William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 23 Sep 2005 07:25:31 -0400

September 23, 2005


Dumping of Homeless Suspected Downtown

Police captain says he witnessed the long- rumored act. Sheriff defends his 

By Cara Mia DiMassa and Richard Winton, Times Staff Writers

For decades, it's been an enduring urban tale about downtown Los Angeles, 
often talked about but never proved: Police departments wanting to get rid 
of society's lost and neglected - the homeless, mentally ill and criminals - 
simply drove through downtown and dumped them in skid row.

But on Tuesday, evidence landed in the lap of the person who most needed it: 
Capt. Andrew Smith, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police 
Department's Central Division.

Smith said he was out on patrol with his partner about 10 a.m. Tuesday when 
he noticed a Los Angeles County sheriff's car driving down 6th Street.

The cruiser, he said, turned south on San Pedro, then west on 7th Street to 
San Julian Street. There, Smith watched in disbelief as two deputies "pulled 
over, took a guy in handcuffs out of the car. They took off the cuffs and 
handed him a bag," Smith said.

The captain and his partner immediately got out of their car and questioned 
the man and the deputies. Smith said the deputies told him that the man had 
been released from the Men's Central Jail and was standing outside on the 
street when a supervisor ordered them to take the man to a downtown mission.

"But there was no mission nearby," Smith said. "Only a line of guys sitting 
on milk crates."

Deputies have identified the man as Byron Harris, 27.

Smith said the man had a long history of arrests in the Lakewood area as 
well as Long Beach, where he lived. He said Harris told him he had not asked 
to be dropped off and had no connection to downtown Los Angeles. Smith also 
said the man told him he suffered from bipolar disorder.

To the captain, the incident reaffirmed what he believes has been going on 
downtown for years. Other police agencies, Smith said, and even some 
hospitals, "are dumping homeless, drunks, narcotic addicts and the criminal 
population into the downtown area.. We're fed up with it," he said.

Smith is not alone. As word of the incident spread across downtown, 
residents and city officials expressed anger and demanded that the Sheriff's 
Department investigate.

"I want an apology from Sheriff [Lee] Baca, to make sure this never happens 
again," said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East 
Assn., which represents business interests in the downtown toy and 
industrial districts.

Baca and other Sheriff's Department officials defended the deputies' 
actions, saying that they were trying to help Harris find a place to live.

"What are we going to do, take him to - Long Beach or Pasadena?" Baca said 
in an interview Thursday. Harris, Baca said, "was not in a fit state to fend 
for himself. And he was likely to fall prey to crime by another released 

Sheriff's officials deny that the deputies were trying to keep Harris 
downtown or prevent him from going back to Long Beach.

But LAPD officials and downtown community leaders aren't so sure. They have 
long been concerned about the possibility of dumping by other agencies - so 
much so that for several months, officers patrolling downtown have been 
under orders to stop and question any out-of-town police car they see 
cruising the area.

Smith said they enacted the policy after his officers reported seeing police 
cars from far-flung communities in the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel 
Valley and South Bay letting people off in downtown.

"Downtown Los Angeles is just not positioned to be the solution for every 
other city in L.A. County and the state parole system," said Councilwoman 
Jan Perry, who represents most of downtown Los Angeles.

Dumping criminals, homeless and mentally ill people downtown has long been 
discussed as a problem, but even the most vocal critics have yet to prove a 
conspiracy by outside police departments.

Late last year, after Santa Clarita decided not to reopen a winter shelter 
it had operated and instead opted to pay a social service provider to bus 
the homeless to shelters in the San Fernando Valley and downtown, Perry 
sponsored a resolution condemning the practice of dumping "families and 
individuals to already overburdened services in parts of the county."

Los Angeles Police Cmdr. Charlie Beck, who was Central Division captain 
until 2003, said actions by other police departments over the years have 
added to the existing problems in skid row.