[Hpn] River camper challenges city-Sacramento Bee

paula farrell paula_95814@yahoo.com
Thu, 1 Aug 2002 11:52:14 -0700 (PDT)


Diana Griego Erwin: River camper challenges city --
    Where can the homeless sleep?

    By Diana Griego Erwin -- Bee Staff Writer
    Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Thursday, August 1, 2002

    Worn beyond his years, eyes tired, scraggly beard
graying, William "Billy" McManus, 52, doesn't read
like the type of person who would take on the city.

    But the homeless man, who sleeps where he can, is
doing just that.

    When the Sacramento city attorney's office offered
McManus a way to resolve three misdemeanor
legal-camping charges, McManus turned the offer down
because he believes the city ordinance is unjust to
people who have no regular place to sleep.

    The case is interesting in that it pits two
compelling interests everyone can understand against
one another: the admirable desire to keep the American
River Parkway natural and free of illegal campers    
versus the indisputable fact that people have a   
biologically driven need to sleep -- and require a
place free from harm to do so.

And so, in a strange way that will unfold before the  
jurors in bits and pieces, it's sleeping itself that
is now on trial in Case No. 02M03570 in Sacramento    
Superior Court Judge Richard Gilmour's downtown
courtroom.

    The People vs. McManus marks the first time a
local anti-camping case has gone to trial since local
officials stepped up enforcement of the ordinance,
which is used almost exclusively to ban transients
from sleeping in public areas, from city parks and
riverbanks to downtown office doorways.

    "One was bound to go to trial sooner or later
since it's a fairly controversial ordinance," said
Assistant City Attorney Bill Carnazzo. The city
prosecuted 871   such cases in the last fiscal year.

    The way the city sees it, it's a very simple case,
Deputy City Attorney Lan Wang told the jury during
opening arguments Wednesday morning. Wang said the
facts will show McManus was caught and cited for
camping on the American River Parkway near Camp
Pollock on three occasions, Feb. 25, March 6 and March
14.

    McManus' defense attorney, Kelly Tanalepy, will
use a "necessity defense" to try to win her client's
acquittal, citing a 1998 appellate case that
overturned the conviction of a homeless man, James W.
Eichorn, on a similar charge in in Santa Ana.

    A necessity defense is allowable only when
sufficient evidence shows the defendant violated a law
to prevent an even greater harm. Rarely used, such a  
defense must meet six criteria. The law was violated
1) to prevent a significant evil, 2) with no adequate
alternative, 3) without creating a greater danger, 4)
with a good-faith belief in the necessity, 5) that the
belief was reasonable and 6) that the defendant did
not substantially contribute to the emergency.

    The city attorney objected to this defense, but
the judge ruled it appropriate, saying he was bound by
the appellate court decision in Santa Ana.

    Local officials have a legitimate objective,
Gilmour said in pretrial proceedings weighing several
legal questions. "We don't want people camping on the
parkway.
    ... But where would you have him go?"

    The "evil" here, he said, is that people need a
place to live. "If you have no home, camping is
living; living (necessitates) sleeping. ... I just
think Eichorn is saying you have to sleep someplace.
... It's as fundamental as eating. You have to eat;
you have to sleep."

    The city paints McManus as a repeat offender who
is intentionally homeless and has no desire to stop
camping on the river.

    The defense will argue that McManus, who works for
pay and volunteers constantly at Loaves & Fishes,
can't find shelter because the three local nonprofits
with beds for single homeless men won't allow his
three dogs, which McManus described outside the
courtroom with a shy smile as his "children."

    Not that shelters with their time limits and such
are a solution for anyone for very long, anyway.

    What this case is, is another way of putting that
pressing question front and center, this time in a
legal setting.

    Human beings need sleep. We don't want those
without homes on park benches, in downtown doorways,
in nature areas or crashing in ratty cars in our  
neighborhoods.

    So, where can they sleep? 

    About the Writer
    ---------------------------

    The Bee's Diana Griego Erwin can be reached at
(916) 321-1057 or e-mail
    dgriego@sacbee.com.


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