City Manager Statement on City Hall Incident Jan. 6
The City of San Luis Obispo recently experienced an incident threatening the safety of our employees. I want to share the details so our community members are aware of what happened, how I and other City employees responded, and the larger issues this incident brings up.
First, here is what happened:
- On January 6, 2020, at approximately 11 a.m., a 58 year-old male identified as Lannen Bowers came to City Hall and entered the public reception area for the offices of the City Council, City Clerk and City Manager.
- Mr. Bowers approached the administrative assistant and requested to meet with Mayor Heidi Harmon.
- When the administrative assistant informed Mr. Bowers that the mayor was not currently in the office, his behavior became hostile and threatening.
- He then jumped over a half-wall separating the reception area from the employee workspaces.
- Mr. Bowers physically assaulted a city employee attempting to block him from proceeding toward the City Council offices.
- Multiple city employees began to yell, “help” and “call 9-1-1.”
- Mr. Bowers then ran toward the mayor’s office.
- City Manager Derek Johnson, whose office is around the corner from the reception area, heard commotion and began to dial 9-1-1, but stopped when he heard louder and more urgent cries for help.
- Fearing employees were in immediate danger, Mr. Johnson hurried out of his office to assist, and as he rounded the corner toward the reception area, ran directly into Mr. Bowers.
- Mr. Johnson subdued Mr. Bowers, maneuvered him into the hallway and restrained him until police officers arrived.
- Police officers arrested Mr. Bowers and took him into custody without further incident.
- No injuries were reported as a result of this incident.
Here is what we have done since the incident:
- I and the City employees who witnessed this incident have provided statements and video footage to the Police Department.
- The City has provided information to affected employees about available counseling and other support they may need as a result of this incident.
- Following this incident, the City is evaluating additional security precautions at City facilities.
- The Police will provide the results of the investigation to the district attorney, who will determine how to proceed with any criminal charges resulting from this incident.
Threats and violence aimed at government
The City of San Luis Obispo promotes a culture of civility, diversity, inclusion and strong civic engagement.
We respect the right to express dissatisfaction with government or its officials as protected by the First Amendment. Until the incident on Jan. 6, Mr. Bowers’ behavior and communication with Mayor Harmon, although concerning, were not considered by the police or city attorney to violate the law.
As we have all seen in the headlines, threats and incidents of violence aimed at government have increased in recent years.
Certain people in government are more vulnerable, such as those who work in the offices of city leaders, employees whose jobs put them in direct contact with members of the public, and elected officials. Unfortunately, female elected officials face an increased risk.
A recent study published in the academic journal State and Local Review found that female mayors were more than twice as likely as their male counterparts to experience psychological abuse and almost three times as likely to experience physical violence.
City employees and our elected officials undergo training so they can recognize signs and, if needed, respond to active shooters and other incidents of workplace violence.
As your local government, we want to remain open and accessible to you.
Mental illness and homelessness
Homelessness is an ongoing challenge throughout California. The City of San Luis Obispo has dedicated nearly $1 million to fund homeless outreach programs while individual City departments regularly provide emergency medical services, police enforcement, and public health and safety clean-up efforts.
County government, funded through state and federal agencies, are responsible for providing public health, mental health, and alcohol and drug addiction treatment services. Cities do not receive funds or provide these services.
The City of San Luis Obispo will continue to actively coordinate with the County, non-profits and other partners to make progress on these issues.
A final word
I am very proud of our city employees. They demonstrated incredible professionalism and courage in a difficult and frightening situation.