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Mendocino County Says Goodbye

Sheriff Allman's choreograph of last Wednesday's memorial services in Fort Bragg for slain deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino was a masterpiece of organization in honor of a man universally admired in Mendocino County. Several thousand people, including representatives of a myriad of police and emergency services agencies, had to be accommodated in a town unprepared for large-scale events. The Sheriff's eulogy expressed the prevailing sentiment: “His gentle smile was enough to calm certain situations, and his size was enough to calm others. The only thing bigger than Ricky Del Fiorentino was his heart.”

Del Fiorentino
Del Fiorentino

Del Fiorentino had been stationed on the Mendocino Coast for 16 years with both the Sheriff's Office and the Fort Bragg Police Department. As we know, he was ambushed and shot to death on Wednesday, March 19, in his patrol car north of Fort Bragg while searching for an armed suspect in a crime spree that began with a homicide and arson and an armed robbery in Eugene, Oregon.

Allman also thanked Fort Bragg Police Department Lt. John Naulty, who heard the gunfire when the suspect, soon identified as Ricardo Chaney, 32, of Eugene, sprayed Del Fiorentino's car with assault rifle fire. Naulty almost instantly engaged Chaney in an exchange of gunfire, inflicting at least one wound and possibly another that eventually killed Chaney, who had crawled into nearby brush where he was found dead.

As Fort Bragg mourned the loss of slain deputy Del Fiorentino, the Fort Bragg Police reported: "Caller at the Fort Bragg Justice Center reported at 2:25 p.m. Sunday that a woman took items from a memorial there and left what looked like a bag of trash.”

Some excellent reporting by Jack Moran of the Eugene Register-Guard tells us more about Ricardo Chaney's recent history. Eugene police arrested Chaney on the night of March 5th — two weeks before he murdered Mendocino County deputy Del Fiorentino, and was in turn shot and killed by Fort Bragg Police Lieutenant John Naulty. Chaney's arrest on March 5th in Eugene occurred when he was stopped driving a pickup with a loaded .22-caliber pistol hidden in the glove box. Chaney’s arrest had little to do with the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that officers found separately in a bag in the pickup after conducting the stop.

While police and prosecutors spoke last week about the AR-15 and the possibility that it had been illegally modified, they underplayed the fact that the only gun crime that officers had accused Chaney of committing arose from the allegation that he had possessed a concealed handgun without a license.

The Lane County DA has not explained why he did not specify that the sole alleged weapons crime involved a concealed pistol, or what factors are considered when deciding whether to prosecute a person for that particular offense.

Officer Sam Stotts of the Eugene Police Department, wrote in a report detailing the arrest that Chaney had previously applied for a concealed handgun permit but was denied. It’s unclear why Chaney’s application was rejected. State court records show he was convicted of misdemeanor crimes in 2000 and 2003, but had no prior felony convictions that would have automatically barred him from obtaining a permit.

Stotts, the night of the March 5th stop, had booked Chaney into the Lane County Jail on a misdemeanor charge of possession or concealment of a firearm, and a felony drug possession count. Officers found 14 tablets of the drug Ecstasy inside a large bag that also included a loaded AR-15, three 30-round magazines and body armor. Another loaded handgun was found in a backpack in the pickup’s bed.

Chaney told officers that he kept all of the guns loaded because he “goes to the woods” to shoot them, Stotts wrote. Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner said last week that prosecutors didn’t file formal charges in the case — a decision that allowed Chaney to walk free from jail on the evening of March 6 — because the allegations “fell below the current triage standards and involved no violence or threat of violence.”

DA Gardner said his office is not funded to employ enough prosecutors to file most misdemeanor charges and some felony cases. Eugene police Lt. Jennifer Bills said last week that local authorities didn’t think that Chaney posed a public safety threat after he was released from jail.

Chaney IS assumed to have shot and killed retired University of Oregon professor George Wasson before setting fire to the 79-year-old Wasson’s home in Eugene’s Fairmount neighborhood early Wednesday morning, March 19th. A short time later, Chaney carjacked two men at gunpoint on Kinsrow Avenue near Autzen Stadium and left the area in their BMW, police said. The two men, who'd been forced into the trunk of the vehicle, were able to escape unharmed via an interior trunk lever before Chaney sped off in their BMW.

Officer Stott’s report mentions that during the March 5 incident, Chaney produced an insurance card for a vehicle he owned in California. The report includes no additional details about what ties Chaney — a longtime Eugene resident — had to California.

A friend of Chaney’s owns the pickup that he was driving when Stotts stopped him for committing minor traffic violations that included halting past a painted “stop line” on the road and conducting an illegal turn by crossing a double-yellow line while turning from West Eighth Avenue onto Polk Street in Eugene. Chaney couldn’t find a valid insurance card or proof of registration for his friend’s truck, and was initially ticketed for those violations. Stotts handcuffed Chaney after finding the pistol in the pickup’s glove box. The guns, drugs and body armor were found when Stotts and a second Eugene officer, Neil Biallas, conducted an inventory search of the vehicle prior to impounding it, police said.

Last week, Officer Bills and Chief Deputy District Attorney Patty Perlow both mentioned that the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle found in the pickup had been sent to a state police crime lab for testing because investigators thought it might have been illegally modified. But police reports written by Stotts and Biallas make no mention of the rifle having possibly been altered to make it fire automatically, as a machine gun would. Absent any modifications, it’s not illegal in Oregon to possess a loaded rifle in a vehicle.

Eugene Police are still investigating unsolved violent crimes that may be linked to Chaney. Police spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said last week that one of the cases under review is a March 11 armed robbery at the Adult Shop on Garfield Street in west Eugene.

In that incident, an armed man fled after stealing cash. “Due to the circumstances of this particular case, (investigators) are going to comb through and see if there’s anything” that connects Chaney to additional crimes in the days leading up to his rampage, McLaughlin said.

The Eugene Register-Guard also reports that Ricardo Chaney had been homeless and living out of a car before he launched his murderous crime spree. He had also been enrolled at Portland State University where he'd studied computer sciences and had recently tried to start a pornography business.

Chaney's family and friends are refusing to talk about the 32-year-old, but public records reveal he'd lived in Eugene all his life where his father, who died in 1998, taught anthropology at the University of Oregon. Ironically, in light of his murder of  deputy Ricky Del Fiorentino, Chaney, like Del Fiorentino, had been a member of his high school wrestling team.

In 2007, Chaney filed for divorce from a woman with whom he had a child. She had accused him of domestic assault, but the felony charge was later dismissed, according to court records.

Growing up as the son of a college professor at the UofO and in a solidly middleclass neighborhood not far from the campus, it is not surprising that Chaney was able to enroll as a student at the UofO before the 2007 winter term. After a one-year break, he re-enrolled for classes there during the spring and summer terms of 2008.

Court and DMV records show that Chaney maintained his address at his family’s longtime home on Floral Hill Drive, which sits at the end of a driveway near the east entrance of Hendricks Park in south Eugene.

In December, Chaney used that address when he filed new-business paperwork with the Oregon Secretary of State. Chaney named his venture Zero Dark Films LLC. An Internet search for the company — along with social media postings to accounts made under Chaney’s name — indicate that it produced pornography.

According to the Register-Guard, “Chaney’s mother, Martha Chaney, died in May. She was survived by two sons and a daughter, but in a will named her son-in-law as her personal representative. Those family members, all of whom live outside Lane County (of which Eugene is the county seat), have not returned telephone messages requesting comment.”

(Media people always feign surprise that family members of berserkers are reluctant to talk to them. In this case, what's there to say other than the same old sad song sung since the drug plague took hold in America 50 years ago. “He was fine until he got into drugs, and then he became impossible, and he got worse and worse until we couldn't bear to have him around. Now this.”)

The Register-Guard continues: “The home on Floral Hill Drive sold Feb. 25 for $218,000, according to Lane County property records. Martha Chaney’s will bequeathed a car to Ricardo Chaney, jewelry to his sister, and stipulated that all remaining property would be split among the children, meaning that Ricardo Chaney was entitled to proceeds from the home’s sale.”

A Eugene Police color guard was among the mourners at Wednesday's memorial service for Del Fiorentino.

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