Town abuzz over bar fight
DOWNIEVILLE ” The plaque on the cornerstone of the old Craycroft building is like many in this faded, rough-and-tumble town bisected by the Downie and North Yuba rivers. It tells the tale of a town where hangings and gunfights involving public officials were once commonplace during the height of California’s Gold Rush.
The plaque, like several others that grace buildings here, was proudly dedicated by the William Downie chapter of E Clampus Vitus, a service organization whose members are noticeable as much for their red shirts and charitable giving as for their penchant for merriment.
An altercation this past weekend on the back deck of the Craycroft building, now known as the St. Charles Place bar on Commercial Street, has this community of 325 buzzing about the investigation into the incident allegedly involving Sierra County District Attorney Larry Allen that occurred during Clamper Weekend, a traditional celebration held the weekend before Labor Day.
Depending on whom you ask here, the incident is either a major problem for the small community or merely one that’s been overblown.
The Sierra County Sheriff’s Department has turned over the investigation of the case to the California Attorney General’s office, in part to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. Though Sheriff John Evans has not said Allen is a part of the investigation, Evans said earlier this week that if a public official were involved in the fracas early Sunday morning, he would not investigate the case.
A state Department of Justice spokeswoman said Thursday that the office does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Brad Jackson, 31, was working at the St. Charles that night.
“It’s a small town,” he said. “I think it’s all been overblown,” Jackson added as he talked with a beverage distributor Thursday afternoon. Signs in the bar advise, “No Pouting. If you must, go stand in the corner.”
Another sign proclaims the bar as an “ECV Watering Hole.”
The altercation took place on the back deck of the bar overlooking the Downie River, Jackson said. The bar was full of people that night and included “white coats” ” non-drinking Clampers who help keep the peace during events and provide sober rides home.
Allen told The Union he was at the bar that night, and he said he is a member of the Clampers organization, but he has not commented further about his role in the alleged altercation.
Allen was the only candidate to appear on the ballot for Sierra County District Attorney in 2006, garnering 1,255 votes.
In a high-profile case in 2003, a Sierra County judge dropped manslaughter charges filed by Allen against Original Sixteen to One Mine owner Mark Miller for the death of a miner who hit his head on a protruding ore chute in the underground mine, breaking his neck and killing him.
Jackson, the bartender, was one of several people in town who said it’s unlikely Allen was the aggressor.
“I know Larry,” Jackson said. “He’s not an aggressive guy. I’ve never even heard the guy raise his voice.”
Allen, who is serving his second term as the Sierra County District Attorney, works in a two-person office. He previously worked as an deputy district attorney for environmental cases in Shasta County, and he lives in Allegheny.
Allen was in Truckee Thursday and did not return a call for comment.
Feather Ortiz, a Downieville resident for three decades, said she, too, knows Allen. “I’ve never known him to be violent. This is why I thought it was weird to see this on the front page of the paper,” Ortiz said.
Julie Wussow of Nevada City said she broke her right foot in two places when the fight broke out. She claims Allen was the aggressor in the incident.
The Union has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the incident report. A Sierra County dispatcher said Thursday Evans would wait the maximum 10 days before issuing a response to the request.
Along Commercial Street and Main Street Thursday, tourists and locals walked past monuments dedicated by the Clampers, including Clamper Park and a white tower rising above the center of town.
Brandt Larsen sat on a bench near the bar, strumming an old Bill Monroe tune on a mandolin, “Angelina the Baker,” while waiting for some friends. He said he lives in Sierra City, an even smaller town east of Downieville, but he, too, knows Allen.
“I think he’s a great guy,” Larsen said.
To contact Staff Writer David Mirhadi, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4239.
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