Sacramento District Attorney Doesn’t Want to ‘Criminalize’ Unhoused but Begs City to Enforce Homeless Laws to Protect DA Employees

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By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – The Sacramento Superior Courthouse is being used as a “ground zero” in the District Attorney’s Office battles here with people—this time it’s those who are unhoused, according to a letter authored by Sacramento DA Thien Ho, who has asked Sacramento officials to remove homeless encampments from the sidewalks around the courthouse, specifically his office.

A few years ago, the DA’s office was asking for protection and building fences around its property to “defend” itself from police reform advocates, including Black Lives Matter, who laid siege to the office—just across the street from the courthouse—to protest the DA’s decision not to prosecute police who killed unarmed people of color.

Now, it appears, the DA has a problem with those whose only real serious crime may be not having a home, and is asking city leaders to clear homeless encampments from sidewalks outside the downtown courthouse—and not by coincidence his office kitty-corner from the court.

“People are entitled to the fundamental right of fair and equal access to justice,” Ho said in a letter to Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela Friday, as noted by The Sacramento Bee, adding “to obtain justice, members of our community require unfettered access to the courthouse and the District Attorney’s Office without threats to their safety or well-being.” 

Over the last year, the DA’s office said it has detailed “86 incidents” involving homeless people outside the downtown courthouse, located at 9th and H streets, the letter stated, alleging there has been “open air drug use and dealing,” and tents blocking sidewalks, said the Bee.

DA Ho’s concerns seemed to be focused more on his office than the courthouse, though.

In the “incidents” noted by Ho, he mentions, “While walking back from court, a young deputy district attorney was accosted and struck in the head by an unhoused individual; while returning from a court run to file documents, a female D.A. employee received threats and hateful racial slurs from an unhoused man regarding the Hijab she wore; a fire was recently set in a nearby alleyway; a man exposed his genitalia across the street from the office (and) a man entered the lobby of the D.A.’s Office with a hammer.”

As the Bee writes, Ho added, “These incidents do not include our daily exposure to feces, urine, broken furniture and trash littering the area. Some sidewalks are inaccessible as rows of tents and other items make walking impossible, thus forcing pedestrians into our busy streets. It is a sad state of affairs when citizens choose to step out into the street over the dangers lurking on our city sidewalks.” 

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who has exclaimed for years he wants to help the homeless, now says the city will “clear” the homeless camps surrounding the courthouse in a few weeks, as the Bee notes.

But—and it’s a big but—because Sacramento elected leaders have had problems following through with promises to aid the unhoused, Steinberg’s declaration that he’ll “clear” the camps is based on “new spaces opening up at the city’s sanctioned campground at Miller Park,” according to the Bee story.  

In his own statement issued Friday, Steinberg stated, “The presiding judge and the district attorney are right. I’m working with the city manager to open up the Miller Park Safe Camping no later than two weeks from now. The first priority will be to address the encampments surrounding the DA’s office and the courthouse. Those areas will be cleaned.” 

The city ordinance barring camps near critical infrastructure, including schools and levees, doesn’t list the courthouse as “critical”—something Ho wants changed because the DA’s office is so near the courthouse.

 While claiming in his letter he doesn’t want to criminalize homelessness, Ho—sounding like he does, in fact, want to criminalize people who don’t have homes—requests “the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office, Sacramento City Code Enforcement and the Sacramento Police Department…consistently enforce existing Sacramento city codes and ordinances to address the public safety concerns.”

Earlier in the week, Sacramento Superior Judge Michael G. Bowman didn’t try to mask his desire to “criminalize” homelessness, writing Steinberg, “On behalf of the Court, the thousands of people who use our services and our 416 downtown employees, I respectfully request the Sacramento Police Department increase its presence near our downtown court locations, jury and employee parking lots, and that code violations be enforced.”

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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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1 Comment

  1. PhilColeman

    Persons without homes or housing options are not criminals. TRUE

    Such persons who sit or lie down on some piece of ground for any appreciable time this, of necessity, becomes their “home.” TRUE

    Such persons in these circumstances–especially in concentration–can become annoying, blight the area, and intimidating. TRUE

    Government officials are pressured to “move,” “get rid of,” or “relocate” this category of US Citizen so that the vast majority of our population who have housing are more comfortable  TRUE

    Only ONE government agency has the legal authority to invoke applicable codes and statutes for the involuntary removal of persons described above, law enforcement. TRUE

    Law enforcement can legally perform the removal/relocation only through enforcing the applicable laws and civil codes. TRUE

    But to do so, law enforcement has to categorize those without housing as criminals, that is the only legal way to remove these “undesirables.” TRUE

    So what we’ll do is have the police remove these persons without housing options and still maintain they are not criminals, when, by law, the are. We can always blame law enforcement for being too heavy-handed if there is too much push back from homeless relief advocates. PROBLEM SOLVED

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