Tension remains high as parents and staff of Fuente Nueva question APD’s actions after 911 call

by Ricardo Lara Nava, Kianna Znika and Frank Rocha

  • Fuente Nueva Charter School held a community forum on Monday, Oct. 3 with parents and staff about the APD search and question and failure to notify the school.
  • 911 dispatcher called Saint Mary Church unable to find Fuente Nueva’s phone number after getting a report of an armed man in the area. 
  • Fuente Nueva Director said APD failed to notify the charter school in November 2021 about an in-school pursuit of a suspect. 

Fuente Nueva Charter School held a community forum meeting on Oct. 3 about the Arcata Police Department’s mishandling of a potential gun threat on Sept. 22. Parents and staff also expressed their dissatisfaction with how the APD treated Cal Poly Humboldt student intern Kathy Zamora.

Fuenta Nueva’s Charter Director Beth Wylie, APD Chief of Police Brian Chief Ahearn and Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer were present to answer the community’s questions and respond to comments.  

Community expresses frustration with APD’s recent mishandling of potential threat to local charter school and mistreatment of CPH student intern. | Photo by Ricardo Lara Nava and Peyton Leone

911 report:

“Who made the call?” asked a parent. According to Chief Ahearn, a 911 call was made by a construction worker working down the road after being told there was a man with a rifle sitting in the driver’s seat of a car in the school parking lot. In actuality there was no weapon, only a dog ball thrower. 

Another parent asked if the police had tried to contact the school. “The dispatcher did call Saint Mary Church,” Chief Ahearn said. Wylie explained that the priest who answered the phone is an English language learner and didn’t understand what was being said. 

When asked why APD couldn’t google the school’s name to find the phone number, Chief Ahearn said, “Our system hasn’t been updated. The names should have been changed in 2013.” 

Fuente Nueva’s response

In regards to why the parents were not notified immediately, Wylie felt that she didn’t have the right amount of information when talking to the police and at the time when Zamora came to her after the search and questioning. She tried to reach out to APD later that day but got no response until the next day at 7 a.m.

Parents asked if Wylie had some type of consulting group to run these things over with. “I don’t have access to a full team on a given school day,” she said, explaining that her team consists of teachers who would have been busy working with children at the time.

Wylie said that it was not the stress of the situation that kept her from initially sending an email, it was the lack of information.

Parents and staff spoke at the open forum meeting held at Fuente Nueva Charter School on Oct. 3 | Photo by Kianna Znika

Parent and staff reaction

Parents expressed frustration towards Chief Ahearn’s refusal to answer some of their questions during the meeting. Instead, he repeatedly invited them down to the police station, where he stated he would be happy to share more information.

Lizette Santiago Lopez, parent and classroom aid cut off the Chief of Police mid-sentence to shout, “This is not a joke. I don’t need to go over there. I don’t want to.”

She didn’t believe Chief Ahearn’s invitation would solve the issue at hand and was more concerned about the safety of herself and her child who is a second grader at the charter school.

Lopez exclaimed that she never thought an incident like this would happen to Zamora.

“I don’t feel safe here,” she said in regards to her and her child’s safety at the school.  

Not all attendees had the same sentiment. One thanked Chief Ahearn for attending the meeting and said, “To me it sounds like there was a mistake. I just want to say that I am relieved that you are here. Just wanted for it to be known with all of this tension.”

The tension built up as more layers were unveiled of APD’s actions towards Zamora. Many attendees were unaware of what happened with Zamora until she spoke about the actions and repercussions of the incident by APD during the meeting.

Accountability of APD:

Fuenta Nueva parents and staff raised questions about whether or not appropriate action would be taken within APD. Chief Ahearn explained that their primary mission is to see what refinements need to be made in their policy so that APD can maintain a safe environment without inducing the trauma that was present in this case.

He agreed that the officers should have told Zamora why they were searching her right away instead of waiting nearly three minutes.

Chief Ahearn stated that the officers responded in a way that was appropriate for a gun report, making sure to focus on finding the gun in the vehicle. He added that the vehicle was not fully searched, but that they did open the doors and look inside.

In regards to Zamora’s experience, Chief Ahearn said, “If she said that their approach was too aggressive, then we must address that.”

“There were six men with guns and vests on my campus. They were ready,” said Zamora, holding back tears. 

Although they were not present in the meeting, Chief Ahearn said he would relay these conversations back to the other officers.

Zamora then called him out for not recording what was being said in the meeting, saying, “No one is taking notes. No one else is here from APD.” 

Attendees also suggested that APD be given sensitivity and diversity training. Chief Ahearn stated that this is already in place.

Chief Ahearn’s hope for future situations is that the dispatcher will alert the school while the officers are on their way and that their system will be updated with the school’s information, such as their phone number.

Concerns about the police continuing to carry a gun around the community were also brought up. Chief Ahearn had denied a request to come to campus unarmed, which Wylie believes would show that the police department is willing to build relationships with the community by meeting them halfway.

“I’ve been asking that kind of request in a number of different spaces,” Wylie said. “And the answer has not yet come to me that an officer is willing to arrive without their gun. So perhaps I won’t find a resolution with that one.”

Previous failure to contact

During the meeting it was mentioned that this wasn’t the first time APD has failed to notify the school. In November of 2021, ADP did not notify the school about a suspect being pursued by police on foot and once the suspect had left, the officers were gone without communicating. “They instructed not to lock down and that everything was ok,” Wylie said. 

Forum conclusions

Wylie acknowledged that both the conversations about the incident held on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3 were similar in the sense that there was “a lack of closure.” 

In regards to APD’s next steps, she said, “I do hear them speak about change and wanting to do better and I feel that we have the opportunity to push that.”

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