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Butte County Judge Tosses Misdemeanor Camping Case Filed Against Unhoused Man In Chico

Andre Byik
North State Public Radio
Larry Halstead appears outside Butte County Superior Court in Oroville on Wednesday, June 9.

An unhoused man who was cited for illegal camping during a Chico police encampment sweep in February has successfully defended himself in court.

The man, Larry Halstead, had been charged with a misdemeanor count of unlawful camping in a regulated area, stemming from the Police Department’s Feb. 16 clearing of a homeless encampment along Little Chico Creek, near Boucher Street.

Last Wednesday (June 9), Halstead appeared in Butte County Superior Court for a pretrial conference. But the lawyers who filed the case against Halstead – City Attorney Vincent Ewing and Deputy City Attorney Eric Salbert – failed to appear.

Court Commissioner Kurt Worley – acting as judge pro tem – granted Halstead’s motion to dismiss the case, saying the dismissal was granted in the interest of justice. Worley noted Halstead had appeared in court on two prior occasions in the case, while the city’s attorneys have been absent without communication.

Halstead said the city’s lawyers have shown a pattern of disrespecting the court system.

“What you see is incompetence, negligence and a dereliction of their duty, acting very badly as our city attorney that they couldn’t even bother to show up,” Halstead said. “You know, they are destroying people’s lives.”

Halstead – an activist and journalist – said he suffers from late-stage cancer, and his case arose from an act of civil disobedience. During the police sweep in February, Halstead laid claim to a tent and disobeyed orders to pack up and vacate the area.

“When you have a terminal illness it changes a lot of things,” Halstead said. “It changes your perspective. But it also means that you don’t have much to lose, you know? And so, fighting to make a difference is really about the only thing I have left.”

Halstead’s case was one of at least four misdemeanor camping cases the city of Chico has filed against people experiencing homelessness this year, according to court documents reviewed by NSPR.

It’s unclear whether Ewing and Salbert – the city’s attorneys whose firm, Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, was re-hired by the newly elected City Council – plan to drop or pursue the remaining cases.

Neither Ewing nor Salbert responded to a request for comment.

The cases were filed in early April before the city’s anticamping ordinances came under scrutiny in the federal court system.

On April 8, a group of unhoused people sued the city in U.S. District Court, alleging constitutional violations. Days later a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from enforcing or issuing illegal encampment notices at tent encampments set up on public property.

The judge, Morrison England Jr., has suggested the city crafted a group of ordinances that – when taken together – is likely in violation of the constitution.

The judge’s restraining order has been extended several times and remains in effect as lawyers for both the unhoused plaintiffs and the city have been negotiating a possible settlement.

An update in the civil case is expected by Friday.