Calaveras Enterprise

Festival heads challenge Sheriff’s allegations

Promoters of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, an event held at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in June, say Sheriff Dennis Downum defamed them in comments published by the Calaveras Enterprise June 24.

In a letter which demands a retraction of those comments, an attorney representing the festival challenges what he claims are three false statements by Sheriff Downum:

– That the festival was “thrown out” of Marysville, where it was previously held.

– That the festival was “built on drug use.”

– That after the festival leaves Calaveras each year, authorities have seen an increase in the possession and use of certain drugs (hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, Ecstasy and methamphetamines) by young people in Calaveras.

Attorney James Wagstaffe of San Francisco, representing the festival promoters, said Downum knew before making his statements the circumstances surrounding the festival’s departure from Marysville. According to Wagstaffe, “In 2001, the SNWMF producers wrote a letter to the Calaveras County Fair Board explaining that the only reason the SNWMF relocated from Marysville was because of the ‘unsafe conditions caused by local gang activity at Riverfront Park.’ … The letter also stated that the Marysville City Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the SNWMF returning to Riverfront Park. Downum received a copy of this letter and has since received additional verbal explanations regarding the reasons behind the SNWMF’s departure from Marysville.”

Marysville Administrative Services Manager Dixon Coulter, who held the same position while the festival was in Marysville, said Monday the festival was not forced to leave, although the issue did come before the City Council.

During a Sept. 5, 2000, Marysville City Council meeting a vote to deny the festival’s request to continue the event in 2001 failed 2-3. However, the City Council then imposed conditions which the festival would have to satisfy in order to be allowed to return the next year. Those conditions involved having the festival promoters pay for security and trash removal services that had previously been provided by the city.

According to the minutes of the meeting, the council agreed by a 4-1 vote to require the “police chief and the promoter (to) figure out the detail of the agreement based on the proposal and if the event does not work out then it would be the final concert.”

Coulter said that after that meeting, “we met with them. We told them we think you’re going to need to pay us a certain dollar figure to pay for security and garbage pick up … and they said ‘no thank you’ and left.”

When asked about the basis for his statement that the festival was, “built on drug use …,” Downum said, “Every year they’ve been here there has been rampant drug use …. We hit it hard one year. We arrested 30 or 40 for dealing drugs. This year all we wanted to do is show a presence. (We arrested) 17 in total n half outside the main fairgrounds. People that worked (the event) told me it looked (like) at least 25 to 30 percent were very openly using drugs. It’s mostly marijuana use. Unfortunately there are a ton of other drugs there. Everything else included meth, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms.”

Downum was also asked about his statement that certain drugs (“meth, LSD, psychedelic mushrooms”) were more prevalent in the community after the festival each year, particularly among young residents of Calaveras. He replied that the statement was based upon his own memory and experience. He has also offered to provide historical information concerning drug possession and use before and after the festival from county records as soon as the officer best able to collect that information completes a year-end report that is underway.

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