In mid-September, Janet Purvis of Burlingame wrote a guest column for the River News-Herald & Isleton Journal about her recent visit to Isleton.
She and her husband found the Delta town to be a charming place when they attended the annual Cajun Festival in June, so they decided to return for a few days.
“We rented a room on Main Street in Isleton and began to explore the local wineries,” Purvis wrote. “That night after midnight, we were terrifyingly awakened by an eruption of screaming, yelling and fighting men and women.
“Dogs were yelping and howling, sounding as if they were being beaten. This horrific scene with screaming and shouting and pathetic old people in the street sobbing went on for almost half an hour with no law to be seen. … It felt as if we had fallen into some hellish movie.”
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This is not the type of publicity any town hopes for, especially one as beleaguered as Isleton, which has flirted for years with bankruptcy, disincorporation and scandal. Despite its troubles, the city still has some defenders of the scenes Purvis witnessed.
“It’s not like that every day, it really isn’t,” City Councilwoman Elizabeth Samano said. “But at the same token, if there’s an altercation there’s nothing stopping it. They know we can’t call the police because it’ll take 45 minutes for them to get here if we do.”
Part of the problem is that the town of 810 residents has not had its own police force since 2012. The city manager essentially fired the force when he took over that year, citing mismanagement and the dismal state of the city’s finances.
The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department took over law enforcement in Isleton under an agreement that calls for an annual payment of $202,500, although the city acknowledges it can only pay about half of that amount each year.
Despite the contract, Isleton-area residents say they see patrol cars only infrequently, and that when help is needed it can take nearly an hour for deputies to arrive.
“The problem with the sheriff is they have an area that’s covered all the way from the El Dorado County line to the Antioch bridge,” City Manager Dan Hinrichs said. “And so the problem is they just don’t have enough officers to get better response times. You’re looking at 45 minutes even at Code Three (a call response made with lights and sirens).”
The Sheriff’s Department disputes that, saying Isleton residents may have the perception they are underserved simply because there are fewer calls for help there than in other areas.
“I think that may be part of the perception on the part of Isleton residents that they don’t have the level of service of other parts of the county, but the same can probably be said about other rural areas within the county where there’s just not a lot of calls for service,” Sgt. Jason Ramos said.
Sheriff’s Department statistics show deputies have responded to the Isleton area on calls for service or stops they’ve made on their own 422 times so far this year, a marked increase over the past two years when calls and stops totaled 389 for 2014 and 2013 each.
The increase is because the department is trying to be proactive about policing the area, sheriff’s Deputy Tony Turnbull said. Officials, he said, have urged residents to report problems when they see them.
“If you see something, call,” Turnbull said. “If you don’t call we don’t know about it.”
Isleton officials concede their town has crime problems that have left some residents fearful and others carrying weapons for protection.
“We still have burglaries,” said Hinrichs, who took over as city manager in 2012 when one of the city’s police cars was sitting disabled in a parking lot because someone poured sugar in the gas tank. “It seems to be a little bit better, but we still have a large number of drug addicts causing problems.
“You just need to take the city back. We had a neighborhood watch, but that imploded. We tried to get another one going but couldn’t generate the interest.
“We’ve got a lot of elderly people, but they’re really afraid to go out at night. The whole thing’s discouraging.”
In the last year, the highest-profile incident in the area was the Feb. 15 shooting death of Hallie Jay Beaver, 79, a longtime resident whose stately family home backs up to Georgianna Slough just north of town.
Beaver, a retired welder, was shot to death by a neighbor after Beaver got into his golf cart and drove over to the man’s trailer nearby to talk to him about an earlier confrontation.
Beaver’s family says he was calm and unarmed and cannot understand how the incident escalated into Beaver being shot and no one facing charges.
“We are being totally ignored,” Tara Beaver, the victim’s 24-year-old granddaughter, said. “It’s like, I don’t know anybody who’s been murdered.
“Is there a book that tells you what to do?”
County officials say the outcome of the case has nothing to do with a shortfall of law enforcement for the area and that a full investigation was done.
“A team of three detectives probably spent 100 hours on it, and worked it very hard,” said Rod Norgaard, assistant chief deputy district attorney. “It’s a very tragic loss, I get that.”
The District Attorney’s Office finally concluded no charges would be filed because Beaver’s body was found inside the neighbor’s home, and prosecutors would have had to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the neighbor was not acting in self-defense when he shot Beaver.
The neighbor was never formally named by authorities, and the Beaver family maintains that Beaver posed no threat to anyone.
As Tara Beaver discussed the shooting recently while standing near a cornfield that abuts the family home, she got a reminder of how brazen some area criminals can be. Two men on an all-terrain vehicle roared out of the family’s cornfield clutching a large bundle of marijuana plants they apparently had harvested in the field.
Isleton has seen its share of other crimes, petty and otherwise, in recent months. Samano said a recent fight sent one man to a hospital with injuries. When he tried to press charges, he was told the Sheriff’s Department had no record of the incident.
“We’re getting multiple complaints that they call and they’re not dispatching anybody, or telling us, ‘We can’t send anyone out unless somebody’s dying,’ ” Samano said.
Perhaps the most prominent example of crime in the area is on the northern edge of town, where a developer built 18 new, two-story homes several years ago that were envisioned as a source of property tax revenue for the city from Sacramento-area workers who wouldn’t mind a minor commute in exchange for living along the Sacramento River in the Delta.
The homes were never finished. After a brief period during which a medical marijuana grower tried to turn the compound into a growing center, they’ve fallen into disrepair. Garage doors have been torn off, and vandals have looted some of the homes for valuables.
“We had a fire down there in one of the garages, and a lot of garages are broken into,” Hinrichs said, adding that some homes have been broken into and had the walls ripped out by thieves in search of copper. The city has been unable to get the current developers to take action, he said.
“They were told to get decent security out there. Either they’re going to get the thing finished or we’re going to demolish it.”
A consultant for Roseville developer New Home Communities disputes the scope of the problems, saying the “Village on the Delta” homes have suffered only cosmetic damage and should be ready for sale by the end of this year.
“There’s nothing structurally that has been adversely affecting any of the homes,” consultant Paul Mineer said. “It’s a great little community, and we’re looking forward to trying to help bolster its economy and bring back the charm in Isleton that it deserves.”