While issues with the homeless are seemingly universal in Southern California, the problem is more acute in certain areas.
Every January for the last several years, the county government and each of the 24 municipalities in San Bernardino County collaborate on what is called the “point in time count,” which tallies the number of homeless in the region. That count was carried out on January 26 of this year, finding 1,866 homeless people countywide, which was a slight reduction from the 1,887 counted on January 28, 2016. San Bernardino County compared favorably to most of the surrounding counties in terms of the ratio of officially counted homeless numbers to total population. In descending order, the cities in San Bernardino County with the highest homeless populations were: San Bernardino: 491; Redlands: 164; Victorville: 157; Upland: 127; Ontario: 91; Rialto: 91.
This drawdown in the number of the homeless clearly bucks the trend in Southern California. What at one time were referred to as vagrancy laws are no longer applicable following a legal development a generation ago. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, struck down Jacksonville’s vagrancy ordinance, ruling unanimously that Florida city’s ordinance was unconstitutionally vague for failing to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that “vagrancy” is forbidden while secondly it “encourage[d] arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions.”
California, likely because of its hospitable climate for most of the year, hosts roughly one fifth of the homeless population in the United States. In the last 20 years, California cities, no longer able to rely on the state’s discarded vagrancy statute, have enacted a rash of laws which are essentially directed at people who are homeless. These restrict activities in a way calculated to encourage the dispossessed to leave. The ordinances criminalize activities that people without homes must undertake in public, such as sitting in public, loitering, begging and panhandling, or sharing food during daytime and camping in public and sleeping or lodging in vehicles at night.
While these ordinances have often had the intended immediate effect of driving the disenfranchised away, these draconian means are not without some degree of legal risk.
In 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case of Jones v. City of Los Angeles held that “the Eighth Amendment prohibits the city from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the City of Los Angeles.” In October 2007, the parties settled the case and sought withdrawal of the opinion, which the Court of Appeals granted. Nevertheless, the ruling in Jones v. City of Los Angeles set the prevailing standard which effectively prevents ordinances from criminalizing conduct that, due to the shortage of housing for the homeless, is an unavoidable outgrowth of being without a place to live, making it legally unacceptable for cities struggling with homeless population challenges from shifting the homeless from the streets to jails.
Again pushing the envelope of what restrictions could be placed on the homeless or what ordinances or policies could be employed to induce them to leave, the City of Los Angeles enacted an ordinance allowing authorities to seize and discard unattended personal property located on public property, in particular sidewalks. This provoked a lawsuit, Lavan vs. Los Angeles, in which eight homeless people claimed their personal belongings were illegally taken from the sidewalk when they got up to use the restroom or run an errand. In September 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the city was not allowed to remove and destroy unattended property on the sidewalk, citing Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations. The City of Los Angeles for two years sought to appeal the ruling and amend the consequent injunction it entailed, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not deign to review the ruling.
Throughout much of San Bernardino County, officials have taken a clever approach that reduces considerably the potential for legal liability. Rather than enforce those laws which could be construed as targeting the homeless, they have moved to a strategy of enforcing, where the behavior of the destitute population warrants such, other elements of the penal code against them. This enforcement is done in a high-profiled and conspicuous manner calculated to come to the attention of others living on the streets, sending an unmistakably clear message that they should think long and hard about remaining in place.
For their part, law enforcement officials maintain that they are merely enforcing the law. They say those homeless individuals arrested were rung up on crimes that would have triggered the arrest of anyone – homeless or housed – perpetrating them. And, they say, there is no greater premium on prosecuting the homeless than prosecuting anyone else.
It is worth noting, nonetheless, that several of the county’s law enforcement agencies make a point of publicizing the more sensational arrests of those they refer to as transients.
On Tuesday morning August 15, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which provides contract law enforcement services to the City of Chino Hills, arrested Edward Lopez, a transient, on suspicion of robbery, vandalism and attempted arson. Deputies maintain Lopez tried to use a lighter to ignite a fuel nozzle.
Deputies went to the gas station/Circle K, located at 4200 Chino Hills Parkway, following a report that a man was vandalizing the convenience store by breaking several glass shelves and that he took two refrigerated Coca-Cola coolers and then chased employees out of the store. Thereafter, according to the sheriff’s department, Lopez attempted to use a stolen cigarette lighter in an effort to ignite a fuel nozzle on one of the gas station’s fuel pumps. After Lopez fled into the Circle K and locked the door behind himself, he relented and let the deputies in, at which point he was taken into custody. According to deputies, Lopez had previously vandalized playground equipment at Chaparral Elementary School in Chino Hills on August 9 and had slept on the campus.
On Monday, August 14, 2917 at 11:08 p.m., San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a break-in attempt at a business office in the 17100 block of D Street in Victorville. Deputies came upon a suspect, later identified as Marcus Joseph Dewitt, 28, nearby. Believing Dewitt had just left the business, they confronted him. The department says a deputy deployed a stun gun on a Dewitt, described as a transient, when Dewitt attempted to strike the deputy and refused to follow his verbal commands. Dewitt was taken into custody and booked into the Adelanto Detention Center in lieu of $50,000 bail on suspicion of resisting a police officer.
Christopher Barrios, identified as a 35-year old transient, was taken into custody August 11 at 8:34 a.m. in Victorville and charged with resisting and obstructing an officer. A confrontation between Barrios and sheriff’s deputies ensued after the deputies came to a home in the 15300 block of Center Street in response to a domestic disturbance call from Barrios’ estranged wife. According to the department, Barrios “became angry and argumentative with his wife [after] deputy D. Carpenter responded to the location and while talking to the involved parties. Due to the suspect’s erratic behavior, deputy Carpenter attempted to detain him, for the safety of all parties.” The department maintains Barrios fled and hid beneath a wooden container until he was found by deputy A. Pen. Barrios became combative when the deputies approached and pepper-sprayed him.
On August 14, officers with the San Bernardino Police Department arrested Renee Hernandez Jr., who was living in the vacant Happy Boy Car Wash in the 500 block of North Flores Street in San Bernardino. County fire fighters responded to that location at 3:05 p.m. that day in response to a report of a fire. Upon arrival, firefighters extinguished the blaze. Hernandez told firefighter he lit the fire. A San Bernardino County fire investigator questioned Hernandez, determining he had intentionally set the fire. Hernandez was transported by an officer with the San Bernardino Police Department to West Valley Detention Center where he was booked for arson, trespassing and a San Bernardino Municipal Code violation. His bail was set at $150,000.
In Redlands on August 11, Redlands police officers detained and then arrested Isaac Edward Allen, described as a 21-year-old transient from San Bernardino, near the underground parking structure at Citrus Avenue and Fifth Street. According to the department Allen had several items which they believe he had stolen when he had burglarized Citrus Valley High School sometime between the early afternoon of July 31 and mid-morning on August 1. It was subsequently determined that the items, which have not been described, were equipment the school owned. Allen was booked on suspicion of having stolen or having received stolen items. Allen had an outstanding warrant, Redlands Police said.
On August Friday 4, Redlands police arrested Julio Nestor Flores, 23, a transient, after he got into the back seat of a pregnant woman’s car. The woman, who was 8 months pregnant, was at the Shell gas station at 127 Redlands Blvd., according to the police “placing her 18-month-old baby in the back seat of her SUV when the subject opened the other rear door and sat next to the baby. The mother became frantic and fled the parking lot with her baby in her arms.”
Police said Flores sat in the vehicle for a brief period, but attempted “to walk away when officers arrived,” according to a police department web post. Flores had apparently sought to get into another vehicle earlier while he was in the Vons parking lot in the 500 block of Orange Street, but was thwarted when the driver pulled away. Flores, who was on probations, was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance
On August 4 in Victorville, 28-year-old Dontra Anthony Morris, described as a transient, was arrested after attempting to break into multiple vehicles at Valley-Hi Toyota in the 14600 block of Valley Center Drive that morning. A dealership employee spotted Morris trying to get into vehicles in the service area. He was told to leave but a short time later he went into the parts department, according to the sheriff’s department, where he attempted to steal merchandise.
Dealership employees escorted Morris off the property prior to deputies arriving, but with assistance from California Highway Patrol’s Airship H80, sheriff’s service specialists G. Bracamontes and C. Rodriguez located him in a shopping center off Seventh Street, near La Paz Drive, the sheriff’s office said. Morris was observed attempting to enter a vehicle parked at the shopping center and was taken into custody. Morris is on probation for attempted grand theft and had been arrested on May 27 after trying to steal a vehicle from the garage of a home in Victorville. Morris was arrested on suspicion of attempted grand theft auto, attempted burglary and felony violation of probation and was booked at the High Desert Detention Center.
On August 4, 31-year-old Daniel Davila, a transient, was arrested in Victorville after he attempted to walk away from the Office Max office supply store at 12628 Amargosa Road with a printer he had not paid for. Davila pushed and hit employees who confronted him, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The Office Max employees succeeded in taking the printer away from Davila, who fled, crossing the I-15. Davila was located by sheriff’s deputies and arrest. He was booked at High Desert Detention Center for robbery.
On Wednesday July 26, Danielle Alexandria Giangrossi, 32, a Victorville transient, was arrested on suspicion of arson after firefighters responded and doused a fire near the Rancho Seneca Apartments in the 14700 block of Seneca Road. Investigators concluded that Giangrossi set fire to a transient encampment near where she was living. She was arrested by the fire department and booked into the High Desert Detention Center in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Just before midnight Monday July 17, Jeremy Byrd, a 30-year-old transient, was arrested on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle and on a warrant for driving with a suspended driver’s license. Byrd and the vehicle, a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado, were spotted by sheriff’s deputy Jared Sacapano in line at a Del Taco drive-thru in the 12200 block of Apple Valley Road in Apple Valley. Sacapano checked the license plate of the pickup. It turned out to have been reported as stolen from Boron.
Clorinda Garcia, a 29-year-old transient, was arrested in Highland on July 6 and charged with stabbing her boyfriend with a pair of scissors. At 10:05 p.m. that evening, a man with a stab wound was found walking near Base Line and Sterling Avenue. Medical aid was summoned, and he was taken to the hospital. Investigating deputies learned he had been stabbed after an argument with his girlfriend, identified as Garcia. She was located at a nearby transient camp in Highland and booked into the Central Detention Center in San Bernardino on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. Her bail was set at $50,000.
John Mosby, a 58-year-old transient was arrested July 3 after having allegedly shot a man the previous day in the area of Bear Valley Road and Second Avenue in Hesperia. Mosby was found and taken into custody near Main Street and Cataba Road by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies, who were assisted by the Specialized Enforcement Division. He was arrested and booked into the High Desert Detention Center on suspicion of attempted murder. Mosby is currently being held in lieu of $1 million bail and the motive for the shooting is under investigation.
Deputies with the Hesperia Sheriff’s Station were dispatched to the 16700 block of Bear Valley Road at 2:58 a.m. on Sunday July 2 after receiving a call of shots fired. Arriving deputies found a male victim suffering from a gunshot wound. He was transported to a trauma center. Mosby fled the scene before deputies arrived, but was ascertained to be a suspect in the shooting.
On Wednesday June 1, two transients believed to have been living at a homeless encampment in Victorville were arrested following a traffic stop in Loma Linda, after deputies discovered a significant amount of stolen personal property within the vehicle in which they were riding.
When Steven Vigil, 40, and Desiree Rodriguez, 35, were subjected to a vehicle check on California Street conducted by Loma Linda deputies B. Ortiz and L. Sandoval along with Sgt. A. Garcia, Vigil was determined to be a parolee at large with an active no bail warrant and Rodriguez was found to have several arrest warrants. A search of their vehicle found they were in possession of a “significant amount of other persons credit cards, ID cards and social security cards,” according to the sheriff’s department. Ortiz contacted several victims and it was determined they obtained the property during two burglaries.
Vigil was arrested and booked him into the Central Detention Center without bail. Rodriguez’s matter has been referred to the district attorney’s office.
Geraldo Gonzalez, a transient, was arrested twice, once when he broke into a child care center in Redlands on May 22 and again on May 27, when he sought to enter that city’s federal building from the roof where he left a water valve running.
On May 22, Gonzales got into the Redlands Day Nursery at 1643 Plum Lane by defeating a locked door. He was arrested after the alarm system summoned a nursery employee and the police. He was booked but released on May 24. On May 27, Gonzalez scaled to the top of the U.S. Geological Survey Building at 1653 Plum Lane, where he opened a water valve. He was found in a field next to the building after federal police were summoned. Those federal officers took him into custody and he was charged with trespassing on federal property.
Vontrell Lamarr Wynn, a transient from Victorville, was arrested on May 25 after he robbed the In-N-Out hamburger stand at 15290 Civic Drive in Victorville at gunpoint. Deputies from the Victorville sheriff’s station were summoned shortly after the incident, and employees gave a description of the suspect, later identified as Wynn. Deputies searched the area and located Wynn behind the Food 4 Less on La Paz Drive. Wynn was positively identified by the employees as the suspect who robbed the business. Wynn was booked at the High Desert Detention Center on suspicion of robbery and is being held in lieu of $125,000 bail.
Ruben Guzman, a transient man from the Redlands area was arrested Tuesday, May 23, and charged with breaking into an elderly woman’s home in Mentone, where he allegedly attempted to sexually assault her.
Guzman, 31, was found in the area shortly after the incident was reported. He was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of burglary, elder abuse, attempted rape, and assault during rape.
The woman, identified as more than 65 years of age, told deputies a man she did not know forced his way into her home, “physically assaulted and attempted to sexually assault her,” according to the sheriff’s department. When he fled, Guzman took the woman’s phone, the sheriff’s department said. “Evidence of the crime linking the suspect to the incident was located,” according to a sheriff’s department release.
Adrian Tostado, a 30-year-old transient was arrested on Tuesday, May 23, for having intentionally lit trash cans on fire at a park in Highland. Images of Tostado captured by a videocamera show him walking near two trash cans on fire at Highland Community Park at 7793 Central Ave. at around 5 a.m., according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which provides contract law enforcement service for Highland. Tostado “made no attempt to extinguish the fire or call for assistance,” the sheriff’s department maintains. He was found roughly a block away, near another trash bin that was on fire, the sheriff’s department claims.
Tostado was arrested on suspicion of arson and booked into jail with bail set at $50,000. -Mark Gutglueck
While issues with the homeless are seemingly universal in Southern California, the problem is more acute in certain areas.