Alleged graffiti vandal tagged by Nevada City police | TheUnion.com

Alleged graffiti vandal tagged by Nevada City police

For the last several weeks, a graffiti vandal has been striking all over Nevada City, leaving behind a slew of mustachioed Frenchmen and even a snail emblazoned across building walls, public bathroom stall doors and phone booths. But now Nevada City Police have arrested a suspect, who was booked into custody and released Friday. The tagging with a French theme had been going on since the first part of May, said Nevada City Police Officer Shane Franssen. "Typically it's a little French guy with a long nose and chin, with a handlebar mustache," Franssen said. "He also does a snail with a mustache." Sometimes the drawings were accompanied with a political sentiment. One featured the beret-clad caricature saying, "People who are without creativity build dead institutions." Several chalk drawings outside the Nevada County District Attorney's office urged people to vote for Cliff Newell's opponent. Franssen said he knew of at least two dozen separate incidents of tagging, adding that in one instance graffiti that had been cleaned off one morning reappeared that night. "We've been trying to track him down," he said. A bar employee who confronted the vandal reportedly was told he was 'expressing his art," Franssen said. That witness was one of two who positively identified the suspect through a photo lineup and signed citizen's arrest forms, Franssen said. The suspect, identified as Joseph Anthony Venuti, 28, was subsequently arrested on suspicion of vandalism, and his bail was set at $20,000 due to the number of incidents. To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

Downtown Nevada City cop brought on full time

Eight months after Nevada City Police Officer Shane Franssen was brought back to the department as the part-time foot patrolman dedicated to the downtown historic district, he has been upgraded to a full-time officer. "I can't describe what it means to get back on full time," Franssen said. "It's a huge relief." Franssen, who initially joined the force as a part-timer in 2003, was cut from the force over a year ago with the expiration of a grant that had funded two officer positions. To help pay bills, Franssen waited tables at Lefty's Grill, a Nevada City restaurant. Franssen's full-time position, which began Dec. 14, was made possible by Drug Asset Seizure money, said Police Chief Jim Wickham, as well as anticipated funds from the voter-approved Measure L, which increases the sales tax by three-eighths of a percent raising approximately $390,000 in its first year. "One of the selling points of Measure L was to fund community policing activities," Wickham said. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 260 pounds, Franssen represents an unmistakable police presence downtown, garnering initial praise for curbing vagrant behavior there. "My presence is ultimately what the position establishes," Franssen said. But the role of the former Nevada Union High School linebacker — who once tried out for the San Francisco 49ers football team — has changed since he began foot patrol in April. A more restrictive smoking ban has been implemented, parking enforcement ramped up and, most recently, the city has adopted a camping permit ordinance aimed at curbing nuisance behavior by homeless people in Nevada City. Franssen's role in the whole process is to evaluate permittees and their proposed sites to make sure they are compliant with health and safety expectations, such as waste disposal, and not running afoul of the law. He will also work with area agencies to connect people to services, he said. With all these duties, Franssen said a full-time schedule is needed. "It's going to give me far more time to work with those resources and establish the programs the chief has implemented," Franssen said. Franssen will also work more special events, such as Sunday's final Victorian Christmas of this holiday season. Eventually, the plan is to rotate Franssen from the downtown position after an undetermined period of time, replacing him with another officer and assign Franssen to another patrol, Wickham said. "He's a huge asset to our department and the community," Wickham said. "You couldn't ask for anyone better to do the job than Shane. People think he is a face of the department." To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

Nevada City Police make arrest related to ongoing pharmacy fraud cases in the area

Through an arrest on Tuesday, the Nevada City Police Department made headway into solving a series of what is believed to be related prescription fraud cases in the community. Police Chief Tim Foley said Officer Shane Franssen detained 19-year-old Jose Jovhanny Velez Tuesday afternoon after reviewing surveillance video of the suspect. Velez, who is originally from Stockton, was picking up medicine at Dokimos Nevada City Pharmacy on the 700 block of Zion Street using a forged prescription. Police officers received information weeks ago about a group of people who wandered from pharmacy to pharmacy in the local area with falsified doctor's prescriptions, Foley said. The group used the stolen drugs to create and sell a concoction know as purple drank, which is made up of promethazine and codeine. The price for the drug range from $30 to $80 an ounce, Franssen said. Employees at a Nevada City pharmacy recently contacted authorities about Velez, who has been a frequent visitor to the store, Foley said. "The staff at the pharmacy became suspicious of the person and called the doctor who was on the prescription," said Foley. "They found out that the doctor has never issued a prescription for him." Employees told the officers that Velez usually comes in at closing time in order to gather the medicine and leave promptly. Officers set up an undercover surveillance at the pharmacy on Monday night but the suspect never showed up. Foley said Franssen made the determination to contact the pharmacy Tuesday to get a surveillance video of Velez. Franssen caught Valez with the help of the store employees. "Later in the afternoon he came in to pick the prescription, they (the employees) stalled him by delaying the time of pick up," Franssen added. Velez was booked into county jail Tuesday evening on felony charges of obtaining a controlled substance for fraud, forgery and a second-degree burglary. Franssen said the Nevada City Police Department is cooperating with the Grass Valley Police in an ongoing investigation into the multiple counts of pharmacy fraud in the area. But, he said, it's not clear at this point how many people are involved in the group. To contact Staff Writer Teresa Yinmeng Liu, please call 530-477-4236, or email tliu@theunion.com.

Nevada City man arrested on felony battery charge

A Nevada City man remained in county jail Thursday after allegedly punching another man and sending him to the hospital. The two men allegedly began arguing in a hotel room on Broad Street, and Nevada City Police were called at about 7:20 p.m. Wednesday, according to dispatch reports. The dispute was over a woman, said Police Officer Shane Franssen. The alleged aggressor, identified as Jeffrey Thomas Bodde, 29, punched the victim in the nose, causing a severe laceration that essentially laid it open, Franssen said. He also allegedly caused a small laceration under the victim's eye. Bodde sustained a small cut to his hand from the punch, Franssen said. The victim was transported to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Bodde was arrested on suspicion of battery causing serious bodily injury and was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail. Franssen said he recommended a charge of mayhem be added in the report that was being forwarded to the district attorney's office. To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

On the beat: Meet Nevada City’s downtown officer

When Shane Franssen isn’t patrolling the streets of Nevada City’s downtown historic district as a police officer, he can often be found waiting tables at Lefty’s Grill on Broad Street – although not everyone recognizes him there without his uniform. A recent patron at one of Franssen’s tables was someone he had arrested since returning to active-duty law enforcement in April. “I had arrested him, but he didn’t recognize me,” Franssen said. “He still tipped me.” Others know exactly where to find Franssen – going so far as to dart into the restaurant to report a crime as Franssen is taking orders, he said. Because he isn’t a full-time officer, he had to call one of his colleagues to relay the report. Yet such accessibility was the idea all along. “It’s the epitome of community oriented policing,” Franssen told The Union during his Tuesday afternoon patrol. “My presence is one of the biggest deterrents to a lot of major (criminal) activity.” When he is in uniform, it’s hard to miss 39-year-old Franssen coming down the street. The 6-foot, 4-inch and 260-pound former Nevada Union High School linebacker once tried out for the San Francisco 49ers football team, before heading off to police academy. Although his stature is imposing, his tact was simply gentle on Tuesday, handing out more verbal warnings for smoking and parking meter lapses than doling out tickets. He gently reminded one man there is a leash law for his dog, shortly after telling a mother that it is illegal to tie her dog to a bench leg on the Commercial Street Boardwalk, a place where transients and there dogs can often be found. “Though enforcing the law is certainly important, the spirit of the law is what we are trying to achieve here,” he said. In a scene reminiscent of the television comedy “Cheers,” half the patrons at the Mine Shaft bar on Broad Street bellowed “Hi Shane!” in unison as Franssen strolled in to touch base with the bartenders on any concerns or incidents they might have to report. Having Franssen patrol the streets is the cornerstone of new Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham’s tactics to alleviate the concerns of downtown business owners and residents who had complained vagrant behavior had reached a fever pitch. Such complaints included drug dealing, littering, urinating, defecation, vomiting, public intoxication, smoking, vulgar language, littering and that access to the public restrooms has become virtually impossible due to vagrant behavior. “He is the right man for the right job,” Councilman Robert Bergman said on Commercial Street Tuesday afternoon. “He does his job the right way … the comments that I’m hearing from the community are solidly positive. Everyone I’ve talked to supports the way he is handling the matter.” Franssen started on the Nevada City Police Department as a reserve officer in 2003. In 2009, the force garnered a federal stimulus grant to fund two full-time officers and Franssen was one of them. However, he went back to reserve status when the grant expired at the end of 2011. Franssen also runs an automotive business inherited from his family, from which doesn’t derive a salary. When his police job was cut, he chose to wait tables rather than replace one of the workers in his shop, Wickham said. “It’s an indication of his character,” Wickham said. “He’s a good guy.” “Those people are like our family,” Franssen said. “I didn’t want to lay anyone off.” In April, Franssen was brought back on a part-time basis on the downtown patrol beat thanks to Drug Asset Seizure money, which will last until August when his downtown liaison duty will be re-evaluated, Wickham said. In the month since he began patrolling, Franssen said it is common to get warm welcomes from business owners. People have even parked their cars to get out and thank him for being there. “I think it’s been really good actually,” said Matthew Margulies, owner of Matteo’s Public on Commercial Street. “I feel having a new police chief and having Shane definitely makes a positive influence on the community.” Although he tries to alter his path daily, there are some key stops along the way. He stops in businesses, walks through Calanan Park and the Bonanza Market parking lot, checks public bathrooms and he devotes a lot of attention to the Boardwalk. “He does a good job,” said Jamey Tracy, a transient who had just found his dog, Ziggy, which had been lost the night before. Franssen said he recently saw two families with young children having a picnic in Calanan Park, a place often complained to be a vagrant hot spot. “I was shocked,” he said. “I had to ask around if anyone had ever seen that.” No one had, he said. “It’s been a nice, pleasant change,” Franssen said. “I want to be back doing persistent, full-time law enforcement – that’s my goal. If the city wants it full time, I want to be that.” To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

Reinette Senum: Nevada City’s inaugural ‘Spring Madness’ a success

Last week Nevada City successfully launched its first spring-cleaning called "Spring Madness Hits Nevada City." The three-day event proved to be an empowering exercise in community. The need for the citywide cleaning arose out of an ad hoc community group that includes Nevada City merchants, the Nevada City Police Department, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and homeless and community advocates, including myself. The group has been meeting for over a year so as to address issues we see throughout Nevada City, such as vandalism, homelessness, and general activity on the streets. Concern had been growing over the rise of graffiti appearing throughout town in spite of the Public Works department and community members' attempts to regularly repaint and remove the tagged areas. After months of discussion by group members, it became apparent that the graffiti would continue and most likely grow in numbers if the city's general direction wasn't reversed. Fortunately, members in our committed group were already familiar with the "Broken Window Theory." As described by one of the lead spring-cleaning organizers, Nevada City's Police Chief Tim Foley, "It has been proven that if a building has broken windows that are not repaired, more broken windows will follow." Foley added, "This will soon lead to vandalism of the building and an overall deterioration of a neighborhood because it looks like people just don't care." So, using the "broken window theory" as a model, our group began organizing a massive cleaning, painting and overall freshening of downtown Nevada City to change its course. Last week, Tuesday through Thursday, more than 175 amazing volunteers came out for the event and began washing down the historic storefronts and sidewalks the first day, focusing on the 10-block downtown area. Volunteers followed up the next two days repairing and painting storefronts, gas lamps, and street curbs and, of course, graffiti and sticker removal. The Nevada City Fire Department repainted their fire hydrants and historic fire alarm boxes while the Nevada City Police Department and other volunteers took on Spring Street, National Hotel parking lot, and a majority of Nevada City's gas lamps; while Public Works provided tools, paint, and supportive services. Volunteers also came from the City Planning Department, Sierra Roots, Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, Hour Nevada County members, residents — with and without houses — employees, business owners, Youth Build, AIM. Nevada City Councilmembers Evans Phelps and Robert Bergman participated with Phelps tackling a complete makeover of The Alexander Gallery (formerly Mowen Solinsky Gallery). Pioneer and Calanan parks were cleaned, pruned, repaired and painted while Nevada City Rotary took on Deer Creek, removing an immense amount of debris and garbage from the local waterway. Java John's owner Rita Fuenzalida participated by strolling through the streets with free coffee for volunteers. "The spring cleaning was a great idea and handing out coffee was the least Java John's could do," Fuenzalida said. "Originally a lot of our customers didn't know what to think before the cleaning began but now that it has, they get it. It was a hit, I'm telling you!" The three-day spring-cleaning, however, is simply phase one of a larger program. Phase two will include identifying zones throughout Nevada City for Adopt a Block, Adopt a Trail, and Adopt a Waterway programs. Modeling the Adopt a Highway program, community members and businesses will be encouraged to adopt a specific region of Nevada City so as to monitor for graffiti, vandalism, and maintenance, etc. If interested in taking on one of the areas in the Adopt a Block, Trail, or Waterway, contact Police Chief Tim Foley at Tim.Foley@nevadacityca.gov. In the meantime, diehard volunteers who have decided to finish a few of the remaining curbs and gas lamps have added a follow-up spring cleaning 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. Check-in and staging area will once again take place in the Chinese Parking Lot next to HAALo, 412 Commercial St. Though this is a scaled back version of last week's spring cleaning, we encourage those who missed out in the mid-week event to jump in this Saturday for the remainder of the work. Bring your paint clothes and preferred brush and roller if you have one. Contact me for more information at reinettesenum@gmail.com. Huge kudos go out to Police Chief Foley, Officer Shane Franssen, and Vern Taylor of Public Works, Richard Thomas, Jim Morris, Janice O'Brien, Knights Paint, The Food Bank of Nevada County, SOAP for their incredible biodegradable soap, Susan Molloy, Cindy Crockett, and each and every one of the volunteers! Nevada City's Spring Madness was a huge success because of the many hands at work! Reinette Senum, who lives in Nevada City, is a member of the The Union Editorial Board. Her opinion is her own and does not represent The Union or its editorial board.

Among Nevada City tax options, police cuts considered

As Nevada City’s Council mulls a proposed three-eighths percent local sales tax increase to mend the city’s financial woes, a list of cost-cutting options are also on the table – one would eliminate the Community Service Officers program enacted to patrol the downtown historic district. The CSO program was already cut by more than half earlier this year, going from nearly $25,000 in annual funding to $10,765, said Finance Director Catrina Olson. City officials raised parking rates in January 2007 from 10 cents an hour to 25 cents per hour on the 227 digital meters downtown, garnering an average of about $6,500 per month and nearly $78,000 a year since 2008, Olson reported. While a portion of the revenue goes to the state, county and the city’s Department of Public Works and general fund, around $25,000 of it paid two part-time officers to address parking violations, loitering, smoking in banned areas and panhandling. Jack Ward and Mike Hughes, both retired sheriff’s deputies, were hired as the nonsworn eyes and ears for the police department downtown. Neither carried weapons, badges or made arrests, but they did write parking tickets, issued warnings, enforced city ordinances and interacted with the public. Each officer patrolled 20 hours a week, former Police Chief Lou Trovato told the Council in April 2008. However, those officers haven’t been seen as much lately. Hughes hasn’t patrolled the streets since September 2011, Olson reported, while Ward has still worked “off and on” three days a week doing parking rounds in the morning, said Police Chief Jim Wickham. The department also lost two officer positions in December 2011 when a stimulus grant ended. One of those officers, Shane Franssen, was hired back in April in a similar, part-time capacity to patrol the streets – this time as a uniformed and badge-bearing member of the Nevada City Police Department. In addition to Franssen’s new role, Wickham has also instructed his other officers to patrol on foot more frequently. These directives are part of Wickham’s overall effort to alleviate vagrancy concerns downtown – much to the delight of downtown business owners and residents. “The way we are going financially, we are probably going to limit that service,” Wickham said of the CSO program. “Especially with Shane working downtown offsetting that.” Funding for Franssen’s position comes from Drug Asset Seizure money, which is expected to run out in August. The department currently has nine full-time positions, in addition to Franssen. In a report to Council members, one suggested allocation of funds from the proposed tax increase is $80,000 toward the police department to make Franssen’s position permanent and full time, Wickham said. Other suggested cuts to help reduce the budget is to eliminate a mid-level management position within the police department and raise miscellaneous fees. “If it comes down to taking an officer off the street or someone inside, the Council will have make that decision,” Wickham said. “Anything can work, but it would definitely be something that would require me to balance it properly.” Nevada City’s Council meets at 6:30 p.m. today, at Nevada City Hall. An agenda for the meeting, as well as staff reports on the budget and sales tax measure, can be found at http://www.TheUnion.com by clicking on this story and downloading the attachments. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4236.

Nevada City man charged with attempted murder

A reportedly accidental shooting in Nevada City on Sunday morning sent one man to a Roseville hospital, and one man to jail on attempted murder charges. Nevada City Police officers were dispatched to a residence in the 500 block of Uren Street at about 9 a.m., and arrived to find a man with a gunshot wound to the left arm, said Officer Shane Franssen. The victim, who was not being identified, said he was at the property to split some wood for the woman who owns the property, when he began arguing with her son, who lives on the property in an RV, Franssen said. The victim reportedly owed the son — identified as Robert Asa Johnson, 52 — money. Johnson began yelling at the victim to get off the property, then leveled a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun at him, Franssen said. He reportedly pointed the shotgun at the victim, then swung it away and fired, hitting the victim in the left elbow. Johnson fled the scene and hid the shotgun in the rafters of an outhouse on the property, Franssen said. The property was searched with the assistance of Grass Valley Police and Nevada County Sheriff's deputies, and Johnson was located and taken into custody. He was booked into county jail on suspicion of attempted murder and is being held without bail. The victim sustained a "pretty substantial" injury and was flown by helicopter to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, where he has undergone several surgeries. To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

Alleged drug dealer arrested at Nevada City campsite with 25 grams of meth, $400 in cash

Nevada City Police officers and members of the Nevada County Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force teamed up Friday to arrest an alleged drug dealer living in a transient camp on Sugar Loaf Mountain. "There had been a rumor about drugs up there," said Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham. Nevada City purchased the 30-acre Sugar Loaf Mountain in 2011 for $450,000 to preserve it as a public space free from development and subsequently annexed the area into the city's boundaries. The area off Coyote Street, which has hosted a number of transient camps and which has historically been treated as a dumping ground, was scheduled to be the site of an intensive cleanup effort this morning. After Nevada City's no-camping ordinance — requires anyone who intends to sleep on public property to obtain a permit — took effect in January, police officers have posted signs on Sugar Loaf, notifying campers of the ordinance and its planned enforcement. Those education efforts led to Friday's arrest of Patrick Carter, 27. "I've spent a great deal of time getting to know where the campers are," said Nevada City Police Officer Shane Franssen, adding that he developed information on narcotics activity in the area. "The word was (Carter) was selling meth out of his tent," he said. "He does have a history." Franssen said he contacted the Narcotics Task Force last week and they worked together to draw up a game plan, with the Sheriff's Office obtaining a search warrant for Carter. "I knew right where his camp was on the mountain," Franssen said. "It was a good mutual aid, with both agencies working together and getting a good arrest." Carter was located at his camp and allegedly was found to be under the influence of a controlled substance. Officers reportedly located more than 25 grams of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of about $1,000, digital scales, drug paraphernalia, and approximately $400 in cash during the search. According to Franssen, officers also located "quite a bit" of possibly stolen property suspected of having been traded to Carter for drugs. The seized items included numerous phones, DVD players, laptops, jewelry, sports memorabilia, collectible comic books and "lots" of individually packaged old coins, Franssen said. While two Nevada City Police officers were surveying the area Feb. 26, they discovered a man and a woman in the act of shooting narcotics, according to dispatch and arrest logs. "A lot of the transients up there, their daily routine involves getting drugs," Sheriff's Deputy John Dzioba said. "Once they find out one of their drug dealers there has been taken out, hopefully they will move." Carter was booked into the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility on suspicion of being under the influence, possession of drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia. A task force spokesman said meth sales charges likely would be added. He was being held in county jail in lieu of $12,000 bail. Staff writer Chris Rosacker contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

NC police plan purchase of scooter for ‘foot patrol’

After a nearly two-week test period, the Nevada City Police Department plans to purchase an electric stand-up vehicle to be piloted by patrolling officers. “The foot patrol is something the community really wants. Tying this into that will enhance our ability to work with the people and the community downtown,” said Chief Jim Wickham. The T3 Motion resembles a cross between a Segway and a tripod and will cost approximately $14,000, Wickham said. Funds for the vehicle come from a restricted fund that are only to be used to purchase new law enforcement technology and can not go to salaries or other general costs of the department, Wickham said. If the funds were not used, they would vanish, Wickham said. “You need to have the right need for it. In this particular program for the community downtown, it is a perfect fit,” Wickham said. The T3 has an eight-hour battery life, can go up Nevada City’s steep hills, jump curbs and navigate Pioneer Park trails at a top speed of 25 miles per hour, Wickham said. It also is equipped with sirens and police lights. The purchase comes as Nevada City is putting a three-eighths percent sales tax to cover projected revenue shortfalls and build a reserve in the city’s budget for emergencies. To help close a $58,000 deficit in the city’s current fiscal year budget, members of the Nevada City Council directed Wickham to eliminate one middle-management position and restructure the department’s management in June. In other cost-cutting measures, Wickham is exploring switching providers for the department’s dispatch services from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office to the Grass Valley Police Department. Area law enforcement agencies are also discussing a regional dispatch center to bring down their collective costs. When Wickham came aboard as chief earlier this year, one of his first moves was to alleviate downtown merchants’ vagrancy complaints by allocating a part-time officer to patrol the downtown historic district on foot. Officer Shane Franssen’s downtown patrols garnered immediate praise from merchants and residents alike. Wickham said the T3 would only further enable Franssen’s efforts, especially into Pioneer Park where surrounding residents have complained of similar vagrancy issues that plagued downtown, such as smoking, public intoxication and drug use. “This gives (Franssen) access to other parts of town,” Wickham said. “The reality is that in the summer, it is too hot for him to be riding a bike back and forth to Pioneer Park.” Wickham said the T3’s silence also allows the rider to respond to an area without alerting potential offenders of a police presence. “Most people can hear a police car coming down the road a quarter mile away, with these kind of electric vehicles, you wouldn’t be able to hear them,” Wickham said. Even though the rider will be more visible and have better visibility towering above the heads of pedestrians, Wickham said his officers will park the T3 and continue to interact with residents, merchants and visitors. “One of the concerns merchants brought to us was that it doesn’t relieve (Franssen) from foot patrol,” Wickham said. “He’ll be getting off that, walking and interacting with people and the merchants. We want him to still be accessible.” Staff writer Christopher Rosacker can be reached at (530) 477-4236 or by email at crosacker@theunion.com.