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What Happened to Pamela Kincaid?

by Mike Rhodes (mikerhodes [at] comcast.net)
Pamela Kincaid, who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno, died last week. The article below details the circumstances of her death.
What Happened to Pamela Kincaid?
By Mike Rhodes

A friend of mine died under disturbing and suspicious circumstances last week. I’m determined to find out the truth and discover what led to her death. Here is what I know:

Pamela Kincaid was the lead named plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the homeless against the City of Fresno, because the city was taking and immediately destroying their property. This sometimes included their ID’s, clothing, tools, kittens, and in one case the urn containing the ashes of a grandchild. Pam stood up against this injustice and was willing to put herself on the line to protect the rights of all homeless people in this community.

A federal court issued a preliminary injunction to stop the city from conducting these raids on the homeless and just last week ruled to certify the suit as a class action lawsuit. That means that all homeless people affected by the city’s policy will be compensated if the lawsuit prevails in court. On the day the class action lawsuit was certified in Federal Court, the attorneys visited Pam in UMC, the long term care facility she was in. A day and a half later at 1:30 AM on Wednesday, August 1, Pam fell from the fourth floor, under suspicious circumstances.

Pam was in this facility because she had been beaten, nearly to death, in mid July. Pam had been telling me for months that she felt she was being targeted by the police and others because of the lawsuit. She was very upset about being arrested and put in jail for several days without charges ever being filed. Pam described what happened: “you know why they arrested me, don’t you? It was retaliation for the lawsuit.” The arrest occurred when Pam was driving around with friends in downtown Fresno. “All of a sudden there was this swarm of cop cars,” Pam said. “They got us all out of the car but they seemed mostly interested in me. One of the guys I was with had an open can of beer, which they just totally ignored. They arrest me on a probation hold. I’m not on probation and they knew that!”

Pam spent the next several days in jail. No charges were ever filed. As she was being released, Pam asked one of the sheriff deputies why she had been in jail. Pam told me the officer rolled her eyes and said “there ought to be an investigation.” Pam thought she knew exactly why she was arrested and put in jail - she believed it was because she was the high visibility plaintiff in a very controversial lawsuit that put the City of Fresno and the Fresno Police Department (FPD) in a bad light.

Al Williams, another named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the city, was also arrested and released with no charges ever being filed. The day after Al was put in jail, the encampment he lived in was raided and his disabled wife was forced to move. Later, Sherri (Al’s wife) was arrested for trying to use the restroom at McDonald’s restaurant (see page one story in the August 2007 of the Community Alliance).

Life on the streets is hard on homeless people. If you are a woman and homeless, you can double or triple the difficulty factor. There are very few beds for homeless women in Fresno and Pam had given up trying to find a safe place where she could stay at a shelter. She was streetwise, but living in a tent in downtown Fresno can still be dangerous. She told me that there were people on the street that were upset with her because of the lawsuit. Specifically, she said the drug dealers, who are a small part of the downtown homeless community, were angry at her. They were angry because the lawsuit had increased law enforcement’s presence around some homeless encampments and the drug dealers blamed her.

On one occasion, Pam and I talked about the drug situation downtown. She said it was just unexplainable how the police will come in and arrest one person who is dealing drugs and leave everyone else alone. She said “all they would have to do is to come in here with a drug sniffing dog and it would be all over.” She believed there had to be some kind of payoff going on so the police protected some dealers and arrested others.

A couple of months ago Rev. Floyd Harris was at the corner of G and Santa Clara streets talking to homeless people. He was surprised at how openly drugs were being bought and sold. He too questioned the motivation of the police to selectively enforce drug laws. The drug wars, as they play out in downtown Fresno, are making some people rich, other people vulnerable, and some people end up dead.

Pam Kincaid usually lived in very remote locations in the old industrial section of downtown Fresno (south of Ventura). She often lived with other people because that provides a homeless woman with some protection. Pam, like many homeless women, also had a dog.

It is notable how often Pam, and the encampments she lived in, were forced to move. Even after the preliminary injunction and victory in court, homeless people are endlessly harassed and told to “move on.” The City of Fresno conducted one of their raids on homeless encampments on Santa Fe (just south of Ventura) in early July. Pam was living there at the time. This was the fourth or fifth time she had been forced to move in the last six months.

Pam ended up in an encampment on Mono, just east of R street. On or about July 13, 2007, Pam and a friend (we will call him Mario - not his real name) started walking towards a store on Ventura. According to Mario they saw a FPD patrol car cruise by, turn around and pull up beside them. This is not unusual if you are living on the street. The police are always stopping homeless people and asking them for their ID, running their names through the data base, and seeing what comes up. It is like fishing. Every so often the police catch someone who is in violation of their parole, has an outstanding warrant, or for some other reason is being looked for by law enforcement.

Cynthia Greene, who is homeless and another named plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City of Fresno, told me she was stopped four times on one day in mid July. Cynthia said “I was out trying to collect cans for recycling and the police came up and ask me for my ID. I would get done with one stop and a few minutes later I’d get stopped again. This is unusual even for Fresno.” Cynthia said she felt uncomfortable with all of the stops and was concerned that she was being targeted.

The police officer checked Pam and Mario’s ID and let them go. As they were leaving, a group of about six or seven people (at least one them has been identified to me as a drug dealer) walked by and went to the police car. Mario said that he looked back and saw the officer pointing at him and Pam while he talked to the group. Pam decided to stay at her encampment and Mario continued on to the store. Feeling something was wrong, Mario returned (without going to the store) to see four of five women from the group savagely beating Pam.

Mario said “Pam is on the ground and one of them has these boot heals, you know like these dress boots, you know what I’m talking about? With the big heals? And they are just (Mario jumps up and down as if stomping something on the ground).” According to Mario, they were saying “drop the suit, drop the suit, you’re hurting us, you’re hurting them, now we’re hurting you.”

Mario says that after he stopped the assault on Pam he tried to flag down a police patrol car. The first police vehicle that went by on R street did not stop. Within 15 minutes another patrol car came by. This time the officer stopped and Mario explained what happened. The officer left, saying he was going to find the perpetrators of the crime, but he never came back to follow up on the victim or write a report of the assault.

Pam was admitted to Community Medical Center on July 13. The nurse who attended to Pam said she was black and blue from the waist up. “It was clear that Pam had been beaten,” the nurse told me. The police report issued at the time she was admitted to CMC was more vague. The police report suggests that Pam had a bad sunburn, might have a mental illness, and did not want to press charges.

I man with extensive contacts in the homeless community confirmed, at least in part, the story of what happened to Pam. He said three young women were bragging about how they had beat Pam up. Fearing retaliation himself, he did not want to identify those involved.

I didn’t find out that Pam was in the hospital until about a week after she was admitted. She was still black and blue and it did not look like she had a sunburn to me. She was clearly disoriented. Her attending physician, Dr. Ossia, told me that she did not know what city she was in or what year it was. He explained that she had sub dermal hematoma, which causes swelling inside the skull and the pressure can cause the disorientation and delusions she was experiencing. He was cautiously optimistic that she would regain her memory.

After Pam was at CMC for over a week it was agreed that she needed to move to more long term care. But, without insurance or any resources the options were very limited. UMC was one of the only long term care facilities that would take Pam. On the day before she transferred to UMC, I talked to her nurse again. She told me that Pam was starting to remember what had happened and said that the attack had to do with the lawsuit against the City of Fresno.

She was put on the fourth floor of the long term care facility at UMC. At about 1:30 AM on Wednesday, August 1 she went through the doors to a balcony and fell four floors to her death. The doors were supposed to have an alarm that would alert staff if they were opened and the staff knew that Pam was disoriented due to the attack. Something, we don’t yet know what, went horribly wrong.

Several of Pam’s friends saw her just before she died. Those that I talked to said she was doing better, she was not suicidal, and her nurse said her memory was starting to clear up. We are left with a lot of unanswered questions like:

* What did the police officer say to the group that attacked Pam?
* Why did the police officer who Mario stopped not return to help Pam or write an incident report?
* Why did the police who talked to Pam at CMC not conclude that a crime had been committed and try to find out who attacked her?
* What went wrong at UMC? How could a patient, who is known to be disoriented, walk onto a balcony, and fall from the fourth floor?
* Why was a repairman working on the alarm system leading to the fourth floor balcony the morning after Pam fell?

The Coroner’s office is conducting an autopsy and law enforcement is investigating the circumstances of Pam’s death. Some homeless advocates have suggested that the FPD might not be the best law enforcement agency to investigate this incident. In fact, this case may become the Poster Child for why Fresno needs an Independent Police Auditor.

I want to find out the truth about Pamela Kincaid’s death. In order for there to be justice, we need to know what led to the initial attack and what went wrong at UMC. Wherever the facts of this case take us, this will be a better community for learning the truth. I will not rest until there is JUSTICE FOR PAMELA KINCAID.

For a list of articles and documents about the struggle for civil liberties for homeless people in Fresno, see: http://www.fresnoalliance.com/home/homelessness.htm

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