Ridge residents seek end to violence
Residents of the San Juan Ridge say violence and intimidation are too common on their streets, and they want police to take an active role in preventing further incidents.
At a town hall meeting hosted by Nevada County District 4 Supervisor Robin Sutherland and Sheriff Keith Royal recently, residents of the sparsely populated area said they are tired of the local bullies.
“People up here are downright irate,” said Camptonville resident Conreaux Robben. “A lot of people are scared.”
Robben and North San Juan resident John Mack said the bullies are a loosely knit gang of at least six young men and women in their late teens, 20s and early 30s who pick fights with locals and visitors.
This gang of “roving hoodlums,” as some residents call them, loiter and look for trouble in front of local bars such as The Brass Rail Tavern and Peterson’s Corner, they said.
“They pick any reason they can to fight,” Robben said. “It’s probably boredom.”
History of violence
Nevada County Sheriff Lt. Ron Smith said violence on the Ridge has been going on for decades. In a 1996 incident, 37-year-old Mark Olson was killed during a fight with Nathan Prout, then 21, Smith said.
Olson and his brother had followed Prout through town in their car after exchanging offensive words and gestures.
When Prout pulled over to see what they were up to, Smith said, the brothers attacked Prout, a kickboxer. Prout killed Olson with a kick to the head.
“The DA didn’t file charges,” Smith said. “He said it was self-defense.”
More recently, in the summer of 2003, two men were brutally beaten by five juveniles outside of the Brass Rail.
One of the men, who was in the area clearing brush for the California Department of Forestry, was hospitalized with serious injuries.
A 17-year-old boy was charged with assault, pleaded guilty, and has recently completed his probation.
Smith said the fight started because the juveniles didn’t like the way the men talked to one of their girlfriends.
In August 2004, Robben’s boyfriend, Buck Nettles Sr., was arrested and charged with several counts of assault after a brawl at a North San Juan birthday party in which several juvenile girls were injured. One 17-year-old was airlifted to a trauma center with a head injury. She later recovered.
Robben and Nettles maintain that Nettles was attacked by the girls as he tried to retrieve a wallet his son had dropped during a scuffle at the house hours earlier.
The girls at the party, Robben alleged, were affiliated with the North San Juan gang.
After Nettles’ lawyer announced she would show proof of the girls’ involvement in the gang, the district attorney’s office dropped most of the charges against Nettles in a plea agreement. Nettles now is serving three years of probation.
In June 2006, Smith said, about eight young people kicked in the side of a car parked at the Sierra Super Stop on Highway 49 and began beating the driver. Someone from the gas station said they called police and everyone scattered.
Mack, who has lived in North San Juan for 10 years, said the gang has recently migrated toward weaker victims.
“They go for the drunks,” Mack said. “They don’t like tweakers,” meaning people who use methamphetamine.
Most people are too scared to call the police, Mack said. But when they do, he added, everyone is gone by the time a patrol car shows up.
At the town meeting, residents demanded the sheriff assign a deputy to patrol the San Juan Ridge full time.
But Royal said that’s an unrealistic request, given current staffing at the sheriff’s office.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to have an officer up there 24 hours, around the clock,” he said Monday. “But the reality is, we have limited resources.”
Four to five officers and a sergeant patrol the county every day in the winter. One officer is usually responsible for the northern outskirts of Nevada City, North San Juan and the Town of Washington, Royal said.
“In the event of a family fight or a major crime, we have to send two (deputies) up there because of officer safety,” he said.
If those deputies get tied up with a major call, it would be a while before they could respond to a lower-priority incident.
So Royal is setting up a joint meeting with the California Highway Patrol next week to find ways law enforcement agencies can work together to provide more coverage.
He also will look into funding opportunities from the state.
“We are making every effort to provide more coverage,” Royal said. But, he added, based on the area’s sparse population, the likelihood of getting the help he needs is slim.
More than policing
Juveniles need more than just extra police patrol, Supervisor Robin Sutherland said. They need something to do.
“I’m a strong believer that kids get into trouble when they don’t have positive things to do,” she said Monday. “There’s not enough positive activity for them.”
Plans are in the works for a playing field near town. Several Nevada Union students who live on the Ridge have told her they would like to have a town center.
The county Board of Supervisors has scheduled time at its meeting today to address a plan to beautify the main business areas of North San Juan.
Residents will be able to speak at the meeting at 10:45 a.m. in the board chambers at the Rood Center in Nevada City.
To contact Staff Writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4236.
WHAT: Discussion of the North San Juan Streetscape Project and Rural Center Area Plan.
WHEN: 10:45 a.m.
WHERE: The Board of Supervisors chambers at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, 950 Maidu Ave., Nevada City.
WHY: Residents and officials can discuss projects to beautify and reduce crime in North San Juan.
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