Editor’s note: Not all homicides are considered crimes. Officer-involved shootings have been traditionally included on the list of homicides counted by the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office.
By Hunter Cresswell
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In 2017, Humboldt Countyhas seen a dip from the previous year’s spike in homicides.
In 2016, 23 homicides occurred in Humboldt County, the highest in at least three decades.
In 2017, at least 20 people died in officer-involved shootings or suspected homicides and vehicle versus pedestrian crashes, but law enforcement officials couldn’t point to one effort in particular that led to this lower number. At least four Southern Humboldt citizens’ deaths are suspected homicides.
“I would like to take some credit for that, but in reality, we see how these homicide rates are an ebb and flow,” Humboldt County Sheriff’s William Honsal said.
He said this year was around “average.”
In 2015, the county saw 15 homicides — one less than 2014. But for more than a decade before that, the homicide rate was less than a dozen a year, according to the coroner’s office records dating back to 1986.
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said homicide rates are affected by numerous and sometimes random factors.
“I would hope that our proven ability to effectively prosecute those responsible for homicides reduces their frequency, but I think unfortunately that consideration is rarely a determining factor. Many of our homicide cases are marijuana-related — I’m hopeful that ongoing changes in that industry will result in crime reduction. We actually received more vehicular manslaughter cases for review in 2017 than in 2016, but fewer cases involving drug- or alcohol-impaired drivers. I hope this reflects an actual trend of decreasing drug and alcohol related traffic deaths as result of increasing public awareness, the increased capacity of local law enforcement agencies, and our Office’s diligent prosecution of DUI offenders,” she wrote in an email to the Times-Standard.
Humboldt County Chief Deputy Coroner Ernie Stewart also noticed the “significant” drop this year and agreed with Honsal’s concept of “ebb and flow.”
“We might get a spurt of three in a month and then we go three months without getting any, you can never tell,” Stewart said.
Like Fleming, Stewart also noticed a connection between violence and the local drug trade.
“It’s fairly consistent. Most of the violent crimes in our neighborhood are related to drugs and alcohol,” he said.
Cleaning up the drugs and illegal guns on the street has been a priority this year for Honsal and his deputies and will continue to be into the New Year. But one thing that might help deter crime is more staffing, he said.
“That’s the priority still, pushing out to patrol,” Honsal said.
He said he hopes to fill Measure Z-funded sworn officer positions in McKinleyville and Shelter Cove in 2018. Honsal said more boots on the ground helps his office be proactive in stopping crime instead of reactive.
2017 Southern Humboldt homicides or vehicular manslaughters
1. Redway resident Eugene Arnold Minikel, 37, was reportedly stabbed on March 26 in Alderpoint. According to a Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office release, Minikel’s girlfriend called 911 to report that she stabbed him because he was hitting her. Minikel was unresponsive when deputies arrived on scene where he was pronounced deceased. No arrests had been made by the time Minikel’s next of kin was notified and his identity was released. According to a list of homicide charges filed this year from Fleming, no homicide charges have been filed in this case.
2. Shelter Cove resident Jesse Earl Simpson, 42, died after being hit on May 3 by a vehicle driven by Shelter Cove resident Eric Lively. Lively pleaded not guilty to murder on May 11 and is in Humboldt County jail. His case is currently under trial.
3. Alderpoint resident Robert James Holtsclaw, 58, died after he was shot with a high-powered rifle on Sept. 23 on Sixth Street in Alderpoint. The suspect, Zachary Corgell Harrison, 27, remains at large. Harrison was last scene driving a black Ford F250 with Oregon license plates in the Alderpoint area. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office considers Harrison armed and dangerous.
4. Dinsmore resident Richard David Falk, 68, was shot and killed in his home on Oct. 5. Duane Gillespie, 17 when the crime occurred, was charged with murder and in October, Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming told the Times-Standard that she plans to try Gillespie and an unnamed female juvenile suspect as adults. Gillespie has a transfer hearing, which could move the case from juvenile to adult court, on Jan. 30.