Altercation investigated between CHP officer, Pop Warner coach
Tribune staff writers
The California Highway Patrol is investigating an altercation that took place in late August when a patrolman allegedly pulled a Taser gun to calm a South Tahoe Pop Warner football coach and later handcuffed him following practice.
Junior Peewees’ coach Jim Durham was handcuffed and placed in a California Highway Patrol vehicle by Patrolman Alton Randall following a lengthy altercation on Tuesday, Aug. 31, at the Field of Dreams at South Tahoe High School, according to a league attorney and a coach who was at the scene. Durham, whose team is made up of 8- to 11-year-old children, was later released from the CHP vehicle after being cited on suspicion of obstructing a public officer.
South Tahoe Pop Warner President Chuck Leonard said the matter is under CHP investigation and that he could only comment on the certified qualifications of his coaches. Durham declined to comment when approached prior to his team’s practice on Wednesday.
CHP Sgt. Terry Lowther said a complaint has been filed by South Tahoe Pop Warner with the law enforcement agency about the incident and confirmed the CHP is investigating.
“You don’t know how long an investigation will take,” Lowther said. “We’re trying to talk to as many people as we can to find out what occurred.”
Randall, a 10-year veteran of the local CHP department, was on active duty at the time of the incident. The patrolman has not been placed on leave, Lowther said.
South Lake Tahoe police were not involved, said Lt. David Stevenson.
Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe said Thursday he has yet to see information on the alleged obstruction charge, but CHP Sergeant Dan Lopez said (Durham) will be charged. The district attorney’s office will review the case.
Al Villalobos, the attorney representing South Tahoe Pop Warner, said the football league’s board of directors is conducting a private investigation and confirmed one of its coaches was handcuffed and spent time in a CHP vehicle.
“The South Tahoe Pop Warner Board is deeply troubled by the incident, which occurred in close proximity to approximately 100 children, parents and staff,” Villalobos said in an e-mail to the Tribune.
“All judgment should be reserved until there is a complete review of all of the relevant material facts.”
Peewees’ coach Tim Cain’s team was practicing next to Durham’s Junior Peewees, and Cain said he observed part of the alleged incident. Cain, who coached patrolman Randall’s son until recently, said the patrolman came to practice that day in full uniform.
A parent – whose name has been withheld from this story due to his concerns that his child will be removed from South Tahoe Pop Warner football for speaking out – said the following:
• Randall entered the practice area looking for Pop Warner President Chuck Leonard to warn him that a number of cars were parked illegally behind the playing fields off of Gardner Street.
• Durham, the coach, then became involved, indicating that his truck was parked in the no parking zone and started shouting at the officer, the parent said, a fact also confirmed by law enforcement.
• Leonard, the league president, eventually walked to where Durham and the officer were arguing and didn’t attempt to calm down his coach, according to the parent. When Durham didn’t comply to the officer’s repeated commands to calm down, the officer allegedly pulled a Taser gun from his holster and pointed it at Durham’s feet.
• Durham then turned away and went back to the drill he was coaching with his team, and Randall backed away to a corner of the field and called for backup assistance.
Cain, a league coach for seven years, said he diverted his players’ attention from the dispute, but as the confrontation escalated, practice was called 10 minutes earlier than normal.
“I had all of my guys facing the opposite direction. I was trying to keep their focus away from what was going on,” Cain said.
According to Cain, the coaches walked their players to the parking lot to meet their parents since practice were called prematurely.
After ushering his players to the parking lot, Cain returned to the field with an assistant coach and watched as “Jim put his hands on top of his head and was handcuffed,” Cain said.
Cain said a CHP lieutenant and sergeant appeared at practice the following day and “talked to the board and then had a parent/player discussion for the teams that were practicing that day. They explained what happened and answered some questions for the kids.”
Leonard said all of the coaches in the program are certified with USA Football.
“Our coaches are very well-trained, and trained to handle situations,” Leonard said. “They have had at least eight hours of our in-house training, and our head coaches have had 20 hours of training plus a day of training at Granite Bay with USA Football.”
South Tahoe Pop Warner teams, which include 180 players and cheerleaders, open their seasons Friday and Saturday.