By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Remember the old television Westerns where the Sheriff runs someone he doesn’t like out of town on a rail?
(Wikipedia: Riding the rail was a punishment most prevalent in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. (A)n offender was made to straddle a fence rail…taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside.)
A modern-day version of this has now been put in play by the City of Sacramento as it attempts to find ways to rid itself of the homeless – except the “rail” now being used is a civil lawsuit.
Civil libertarians are calling this an attack on civil rights and “outrageous,” but the city nonetheless has filed a civil action against seven individuals described as “drug users, trespassers, thieves, possessors of illegal weapons and ammunition, and violent criminals conducting their affairs within the City of Sacramento.”
According to the 71-page lawsuit filed last week – where the city outlines a litany of crimes from drug use to assault, battery, trespass, drunk in public, shoplifting, carrying concealed weapons and public masturbation – the seven individuals would be banned from a major portion of downtown, including wealthy parts of Curtis Park and Land Park and the Broadway area to 9th Street and Highway 99 on the East.
Sean Conner, Michael Dibiasio, Dimitriy Gologyuk, Troy Green, Kelvin C. Peterson, Joseph Soto and Kenneth Whitlock are the named defendants.
Describing the seven defendants as a “public nuisance,” the city said the designation area is “high crime” and uses an “excessive” amount of police resources. The lawsuit outlines the complaints of business owners in detail about the general crime in the area – largely drug and property-related – and lists the criminal arrests of the defendants.
Although the crimes cover roughly a two-year span, and some of the crimes, including felonies, carry multi-year sentences, the lawsuit is silent as to why the alleged criminals/defendants are not in jail or prison.
In a declaration attached to the suits, Greater Broadway District executive director Joan Borucki said: “Our team is constantly dealing with the aftermath of drug activity at the Designated Area….This includes dealing with the human waste, needle pick-up, theft, car break-ins and vandalism on a daily basis.”
She, like the declarations of other witnesses in the suit, didn’t refer to the defendants by name but made the general claim about lawlessness in the area.
Civil rights attorney Mark Merin has a different take on the lawsuit, which he sees more as an attack on the poor and civil liberties, noting it’s not the way to respond the homeless situation in Sacramento.
“This is an outrageous expansion of use of police power to a social emergency…homelessness, lack of facilities for persons with mental illness, lack of employment and deterioration of services,” said Merin, adding, “This is an attempt to get around the constitutional restrictions on criminalizing homeless persons for sleeping outside when there is no shelter available. It’s cynical pandering to property interests.
“This suit is a harbinger of worse encroachments on civil liberties to come as society becomes more fractured and those who have don’t want to see the desperate, the poor, ‘the huddled masses’ anywhere near them,” said Merin, who accused the city of trying to “sneak this past us.
“With this mentality, the authorities could tag anyone, not just the homeless, who is doing anything they do not like, such as panhandling, sleeping on the sidewalk, jaywalking, etc., and exclude them from huge swatches of the city,” said Merin.
In 2011, the city used the courts to keep Occupy demonstrators out of Cesar Chavez Park near City Hall, citing an ancient and seldom, if ever, used ordinance that banned people from the downtown park after dusk. There were 110 arrests but no convictions.
Merin was on the legal team for the demonstrators and said he will, if necessary, mobilize pro bono lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU again to fight what he believes is an unjust civil action.
He said that the seven probably won’t qualify for public defenders (reserved for criminal matters, not civil) when and if they are served.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg disagreed with Merin’s assessment, and said in a statement that “[h]omelessness is not a crime, and this lawsuit does not seek to make it one,” arguing that the suit was filed to “safeguard public safety” of residents and businesses subjected to “criminal activity by a relatively small number of people, some of whom also happen to be homeless.”
However, contrary to Steinberg’s claim, only “some” of the defendants are homeless, and a review of the lawsuit indicates all of the defendants are either homeless or at least being charged, in addition to other crimes, with homeless-related crimes, including unlawful camping, trespassing, defecating and/or urinating in public and panhandling.
Green, for instance, was cited for trespassing, including allegedly sleeping under a restaurant table, and “scooping ice” out of fountain; Peterson was charged with lawful camping and storing property illegally; Dibiasio was accused of sleeping on private property, storing property illegally and carrying a six-inch knife; Golodyuk also had numerous trespass, sleeping in public, illegal camping, and related citations. He also has been charged with stealing vehicles, including a police vehicle; Whitlock has unlawful camping, panhandling and other homeless-related crimes listed in the suit; Soto has been charged with eating food and drinking a soda without paying, and sleeping outside a business, among other incidents; Connor, in addition to panhandling, trespass and related crimes, has been accused in the suit of being naked in public, lying down in the middle of Alhambra Blvd. and similar acts.
According to Sacramento Police Sgt. Greg Galliano, the area the individuals are to be banned from has been plagued by crime and “equates to an enormous amount of time and resources being expended to a relatively small area located within the City Limits.”
He said service calls include loitering, prostitution, public intoxication, littering and vandalism, and arrests or citations have been made for “various crimes, including parole violation, robbery, vandalism, possession of narcotics, sales of narcotics, assaults, fighting in public and public intoxication.”