Update: The Sheriff's office has responded to concerns raised at the Campo-Lake Morena meeting. View the response from Captain Hank Turner here: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/rural-fire-sheriff%E2%80%99s-office-re...
By Miriam Raftery
July 10,2016 (Campo) –At a packed meeting of the Campo-Lake Morena Community Planning Group this week, attendees spoke out to voice anger over officials’ treatment of residents during the Border Fire, particularly issues involving law enforcement officers and County Animal Control. Chair Billie Jo Jannen stated, “We need to channel this outrage” and circulated a draft letter to be sent to Supervisor Dianne Jacob following any changes after the public’s statements.
The first portion of the meeting focused on issues of not enough water in Lake Morena to fight the fires. (See our article on the Lake Morena issues here.) The next agenda item focused on other Border Fire issues.
At a table in the back sat several women who found the bodies of Jim and Kyrie Keefe during a search conducted by volunteers 10 days after the fire at the site where they lived in Dogpatch, just east of Potrero. They voiced outrage over the fact that despite complaints to officials who did too little, too late, it fell to women volunteers to find the bodies. The couple died of smoke inhalation in between boulders behind their home, where they apparently tried to take shelter during the wildfire.
One speaker voiced “thanks and sympathy for the women who found the bodies. When you found them huddling together, protecting each other, they [officials] have to pay for that. We cannot allow this to happen again.”
Michelle Robertson-Clark with Rescued Pup, an animal rescue organization in Ramona, participated in the search and has been working to find homes for many of the couple’s 16 dogs. Three perished at the site, left without food and water initially, and several others are still running loose. The rest have been rescued and are recovering.
“I want to reach out and form a network,” Robertson-Clark said, adding that in the future if someone needs help to evacuate dogs and has a non-working vehicle, as happened to the Keefes, tragedy can be averted. She urged residents not to leave food and water out for the remaining dogs now, so that they can be trapped and rescued. Most of the animals were previously rescued by the Keefes ,some after being dumped on the side of the road, she said.
She also thought the Golden Acorn Casino would make a safer temporary shelter, with room for animals, than an elementary school that was used.
A man voiced concern over potential for a “large fire out here…What if this happens again? How do we get to hard to reach places?”
Jan Hedlun, a Potrero resident and Potrero Planning Group member, complained that County Animal Control didn’t show up until a day and a half after the fire began, and then with “not enough food and water” for the many pets and livestock that were suffering. “If not for Leann Mitsui and Iris Gardner, most of those animals would have been dead,” she said of two community volunteers who organized relief efforts. “Then Animal Control put out a press release on what a good job they were doing. We’d have lost a lot more if some of us had not stayed in our home and then we were treated like trash.”
Hedlun also faulted media for not covering the unfolding crisis. Channel 10 twice said they would come interview but “blew me off twice.”
Jannen quipped, “They were all at my house. It was the easiest place to access and get photos of the burned area.”
Hedlun said a deputy who came to her gate never used the word `evacuate.’ “He told me to leave. I asked, where do you want me to go?” she recalled. “He pointed to Dulzura, where the fire was.” She added that other emergency notices failed. “I never got Ready Alert on my cell phone until Wednesday (four dates late). We’re being treated like ugly, crazy people who won’t leave.”
Jannen agreed, “There is a problem with that.”
Karen McIntyre said County Animal Control told one horse owner that they would charge $1,500 a day to take their horse to safety, but the animal was only worth $500. “So the owner let it loose,” she said, adding that she doesn’t know anyone who would afford $1,500 a day.
Another woman spoke up.”We have backwoods justice out here.” She complained of a lack of concern by Sheriff’s officials even before the fire. “Someone stole our checks,$400 worth. It was under $1,000 so only a misdemeanor.”She said a deputy “refused to file a report.” She contends the same deputy also let a drunk driver off the hook, calling his mother to come pick him up. “He was not held accountable.” She claimed a woman tried to run her over in her own yard and threatened her, but that the Sheriff’s department refused to take a report.
The women who found the bodies of Jim and Kyrie Keefe described days of ”begging and pleading for someone to go find them.” The women hiked through a neighbor’s property to access the site where the Keefe’s live and hiked up the hill. They screamed when they found the bodies 15 minutes later, by following the dog tracks and the odor of decay.
According to the women, deputies waited below and would not join them in the search. “They were laughing,” one woman said. Deputies made no effort to offer comfort, such as letting the women sit in an air-conditioned vehicle. It took a half hour for any official to go up the mountain after the bodies were found. One deputy said he was only there because he read on Facebook that the women were mounting a search.
One of the searchers said she ran down the mountain. “I never saw dead bodies, especially in such condition. I lost my mind.” She said she asked to speak with a social worker, but no one followed up.(Note: East County Magazine contacted Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office; information on short-term counseling and resources have since been provided to the women.)
The women questioned why deputies took a “random report of a transient” who thought he’d seen Jim Keefe walking on the railroad tracks after the fire more seriously than concerns raised by friends and neighbors who reported the couple missing, noting that they cared for their many dogs and would not have abandoned them. “My tax dollars pay their salaries to sit at the Circle K and do nothing,”she complained.
Hedlun told ECM afterward that a man at her table said he was driving on State Route 94 early Monday morning, the morning after the fire began on a Sunday, and that he believed the property had not yet burned. She said the man told her he saw several fire trucks, but firefighters did not appear to be fighting the fire. ECM has sent an inquiry to Cal Fire asking about this, and whether there may have been a problem with running out of water.
Jannen asked what requests should be made of county government to change protocols for the future, and asked for input on her draft letter.
Claudia Millerbragg called for an internal investigation of a Sheriff’s deputy that many complained about.
Some described a long-standing pattern of ignoring serious concerns and even violent crimes.
The strong consensus in the room was that a change in leadership is needed at the Campo Sheriff’substation due to the fire issues and other complaints. At this meeting and another earlier this month in Dulzura, several residents specifically complained about Deputy Titus with the Sheriff's Department.
“If they don’t care about their community, they should leave,” one woman asserted. Others agreed.
One woman said after someone threw bleach on her, a deputy called it a “civil matter” and that no criminal charges were filed. Another woman said she called to report burglaries at the home of neighbors who were on vacation. It took two hours for a response. By then, she said, “They had nothing left.” Yet another said a deputy would not take a report after her neighbor killed her dog and threatened her, too. Another said when she complained of speeders, she was told to follow them home herself.”They need to be accountable,” she said of the deputies.
Some residents discussed confusion during the evacuation. Several said they didn’t know that yellow caution tape stuck up by law enforcement meant evacuation. They asked why no one came to their doors. An announcement made on bullhorn by officials was not heard by everyone. Jannen stated, ”They were sending up people out of the area to do evacuations who didn’t know the area, which was foolish in my view.”
Loss of communications was another big concern. A man videotaping the meeting said he lost internet on Sunday when fiberoptic cables turned. Phone service was also out to the area. “We need to band together to get coverage out here,” he said.
Another problem was lack of communication between Cal Fire, the Sheriff and California Highway Patrol after an evacuation order was lifted to allow people who attended children’s graduations to return home in Campo and Lake Morena. Some said they were not allowed back in initially, or forced to park on Buckman Springs Road and make a long walk home. But others complained of a deputy driving people.”They’re not supposed to be Uber,”one person griped.
Jannen clarified that Cal Fire decides when to left an evacuation and is responsible for notifying law enforcement.
Several residents complained that law enforcement officers here have been stereotyping rural residents as backwoods and ignorant. But one man observed, ”There is nothing backcountry about us. We are not two brothers with a still and no teeth. We have jobs—and we pay taxes.”
A question was raised over whether a Justice Department or a Grand Jury complaint could be made. Jannen explained that the Planning Group is required to channel all complaints through Supervisor Jacob and the Board of Supervisors.
However any citizen or group of residents could file a complaint on their own if they wished to request an investigation.
One resident concluded, ”They need to replace the deputies out here. They’re not doing their job. They took an oath to protect and serve.”
A letter detailing residents’ concerns and proposed actions has been sent by the Campo-Lake Morena Planning Group to Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Read it here.