-legality of this whole California marijuana dance with dispensaries and lurching law enforcement, on the county fairgrounds, no less?

“The state, obviously and beyond the state, the U.S. has not come to grips with what it wants to do with marijuana,” Rabbitt says.

Rabbitt strongly supports medical marijuana and applauds self-regulation efforts at dispensaries. On legalization for recreational use, he says, “I think we’re heading in that direction.”

His view?

“I’m torn.”

Rabbitt describes a libertarian, pro-individual-rights tendency to support legalization, and “doesn’t want to be a hypocrite on alcohol.”

Some of his main concerns are with law enforcement, and protecting kids and the environment.

“It’s a tough one,” he says as he warns of a persistent economy of “illegal growers on public and private lands.”

Locally, he is concerned about pop-up dispensaries and places where “it’s legal with some question marks going out the back door.”

Dispensary supervision could be tighter he says, but the supervisor says the bigger issue than recreational or medical use is, “What’s the cost to society when it’s grown on denuded mountain?”

“Until we legalize and regulate it, we really can’t deal with that. Go ahead and legalize and tax the hell out of it to pay for the programs to monitor the issues. … There will always be growers or operators flying under the radar.

“Like most counties, we try to do the right thing,” Rabbitt continued. “Certainly with medical marijuana—far be it for us to deny anyone their medicine.”

The Cannibus Medical Cup features many buds getting together, including jam band Moe, and offers products and services, devices and totemic relics you might associate with certain persons of the varying degrees of the whole sort of pot-smoking persuasion, but never at dusk.

“It is incumbent upon the operators and whoever is putting on the show to adhere to the laws,” Rabbitt says.

“Law enforcement, if called, will enforce the laws on the book. That’s what they are sworn to do.”

He recalled 2013’s Cannabis Cup event as a peaceful, “no negative feedback” affair.

“Last year, I don’t remember it being a problem,” says the supervisor.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

SRJC Named in $15 Million Lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 4:21 PM

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As reported in the Bohemian June 4, former Santa Rosa Junior College nursing instructor Daniel Doolan is filing a second lawsuit against the school after winning over $300,000 in a case last year. It was reported today by the Press Democrat that he is seeking $15 million.

Doolan's lawyer, Dustin Collier, told the Bohemian he would be filing suit for the dismissal and denial of tenure status by the school in this second lawsuit, but had estimated the amount at $1.6 million. “There's a whole year's worth of allegations that weren't adjudicated yet,” he says of the first lawsuit. “For whatever reason, [a supervisor] started making allegations that he was a physical threat,” says Collier. “He is a big guy, about 6'3”, 6'4”, a little over 200 pounds, but he is a giant teddy bear.”

SRJC's vice president of human resources Karen Furukawa-Schlereth says the first case brought four charges: Gender discrimination; sexual harrassment; failure to prevent harassment; and defamation of character. A jury found in favor of Doolan on the defamation charge, awarding him over ten times the $25,000 he was seeking. “My recent info does look like we will be appealing the decision,” she says.

Meanwhile, Doolan's new case centers around his termination and what his lawyer refers to as “manipulation” of his tenure review process. All in all, Collier says his client has been set back about 10 years in terms of professional advancement.

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Union Vote at Graton Casino Wrapping Up

Posted By on Thu, Jun 19, 2014 at 11:23 AM

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By Tom Gogola

Nothing was official yet, but the vote was “going great” Wednesday afternoon at Graton Casino, where Unite Here’s Sara Norr was counting union sign-up cards from workers here that would set in motion a collective bargaining agreement for 650 casino employees.


Norr said the results would be out by week’s end.

If enough waiters and janitors, hospitality workers and cooks vote in favor of unionization, they’d enter collective bargaining talks with casino operator and their employer, Station Casinos. The casino opened in 2013 and is owned by Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.


Norr said that tribal input in any talks would be a matter of negotiations between the Las Vegas-based casino operator and the owners.


“It is between Station and the tribe how they want to divide up input or responsibility, so the tribe could send a rep to bargaining if they wanted to and Station agreed,” Norr says via email.


Workers signed the cards Tuesday and Wednesday in a casino events room rented to Unite Here’s 2850.

“As a single parent, job security is number one,” says porter and signee Christina Vega, who lives with three of her children in Santa Rosa.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kashkari For the Win: Support Legalization, Bro

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 5:59 PM

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California Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari gave his party a major wingnut reprieve this week when he narrowly beat out Minuteman Assemblyman Tim Donnelly for the right — as the common parlance goes — to lose badly to incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown in November.

Kashkari slipped by Donnelly with a 4 percent margin, but both GOP candidates drew vote percentages in the teens, whereas Brown hogged up some 54 percent of the total vote cast.

Kashkari, a former Treasury Department official who has said he voted for Barack Obama in 2008, has emphasized low taxes, lots of fracking, expanding educational opportunities, and killing the SMART Train. Meh. He’s gonna have to kick it up a few notches if he’s got any chance here.

Did somebody just say, marijuana to the rescue?

At a campaign stop not long ago Kashkari said he didn’t support legalization, but also didn’t support the War on Drugs as currently waged. One surefire way to end the war, brother Neel, is to legalize marijuana!

What if — what if — Kashkari were to, as these things go, “study the issue a little more closely” in coming weeks before coming out in favor of legalization? He might start with recent polls that show at least 55 percent of Californians support legalization. He might then study Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget proposal that says legal weed in that state will bring in around $100 million in taxes this year.

Closer to home, Kashkari might study a Marijuana Policy Project’s statistic that indicates California is itself reaping over $100 million a year in taxes from its pot dispensaries. He might take a look at how California dispensaries will now operate under a single, statewide set of rules, with the help of law enforcement, and he might have a look at a Harvard study from a few years back that said prohibition costs taxpayers about $17 billion a year.

He might eat a chocolate bar with Maureen Dowd in a Colorado hotel room and freak out at the enormity of the opportunity to overtake Moonbeam with a Nixon-in-China move that would send every last freaking pothead in the state to the polls to vote for him!

Brown has already signaled opposition to legalization of the demon weed on the grounds that people will get lazy if they smoke it, costing jobs and productivity. Meanwhile, half the state is already getting baked.

It’s a lazy argument premised on a dumb stereotype. Try some sativa, governor, that stuff will keep you up all night working on your budget — or, just maybe, working on your plan to outflank Kashkari on the pro-pot tip if the moderate GOP candidate gets wise and supports legalization as a way to beat you.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Satchel Paige and San Rafael’s Albert Park

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 12:05 PM

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In 1948, Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige was the oldest rookie to play in Major League baseball when he signed with the Cleveland Indians at 42, one year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier to become the league’s first black player. Paige had been a wildly successful pitcher in the Negro Leagues before that, and went 6-1 in his rookie year as a starter and reliever. When the Indians’ owner sold the team in 1949, Paige lost his roster spot despite posting a 3.04 ERA that season. He returned to “barnstorming,” playing on independent league teams traveling by bus to small towns before returning to Major League Baseball in 1951. In that brief time, he may have played at San Rafael’s Albert Park.

Clowns souvenir program from the 1960s
  • Clowns souvenir program from the 1960s

“At Albert Park, they would bring in All-Star teams from the major leagues,” says Mike Shapiro, co-owner and general manager of the San Rafael Pacifics independent baseball team. “We found an old program... for the Indianapolis Clowns, featuring their pitcher Satchel Paige.”

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