Editorials

The barroom beating of 2 innocent people should cost SLO city employee his job

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.

Much as we believe in second chances, Christopher Olcott — the city employee caught on tape cold-cocking a woman at a bar — can get his somewhere else.

An out-of-control poster boy for toxic masculinity should not be working for the city of San Luis Obispo, especially in a job that involves public contact.

Olcott may be a fine building inspector, but there is no way he can do his job effectively.

He will forever be “the guy caught on video knocking out a woman at a bar.”

Some people will be afraid of him, or at least uncomfortable around him.

And he will be an embarrassment to a city that prides itself on civility and public service.

Ideally, Olcott would do everyone a favor and resign.

If not, the city should proceed with a thorough investigation — but not allow the fact that a jury was unable to reach a verdict in Olcott’s felony assault trial determine the outcome.

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Christopher Olcott, in brown shirt, throws his elbow at the head of Camille Chavez 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

What the video shows

The shocking video — which has been viewed nearly 100,000 times — speaks for itself:

On May 28, 2016, Olcott was at Mr. Rick’s in Avila Beach, standing with his back to a young man and woman at the crowded bar while talking with a group of friends.

The video shows Olcott visibly bump Camille Chavez in what she called an attempt to establish his territory. Then, after smirking to his friends, Olcott casts two sideways glances over his shoulder, as if to assess the scene, before leaning back into Chavez again.

No words were exchanged, according to Chavez, but it’s clear that there was plenty of room for Olcott to step away.

In response to Olcott’s second encroachment, Chavez bumps Olcott back with her hip.

At that moment, apparently irritated by the close contact and too immature to step away, Olcott turns, looks her directly in the eye, and decks her with an elbow to the face, laying her out unconscious on the floor with one blow.

His arm already cocked from the elbowing, Olcott then unleashes a volley of blows on Chavez’s friend, Isaac McCormack, pummeling McCormack with at least four punches before before the men tumble to the ground and are separated by security.

To put it bluntly, this was no bar fight involving mutual combatants.

This was a scary, unprovoked beatdown of two innocent people by an unrestrained bully with a violent temper. Three years later, Chavez and McCormack say they’re still shaken by the incident.

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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

Five jurors unconvinced

Despite what appears to be clear video evidence, the jury deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of guilt, and rather than retry the case, the District Attorney’s Office accepted a guilty plea to misdemeanor battery with great bodily injury, a far cry from the felony accusation that could have carried two to four years in prison.

As a result, Olcott was sentenced to only 60 days in jail, but will serve just half that time. He was also placed on probation for three years and ordered to attend alcohol counseling for three months.

For now, Olcott remains on the city payroll on paid leave — which means SLO citizens are paying him to do nothing at a salary of $68,160 a year — while the city conducts its own investigation to determine whether there is a “nexus” between his job and his off-duty conduct.

So why did it take so long for the city to investigate?

After all, it had known about the criminal case for several months, but it was the video — which was first posted by Cal Coast News — that caused the city to react.

Obviously the actions depicted in the video are appalling and, combined with the guilty plea, warrant follow-up to evaluate whether there is a nexus with the employee’s ability to perform his job duties effectively and in the interests of workplace and community safety, which are the city’s priorities,” City Attorney Christine Dietrick said via email.

Had the city seen the video earlier, it would have taken action sooner, she added.

That raises a question: Had the video never been released, what would have happened?

Possibly nothing.

In fact, not only did the city not explore or sanction his behavior earlier, it did the exact opposite. Olcott received a promotion in February.

The city doesn’t monitor what employees do when they’re off-duty, nor does it routinely find out if an employee is arrested — unless it’s a public safety worker. It learned about Olcott’s criminal case by chance, when an employee of the City Attorney’s Office spotted him at the courthouse.

Nobody is asking the city to butt into employees’ private lives — that would be creepy — but this is one of those instances when the administrators should have kept closer tabs on one of their workers.

In the interest of safety, this kind of violent, unprovoked behavior — the actions of a schoolyard thug, not a so-called adult — isn’t something an employer, public or private, should ever ignore.

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