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State owes Siskiyou sheriff an apology

Lawsuits, Sheriff Jon Lopey, Siskiyou County

PNP comment: Wow, quite the conciliatory apology by the Redding Record Searchlight. But, kudos to them for doing the right thing towards Siskiyou Sheriff Jon Lopey. Thank you to Alayna Shulman for digging deeper and truly investigating.

It needs to be remembered that these young Hmong are two and three generations past the Viet Nam era situation. I will alleged that a significant amount of several different foreign-type peoples are illegally growing commercial marijuana in Siskiyou County.

Unfortunately for the Hmong, their influx of visible numbers to Siskiyou the past two years is inescapable to notice — especially in gardening stores with carts packed to over-flowing with gardening supplies. And it was about 100 Hmong that attended standing-room only Siskiyou Co Board of Supervisors’ meetings to oppose the new stricter marijuana-growing ordinances. I was there. It was plain what their stance on the issue was.

Also providing false addresses for voter registration is considered fraud. Maybe Record Searchlight needs to look into that matter!

I allege it is a certain group of the Hmong and the ACLU who are the intimidators in this situation, including the threatened lawsuit. Media bias just fans the flames of true injustice! — Editor Liz Bowen

Redding Record Searchlight

Oct. 14, 2016

What happened in Siskiyou County last June after the local elections official raised questions about the voter eligibility of hundreds of Hmong residents would “take a few beers” to explain, as a Secretary of State investigator told an associate in an email obtained by the Record Searchlight.

It wasn’t that complicated to the Hmong residents the state’s investigators located and interviewed. They felt “terrified” and afraid to vote, they’ve since alleged in a federal lawsuit.

And it was very simple to Sheriff Jon Lopey, whose deputies accompanied the state investigators on their rounds. He was asked to provide navigation and protection and then left to twist in the wind, caricatured coast-to-coast as a redneck, racially biased lawman who allegedly hatched the idea of confronting frightened immigrants with automatic weapons and body armor. The state ignored and refused his pleas to acknowledge its role, records show.

At the time, this page piled on in that rush to judgment. We regret doing so.

That said, we don’t claim to know whether the deputies contributed to the situation by overstepping their bounds, as the lawsuit claims. But in two recent in-depth reports based on extensive interviews and reviews of public records, reporter Alayna Shulman clarified the sequence of events. In so doing, she uncovered a much greater role by Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office.

A week ago, due to her reporting, a spokesman there finally acknowledged that his colleagues had, indeed, asked for support.

The case began when Colleen Setzer, Siskiyou County’s elected clerk since 1999, flagged what she thought to be a suspicious batch of voter applications from rural parcels that did not have street addresses. She forwarded her concerns to the Padilla’s office.

The Secretary of State investigators don’t carry guns, and according to the office’s spokesman they occasionally ask for protection from the local law officers who do. That’s what we finally know happened in this case.

All this went down just days before the June primary election. Among the issues facing voters was a get-tough ordinance on marijuana cultivation. That would be of particular interest to the newly arrived landowners from the Hmong community, Lopey alleged, because illegal growing activity was prevalent in the rural areas where they’ve settled.

In fact, it was the presence of those illegal grows that both local and state authorities say prompted the need for guns.

Problems arose when, over the course of a couple of days, the investigators and their armed protectors managed to find about a dozen people — all members of the Hmong community that has bought property within the past year — and interview them. Ten of these would-be voters say in their federal lawsuit the conversations led them to fear they’d be jailed if they attempted to vote.

These are very serious allegations. The right to vote is fundamental, and the full force of our government at every level should be applied to ensure every eligible citizen can do so.

It’s particularly poignant in this case, because Hmong immigrants paid such a high price for standing with Americans during the Vietnam War. During the war, their casualty rate was far higher than the Americans’, and after it was over they faced massacre, starvation, forced relocation and “seminar camps.” Those who eventually made it to the United States had endured untold horror and deprivation.

In Laos before the war, the Hmong maintained a distinct ethnic identity as highland farmers. The interest in Siskiyou County, attorneys for the Hmong plaintiffs have said, is not just opportunistic. To them, the high, fertile ground feels like home.

Still, marijuana has driven an early wedge between the newcomers and their long-established neighbors. And that makes this story more complex than the one that was first told.

During a long career in the military and law enforcement, Lopey has actually spent a couple of years specializing in Southeast Asian issues. Contrary to the “country rube” narrative, he understands very well what happened in Laos during the Vietnam conflict.

If anything can be said of him, it’s that he’s zealous in policing a plant that voters statewide may be about to legalize for recreational use. But that’s a philosophical position, not a racial one.

Even with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to properly judge the actions of last June. The federal courts will need to do that. The county is preparing its response now. A Secretary of State investigator also is named.

What we can say with certainty is it’s important to protect the integrity of the vote both from potential fraud and from intimidation.

Regardless of exactly how those interests were balanced in Siskiyou County, Padilla’s office behaved shamefully afterward by abandoning Lopey.

The Secretary of State owes more than a grudging and belated acknowledgment of his people’s role. He owes the sheriff an apology. And if he truly believes Hmong residents were intimidated, he owes them an apology, too.


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