By the time you read this, the trial in the case of Ruth Jackson versus the California Highway Patrol will likely have concluded. When the jury will return a verdict is anyone’s guess.
Jackson’s lawsuit stems from her Sept. 12, 2009, arrest and jailing by the CHP on charges of driving under the influence.
Jackson’s civil complaint against the CHP said she had a blood alcohol level of 0.00 and had no drugs in her system at the time of her arrest.
Judging from the number and content of the comments on our website story, the trial is stirring up deep-seated resentments against the CHP.
But a lot has changed in the three years since the Jackson incident. In response to public outcry, the CHP has gone on a public relations offensive. Its leaders, including Quincy Area Commander Bruce Carpenter, admitted there were problems. The CHP publicly took ownership and has been attempting to mend the badly damaged fences.
It’s been 11 months since Feather Publishing hosted a meeting with Carpenter, then new to the area, along with CHP’s Northern Division assistant chief Todd Chadd and community leaders, who had a litany of complaints about the agency’s behavior in Plumas County. They told the CHP brass they were afraid of our CHP. They said that young, aggressive patrolmen were looking for any reason to pull them over.
After that meeting, which was conducted by state Assemblyman Dan Logue, Carpenter met individually with citizens to address their complaints. He said he had instructed his officers on how he wanted things done.
Carpenter held two more meetings. On Aug. 11, 2011, he met with a dozen Northern California CHP commanders along with Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood and District Attorney David Hollister.
On Aug. 19, 2011, he met again with Logue and other community leaders, including Plumas County Supervisors Lori Simpson and Jon Kennedy. The meeting included the CHP’s northern division chief, Stephen Bell, and Chadd.
Carpenter followed up on his promise to hold a townhall meeting by convening one in October, which Logue moderated.
Through it all, Carpenter took responsibility, saying at one point, “It’s on us.” To his credit, he also did not get defensive.
But nearly a year later, as we enter the height of our tourist season, we have to wonder — has anything really changed?
In many ways, we think it has. We are receiving fewer complaints and letters about the CHP from local drivers. Rarely do we see CHP cars hidden on the side of the road or tailgating drivers. Those were two of the major complaints about the CHP officers.
Regardless of the outcome of the Jackson civil trial, it appears the CHP is trying to change the way it does business in Plumas County.
We hope a verdict in the Jackson trial provides a measure of closure and doesn’t open old wounds that appear to be slowly healing.