Crime

SLO employee who attacked woman at Avila bar can serve time at ‘pay-to-stay’ jail

Man knocks out woman in unprovoked Avila Beach bar fight

Security camera video captures the moment when an angry bar patron cold-cocked a woman and then punched her friend multiple times during a 2016 incident at Mr. Rick’s in Avila Beach, California.
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Security camera video captures the moment when an angry bar patron cold-cocked a woman and then punched her friend multiple times during a 2016 incident at Mr. Rick’s in Avila Beach, California.

The San Luis Obispo city employee convicted of assaulting a woman at an Avila Beach bar three years ago will be allowed to serve his 60-day sentence in a “pay-to-stay” jail in Seal Beach.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy granted the detention-related request made by Christopher Olcott, a building inspector in SLO’s Community Development Department, at a Thursday hearing.

Olcott’s attack on May 28, 2016, against a Lompoc woman and her male friend at Mr. Rick’s was caught on surveillance camera and widely shared on social media, evoking public outrage over its brutality.

His punishment was the result of a guilty plea to misdemeanor battery with great bodily injury.

The Sheriff’s Office signed off on the pay-to-stay arrangement, despite opposition from the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutor Scott Hunter objected to the request in court Thursday morning.

Duffy relied on the Sheriff’s Office approval to grant the request. Prosecutors told The Tribune outside court that a pay-to-stay jail arrangement is unusual for SLO County criminal cases.

Where Olcott will be jailed

Olcott was given a Sept. 6 surrender date to report to the Seal Beach detection facility, which is publicly operated, according to Olcott’s attorney, Patrick Fisher.

Fisher said that Olcott personally will cover the cost of the out-of-county custody arrangement.

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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

Fisher said that his client has received multiple death threats and his safety was a concern if he served his time in SLO County Jail.

“My client regrets what happened, and he wants to make it right during the restitution process,” Fisher said.

Olcott was sentenced on March 21 to 60 days in jail, but court records indicate he will serve about half that time, which Fisher confirmed.

Fisher argued that Olcott should serve his sentence in a pay-to-stay jail facility in the Los Angeles or Orange County area and Olcott had to go through an interview process to be accepted for the Seal Beach pay-to-stay jail.

Speaking on behalf of the DA’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth previously said that Olcott should serve his time in the county.

“This is a blatant trespass on equal protection,” Dobroth said in May. “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.”

Will he keep his city job?

The city is continuing to investigate the matter, and has yet to render a personnel decision about Olcott’s conduct.

SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick said in an email Thursday morning that “we’re still in process, but nothing (is) publicly reportable as to change in status.”

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SLO city employee Chris Olcott entered a guilty plea to assaulting a woman at Mr. Rick’s Bar in Avila Beach in 2016. This is his SLO city employment photo. City of San Luis Obispo

Dietrick wrote that Olcott has been paid his regular salary while on administrative leave as the city conducts its investigation.

According to Transparent California, Olcott received $64,656 in regular salary and a total compensation amount of $73,197, including benefits, in 2018.

Dietrick said the city is proceeding through the required administrative process, mandated by state law.

Employees on administrative leave are required to be available to report and respond to city requests during normal business hours, however, and Dietrick said the city does not yet know the details of how Olcott will serve his jail sentence and how that will affect his employment.

“... (But) when we do, we will evaluate whether the jail surrender impacts the required availability and, therefore, whether there will be a change in status,” Dietrick wrote. “Because the conclusion of the process requires coordination with Mr. Olcott and his legal counsel, we cannot provide a date certain for conclusion.”

Victim seeking restitution

Chavez previously told The Tribune that the statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit against Olcott has passed, meaning her ability to sue him has expired. She does have an attorney representing her, however, in regard to her restitution, according to prosecutors.

A restitution hearing for possible monetary compensation to Chavez has been set for Dec. 5.

Chavez earlier told The Tribune that she had had no previous contact with Olcott and no words were exchanged between them or her friend, Isaac McCormack of Santa Maria, before the incident occurred.

Chavez said Olcott bumped her with his backside to establish his personal space in a crowded bar. Chavez nudged him back with her body to jockey for space, saying she believed he was being “territorial.”

The video then shows Olcott unleashing a flurry of blows on Chavez and McCormack as bar staff intervene to stop the violence.

Chavez told The Tribune she was out cold for more than a minute and suffered lingering dizziness for days afterward, missing some days at work.

A January 2018 jury trial resulted in a deadlock, and the prosecution opted for a plea agreement rather than retry the case as a felony.

The footage of the attack, publicly released after the jury hung and a plea agreement was worked out, generated a strong public reaction on social media. That 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.

Tribune staff writer Matt Fountain contributed to this story.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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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.
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