Sacramento DA Targets Unhoused: Homeless Union Disputes ‘Wildly Exaggerated Claims of Rampant Crime’ Near Courthouse

Possessions of a homeless person on Capital Mall Drive in Sacramento on Saturday, September 11, 2021.(Photo by Robert J Hansen)

By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – Here in California’s capital city, there’s a new dragnet—the Sacramento County District Attorney admitted this week he’s opened a new, high-powered investigation, but it’s not aimed at digging up evidence against a serial killer, or rapist.

Instead, District Attorney Thien Ho told news media he’s sent out a neighborhood nuisance questionnaire  to downtown neighbors and businesses asking them to describe how the homeless encampments are impacting them. 

He’s strongly suggested he wants the homeless gone.

And he said it’s only his first step toward a possible lawsuit against the City of Sacramento over the downtown homeless crisis, either a criminal action or civil suit to force the city to enforce “nuisance” laws.

Although Ho claims a DA employee was attacked by an unhoused man, and a court reporter was attacked last month, the Sacramento Homeless Union Tuesday told The Vanguard those facts are not necessarily what Sacramento City Police reports.

“Both DA Ho and Michael Bowman, Presiding Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court (who’s demanded the city clear streets around the courthouse), are relying on wildly exaggerated claims of rampant crime committed by persons camped near the courthouse,” said Homeless Union Chief Counsel Anthony Prince Tuesday evening in response to the DA’s statements.  

“Two days after the Homeless Union held a press conference and protest, the Sacramento Police Department issued an official statement which read, as regards the area surrounding the courthouse, “[W]e have not identified any crime series or trends,” added Prince.

Ho has said the city of Sacramento, not the county of Sacramento, is not doing its job keeping the sidewalks clear of the unhoused, noting in one interview, “What I see is selective enforcement and inconsistent enforcement, and that simply needs to change.”

The city, in a statement Monday, said it’s “working urgently and diligently to address the current homelessness crisis and all its complexities. We are bringing to bear all available resources to help resolve the hardships faced by unsheltered individuals while working to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

The city added, City Code Enforcement and “the Sacramento Police Impact team also respond to calls for service related to vehicle violations as well as sidewalk and critical infrastructure enforcement.”

But, Prince and the Homeless Union have challenged the city in the past about its failed efforts to help the estimated 10,000 homeless in the immediate Sacramento area.

“We know that the City is continuing to violate Martin v. Boise, even as they claim otherwise, and now we see County officials, including these high officers of the Court, helping to foment a climate of simplistic, ‘tough guy’ approaches to a complex problem. What they should be looking into are the roots of homelessness: evictions, foreclosures, lost jobs and the unaffordability of housing,” said Prince.

The tough-talking Homeless Union attorney added, “The Homeless Union has never and will not now be a spectator as the City and County point fingers at each other: we have organized, we have gone to court and we have been about the voice of the homeless themselves; now, more than ever. Stay tuned.”

Noting that “we’re in the process right now of gathering evidence, and as the district attorney I’m going to follow the facts of the law wherever it takes us… What is available to me under the law is both the criminal code and the civil code,” said Ho in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.

“The move, which Ho said he believes is unprecedented for a prosecutor’s office, follows his request to city officials last month to clear homeless campsites from near the Sacramento Superior Courthouse. City officials have countered that they cannot clear most of the encampments without first opening more shelter beds, for which it lacks funding,” The Bee wrote.

Ho maintains in his Sacramento Bee interview he is not anti-homeless, but this is an ”attempt to get the city to take action to help them.”

“It’s not anti-homeless,” Ho said. “What I am is compassionate for the conditions that they’re living in. It’s not compassionate that they are living and dying in those conditions. And what we are doing is not compassionate to them. It’s not compassionate to the community. 

“People are living in third-world conditions here in the state’s capital,” Ho said to The Bee, adding, “We need to show compassion, but we also need to display courage to sometimes do things that are uncomfortable and unpopular.” 

Ho said potential criminal charges would stem from violations of California Penal Code section 370, which prohibits “public nuisance” and cites “anything which is injurious to health, or is indecent, or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood…” 

Ho suggested in his Bee interview that the unhoused may not be the target of a civil suit—although he mentioned criminal statutes which presumably could focus on those without homes.

“Ho declined to say who, precisely, would be the target of his investigation, whether it be Steinberg, City Manager Howard Chan, council members or other city officials.,” wrote The Bee.

“That’s really not a question for me to answer right now,” he said. “I’m in the process of gathering the evidence and asking for people’s input, and the evidence that we gather and the responses that we get and what we find that will lead to wherever it’s going to lead us.” 

“Our community would be better served if all units of government focused on homeless prevention and creating affordable housing and services rather than suing each other, which will only lead to further criminalizing our unhoused neighbors,” said Bob Erlenbusch of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness. 

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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