LEMOORE — The only open door on the Lemoore High School campus Thursday afternoon belonged to Youth Development Officer Jason Stephens.
Stephens will be named the first-ever Public Safety Individual of the Year at the 60th annual Lemoore Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Banquet next week.
The officer learned about the award when he recently got a call from his sergeant saying, “get down to the P.D. in 10 minutes.” Stephens racked his brain to remember if he had made any mistakes that would have garnered a stern meeting with his superior officers, but when the rest of the force began trickling in as well, he realized someone was probably going to be recognized with an award, a not uncommon occurrence.
He just didn’t realize it would be him.
“I was shocked,” Stephens said. “Obviously you don’t do this job for awards but it feels really nice to be recognized. It’s very humbling."
This will be the inaugural public safety award given by the Chamber of Commerce. After six decades in existence, the organization decided to add the honor to its list of already-existing awards, including Business, Organization and Person Of The Year.
“From our volunteer fire department to our police department, who is very community-oriented, to the crossing guards who are out there day-in and day-out to make sure our kids are safe, Lemoore has a lot of great support in the safety realm, so we wanted to extend and showcase that part of Lemoore,” said Amy Ward, CEO of the Lemoore Chamber of Commerce.
Stephens joined the force in 2015 after hitting a wall of dissatisfaction in the field of sales. Wanting to do something new, and having always been vaguely interested in law enforcement, he decided to join up.
“I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time coming to work,” he said. “It was the right decision.”
Stephens, a self-proclaimed “Navy brat,” moved around a lot as a kid, but when his family unpacked their boxes in Lemoore in the late ‘90s, they stayed unpacked and he considers Lemoore his hometown.
In 1999, he graduated from Lemoore High School, where he currently serves as YDO.
When the position became open, Stephens jumped at the opportunity, he says.
“I enjoy working with kids, first and foremost,” Stephens, who also coaches youth sports, said. “And I thought, ‘here’s another opportunity to work with kids and maybe be another mentor or resource for them to lean onto if they have issues.'”
In addition to being on the school’s working schedule which allows him to have more time at home with his own two children and wife, Stephens enjoys the being an on-campus linchpin for students. Stephens says the best part of his day is when a student comes to his office to talk about something they may not be able to share with their parents, teachers or even friends.
Coming into the force at a much later point that most officers, Stephens has other experience he can pull from to help him on the job. A former bartender, the art of listening to someone’s problems is chief among those skills.
“Being able to understand where they are because I was kind of a knucklehead at their age, but then being able to put the ‘dad hat’ back on and let them know about the stupid mistakes I made and give them advice on how not to repeat them,” he says. “I just look at [my time as a student] with different glasses.”
Stephens also works with a variety of community outreach clubs like YAP (Youth Assistance Program), which is similar to Scared Straight, G.R.I.P. (Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership), and Dude, Be Nice (self-explanatory).
The officer believes that meeting students in these programs reduces the chances he’ll have to meet them later in life while on patrol. He says he’d rather see an at-risk student eye-to-eye and talk out their problems rather than put them in handcuffs and arrest them.
It’s these and other programs that Stephens works with that earned him his Chamber of Commerce award.
“One of the things we liked from his interview was all the community policing he’s involved in,” said Ward. “From Reason for the Season to Presents on Patrol, you can just see that he is someone who truly believes in giving back to the community. He loves this community. Everything he does, you can tell he’s committed to making Lemoore a better place.”
In fact, it’s Presents on Patrol, a program that sees police gift underprivileged children with Christmas presents, that has given Stephens his most memorable moment on the force.
While responding to a call at a local big box store, Stephens met a child who had been detained after being caught shoplifting three toys of a popular cartoon character. Curious as to why someone would risk arrest for the action figures, Stephens picked the child’s brain a bit. Eventually opening up to Stephens, the child admitted that he had stolen the toys because otherwise, his younger brothers and sisters would have nothing under the tree on Christmas.
“Even talking about it, I get choked up a little,” said a visibly emotional Stephens. “The things you lose sight of and you don’t remember to appreciate in your day-to-day life just smacks you in the face sometimes when you talk to a person like that.”
Stephens was so moved that he worked with the store to not press charges and followed up with Soledad Perez, the officer that heads the Presents on Patrol program to get the youngster and his siblings presents for Christmas, including bicycles, skateboards, a tree and Christmas dinner.
“Most cops have the same cliché answer of ‘why do you do this job,’ which is ‘because I want to make a difference’ and that right there is exactly why I do this,” Stephens said. “I will never forget that for the rest of my life.”
The youngster is now a student at Lemoore High School and Stephens, who sees him most every day, still asks him how he and his family are doing. He said this as a student popped into his office to timidly ask if he had time to chat.
Which, of course, he did.
The 60th annual Lemoore Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Banquet is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, at the Tachi Palace & Casino Bingo Hall. Tickets are still available. Visit www.lemoorechamberofcommerce.com or call 559-924-6401 for more information.
HANFORD — At a Rotary Club of Hanford meeting on Thursday, the Hanford Rotary Community Foundation rewarded local organizations for their service throughout the community.
During the club’s monthly luncheon, $24,000 in grants was presented to 22 different community and nonprofit organizations for helping the community. The grants are awarded every year on behalf of the Hanford Rotary Community Foundation, which is a separate entity from the Rotary Club of Hanford.
Joe Casey, interim president of the Hanford Rotary Community Foundation, said the foundation had grant requests of over $84,000 this year. The $24,000 that was granted came from the foundation, a donation for the Rotary Club and a donation from a Rotary Club member.
He said over the years the foundation has provided over $300,000 in grants.
This year, the grants went to a variety of organizations, including churches, veterans’ services, homeless services, animal support, food pantries, arts organizations and several others.
Scott Holwell, chairman of the Kings County Veterans Committee, said the grant helps with the Honor a Hero, Hire a Veteran job fair by contributing to the costs associated with updating canvas banners for the event and other promotional materials.
Holwell said the committee has received the grant in the past and it allows them to just do extra little things that help out in the end. This year’s job fair will be in March.
“This means we will be able to have funds to provide a quality job fair experience,” Holwell said. “We’re pleased to be able to provide services to veterans in Kings County.”
Alice Roberts, office volunteer coordinator at the St. Vincent de Paul Center, said community partnerships with organizations like Hanford Rotary are definitely important for nonprofit organizations.
Roberts said the grant money will go toward the cost of updating air conditioning units at the center. She said the center has worked with Rotary in the past that help with projects at the center.
Roberts said the center gives out food, clothing and small household items. She said the clothing and household items are donated, but the food is all paid for by the center; so when grant money can help pay for things like air conditioning units, it frees up more of the center’s money to pay for food.
“We’re very appreciative to the Rotary Foundation for their continued support,” Roberts said.
WASHINGTON — In bluntly vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and "shithole countries" in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation.
Trump's contemptuous description of an entire continent startled lawmakers in the meeting and immediately revived charges that the president is racist. The White House did not deny his remark but issued a statement saying Trump supports immigration policies that welcome "those who can contribute to our society."
Trump's comments came as two senators presented details of a bipartisan compromise that would extend protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants — and also strengthen border protections as Trump has insisted.
The lawmakers had hoped Trump would back their accord, an agreement among six senators evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, ending a months-long, bitter dispute over protecting the "Dreamers." But the White House later rejected it, plunging the issue back into uncertainty just eight days before a deadline that threatens a government shutdown.
Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate' s No. 2 Democrat, explained that as part of that deal, a lottery for visas that has benefited people from Africa and other nations would be ended, the sources said, though there could be another way for them to apply. Durbin said people would be allowed to stay in the U.S. who fled here after disasters hit their homes in places including El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.
Trump specifically questioned why the U.S. would want to admit more people from Haiti. As for Africa, he asked why more people from "shithole countries" should be allowed into the U.S., the sources said.
The president suggested that instead, the U.S. should allow more entrants from countries like Norway. Trump met this week with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Late Thursday, Trump was pushing for "a Great Wall" and criticizing Democrats' stance on immigration, highlighting the difficulties for any negotiations.
"The Democrats seem intent on having people and drugs pour into our country from the Southern Border, risking thousands of lives in the process. It is my duty to protect the lives and safety of all Americans," he said in a late-night tweet. "We must build a Great Wall ..."
Asked about the earlier remarks insulting other countries, White House spokesman Raj Shah did not deny them.
"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," he said.
Trump's remarks were remarkable even by the standards of a president who has been accused by his foes of racist attitudes and has routinely smashed through public decorum that his modern predecessors have generally embraced.
Trump has claimed without evidence that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, wasn't born in the United States, has said Mexican immigrants were "bringing crime" and were "rapists" and said there were "very fine people on both sides" after violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, left one counter-protester dead.
"Racist," tweeted Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., after Thursday's story broke. But it wasn't just Democrats objecting.
Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, said Trump's comments were "unkind, divisive, elitist and fly in the face of our nation's values." She said, "This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation" and Trump must apologize to the American people "and the nations he so wantonly maligned."
Trump has called himself the "least racist person that you've ever met." He plans to sign a proclamation today honoring Martin Luther King Day.
Critics also have questioned his mental fitness to serve as president, citing his inability to muster some policy details and his tweets asserting his "nuclear button" is bigger than North Korea's. He responded to such criticism with a recent tweet calling himself "a very stable genius" who is "like, really smart."
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly describe the conversation. One said lawmakers in the room were taken aback by Trump's remarks.
The Trump administration announced late last year that it would end a temporary residency permit program that allowed nearly 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States following a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Trump has spoken positively about Haitians in public. During a 2016 campaign event in Miami, he said "the Haitian people deserve better" and told the audience of Haitian-Americans he wanted to "be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion."
The agreement that Durbin and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described to Trump also includes his $1.6 billion request for a first installment on his long-sought border wall, aides familiar with the agreement said. They required anonymity because the agreement is not yet public.
Trump's request covers 74 miles of border wall as part of a 10-year, $18 billion proposal.
Democrats had long vowed they wouldn't fund the wall but are accepting the opening request as part of a broader plan that protects from deportation about 800,000 younger immigrants brought to the country as children and now here illegally.
The deal also would include restrictions on a program allowing immigrants to bring some relatives to the U.S.
In an afternoon of drama and confusing developments, four other GOP lawmakers — including hardliners on immigration — were also in Trump's office for Thursday's meeting, a development sources said Durbin and Graham did not expect. It was unclear why the four Republicans were there, and the session did not produce the results the two senators were hoping for.
"There has not been a deal reached yet," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But she added, "We feel like we're close."
The six senators have been meeting for months to find a way to revive protections for young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and are here illegally. Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year but has given Congress until March 5 to find a way to keep it alive.
Federal agencies will run out of money and have to shut down if lawmakers don't pass legislation extending their financing by Jan. 19. Some Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes — which Republicans will need to push that legislation through Congress — unless an immigration accord is reached.
MONTECITO (AP) — More than two full days after mudslides ravaged the coastal town of Montecito, the search for the missing became an increasingly desperate exercise Thursday, with growing doubts about whether anyone would be found alive. Seventeen people from ages 3 to 89 were confirmed dead, and eight others were unaccounted for.
"They're not going to find survivors anymore. They're going to find bodies in the mud," said David Weinert, who feared two of his neighbors were among the dead and turned out to be right in at least one case. "It's emotional for me to say this, but I think they're gone."
The air smelled of sewage and ash as more than a dozen firefighters climbed through rubble in the backyard of a mansion that had been torn apart. Some rescuers used poles to probe the muck for bodies, while others waded chest-deep in the mire. Two Labrador retrievers swam around a debris-filled swimming pool, trying to pick up any scent.
"At this moment, we are still looking for live victims," Santa Barbara fire Capt. Gary Pitney said. But he confessed: "The likelihood is increasing that we'll be finding bodies, not survivors. You have to start accepting the reality of that."
He noted that one survivor pulled from the muck earlier in the week was suffering from hypothermia after just an hour.
Crews marked places where bodies were found, often far away from a home, and used that information to guess where other victims might have ended up as the surging mud carried or buried them.
The disaster, touched off by heavy rain, took many homeowners by surprise early Tuesday, despite evacuation orders and warnings issued days in advance that mudslides were possible because recent wildfires in the hills had stripped away vegetation that normally holds soil in place.
As the rainwater made its way downhill with gathering force, it pried boulders from the ground and picked up trees and other debris that flattened homes, cars and carried at least one body a mile away.
The disaster was already unfolding when Santa Barbara County officials sent out their first cellphone alert at 3:50 a.m. County emergency manager Jeff Gater said officials decided not to send one sooner out of concern it might not be taken seriously.
From above, thrashed areas of town appeared awash in a sea of mud, with only the tallest trees standing and some homes buried up to their roofs. Next to some of the devastated areas sat large estates untouched by the torrent, their lawns still green and the landscaping lush.
County authorities sent a shudder through the community early Thursday when they reported that the number of people unaccounted for had surged from 16 to 48. But within an hour, they said they had made a clerical error and the actual number of missing was eight.
"How does that happen?" Weinert asked. "That's a crazy mistake to make."
After a better look at the damage, officials lowered the number of destroyed homes from 100 to 64 and raised the number of damaged ones from 300 to 446.
Overall, 28 people were injured. Twelve remained hospitalized, four in critical condition.
The Santa Barbara sheriff released the names of the dead, which included David Cantin, the father of a 14-year-old girl who was heavily caked in mud when she was pulled from the ruins of her home after a dramatic six-hour rescue.
It also included James Mitchell, who had celebrated his 89th birthday the day before with his wife, Alice, of more than 50 years. She also died.
Searchers had checked most of the debris zone for victims and some were doubling back to leave no stone unturned Thursday when a crew ended up in the backyard of Bill Asher, who lost his palatial home and a similar one he was building next door.
Asher returned with a pickax and five friends and trudged through the debris to salvage any possession he could find.
He was still shaken by his harrowing experience Tuesday with his pregnant wife and two young children as the violent gusher arrived with a deafening rumble.
"I looked out my front window and saw my car fly by," he said. "I screamed at my family and water started coming into the house. Windows went flying, doors went flying."
The family rode out the storm on kitchen counters as the debris smashed through the walls and exposed the lower level of the two-story house and one of the upstairs bedrooms.
When it was over, he was able to hike to a nearby road and flag down firefighters who helped his family get out.
A stranger loaded the family in his truck and drove them to a hotel. Because Asher didn't have a wallet, the man paid.
"He threw down his credit card, took care of everything," Asher said, amazed at the act of kindness.