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‘Forced their way through’: Official describes incident that led elections office to halt in-person services

Members of the public distribute information on how to recall the Nevada County Board of Supervisors during a recent board meeting at the Eric Rood Administrative Center in Nevada City.
Photo: Elias Funez

The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office is investigating an incident at the Eric Rood Administrative Center that resulted in the elections office temporarily suspending walk-up services.

“I’m deeply saddened that our office had to go to such extremes to ensure the safety of our staff,” Assistant Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Natalie Adona said. “We are taking steps toward the safe reopening of our lobby and look forward to serving walk ups soon.

According to Adona, the closure follows a Thursday incident involving three people who inquired about the status of blank petitions submitted the day before for the supervisor recall effort. The people “forced” themselves inside the elections office last Thursday.



Protesters trying to recall the Nevada County Board of Supervisors picket out front of a workshop held for them last week at the Gold Miners Inn in Grass Valley. A group of recall supporters reportedly “forced” themselves into the elections office last week, prompting the elections office to release a statement.
Photo: Elias Funez

As part of the recall process, a petition for circulation must be approved by the election official, Adona said. The election official has 10 days to complete this step of the recall process.

“These individuals insisted that they had a right to be in our office to get that status update, and forced their way through when reminded about our office’s mask mandate,” Adona said, adding that she offered to confer with the petitioners outside of the office before they entered.



Adona said she did not know the trio personally, though other county employees recognized them from previous supervisor meetings.

Calvin Clark was one of the signed proponents of the recall who visited the office to drop off the petitions the day before. Clark said Adona received him when he dropped off the petitions after he told her it would “discriminatory” for her to deny him service while maskless.

“I don’t remember Mr. Clark using those exact words,” Adona said, adding, “Our COVID protocol, including the mask mandate, applies to everyone — by definition, that’s not discriminatory. We implemented our COVID protocol because we believed it was the best way to protect the health and safety of our staff and guests given the surge in cases.”

Although Clark did not return Thursday with the other group, he identified the participants in Thursday’s confrontation as Jacquelyn and William Mattoon and another woman from Nevada County supervisorial District 2.

Proponents of the recall efforts address the Nevada County Board of Supervisors during a previous public comment period of a board meeting.
Photo: Elias Funez

POLICY

The elections office introduced updated COVID-19 protocol at the beginning of last week, which involved locking the front door and putting a call bell outside to inform the public of masking rules, offering masks to those in need and permitting individuals and small groups to enter in a metered manner.

Adona said the protocol was established at the pandemic’s onset, but relaxed over time with waning local case rates. Adona reintroduced the protocol following a conversation with county counsel that reconsidered appropriate safety measures in the wake of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

“When the proponents in question approached our door on Thursday, my staff opened the door part way in an attempt to reiterate our policy,” Adona said.

One proponent put their foot and arm through the opened door, Adona said, applying force.

“The door slammed into my staff member,” Adona said. “Out of instinct, my staff member then pushed against the door out of fear for her safety, but quickly let go and stepped away. That’s when proponents stormed in, demanding service.”

According to Clark, one petitioner suffered an injury to her foot.

In the call channeled through dispatch, logs state, “One man and two women came into the office and assaulted staff. Subjects are no longer in the office, unknown if they’re still in the building.”

The case is considered an ongoing investigation, said Andrew Trygg, Sheriff’s Office public information officer.

“People can call or email our office if they need services from us,” Adona said. “We’re happy to offer options so that the public can take care of their business.”

All other county offices remain open to in-person services. People can access online services at http://www.MyNevadaCounty.com/eServices.

“As county CEO, I remain committed to providing services in various ways to meet our residents’ needs,” said Alison Lehman in an email. “We have a duty to create a safe work environment for both our employees and customers.”

SIMILAR INCIDENTS

The Sheriff’s Office dispatch recorded another call involving forced, unmasked entry into the Penn Valley Library — recently relegated to curbside service only — three hours before and 15 miles southwest of the Eric Rood Administrative Center on the same Thursday.

“We did respond to a disturbance at the Penn Valley Library,” Trygg said, adding “it is unknown if these two incidents are related.“

Although the dispatch record indicates that the reporting party identified the subjects as trespassing, Trygg said “there were no criminal charges desired.”

The Nevada County Public Library did not offer comment on the incident, and County Librarian Nick Wilczek said the public institution is “working through this situation internally.”

Trygg said the Sheriff’s Office has not arrested anyone for not wearing a mask since the protection was first recommended in March 2020.

“I am not aware of any ‘fines’ that have been issued by the Sheriff’s Office, however, I cannot speak for the other agencies in Nevada County,” Trygg said. “Our office would approach any ‘non-mask wearer’ the same way we approach any other contact, which varies depending on the type of call and what is occurring.“

Trygg said the Sheriff’s Office considers the incident at the elections office “an open case,“ adding that his office does not discuss specifics of open investigations.

“Incidents of non-mask wearing citizens are evaluated and handled on a case-by-case situation,” Trygg said.

Lehman said the county is committed to keeping public services accessible to engaged constituents. She’s grateful for words of encouragement offered to county staff navigating the challenges of the last two years, attributing the underlying support from the people to the region’s quality character.

“We believe everyone has a right to live, work and thrive in our county regardless of disagreements,” Lehman said. “We continue to welcome peaceful public engagement and do our best to bring clarity during confusing times, but do not condone the harassment of staff or threatening behavior.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

CONTACT CLERK-RECORDER/ELECTIONS

Clerk-Recorder

nc.recorder@co.nevada.ca.us

530-265-1223

Drop box in lobby of Eric Rood Administrative Center, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City

Elections

elections.mail@co.nevada.ca.us

530-265-1298


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