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Re: Sheriff's Department's Investigation

by Steven Schectman
Headwaters Article Index

Law Offices of Steven Schectman

231 Market Street, Penthouse West
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone(415) 431-4483
Fax(415) 431-4484

1310 6th Street
Eureka, CA 95501
Phone (707) 443-5078
Fax (707) 443-4998

October 21, 1998

Terry R. Farmer
Humboldt County District Attorney
825 Fifth Street Eureka, CA 95501

Ronald Bass
Senior Assistant Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
50 Fremont Street, Ste. 300
San Francisco, CA 94105

George C. Hardy
Chief of the Criminal Division
Office of the United States Attorney
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Re: Humboldt County Sheriff's Department's Investigation into the Death of David Chain

Dear Sirs:

I and my co-counsel Randy Daar represent Cindy Allsbrooks the mother of David Chain. Mr. Chain was killed on Sept 17 when a tree felled by a Pacific Lumber employee struck him in the head while Chain and 6 other activists were protesting improper logging operations at the site.

As a result of series of contacts with county officials and meetings with eyewitnesses Ms. Allsbrooks has become very concerned about the impartiality of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department's investigation into the circumstances surrounding her son's death. Unfortunately, due to the Sheriff's Department's longstanding and antagonistic relationship with Earth First, along with the undue influence exerted by Pacific Lumber, the investigation appears to be designed to protect Pacific Lumber and the logger, and to cast suspicion and blame in the direction of Earth First and, tragically, in the direction of the victim, David Chain.

It is my understanding that on September 17, 1998, the preliminary site investigation was conducted by members of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, District Attorney's Office, and Coroner's Office.

The initial press release from Lieutenant Vulich contained misstatements which appeared to be based on the misleading press release issued by Pacific Lumber or misleading or false statements given by the suspect, A.E. Ammons. The press release indicated that "the loggers did not know that people were in the area of the logging operation." The Pacific Lumber press release issued the same day also contained the misinformation that "the work crew had no knowledge this individual was anywhere near by," and that "The crew did not see anyone in the area" (since their 7:00 a.m. arrival).

The Sheriff's Department interviewed seven members of the Earth First group who were present at the time of Mr. Chain's death. The Sheriff's Department was also provided with a video tape which recorded A.E. Ammons threatening great bodily injury and death to the environmental activists within one hour of Mr. Chain's death. The tape clearly reveals a Pacific Lumber employee in what reasonable appears to be a fit of out of control rage. Obviously, whoever provided the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department with the information contained in their first press release, as well as Pacific Lumber's press release, had given false information to the persons conducting the investigation.

The second, September 17, 1998, press release makes no mention of the threats by the logger one hour prior to the incident. In addition, the press release seems to accept the logger's version of the events, which was now that "all was quiet for about an hour before the victims were hit by the tree," as opposed to the eye witness testimony by members of the Earth First group present, who all consistently stated that there was ongoing dialogue between the logger and this group, up until the tree was felled on David Chain. The willingness of the Sheriff's Department to ignore the statements of the non Pacific Lumber employee witnesses and preliminarily determine that the death was accidental, notwithstanding the immediate threats made, is premature and a clear indication of investigatory bias.

The investigator assigned to the case, Juan Freeman, appeared to be protecting Pacific Lumber and the logger, A.E. Ammons. Detective Freeman stated that "the timber faller is not a suspect." He went on to state that A.E. Ammons "...has no criminal record. That fellow's record is cleaner than mine, and I've been a police man twenty-two years. He has never been arrested." I am informed that, in fact, Mr. Ammons does have a prior record for a DUI and resisting arrest in 1984. The vouching for the logger by the investigating officer demonstrates bias. This perception is further supported by Freeman's statements against Earth First, when he stated, "It's really sad to see this kind of stuff put out, because what Earth First has done there is defame the character of the logger." He further states, "There's a lot of bogus information being put out by this organization." Further, Detective Freeman did not criticize Pacific Lumber for their false and misleading press releases immediately after the incident.

This investigatory bias was further demonstrated when the coroner released information to the press that Mr. Chain had THC in his blood at the time of his death. When the family attempted to obtain a copy of the autopsy report and information related to David's death, they were stymied and told the report was now sealed, since it was part of the investigation. This is contrasted with the apparent willingness of the Sheriff's Department to accept Pacific Lumber's representation that they had tested the logger for drugs and alcohol, and the assumption that the test was negative. The failure to subpoena a blood sample from A.E. Ammons on the day in question, and the misplaced reliance on his employer, was critical mistake which, with the passage of time, can never be remedied.

We have also received information that members of Sheriff's Department and Pacific Lumber official were heard making what could only be regarded inappropriate comments while David Chain's body lay partially exposed in a body bag.

The Sheriff's deputies and Pacific Lumber personnel, acted in an entirely inappropriate manner, and in a manner inconsistent with an impartial investigation during the short period of time we were allowed to view the scene. The two deputy sheriffs, while presumably present to "escort" the Pacific Lumber personnel, were actively involved in Pacific Lumber's own investigation of the scene. They accompanied the Pacific Lumber expert on this site examination, and strangely appeared to be assisting Pacific Lumber's expert with his examination. Once our team arrived, the deputy sheriffs absented themselves from the scene, and spent hours socializing with Pacific Lumber's expert, Pacific Lumber personnel, and A.E. Ammons. Since Pacific Lumber clearly is party interested in the outcome of the investigation and a potential criminal defendant, it is highly inappropriate for Humboldt County Sheriff's Department personnel to be assisting a privately retained expert in preparing Pacific Lumber's defense to its own involvement in Mr. Chain's death.

In a meeting with myself, attorney Richard Jay Moller and an eyewitness, Detective Freeman indicated that a purpose of the investigation was to protect the Pacific Lumber and the Sheriff's Department against a civil suit by the family of David Chain. This type of defensive reasoning taints the impartiality of the entire investigation.

Unfortunately, the animosity between Earth First and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department has seemed to permeate the entirety of this investigation and has surfaced overtly in statements made by the investigative detective and his department. Detective Freeman in response to the question of why no one has ever been charged in Humboldt County with assaulting a forest activist, states "I am not aware of anyone who has been charged with it, but every time they are arrested they claim we assault them." This type of expressed bias is merely evidence of a much deeper bias and predisposition to find Earth First and David Chain culpable while exonerating Pacific Lumber and A.E. Ammons.

It is my understanding that Pacific Lumber intends to log the general site any day now, and absent orders from the Sheriff's Department, will commence logging the actual site of the accident shortly. The accident site is critical to the determination as to whether or not A.E. Ammons acted with knowledge or conscious disregard when he felled the tree that killed David Chain. The limited investigation that has been conducted by representatives of Mr. Chain's family was incomplete due to time constraints imposed by Pacific Lumber. The biased manner that the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department has conducted the investigation to date leaves grave doubts that their scene investigation was sufficient. The scene must be preserved until an independent and unbiased investigation can be conducted and proper photographic and forensic evidence can be obtained and preserved. The prejudice to Pacific Lumber in delaying logging of this small site is slight, and the possibility of critical evidence being lost forever is great.

This week Ms. Allsbrooks made a special visit from her home in Texas to Humboldt County in an attempt to learn more facts regarding her sons' death. She requested a meeting with Sheriff Lewis and was referred to Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman agreed to meet with Ms. Allsbrooks on Monday, Oct. 19 on the condition she did not bring an attorney. Desperate for information she agreed. At this meeting Mr. Freeman told Ms. Allsbrooks what he was recommending that the other activists who accompanied her son on the day of his death be charged with manslaughter.

I believe that Cindy Allsbrooks, mother of David Chain, is entitled to a thorough, complete, and unbiased investigation. Unfortunately, given the history between Earth First and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, as well as Humboldt County Sheriff's Department's long-standing relationship with Pacific Lumber, such an unbiased investigation is not forthcoming.

I urge you to consider the points raised in this letter, and take what steps are possible so that an independent investigation can be conducted before the site is logged.




cc Cindy Allsbrooks

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Albion Monitor

October 28, 1998