The Death of Tommy McClain: What Happened in Wednesday’s Officer-Involved Shooting

Kym Kemp / Yesterday @ 8:24 a.m. /  News

Valorie Mottern, age 4, sits on her front steps beside a shrine to her dad’s cousin. He died Tuesday in Eureka as the result of an officer-involved shooting. [Photo provided by Nichole and Josh Mottern.] 

Thomas McClain died after being shot by Eureka Police Department officers in his front yard. Did he have a gun? Was the shooting justified? Family says no. Law enforcement and one neighbor say otherwise.

Nichole Mottern still can’t bring herself to believe that Thomas McClain, her husband’s cousin, was fatally shot by Eureka Police Department officers early Wednesday, September 17. She speaks of McClain in the present tense.

Tommy lives with me and Josh and my kids,” she explained. “He came up here to get away from the Fresno lifestyle. He became our family.”

On Tuesday, she had taken the two men out for her husband’s birthday. She explained during an interview Thursday that Josh Mottern, her husband and McClain’s cousin, was inebriated so he went upstairs to bed in their two-story townhouse. Her mother, who had been babysitting, was on the living room couch.

The home of Thomas McClain. He, his cousin, his cousin’s wife and two children shared the space in one unit. Another residence, which is currently empty, is attached.

Mottern said she and McClain were outside chatting in the front of the house after midnight (Tuesday night/Wednesday morning) when she ran upstairs to check on her husband. From there she looked out the window and noticed a police officer behind her home “looking around.” 

All of a sudden he took off towards the front of the house,” Mottern explained. She ran downstairs and outside to see what was going on. (She believes she was in the house a very short time, about two minutes.) When she got onto the front porch, bright lights were shining in her eyes.

She described what she remembers to the Outpost. “The cops were out there screaming, ‘Put your hands up! Put your hands up.’ I put my hands up,”  she said.

McClain, she explained, was on the lawn area near the home. “Tommy was already out there,” she said. “He sits out there and smokes cigarettes. He came out from beside the porch… . He started to put his hands up. He walked out into the grass… . [The officers] were telling him to come.”

In an interview also on Thursday, Corinna Ward, Mottern’s mother, said she was on the porch by the front door. She described law enforcement as being “in a semi-circle, at least five or maybe six [officers].”

Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said there were four officers at the scene.

According to Ward, the officers ordered McClain to the ground. “They were telling him to get down,” Ward said, “I don’t think he understood… . I don’t know.”

Ward doesn’t believe McClain was armed. “I didn’t see anything,” she said. “His hands were near so you could see. He had them raised. He stepped forward. I didn’t see anything in them.”

Mottern described what she believes happened next: “A cop yelled, ‘He’s got a gun.’ They all fired. I saw him getting shot from all different angles. First shot fired and then they all fired. It wasn’t one cop. It was them all. There were a lot of cops… . He crumpled down into the ground.” [According to scanner tape, this occurred about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.]

She believes the shooting was not justified. According to Mottern, McClain didn’t have a gun. “There was nothing in his hand,” she said.

A neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous disagreed. In an interview today the individual said, “I did see an object in his hand.” The individual did not want to describe the situation further except to say, “I feel that the level of force used was justified. It was a clear threat to the officer’s life. I feel it was unfortunate. But it was fortunate that no others were injured.”

Another neighbor who also wishes to remain anonymous described what she saw. She said she was in bed when she heard yelling. “I got out of bed. By the time I got to the window, I heard four gunshots. I sunk back against my bed. After the initial shock hit me, I started to look out the window. There were three cop cars that I could see. [Officers] were yelling that shots had been fired… . Right after the man had been shot, I looked at the time and it was 12:30 [a.m.].”

In her interview, Nichole Mottern described what she believed happened next. “After they shot him, they handcuffed him and he was laying there lifeless… . [The officers] wouldn’t let us go to him. They told us to put our hands up… . When you have all officers shouting at you different commands, it is very confusing. Especially when you aren’t doing anything wrong.”

At this point, Josh Mottern arrived outside from upstairs. Mrs. Mottern explained what she saw: “My husband came out. He saw Tommy laying there. He started screaming and crying. He thought some tweeker guy shot Tommy.”

Corinna Ward, Mrs. Mottern’s mother, recounted the incident as she saw it: “[Josh] was really distraught. We were trying to keep him back so he wouldn’t get shot. [Law enforcement officers] tasered him. Then tackled him and then sent him off to jail.”

Below is footage taken by Nichole Mottern just after her husband was tasered. Warning. This is a disturbing video. 

While Mr. Mottern went to jail, Mrs. Mottern went to the hospital to be with Thomas McClain. “They took him in an ambulance. I couldn’t be with him for his last moments,” she said.  

Then she added slowly, quietly, “They treated him like a bad person.”

[Some people] are saying that Tommy was fighting with someone,” Mrs. Mottern said. But she doesn’t think that could be true. She doesn’t think she had been gone long enough for a fight to start. “He had just liked a picture on my Facebook a minute before.” (See screenshot below.)

 

Thomas McClain liked and commented on a photo posted by Nichole (Niki) Mottern. He thanked her and another friend for the fun time they’d had that night approximately five minutes before the fatal shots were fired.

My kids have been really affected,” she said. “I told the teacher what was going on and asked her to be there for [my daughter] a little bit extra… . My daughter drew a picture of Tommy with his hands up.”  

Drawing of Thomas McClain by Mottern’s daughter, four-year-old Valorie, who told the teacher, “The cops thought Tommy was a bad guy but he wasn’t. ”

There’s bullet holes in my yard,” she said. “Bullet holes in the house next to me. I live in a townhouse. There is another house on the other side. They had just moved out or there would have been people on that side.”

Reached at home, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said that he doesn’t think there were bullet holes in the unit next door. “I don’t believe so but am not sure,” he said.

[UPDATE 10:a.m.: Photos added below from Nichole Mottern. She says the images show the bullet holes left in a residential unit connected to her home and in the fence around her home.]

[UPDATE 12:04 p.m.: In response to the photos, Chief Mills said, “The DOJ [Department of Justice] crime scene specialist are good at what they do. If it was something missed I will make sure that it is collected properly.”]

Mills did confirm that “there was a gun recovered. I don’t want to get into where exactly the gun was until I can prove that forensically to my satisfaction… . I want to make sure I’m a 100 percent accurate.”

Mills said that his team is asking “tough questions of the officers.” He says that their stories have to be verified through evidence. “That is why I’m being slow and careful. We want to count everybody’s bullets and look for shell casings.” 

When we do the administrative review,” Mills said. “I’m going to bring outside experts to look at this. We’ll look at a broad range of things. We may need different equipment or different tactics. I’m not saying that is the case but I want other people than Eureka Police Department to look at this so we can have as broad of perspective as possible.”

Chief Mills spoke quietly. “I’ve talked to some of the family members and my heart aches for them. But my heart also aches for my officers. The whole thing is a tragedy.”

None of it makes sense,” Mrs. Mottern said. “It was a really good night that ended really bad.”

*In the first paragraph, this post corrects an earlier version that mistakenly said two neighbors believed the shooting was justified.

PREVIOUSLY



Fog! (And a Reminder of How Our Cammed Feature Can Help You Plan for the Weather)

Kym Kemp / Friday, Sept. 19 @ 8:07 a.m. /  News

Fog on Murray Field captured by one of the sky cams a little before 8 a.m.

Dense, damp fog is blanketing parts of Humboldt County today. Drive carefully. Give yourself more time on the commute.

To get an idea of the extent of our gray skies check out our Cammed feature — see Humboldt weather in one quick scroll of the mouse. This is a useful site so bookmark it or get used to checking it out regularly. Go to our TOOLS section, scroll down and click CAMMED. There you can see the weather from a wide variety of places — Hwy 20 by Clearlake to Hwy 101 in Del Norte County and east to Berry Summit on 299. 



Lightning Causes Fire Near Louse Camp

Kym Kemp / Thursday, Sept. 18 @ 1:12 p.m. /  Fire!

Six Rivers Forest Service press release:

Yesterday’s coastal thundershowers provided little relief to the parched, higher elevations of the Six Rivers National Forest. While some coastal areas received nearly a third of an inch of rain, the forest’s Orleans Ranger District received only .01 inches, as well as the forest’s sole lightning strike.

The Strike Fire, estimated at less than one acre as of noon today, was likely started by that lightning strike in the Brushy Gulch drainage northeast of Louse Camp. The fire is burning in timber near the bottom of the drainage.

Due to difficult access into the area and steep terrain, fire managers are utilizing aerial resources—air tankers and helicopters—to minimize the fire’s spread and mitigate any risks to firefighters. “Keeping our folks safe is always our top priority on any incident,” said Mike Minton, interagency fire chief for the forest and Redwood National Park.

The following resources are either on-site or have been ordered:

Air attack/lead plane: 1

Air tankers: 3

Helicopters: 4

Smokejumpers: 4 with 8 more on order



MCSO: Brother Kills Brother in Yesterday’s Shooting

Kym Kemp / Thursday, Sept. 18 @ 12:54 p.m. /  Crime

Mendocino County Sheriff press release:

On 09-17-2014 at 2:57 PM the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office received a telephone report of a shooting incident on a piece of property located in the 78000 block of Highway 271 in Piercy, California.

While Mendocino County Sheriff’s Deputies were responding to the location the Sheriff’s Office was contacted by a representative of the Jerold Phelps Community Hospital located in Garberville, California.

It was reported that Carl Fragale, the victim of the reported shooting in Piercy, had been transported to the hospital by family members.  Upon arriving at the hospital Carl Fragale was pronounced dead as a result of a gunshot wound sustained during the shooting incident.

Sheriff’s Detectives were summoned to conduct an in-depth investigation into the shooting incident and were assisted by investigators from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office.

Sheriff’s Detectives learned Carl Fragale had been staying in Piercy while growing approximately 120 marijuana plants with his brother (Anthony Fragale), father, and friend.

On 09-17-2014 while working in the marijuana garden Carl Fragale verbally confronted Anthony Fragale for being disrespectful towards the pair’s father.

The verbal argument led to a minor physical altercation between the brothers at a different location on the property.

After the physical altercation concluded, Anthony Fragale took possession of a handgun and confronted Carl Fragale.

During the confrontation Anthony Fragale shot Carl Fragale and subsequently helped transport him to the hospital where he died.

Sheriff’s Detectives arrested Anthony Fragale for murder and booked him into the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be held in lieu of $500,000.00 bail.

Previously:



Escaped Inmate in Mendocino County

Kym Kemp / Thursday, Sept. 18 @ 11:59 a.m. /  Crime

Mendocino County Sheriff press release:

On 09-16-2014 at approximately 7:00 PM Deputies from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to contacted Mendocino County Jail staff regarding the escape of an inmate.

When Deputies arrived Jail staff advised that on 09-16-2014 the inmate, Brett Edward Harlan, was taken to the Mendocino County Superior Court to petition for a temporary 4-hour release pass, so he could visit a sick relative.

The pass was granted and Harlan was released, but he was ordered to return to the Mendocino County Jail on 09-16-2014 at 4:00 PM.

Harlan subsequently did not return by the listed date/time to surrender himself to Mendocino County Jail staff and he is now considered an Escaped Inmate.

Deputies contacted Harlan’s family members in an attempt to return him to the Mendocino County Jail.

Deputies learned Harlan informed family members after his release that he would not go back to jail or surrender himself as had been previously ordered by the court.

Deputies continued their searched for Harlan and followed up on leads but they could not locate him as hoped.

Harlan is believed to be hiding in the areas of Willits or Redwood Valley and should be considered dangerous.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Harlan is urged to call 9-1-1 or the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center at 707-463-4086.

Harlan is described as being a 56-year-old white male adult, standing 6-feet tall and weighing 220 pounds.

Harlan has a shaved head and a tattoo of “Shirley’ across the upper front chest area near the neck line.  Harlan also has a tattoo on the right side of the neck below the ear, a tattoo on back of his head and has a prosthetic right leg.

Harlan had been in custody in the Mendocino County Jail on the following charges from 09-04-2014 until his court ordered release on 09-16-2014:

10851(a) CVC – Theft of a motor vehicle

273.6(a) PC – Violation of a court order

2800.2(a) CVC – Evading a peace officer

245(c) PC – Assault on a peace officer

11377(a) HS – Possession of a controlled substance

1203.2 PC – Violation of probation



Miranda Water Main Breaks/Miranda Schools Closed Tomorrow

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, Sept. 17 @ 11:52 p.m. /  News

 

Broken water main in Miranda. [Photo from the South Fork High School Facebook page.]

 

According to South Fork High School and Miranda Junior High principal Lisa Gray, all three schools in Miranda will be closed on September 18 due to a broken water main in town.  Osprey, South Fork and Miranda Jr High are all closed on Thursday (either tomorrow or today depending on when you are reading this.)

All other schools in the Southern Humboldt Unified School District will be open as usual.



Shooting in Piercy

Kym Kemp / Wednesday, Sept. 17 @ 6:26 p.m. /  News

According to scanner reports, a man was shot in the Piercy area this afternoon. Initial reports indicated that the shooter was on the loose. However, when reached for comment, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman reassured the public that there was “no active shooter” in the area.

In what appears to be a connected incident, a passerby noted that the CHP “arrested two guys in a white Ford Ranger at the northbound Piercy on ramp at gunpoint” about 5:30 p.m. The passerby said that “two officers were handcuffing one person. [A]nother officer had the passenger with his hands up in the vehicle at gunpoint.

Photo showing the CHP vehicles.

He passed by the spot on his way back from an errand and reported “they were both in the back seat of one of the [CHP] units.

We will update as soon as we can.