COVELO — The main suspect in the disappearance of a Native American woman from Covelo was sent to San Quentin Thursday morning to serve a four-year term for an unrelated firearm conviction.
Local and federal authorities made the announcement in Mendocino County, voicing hope that the man’s imprisonment will lead to a break in the case involving Khadijah Britton, a Round Valley tribal member who has not been seen since February.
“We want to solve this crime,” Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.
“As a father myself, I certainly can understand the anxiety, the nightmares, the fright that the family has.”
A Mendocino County judge sentenced Negie Fallis IV, Britton’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, to four years in state prison on Tuesday for felony possession of a firearm stemming from a Feb. 19 arrest.
Britton’s family members were among the 120 people gathered for Thursday’s news conference, held near the front steps of the Mendocino County Superior Court. Prominently displayed behind the podium were two roughly 6-foot posters that contained Britton’s photograph, as well as details about a reward offered for information on the case.
Many attendees wore red clothing and ribbons, often used to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women around the globe.
“We want closure,” said Robbie Hostler, Britton’s grandfather. “Now that he’s in prison … it’s time for people to step forward and come in and call. We know there’s people in Covelo who know what happened.”
A tip helped Round Valley tribal police find Fallis in February after the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office alerted community members that they were looking for him in connection to a possible kidnapping of Britton.
Witnesses told authorities Fallis came to a west Covelo home on Feb. 7 and forced Britton into his car at gunpoint.
Less than a week earlier, Britton had reported to police and domestic violence counselors that Fallis tried to kill her with a hammer.
Though prosecutors initially filed additional felony attempted murder, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon charges against Fallis, a lack of evidence forced them to drop the charges in June.
Fallis, who still faced firearm charges, was released on bail later that month.
A lack of fruitful tips has caused the case to go cold despite their best efforts, Allman said Thursday.
Investigators on the case have conducted 80 documented interviews, more than 20 vehicle searches and served search warrants at six different locations, amounting to more than 3,400 hours in detectives’ work.
They’ve also partnered with the FBI since the start, asking the federal agency to help them with evidence collection and cellphone analysis.
“I want people to understand were not taking this investigation lightly,” Allman said.
“We’re continuing this investigation.”
Several community members said they were disappointed with the news conference.
“I don’t think they’re working as hard as they should,” said Tina Sutherland, a member of Sherwood Valley Rancheria near Willits.
“I’m just hoping they can give this family closure.”
Mendocino County officials hope a new anonymous tip line, WeTip, will help with those hesitant to call police with information.