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Homeless Frame-Up by Cops and City Attorney Defeated in Rare Court Victory
The City's "Go to Sleep; Go to Jail" campaign suffered defeat with two "Not Guilty" verdicts after a four-hour contempt hearing for Anna Richardson and Miguel deLeon. Judge Timothy Volkman returned to the plain language of MC 6.36.010c which makes sleeping, even on blankets, even with your possessions around you, a legal activity during the day if you have no intention of remaining overnight and haven't "set up a campsite", no matter how much that infuriates police officers who want you to move along.
BREAKFASTING WITH THE BIRDS
The day began outside the main entrance of the courthouse at 8:15 AM with a free breakfast provided by Joe Schultz, soon to open a new restaurant downtown on Front St. Schultz has long been a supporter of homeless protest actions in Santa Cruz, a rare exception to the cowed, indifferent, or hostile response of many merchants downtown.
The Downtown Association, whose former executive director Peter Eberle, voted to end the entire Camping Ban in 1999 when he was on the Homeless Issues Task Force has since refused to even discuss modifying the Sleeping Ban sections of the camping ordinance under the leadership of its new director, "Chip".
Over a dozen homeless people munched coffeecake, sipped coffee,and spoke out about their experiences outside. Curbhugger Chris Doyen passionately denounced the existing laws that target homeless survival behavior like sleeping and sitting in public places. Congressional Candidate and Attorney Ed Frey (pronounced "fry") described his appeal of the case of Robert "Blindbear" Facer on the grounds that waking people up is torture and requiring people to wake up, get ticketed, move, and get a letter asserting what everyone knows--that there's no shelter--is cruel & unusual punishment.
Anna Richardson's pro bono Jonathan Gettleman, decked out in a dark court-friendly suit, said his main focus today would be keeping his clients out of jail. "Compassion, not more punishment" is required, Gettleman noted, adding "everyone knows the shelters are wholly inadequate. People don't want to be treated like they're in prison just cause they want to sleep..."
JUDGE VOLKMAN'S INITIAL POSITION
Initially things didn't look too good. Attorneys Mark Briscoe and Jonathan Gettleman sitting alongside defendant Miguel deLeon faced City Attorney John Barisone. Judge Volkman dismissed all of the defense's concerns about the May 2009 Injunction itself being improper, the minute order served not matching Barisone's final language, and Barisone's affidavit being incomplete. The complaints were police reports and citations from three officers, one of whom, Officer Martin, was on vacation.
Barisone decided (ill advisedly as it turned out) to proceed with the case without Officer Martin, who was apparently 50% of his case. The one point the Gettleman/Briscoe defense team won was a ruling from the judge that "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" was the standard the City Attorney had to meet, since the penalty involved possible jail time and was hence 'quasi-criminal". Some thought the reason Barisone was using a Civil Injunction was to evade the need for a real trial with a high standard of proof and more protections for the defendants.
Barisone also chose not to use the "three infractions ignored makes a misdemeanor" law which he and City Council added to the city code in January 2009 over the objections of homeless advocates. Did this mean that the two homeless musicians had either dealt with all their citations, or hadn't gotten three since May 2009? Or was Barisone simply using a procedure with less protection for the defendants (a civil Injunction that seems to circumvent the need for a jury trial, is not susceptible of appeal, and provides for no appointed public defender)?
The "case" for contempt itself involved four incidents of police contact between the two and Officers Winston, Forbus, and Martin. The issue wasn't sleeping at night or sleeping at all, even though the cops woke them up, prompting their anger. The issue was "setting up a campsite with the intention of remaining overnight" downtown in the "forbidden zone" created by Barisone and ratified by Judge Burdick in May (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_12483386?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com).
Three witnesses testified--Officers Forbus and Winston and homeless expert Linda Lemaster. Forbus and Winston are downtown beat officers under the jurisdiction of Sgts. Harms and Garner, to whom they reportedly pass on reports of all contacts with the two targeted homeless musicians. Lemaster previouslly served the city as Chair of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and of the Homeless Issues Task Force. She is currently on the County's Homeless Action Partnership.
THE ISSUES AND LINDA LEMASTER'S TESTIMONY
The key legal issues under scrutiny were (1) what determines whether a person as "set up a campsite" and (2) what is the standard for proving they had "an intention to remain overnight".
Both connditiosn are required to cite and convict someone during the day under MC 6.36.010c. At night just sleeping or covering up with blankets after 11 PM is itself illegal on all public property, on much private property, in any structure that isn't a house or hotel, and in any vehicle parked on public property. A third was whether the presence of homeless possessions next to an individual sitting, lying, or sleeping was itself significant or sufficient evidence of a campsite and an intention to remain overnight.
Lemaster testified there was a waiting list for storage lockers at the Homeless Services Center and insisted that commercial storage lockers are out of reach for anyone without a stable income. She talked about her own difficult experiences when a homeless mom. Barisone vigorously cross-examined her, suggesting that lockers were available for storing homeless property without even hinting at any evidence. He volunteered that homeless failure to apply for shelter and services indicates a conscious scofflaw mentality and not a function of the wearisome homeless treadmill. Finally he ignored the well-known and unchanging lack of shelter space and services. "Many homeless people stop trying," said Lemaster. "They are pressured over time to give up on waiting lists and application hurdles in order to stay focused on immediate survival needs."
Lemaster subsequently claimed that numbers of local homeless people exceed access to even momentary public aid by a facto of more than 15-1. "Homelessness," she noted, "is a growing epidemic that will not be resolved by municipalities." "It is profoundly immoral to simply pluck out the most egregious presences on Pacific Avenue, while ignoring the forces that destroy everyone else outside until they get sick or angry or messy or die."
Last year's county homeless death figure was nearly three times that of the prior year (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/19/18633184.php?show_comments=1#18633349).
Not discussed at all were the difficulties involved even when Armory shelter space is available. Shelter space is never available in the late spring, summer, and early fall for 95% of the chronically homeless who apply, according to Lemaster. Requirements include: Show up early and so miss work opportunities; Face what some call unhealthful conditions sleeping in a room on the floor with many coughing and sick people; Show picture ID; Deal with what some have described as discriminatory treatment by ill-paid staff and Armory personnel; Abandon most of one's property during the night; Accept sexually segregated sleeping conditions; etc.
BAD SENTINEL REPORTING
Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown sat through the proceedings and wrote a heavily merchant-friendly story. It mostly ignored the deeper legal issues and repeated deceptive and incomplete descriptions from prior stories. J.M. Brown cast the two defendants in a bad light, highlighting merchant fears and unproven allegations. (See "Judge dismisses some charges in preliminary injunction against S.C. couple accused of violating city's camping ban" at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_14711762?source=rss).
Brown nowhere mentioned the costs of the proceeding nor indicated the bizarre nature of the patently fraudulent charges (even under the abusive wording of the Injunction covering downtown sleeping and the absurd Sleeping Ban making it illegal everywhere else). Apparently he didn't think to ask the City Attorney: "Why would you think that two people sleeping at midday with their possessions downtown constituted a campsite?" "How could that possibly mesh with the wording of the law and the Injunction?" "Why would you spend city time and money and waste the court's time with this?"
Reporter Brown repeated the unproven, irrelevant, and inflammatory charges of "bathing in a fountain", "destroying trees" , "trespassing" and other claims rejected in the May Injunction hearing, Those smears were not permitted in this contempt hearing which was specifically held to determine only whether the two were violating the Camping Ordinance in the forbidden Downtown zone--the only behavior the Injunction bans, and the only "crimes" alleged.
It was not proven at the May 2009 hearing that created the original injunction that Richardson and DeLeon were a Public Nuisance, simply that they were regularly charged (but not convicted) of violating the unconstitutional Sleeping Ban. This alone was the grounds for labeling them a "nuisance per se", not any substantial nuisance behavior. Thus was created this unique Injunction which bans an essential human function--sleeping, and set the two up as police targets. Not because their behavior specifically injured anyone, but because nighttime homeless sleeping is and has been illegal in Santa Cruz since 1978.
Brown used [phrases like "vagrancy"--an outdated and prejudicial epithet which criminalizes poor people outside for their status). "Years of negative public perception about safety issues" echoes a paranoid merchant perception--but the two are not charged with any violent crimes. Brown quotes Mayor Rotkin at length, who as usual talks out of both sides of his mouth--professing compassion for the homeless, but supporting the Sleeping Ban--which makes homeless people criminals for a life-sustaining act. All that De Leon and Richardson were charged with was sleeping during the day. Iinstead of grilling Rotkin on where homeless people can park their bones or researching the shelter realities, Brown simply mouths authority propaganda.
Misleading and sloppy reporting includes such comments as "limitations on loitering". There is no such crime; City Council under pressure from gentrification advocates and merchants intent on blaming homeless people for the economic depression has made more than 95% of the city's sidewalks in business districts a crime to sit on, and peacefully spare change on. A huge expanse has also been made forbidden territory for political tabling or busqueing.
MY RESPONSE TO THE SENTINEL STORY ON THEIR WEBSITE
I wrote the following commentary in response to Brown's Sentinel article which covers some more points (somewhat modified in this reprinting):
City Attorney Barisone's arrogance strikes again. As with another recent case where he's wasted over $100,000 of the City's money (and intends to waste more), this one was a really bad call.(See http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci... )
Anna and Miguel were sleeping downtown during the day--an activity not forbidden by Burdick's injunction. But when harassed by Officers Forbus and Winston, they refused to move (as was their right since they were doing nothing illegal). So maybe the two officers, out of resentment that their heavy-handed authority was being properly and caustically challenged, wrote phony tickets without probable cause to further intimidate the two.
The tickets "worked" in that the two defendants gathered together their possessions and left. They also provided grist for Sgt. Garner and Barisone's stalking agenda: holding the two in contempt and jailing them.
However, sleeping during the day is not "setting up a campsite" and even a judge nervous about offending the merchants and politicians knows that. It may show the depth of Barisone's arrogance (or perhaps his indifference--after all, he gets paid regardless) that he proceeded to drag these two into court on what were obviously false charges.
Further aggravating the situation for those of watching the trial was the fact that apparently the cops did not say they'd gotten any specific complaints about the two sleepers. It was just two thugs in uniform showing their power or currying favor with the city attorney--at what may ultimately be a significant cost to the city.
Exerting naked power against people--even poor people--can piss them off, especially when it's illegal.
Volkman had no choice but to find the accused not guilty of contempt. Barisone should have known that from the getgo. Barisone and his two cop witnesses should be held liable for harassment as well as misuse of public funds.
Even those whose agenda is characterizing visible homeless people sparechanging downtown as "bums" should get together to dump these incompetents.
Ironically sleeping during the day is the only legal option for all homeless people in Santa Cruz since sleeping at night is banned under MC 6.36.010a.
So Anna and Miguel sleeping at 1:40 PM and 5:20 PM in the afternoon were actually trying to follow the law.
Present in the audience watching this farce were Mayor Rotkin, Councilmember Robinson, Julie Hende, and no doubt a number of other notable bigoted bureaucrats. Boy, bigotry is bad, but stupidity when mixed with bigotry is even more ludicrous. And making a public spectacle out of this makes them all a laughingstock. Which, given the abuse they're trying to bring to homeless people, is what they deserve.
For more background go to http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/15/1... and http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/18/1... .
Those interested in real solutions should consider how much cheaper it would be to set up a campground and acknowledge the clear and present reality the immense shelter deficiency in Santa Cruz puts the City in very vulnerable spot legally and wretched position ethically.
TIME FOR ANOTHER KIND OF INJUNCTION?
The one positive thing to come out of this case (other than exposing the incompetence and/or corruption of the police and city attorney) is the revelation that police are now (perhaps under instruction from their supervisors) misuseing section c of the camping ordinance--which says folks can be ticketed anytime if they're "setting up a campsite with the intent of remaining overnight".
This means there is no "safety zone" as Vice-Mayor Coonerty insisted several years ago, that allows homeless people to sleep during the day and so makes our city different from Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, and other places that have had courts overturn their Sleeping Bans.
It may be time to go back to court with a lawsuit--and this time the Injunction will be against the City and the Police, and not against homeless sleepers.
COMING UP SOON: SINISTER SONGSTER CITATION TRIALS
Two homeless activists, a homeless musician, and an innocent passerby were falsely given $445 citations last January for singing political songs in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz. Officer Shoenfeld refused to say herself whether the singing she heard at 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, was "unreasonably disturbing". Because the singers refused to move, but did agree to sing more quietly (and stopped singing at Shoenfeld's request), Sheofeld apparently orchestrated the citizen's arrest from a resident of the St. George---Simon Reilly by falsely informing Reilly that the singers refused to sing more quietly.
Some of the story is told at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/01/20/18635743.php ("Sinister Street Singers Cited on Sidewalk").
On March 25th at 1:30 PM in Dept. 10 (the basement of the County Building) the innocent bystander, a teacher named Michelle, will go to trial in the court of Commissioner Kim Baskett.
On March 26th at 10 AM, activist Becky Johnson will go to trial in Dept. 1 (first courtroom to your left as you pass the metal detector) in front of Judge Symons.
On April 27th, Robert "Blindbear" Facer is due to go to trial at 1:30 p.m. Dept. 10.
HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship &; Freedom) will likely be sponsoring an outdoor meal to encourage the community to have a bite to eat and then witness the proceedings in the hopes that these ridiculous charges will be dismissed, encouraging the police not to use citizens as catspaws.
Judge Volkman at the Injunction Contempt Hearing commended the audience for coming and the presence of the audience may have had a positive effect in helping him hold the line against a lawless city attorney whose main concern seems to be running disfavored homeless people out of town or out of sight.