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Chico ER editorial on Dana James case

A truly heinous episode was settled late last month when a homeless woman who had literally been abandoned at a dump by an Oroville police officer — and later was hit by a vehicle — agreed to a $3 million payment from the city.

We can’t help but wonder if the true cost is actually going to end up being much more than that.

First, every action in this case was nothing short of reprehensible. According to court documents, Dana Marie James, 54, of Chico was driven to Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility around midnight by Oroville police officer Robert Sasek after earlier attempts at booking her into jail had proven to be unsuccessful. She was literally left there, more than 15 miles north of Oroville, and was struck by a passing car while trying to walk home — leaving her hospitalized with life-threatening injuries for more than a month.

There’s a lot to this story, and we invite you to read the article in Wednesday’s paper, “Hit by car after being left at dump by police, Chico woman wins $3 million settlement” for all of the details. Our mission today is to emphasize that, regardless of how James ended up in that patrol car, there are no words strong enough to condemn the actions taken by Oroville police later that night.

First, the obvious: Every human life has value. We’d be hard pressed to think of anything that spits in the face of that basic level of decency more than a police officer leaving a human being at a dump as if she were a bag of garbage.

And that happened after Sasek met with two other officers — Sgt. Ali Khan and Officer Isaac Herrera — to discuss a possible plan of action.

All three officers knew and discussed that Ms. James had been rejected by the jail at booking because she had an urgent medical condition requiring evaluation and treatment and needed to be ‘medically cleared’ prior to being accepted into custody at the jail,” the suit says. “Officer Herrera suggested that Officer Sasek take her out to a remote area on Neal Road at the Waste Facility and abandon Ms. James at the dump.”

And if you’re wondering if any of this had been captured by the officer’s video camera, guess what: According to the lawsuit documents, “Officer Sasek did not activate his body-worn camera while transporting Ms. James or dropping her off on Neal Road.” The suit also alleges that Sasek “turned off the vehicle’s GPS tracking capabilities so he could not be monitored while he discarded Ms. James at the dump” and that he also turned off his personal cellphone.

Herrera has since been fired, while Sasek’s case, last time we checked, remained a “personnel matter.”

The fact James lived to tell her story at all is incredible. The fact she was ever put in such a position is unforgivable.

We’ll also note those actions did more than permanently scar a very vulnerable, and helpless, member of our society. They’ll also stand as an example of brutality that may take years, or even decades, to overcome.

The actions of police officers everywhere have been put under a more-powerful microscope in recent years than at any other point in our nation’s history. There have been some important (and often awful) reasons why this has happened; on the flip side, the increased attention has also highlighted the fact that, by and large, a large majority of our law enforcement officers are doing a fantastic job and are fulfilling their duties ethically and with great professionalism.

Mere allegations of wrongdoing and the resulting optics often cause tremendous harm to that reputation; when acts like this are documented to have actually happened, the resulting damage can be irreversible and long-lasting in terms of public opinion.

t’s also worth noting, as we’ve reported often the past few years, that a lot of good things are happening in Oroville — new businesses, downtown renovation and a powerful spirit of rebirth in so many corners of a town that has often been unfairly saddled with a poor image. A story like this that garnered statewide and even national media attention eclipses so much of that good and, fairly or not, will be the first thing some people think of when they hear mention of Oroville. The rest of the town doesn’t deserve that.

Shame. May the lessons of this horrible act of cruelty never be forgotten.

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