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Essential California: Text message scandal rocks Eureka police department

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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
 14 days ago

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, June 10. I’m Justin Ray.

The Eureka Police Department in Northern California has been engulfed in controversy after private text messages among officers were published by the Sacramento Bee in two reports: one released in March, and another two days ago. Since the first story broke, a top supervisor has been placed on leave and other officers have left or are looking to leave the department, according to the Bee.

“What’s really interesting about this whole story is the fact that it’s really rare for reporters and the public to get a look under the hood of how police departments operate, especially in the unvarnished kind of way,” Bee investigative reporter Jason Pohl told The Times.

The text messages made public by Pohl show officers advocating for violence and degrading homeless people as “trogs” — short for troglodytes, a term meaning a person who lives in a cave.

At the time of the first Sacramento Bee report, Eureka Police Department Chief Steve Watson told the paper he was unaware of the messages until he was contacted for comment. “The public’s trust is our lifeblood. It’s not something, genuinely, that we take lightly,” Watson said then. “We need to investigate it, look into it and take appropriate action just to make sure that the values of this department to our community are projected in everything that we do.”

In a Facebook post, the Eureka Police Officers Assn. said, “The alleged statements in the article reflect extremely egregious behavior.” However, a Sacramento Bee public records request revealed that at the time of that statement, the president of the association sent an email to an officer: “I am so so sorry for all that you are going through… Please let me know if you need anything.”

Referring to the text messages, “experts we talked to who study law enforcement culture and people inside of the department who are aware of the conduct from some of these officers, they agreed that this is deeply problematic because it portrays a deeply hostile, degrading culture,” Pohl told The Times.

Soon after the Bee’s first report was released, the city hired a Bay Area law office to review the text messages, the Sacramento paper reported.

When asked what accountability might look like, Pohl told The Times: “That’s a big question.”

“In California, police officers are afforded a lot of protections both in terms of what discipline can be handed down, and what we and the public can find out about. Because personnel records, we don’t get to see those,” Pohl says.

Pohl’s latest story about the case provides more information about the culture within the police department.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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L.A. STORIES

An exclusive story about the Feds and fortunes. Reporter Michael Finnegan is out with an article that asks an important, simple question: When can authorities take your stuff? The story explains how the FBI wants to confiscate $86 million in cash and millions of dollars more in jewelry and other valuables found in safe deposit boxes at a Beverly Hills business called U.S. Private Vaults. The story explains why the dragnet took place, and the feds’ argument for keeping the assets. Los Angeles Times

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva deploys deputies to Venice encampments, but is he overstepping his authority? Villanueva has railed in recent weeks against city officials for their handling of homelessness issues. This week, he deployed a team of deputies to the Venice boardwalk to evaluate homelessness and refer individuals seeking shelter. The effort raised questions about whether Villanueva is overstepping his authority. Los Angeles Times

A deep dive into a prominent journalist on social media. A new profile of Yashar Ali looks into his rise in media. “I asked him to suggest a few acquaintances who might comment about him, and he replied by sending a spreadsheet listing the personal emails and cellphone numbers of more than 40 bold-face names,” Peter Kiefer writes. Los Angeles Magazine

A newsletter to shake things up. The Los Angeles Times is launching a new newsletter that will prepare you for earthquakes. “Unshaken” will provide information that may save your life and/or your home. One bonus is that — like this newsletter — it is absolutely free. Los Angeles Times

THE CORONAVIRUS

Big pandemic news in California. State officials have confirmed that residents who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 will be able to shed their face masks in most situations starting next week. The big day is Tuesday, which is when the state is due for its grand reopening. What if you are unvaccinated? Well, there are some rules that still apply. Los Angeles Times

CRIME AND COURTS

Women of San Luis Obispo reflect on Kristin Smart. “It could have been me,” says Jasmine Armstrong, one of many women who discussed the trauma caused by the missing Cal Poly student’s case. For many women in the community, her story changed the course of their lives. The charges and upcoming trial have reopened old wounds. KCRW

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3ES5IQ_0aQ5cMQl00
Kristin Smart disappeared 24 years ago. (The Record via Tribune News Service)

Superintendent in Marin County arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with a child under 14 years of age. Robert Patrick Raines, 66, of Shoreline Unified School District was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of child molestation. The district has placed Raines on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. “The allegations are false,” Raines said. Marin Independent Journal

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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Girl, what was that?! Residents in San Diego County recently heard and felt a mysterious boom for the third time since February. The strange commotion was reported just before 8:20 p.m. by residents as far south as Tijuana. On Tuesday night, the USGS website showed no seismic activity in the region. San Diego Union-Tribune

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

A harrowing rescue in Sonoma County. A man was rescued this week after spending two days inside a piece of farm equipment. Authorities said they received reports of a suspicious vehicle. When they arrived at the scene, they “noticed a hat resting on a vineyard fan and found the man stuck inside the machine.” CBS San Francisco

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny, 72. San Diego: Sunny, 72. San Francisco: Sunny, 63. San Jose: Sunny, 70. Fresno: Sunny, 80. Sacramento: Cloudy, 78.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Sulekha Hilton:

I will never forget that one morning when I woke up and there was snow outside. This was Woodland Hills in the late 1980s and, of course, being a tiny child, I didn’t understand how rare it was. I experienced a bit of existential awe but at the same time it felt like no big deal. By the time I got to school, there was still some snow lingering on the grass outside but it was completely gone not long after. I have never spoken to someone about this! Was it real, or is it one of those strange twisted memories?

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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