By Ruth Musser-Lopez
NEEDLES—Further evidence has emerged that San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies assaulted a young woman from Needles after mistaking her for a vandalism suspect and subsequently falsified the police report of the incident to induce the district attorney’s office to criminally charge her in an effort to immunize themselves from their own liability in the matter.
A tall and quite striking, young Navajo athlete and mother with thick long black hair, Kristen Raquel Arthur was frequently up at night with her baby girl. The temperature on summer nights in Needles typically cools to 95 to 100 degrees and it is not unusual for people to get out of the house, take walks or ride bicycles at night. According to Kristen’s mother, Delrae Christina Yazzie Arthur, “She told me that she was going to take a walk to get a Polar Pop (soda) at the Circle K but she never came back. She was never even allowed to make one phone call from jail and I was sick with worry about what had happened to her.”
“How will I ever be able to get a job working for law enforcement now?” Kristen, 24, cried from her jail cell at West Valley Detention Center on August 25, three months plus after being arrested on May 11 on suspicion of breaking a window. “I wish I would have never left my house. I wish I could turn back time.” She was studying criminal justice at Palo Verde College in Needles and dreamed of working for the Coast Guard.
Though the initial charge of Vandalism PC 594(A) – the breaking of a window – used as justification for detaining and holding Kristen was dismissed two days later on May 13, 2016, new charges of two counts of battery against a police officer PC 243 I(2) were filed at that time and the bail was increased from $100,000 to $250,000. Kristen was not allowed to have visitors for 60 days. “By the time I was able to visit her,” her mother said, “many of the bruises and wounds were healed up. I was finally able to visit her on July 12,” Delrae Christina Yazzie Arthur told the Sentinel. “I learned that deputy April Jennings, the arresting officer, had been at the detention center and there were efforts to convince Kristen to plea bargain. Each time I visited her, on July 16th, 21st and 27th, she appeared sedated. That is when I began to learn the truth about what happened and I told [local reporter] David Buckley.”
On August 9, 2016, during public comments, the Needles community became aware of the general matter concerning alleged violent arrests being made by deputies during the Needles city council’s review of the cost of its contract for law enforcement services with the sheriff’s department. Allegations surfaced at that time about the deputies’ use of unnecessary force. Press accounts thereafter widened knowledge of the events surrounding Kristen Arthur’s brutal arrest to the rest of the county. A close examination of the incident report and arrest records shows that Kristen did not match the description of the suspect in the original vandalism report, which deputies used as a pretext for her arrest, which in turn led to the so-called “battery” on a peace officer.
Evidence available to the Sentinel suggests the battery, a bite and scratch, was Arthur’s impromptu defense against the arresting officer’s hand entering her mouth after she was pulled out of the patrol car by her hair and was flung harshly to the pavement with her face pushed into the gravel, her pants were pulled down, and she was prodded in the rear with a blunt object. When a hand came toward her mouth, she said, she did what she could to defend herself and bit it in defense, after which she turned herself over to a supine position. Next, the male deputy sat on her, straddled her stomach and tased her twice in the sternum until she was quivering. She admits to raising her hand to his face in defense and scratching him because she couldn’t stand the pain anymore. She was then punched in the face by the officers, turned over, and handcuffed with her hands behind her. Bruises were observed on Kristen’s face two months later when she was finally allowed to see visitors.
On August 19, 2016, the public defender requested a bail or “own recognizance” hearing which was scheduled for Wednesday, August 24.
At that August 24 hearing, the original deputy public defender, Eric McBurney, who in the court room before the judge entered had publicly characterized Kristen as a “shark” calling her “Jaws,” was replaced by deputy public defender Mark Shoup at the hearing. Geoff Canty, the chief public defender in the Victorville office, was also present in the court room, assisting Shoup.
Shoup argued before Judge Charles Umeda that the deputies had engaged in a violent arrest of Kristen, who did not match the description of the suspect – a male with a baseball cap. He said that Kristen had served over the amount of time that she would have had to serve if arrested for vandalism and that the arrest was made under false pretenses. He said that the deputies tricked her into getting into the unit and then drove her to the scene of the vandalism, accused her of the crime and then engaged in force to effectuate the arrest. He requested that Arthur be released without the posting of bail, on her own recognizance, to her mother and grandmother with whom she resides. Shoup told Umeda that Kristin is a lifetime resident of Needles with no criminal history, that she is 24 years old, and that she was an exemplary student at Palo Verde College studying criminal justice and that Kristen’s grandmother is a retired probation officer for the tribe.
In response to the district attorney’s office’s suggestion that Arthur had manifested some form of psychological peculiarities, Shoup argued that any such issues Kristen may have apparently resulted from recent events having to do with her recent pregnancy and childbirth, coupled with the violent arrest she underwent. He said there is no reason to believe that she is a danger.
Deputy district attorney Paul Levers refused to stipulate to Arthur’s competency, and argued that releasing Kristen is a public risk.
Shoup argued that one psychiatrist, identified as Dr. Jose M. Muinos, had interviewed Arthur on May 11 and determined that she was competent to stand trial. He also said that another psychiatrist, Dr. Patricia Kirkish, had written a preliminary report based upon the findings of Kristen’s loud speech during the initial hearing and the arrest report prepared by the deputies. He said the Kirkish findings were inconclusive because Kirkish had never personally interviewed Kristen. Shoup argued that there were extenuating circumstances during the arrest that caused Kristen to behave in a manner that is unlikely to ever happen again. “Kristen has been in custody for three months, which is more time served than if she would have actually been convicted of the offense of vandalism,” Shoup said.
The Sentinel has learned from Shoup that at a prior hearing, Judge Umeda had ordered Dr. Kirkish to interview Arthur. Upon traveling from Pasadena to Rancho Cucamonga to conduct the interview, Dr. Kirkish was not allowed to interview Arthur because the deputies had Kristen in lock down in a padded cell of what is referred to as the “ZZZ” ward because, they claimed, Kristen was suicidal. Kristen described the cell to the Sentinel, saying it was “very cold,” and that she had been “stripped naked and provided only a flimsy blanket and a thin mat to sleep on.” Why the deputies did not allow the psychiatrist to examine Kristen to determine if the inmate was truly “suicidal” as the deputies asserted is subject to future inquiry and deposition.
Her mother told the Sentinel, “The bruises and tears she suffered from being beat up by the deputies were still visible at the time the doctor was supposed to visit her. We were not allowed to take pictures or have a camera in jail. There are no booking photos,” Yazzie-Arthur said. She claimed that even after 60 days when she and Kristen’s grandmother were finally allowed to visit her at West Valley Detention Center, they saw the evidence of the violence: Kristen’s bruised face, her hair torn out and the brown mark from the taser. The Sentinel observed, 90 days later, the spot on her sternum where Kristen asserted the taser rays entered her body.
After an extended time in chambers with regard to Arthur’s medical condition, Judge Umeda would not release her on her own recognizance, due to deputy district attorney Paul Lever’s incessant assertion that Kristen’s “competency” is in question, that she could be a risk if released and that she needed to see a psychiatrist.
The judge did however order the bail be lowered from $250,000 to $50,000 and ordered Kristen to be seen by a dentist and interviewed by the psychiatrist, Dr. Kirkish. Throughout the proceedings, Kristen sat quietly in the courtroom.
Another hearing has been tentatively scheduled for September 12 pending a report from the psychiatrist as to whether Kristen is competent to stand trial.
Public defender Shoup informed the Sentinel that the district attorney’s office’s insistence that Arthur’s competency to stand trial be proven by a second opinion from another psychiatrist has kept Kristen from having a trial at all. The judicial system is “frustrating” said Geoff Canty, chief deputy public defender in Victorville. He told the Sentinel that Kristen has been denied a trial because of questioned competency, yet roadblocks and delays were put in place to keep her from proving her competency. If Dr. Kirkish cannot schedule the interview, the hearing will be delayed again. From other sources, the Sentinel learned that Kirkish is now on vacation in New York. Canty explained that at this time, the charges of assault and battery (the bite on the arm and the scratch on the face) are suspended until the competency hearing is complete.
Canty said that if Kristen is found competent, a case of assault and battery against a peace officer will go to trial and the public defender will argue that anything Kristen did was in self defense during an unlawful arrest. If she is found incompetent, she will not stand trial and she will likely be sent to Patton Hospital where most female suspects and criminals who are rendered incompetent or insane are destined.
On Friday, August 26, Kristen Raquel Arthur was, at last, released on bail raised by her grandmother, Christine Sanders Armstrong. “This was not a matter of ‘competency;’ this was self defense,” Armstrong, a retired tribal probation officer, asserted. Armstrong informed the Sentinel that she will seek a Native American psychiatrist for a third opinion if Kristen should be found incompetent by Dr. Kirkish. “Kirkish is a white woman from Pasadena from an entirely different culture and environment than Kristen,” Armstrong said. “We are Navajos and we have our cultural differences—often those differences manifest in misunderstandings with regard to actions and reactions in certain circumstances. With respect to these cultural differences, if this case can’t get to trial because of a ‘competency’ issue, we will request the court to grant a Native American psychiatrist from the Navajo nation to review Kristen’s case and interview her. We know Kristen is fine mentally—it’s the rookie deputies being sent to Needles that we wonder about.”
Indian Country Today Media Network has expressed interest in Arthur’s case as well as one involving her brother, Trevor. Trevor Arthur has a pending federal civil rights case against the sheriff’s department. In Trevor R. Arthur v. John McMahon, et al. it is alleged that Trevor was twice falsely arrested without probable cause. In the first unlawful arrest on May 31, 2012 he was charged with 11-counts of arson with a $550,000 bond with no evidence or witness testimony linking him to the crimes. He was released on June 4, 2012 and then arrested violently again on February 24, 2014 when he was sideswiped by a patrol car while he was jogging on a public street. The impact of the vehicle effectively immobilized Trevor Arthur. Thus incapacitated, he was arrested without having his rights read to him or being informed of what the charges were. He was choked in handcuffs outside the Colorado River Station in Needles. He was beat up and his face was bleeding. The incident was videotaped. Factual evidentiary details were omitted from the incident report and his booking photo was altered to cover up the fact that his face was brutalized. The charges against him were later dismissed. Local reporter, David Buckley refers to the incident as the “Photoshop case.”
Kristen’s release provided her with a chance to see a medical doctor and contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She was taken to the Parker Indian Hospital in Parker, Arizona where she was diagnosed with moderate urinary tract infection and pain. The hospital contacted the local law enforcement, Colorado River Indian Tribal Police, and they took a report.
According to a counter complaint filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Wednesday August 31, by Delrae Christina Yazzie Arthur, unnecessary force was used in making the arrest which occurred when Kristen Arthur was walking home on a hot summer night in Needles, a soda in her hand from the Circle K store several blocks from her home in the Fort Mojave Indian “village.” A clerk at the store was named as a witness.
Kristen’s declaration included with her mother’s complaint states that deputy April Jennings pulled the department’s unit up in front of Kristen Arthur, blocking Kristen’s path. The deputy began questioning Kristen, asking her why she was out so late. Kristen responded by saying she was going home. Deputy Jennings offered to give her a ride to her home. Kristen got into the squad car and sat in the rear seat behind the deputy, she said. “I just wanted to cooperate” she told the Sentinel, expressing her reason for accepting the ride.
Instead of taking Kristen home, the complaint states that the deputy took Kristen five blocks away to an alleged crime scene in the parking lot of the Best Motel and “66 Bar” where sergeant Paul Bader was waiting in his patrol car. While Kristen was locked in the car at the crime scene, deputy Jennings began accusing her of vandalism, asserting that Kristen’s shoeprint matched that of the suspect. The complaint states that “the landscape around the Best Motel and the outbuilding where the window was reported vandalized is covered in pavement, sidewalks and decorative gravel atop hard packed dirt along the perimeter of the buildings. It would be difficult to ascertain a shoeprint from this terrain.”
“I never got out of the patrol vehicle for my shoeprint to be compared or examined. I was never told I was being placed under arrest,” Kristen declared. Nor was she read her Miranda rights, deputy public defender Mark Shoup told the Sentinel.
Shoup also informed the Sentinel that Kristen was “coaxed” into the car under “false pretences” and that “the point of Kristen’s arrest was when she was detained in the squad car and not allowed to move freely, not necessarily when she was handcuffed.”
Kristen’s declaration continues: While she was in the parked car at the crime scene, “Deputy Jennings told me ‘We need to talk.’” Under duress the complaint states, Kristen was cooperative until unnecessary force was used upon her person. Kristen did not provoke what came next, she and Shoup maintain.
“Without justification, I was brutally grabbed by the hair on my left side and pulled out of the patrol car,” Kristen Arthur said. “Simultaneously with sergeant Paul Bader they slammed me to the ground on the right side of my face onto the pavement. My face was pushed onto the pavement and gravel surface…in the prone position my pants and underwear were pulled down. I was probed from behind by deputy Jennings with an unknown object….I remember something being brought to my face and laughter. I bit the first hand that came in close proximity to my face. I turned over into a supine position and sergeant Bader sat straddling me. He shoved a taser into my sternum area and began tasing me for a long period of time. My body began to involuntarily shake. I think I was tased about two times for about 10-15 seconds at a time. I did not want to be subjected to anymore pain. I reactively utilized the only protection measure I knew. I clawed to his facial area. They beat me with their fists and turned me over and handcuffed me. I remained exposed from the waist down when I was later transported to the Colorado River Station and subjected to more humiliation. I was able to cover myself after the handcuffs were removed later.” Kristen told the Sentinel that she was required to walk into the police station with her pants down below her knees, making it difficult to walk.
The complaint states “Kristen admits to defending herself…the injuries inflicted by Kristen were defensive and protective in nature…at no time did she make an offensive advance or attack toward the deputies…she was transported half nude to the Colorado River Station….there was no attempt or effort by the deputies to cover the exposed portion of her body.”
For over 100 days, Kristen Arthur, whose baby was nine months old when she was forcefully separated from her, was confined to a cell at the West Valley Detention Center with bail set so high – at $250,000 – that her family could not raise the funds to bring her home. “The sheriff’s office restricted my daughter’s visitation and telephone communications by categorizing her as an ‘ultraviolent felon’ for her first arrest,” the complaint states, quoting Delrae Yazzie Arthur.
According to the complaint, Kristen suffered from pain as a result of the arrest after her hair was yanked out, her sternum twice tasered, her breast smashed and bruised, she was beaten, her face was bruised and neck, her teeth were impacted and she was prodded in the anus by deputies who arrested her on a false pretense.
“No one was aware of my injuries except the sheriff’s office. In my booking photo, the injury to the right side of my face was covered with my hair by a deputy. I did not receive medical treatment until about a week later. I never made my court appearance in person until my injuries healed over. My first arraignment was via video,” she stated.
Her complaint continues, “From that time on I was mandatorily given medication and was told it was to help my train of thoughts. If I did not take them I was logged for bad behavior. I was deemed ‘ultraviolent’ during my incarceration at West Valley Detention Center.”
The complaint states that Kristen was never officially declared incompetent or diagnosed with any mental illnesses. Upon her release, her mother states “Her behavior was noticeably uncharacteristic…she was lethargic, catatonic and emotionless. She appeared to be under the influence of unknown drug(s).” Kristen said that “From around May 18, 2016, I have been taking 2-pills in the morning and 4-pills in the evening. They were administered by jail officials per Doctor Tang to ‘help me align my thoughts better.’ I overheard them mentioning the identity of one as ‘Xyprexa’ but I am ignorant to the other pills. I was mandated to take them or the staff would log bad behavior.”
Kristen also asserts that while in West Valley Detention Center, “I was assaulted by multiple deputies twice while sleeping. I protected myself from those unwarranted attacks. They confiscated several of my personal items including my record of the chain of events of abuse and officers involved. I made multiple complaints and questioned my arrest with other deputies at all levels of command. They would say yes ‘sergeant’ or ‘lieutenant’ and mock me. I was told by different officers about seven times on different occasions that I made bail and to pack up. At first I did pack. Then I began to realize that I never made bail but it was a joke for the deputies.”
According to the complaint, “I have not been seen for any ailments that I notified the court and detention staff of. I am experiencing acute pain in my lower back area and lower abdominal area…I never saw my second court appointed therapist while incarcerated. I was never taken to the dentist ordered by the court three times…my teeth also hurt.”
Arthur’s family managed to find the funds to post bail three days after bail was lowered to $50,000. On Friday, at 5:00 pm August 26 bail was posted and after 107 days, Kristen Arthur was released, on Saturday, August 27, at 11:55 am. “I inquired multiple times throughout the wait on her release” Yazzie said. “I was told by one deputy that she was being cleared medically by detention medical staff and other unfounded delays. I later learned that Kristen was notified 20-minutes prior to her release.”
Finding a bondsman had been no easy task. “We finally found one who would work with us” Yazzie said. “From August 24th, when the judge lowered the bail, to August 26th, I contacted three bail bondsmen to have my daughter released. All three were negotiated but were suddenly canceled after the bail bondsmen placed a call to West Valley Detention Center. On August 26 we made arrangements with John Nieves from Remedy Bail Bonds. Nieves later stated that during the initial call to West Valley Detention Center to gather information on Kristen, an unknown detention center employee warned Nieves multiple times that Kristen is an ‘Indian from the reservation,’ near the ‘stateline ‘and was a ‘flight risk.’ Nieves was told that she is ‘the last person who he should be bailing out…’”
“Remedy Bail Bonds was great,” Delrae chimed. “Nieves said that he had worked with the San Manuel tribe in posting bail with good results and so did not agree with the attitude of the jail keeper.”
“Neives admits that this is the first case in which he has been professionally questioned,” the complaint states.
The Arthurs believe that they have been targeted for intimidation by the Needles Substation of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The disparate treatment they have suffered, they informed the Sentinel, is largely prejudicial against minorities and retaliatory stemming from the Arthur’s knowledge of a long-term cover up by the Needles Sheriff’s Department with regard to other crimes not brought to justice, committed by white power brokers in the community.
By Ruth Musser-Lopez