Oroville – A man has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison after pleading no contest to charges he broke into an Oroville market during the Oroville Dam spillway evacuations in February, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced Friday.
Butte County Superior Court Judge Clare Keithley sentenced Teran Washington, 25, of Oroville on Thursday.
Prosecutors accused Washington of blowing out with a shotgun the front doors of the Golden Feather Marketplace in the 700 block of Oro Dam Boulevard West about 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, after more than 180,000 residents downstream of the dam were ordered to flee the area.
Officials feared the dam’s emergency spillway could fail, sending a wall of water into Oroville and other communities along the Feather River.
Washington and a juvenile companion allegedly broke into the store to steal cigarettes, prosecutors said. They were interrupted by a nearby resident who heard the commotion and fled the scene.
Washington pleaded no contest July 20 to a felony count of second-degree burglary and a felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon. He also admitted to using a firearm in the burglary.
Washington’s attorney, Philip Heithecker, previously criticized the District Attorney’s Office over the charges that were filed against his client.
Heithecker has said the decision to charge Washington with the specific firearm allegation used — which accounts for 10 years of Washington’s 13 year prison term — was “over the top.”
The attorney has said any other object, such as a rock, could have been used to break into the store, adding that the firearm enhancement chosen by prosecutors was the most powerful they could find.
“It seems to me, usually you see that allegation if you’re shooting somebody,” Heithecker said.
At sentencing Thursday deputy district attorney Preston Schaub indicated that it was Washington’s use of a shotgun to blow out the market’s doors that was “overboard,” according to a news release issued by the District Attorney’s Office.
Schaub noted, according to the release, that Washington “had no idea of who might be inside the darkened store.”
The District Attorney’s Office has been seeking the maximum punishments possible in looting cases stemming from the dam evacuations.
“There were many, many acts of heroism and compassion during those dark days,” Ramsey said the release. “This community chooses to be defined by those acts and not by the acts of a handful of predators and criminals.”
Washington remained in custody.