The 35-year-old Eureka man fatally shot by a California Highway Patrol officer last month on Mad River Road fired at least one round at officers before the officer returned fire, video of the incident released Oct. 8 shows.
Having followed Charles David Chivrell, who had a pistol holstered on his hip and a briefcase in hand, for approximately 1 mile, during which he repeatedly refused to comply with their directives, police formulated a plan to shoot him with non-lethal pepper balls — small rubber capsules filled with a chemical irritant similar to pepper spray. Footage from body-worn and patrol car cameras shows an Arcata police officer get out of a patrol vehicle about 100 feet from Chivrell and open fire on Chivrell with the pepper balls as he walked away. After being hit with the first of six or seven balls, Chivrell can be seen pulling his pistol as he begins to run away. Moments later he can be seen turning and firing his handgun at officers just before he is shot with a single bullet fired from CHP officer Michael Griffin's rifle and falls to the road.
The footage released Oct. 8 by the Arcata Police Department is edited into what's called a "critical incident video" that offers a nine-and-a-half-minute narrative of the fatal interaction. It walks viewers step-by-step through the incident, from why officers were called to the scene on Sept. 9 to Griffin shooting Chivrell. The Journal has California Public Records Act requests pending with both APD and CHP seeking full, unedited video and audio recordings from the incident. APD has indicated it expects to release the footage it has this week. CHP, meanwhile, responded Oct. 11, saying releasing its video would compromise the multi-agency investigation into the shooting, though it failed to specify why, as is required by law.
Under Assembly Bill 748, which went into effect in July of 2019, law enforcement agencies, with limited exceptions, are required to release video footage of shootings and other use-of-force incidents that cause "great bodily harm" to a suspect within 45 days of the incident and as soon as doing so will not jeopardize investigations into the incident.
The Journal will challenge the CHP's decision to withhold the video.
Officers from both CHP and APD responded to the rural section of the Arcata Bottoms just before 11 a.m. on Sept. 9 to a report of a man walking with a gun. A CHP officer was first to locate Chivrell and contacted him on Mad River Road. Footage of the initial interaction shows the officer pulling up behind Chivrell and using the loudspeaker on his patrol vehicle to ask him to stop.
Chivrell initially keeps walking but then stops when the officer tells him, "Stop walking and drop what's in your hands. Drop what's in your hands and put your hands up." Chivrell seemed to comply initially, putting down the briefcase and raising his hands but when the officer asked him to walk toward the patrol vehicle, he didn't and instead responded angrily.
"Motherfucker, it's my right to bear arms. Go ahead and shoot me," he can be heard yelling.
"I'm not going to shoot you. You keep your —," the officer started to respond, stopping when Chivrell dropped his hands, picked up the briefcase and starts again walking down the road, away from the officers.
"Stop walking," the officer shouted after him.
The video then notes officers followed Chivrell for more than 15 minutes and a mile as he walked down Miller Lane and turned right onto Mad River Road, with officers stopping to speak with him "several times." The next clip of footage in the video captures audio of one of the exchanges between Chivrell and officers.
"Put the briefcase down. Hey, you know we have procedures, right?" a CHP officer says.
"Yeah. You know that I have my rights," Chivrell responds.
"I understand that and I am not here to violate your rights," the officer replies.
"What are you here to do?" Chivrell asks.
"I just want to see your hands. Right here like this," the officer says.
"Dude it's ... go ahead, you can't shoot your guns at me anyway you fucking idiot," Chivrell responds.
"I want your hands like this. Let's just talk," the officer says.
"How about like this?" Chivrell asks.
"Where are you headed?" the officer asks.
"I just told you, dude. I'm going to fucking McKinleyville," Chivrell says.
"Where in McKinleyville?" the officer asks.
"I'm probably going to go up there to the only motel and run out some fucking Mexicans that are running the show and spending all the money," Chivrell says, his voice trailing off at the end.
"Hey, hey, don't walk away man," the officer says.
"We just want to talk," another officer chimes in.
"Hey, go back to Mexico. You don't have papers here," Chivrell responds
They're silent for a moment and the footage catches the cops looking at one another.
"Well, we'll keep following him, I guess," one of the CHP officers says before asking one of APD's officers if they've called out for the SWAT team. He answers that he hasn't but a sergeant is en route to the scene.
The next clip shows the CHP officer again calling out to Chivrell over the loudspeaker, urging him again to stop and talk to them.
"Hey, you've got the right to bear arms. I agree, OK?" the officers says.
"You don't have the right to talk to me," Chivrell responds.
"I do right now. In the state of California, I do. That's the problem," the officer answers.
While the officer does not explain what he means, carrying a handgun — openly or concealed — in a public street is illegal in California under Penal Code 26350, meaning the officers had probable cause to detain and speak with Chivrell.
"Hey, can we just cooperate?" the officer asks
"Just shoot me," Chivrell responds.
"No, I don't' want to shoot you," the officer says. "I don't want to shoot you, man ... Hey, let's talk about this for a second," the officer says.
"I'm going to McKinelyville," Chivrell answers. "Meet me there."
"That ain't going to happen, man," the officer says.
As he's walking down the road away from officers, Chivrell can be heard telling them his name but the officer doesn't quite catch it, repeating it as "Gerald Seville."
The next clip comes as Chivrell approaches a curve in Mad River Road that is lined with several farm houses, and captures one of the CHP officers noting the change in surroundings. The video notes that at this point Chivrell has touched his holstered pistol at times (though none of the footage released shows that) but has not drawn the weapon at any point.
"We know he's armed," the officer says to a fellow officer in the patrol car. We know he's non-compliant. We know he's pretty unpredictable. So, we've got to worry about other people here ... not just us."
"As long as that gun stays in the holster..." the officer continues without finishing the sentence.
The next clip shows the Arcata police officer opening fire with the pepper ball gun. Through the officer's body-worn camera footage, you can see the patrol car pull up about 100 feet behind Chivrell, at which point the officer exits the passenger-side door of the car, aims and fires without warning. APD policy states, "When reasonable, a verbal warning and opportunity to comply should precede the use of these devices." If officers discussed whether to do that with Chivrell it is not captured in the released video clips.
In the footage, you can see the officer train the weapon on Chivrell and begin to fire. After several of the nonlethal rounds can be heard discharging, a fellow officer can be heard saying, "Did he draw? He drew," before a gunshot rings out followed immediately by a rifle shot. Footage of the same moments from a patrol car camera shows Chivrell appear surprised when hit by the first pepper ball — reacting almost as if he'd been stung by a bee. When the second one hits him, he looks back and takes off running at an angle away from the officers and from the right side of the street to the left. When he crosses the middle of the road, he can be seen turning back toward the officers and pointing the handgun at them.
"Hey, drop your —" an officer shouts, interrupted by the gunshots, before Chivrell falls to the ground.
Chivrell was handcuffed at the scene and officers performed CPR until paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Mad River Community Hospital. The shooting remains under investigation by the county's multi-agency Critical Incident Response Team, with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office jointly leading the investigation.
Watch the full "Critical Incident" video from the Arcata Police Department at www.northcoastjournal.com. (WARNING: The video shows a man's death and should be considered graphic and disturbing.)
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal’s news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.