SLO employee who knocked out woman at Avila bar wants to ‘pay-to-stay’ at a SoCal jail

The San Luis Obispo city employee convicted of assaulting a woman at an Avila Beach bar three years ago has requested to serve his sentence at a “pay-to-stay” city jail facility in Los Angeles or Orange counties — a custody arrangement that the victim and the District Attorney’s Office opposed.

Christopher Olcott, 39, of Grover Beach, filed his request with the San Luis Obispo Superior Court in the wake of his guilty plea on Feb. 21 to misdemeanor battery with great bodily injury after a felony trial in the case ended in a hung jury last year.

In the May 28, 2016, incident, captured on surveillance video at Mr. Rick’s, Olcott can be seen repeatedly bumping and side-eying Camille Chavez, now a 30-year-old teacher in Santa Maria, who was hugging her friend, Isaac McCormick, at the bar.

When Chavez pushed back, Olcott turned and elbowed her in the head, knocking her to the ground, unconscious. He then unleashed a volley of punches on McCormick before security intervened.

The footage of the attack generated a strong public reaction on social media, which included comments about the court case ending in a misdemeanor guilty plea after it was originally charged as a felony.

An alleged racist comment from a member of the deadlocked jury, uttered to an investigator after the hung jury was announced, further added to the outrage.

Why the jail request?

More than 25 pay-to-stay jails operate throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties, where inmates can receive upgraded incarceration accommodations at a cost, sometimes as much as thousands of dollars, according to an in-depth article in the Los Angeles Times. Amenities can include flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds.

No reason for the jail request was formally presented in court. In a filing, Olcott’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, referred to the confidential nature of the matter.

But in a letter to the city of San Luis Obispo, Funke-Bilu stated that his client has been threatened.

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Camille Chavez lies unconscious on the ground after being knocked out by Chris Olcott on May 28, 2016, at Mr. Rick’s bar in Avila Beach. Olcott, a San Luis Obispo building inspector, has been placed on paid leave. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery after a felony trial ended in a hung jury last year. Courtesy photo

“It has now risen to expressed death threats,” Funke-Bilu wrote in an April 23 letter, citing “public hysteria” incited by the media and on social media. “My client has been threatened with beatings in or out of custody. Gang members have apparently been conscripted to protect the honor of innocent women.”

Pay-to-stay jails often are viewed as a way for vulnerable inmates who can afford them to stay out of traditional facilities and avoid potential danger. Los Angeles-area inmates who have served time there include a prominent hip-hop choreographer, a real estate developer, and a young defendant who crashed a Ferrari, killing his cousin, according to the L.A. Times.

Judge Jacquelyn Duffy ruled that the custody arrangement is at Sheriff Ian Parkinson’s discretion and that she would allow the arrangement if Parkinson formally accepts the request prior to OIcott’s Aug. 9 custody.

Though the jail sentence is for 60 days, Olcott is required to serve half of that time. Funke-Bilu said that his client can serve 15 days in jail and the other 15 days of his sentence would be “alternative sentencing,” meaning he could wear an electronic monitoring device and comply with the restrictions of his surveillance, while out of jail.

Parkinson told The Tribune in an email Tuesday evening that he wouldn’t object to the pay-to-stay custody for Olcott as long as: the judge would allow it, that it’s in a public city jail, and that Olcott pays for it, which is a “cost saving to the county.” Olcott appears ready to meet each of those conditions, according to the statements his attorney made earlier in the day.

“When this was first brought to the attention of the Sheriff, he indicated he would not object based on the stipulations listed above,” said Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla in an email. “Where Mr. Olcott served his time was not a major concern of the Sheriff, as long as he served his time based on those stipulations.”

Cipolla added that Parkinson has never received a similar request for a pay-to-stay in his tenure; he was first elected in 2010.

DA, victim want time served here

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner argued in court for Olcott to serve his time in SLO County Jail, saying he hoped Parkinson would ensure that.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth echoed that opinion, speaking on behalf of the DA’s Office.

“This is a blatant trespass on equal protection,” Dobroth said. “He owes a debt to the community, and he should serve his time here in SLO County. He impacted the community as a whole, and he should serve a full sentence in this community.”

Dobroth added that SLO County Jail has a system for classifying inmates “where there was a true physical threat” and he has full confidence the Sheriff’s Office would provide its “best efforts to secure his safety.”

Chavez told The Tribune she was disappointed the case wasn’t re-tried by the DA’s Office after a jury trial resulted in a 7-5 deadlock in favor of guilty on Jan. 31, 2018. She also wrote a letter to the court, saying Olcott deserves to spend his time in SLO County Jail.

“It seems to me that Christopher Olcott assaulted two people and got a break through the plea deal and was given another break by not having to work, but still collecting a paycheck,” Chavez wrote. “I ask the court to please take this into consideration when deciding if Christopher Olcott, who has continuously showed no remorse, deserves yet another break.”

In his letter to the city, Funke-Bilu defended his client’s character.

“My client is a good man and an excellent city employee,” Funke-Bilu wrote. “Our system of justice has spoken and should be respected. Several developers, including a former supervisor, have strong support for his professionalism. He brings honor to the city.”

Olcott, a building inspector, has been placed on administrative leave as the city of SLO continues to investigate his actions to determine if any workplace violations have occurred.

“The city is committed to resolving this matter as expeditiously as possible, while ensuring that all relevant information is gathered and objectively evaluated,” City Manager Derek Johnson wrote in a statement. “We recognize the desire for a clear timeline for completion of the investigation, but it is not possible to accurately estimate the duration of this process.”

Chavez told The Tribune that Olcott bumped her with his backside to establish his personal space in a crowded bar, and then Olcott attacked her after she nudged him back with her body in the jockeying for space, saying she believed he was being “territorial.”

Olcott faces a restitution status hearing on June 20.

He is also ordered to not have contact with the victims during the probationary period and is prohibited from owning or possessing firearms or ammunition for a 10-year period. His probation includes a three-month alcohol abuse class.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.