The hidden community

Oxnard homeless allege police harassment

By David Courtland 03/13/2008

Members of Oxnard’s homeless community say they are being harassed by police officers singling them out for frivolous charges others wouldn’t get ticketed for.

“Many of the complaints are for being ticketed for riding bikes on sidewalks, on the wrong side of the road or without lights,” says Mike McLean of Community Action of Ventura (formerly the Ventura County Commission on Human Concerns).

McLean, who manages a transition center where many of Oxnard’s homeless do job searches on computers, says he regularly hears complaints from people ticketed for jaywalking and other minor infractions.

“They may be walking down the street and (the police) just pull over and run them (for warrants),” says McLean.

Oxnard Police Department spokesman David Keith said the department wasn’t able to investigate all of the claims in this article by deadline and that the issues are matters for internal affairs. The only action the homeless individuals alleging harassment apparently took to challenge the practices was to contest the charges against them in court.

Some report a popular tactic is to cite people with “littering,” as happened in the alley behind the Ventura County Rescue Mission to several people who had gone for lunch.

“Two officers gave about six people tickets for flicking their cigarette ashes in the alley,” says Richard Stansberry, who witnessed the Dec. 3 incident.

“I was walking across the La Gloria [Market] parking lot, an officer parked there ticketed me for flicking ashes,” on Feb. 13, said a woman who asked not to be named.

“I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because of people like you the city stays dirty,’” said the woman, who said the officer knew from previous encounters that she was homeless.

“I said, ‘what’s that supposed to mean?’” said the woman, who says she has pleaded not guilty to the charge in court. “‘Just what it sounds like, people like you,’ he said.”

Sonia Meurer, a woman who has been homeless for six months, said one officer destroyed a Richmond Avenue camp she had set up with a property owner’s permission.

“Other officers used to come and check on me, this one took everything,” said Meurer, who says she was also once jailed for a bogus public drunkenness charge that got dismissed.

Meurer’s boyfriend Frank, who asked that his last name not be used, says he has had similar encounters with police officers enforcing what he calls an unofficial nighttime curfew.

“It’s kind of pathetic, to be really honest,” Frank said of police officers’ behavior during an encounter he had with them about a year ago.

Frank, who gets an $817 monthly disability check but isn’t able to pay rent after taking care of other expenses, says he was walking west on Fifth Street toward Richmond Avenue shortly after 9 p.m. when a man pushed him out of the way of a car barreling toward them.

“There was a cop car not three feet away from me,” recalled Frank, who said he was cornered by police officers between two bungalows. “They kicked me, when I asked why they had me on the ground with their guns pointed at me, they said ‘You don’t need to f‑ing know.’”

Frank says he was jailed for two days for being under the influence of alcohol and had a blood sample forcibly drawn from him, even though he wasn’t drunk and didn’t have any warrants for his arrest.

“We call ourselves the hidden community,” says Frank, “because we’re always hiding from the cops.”

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