An incident that a Los Angeles city councilman said could be the sheriff’s department “dumping” a mentally ill man, but which the department said was “an act of compassionate service,” has been brought to the attention of the Los Angeles City Council.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents Watts, brought attention to the case in January after he displayed a video during a City Council meeting that appeared to show Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies dropping off a mentally ill man on a curb inside the L.A. city limits and driving off.
The incident, which occurred on West 25th Street in San Pedro on Jan. 30, was shown by Buscaino on a large screen inside the council chamber and also posted to his YouTube and Facebook accounts. The councilman said the man was a “’clear 5150 patient”— the term refers to an involuntary psychiatric hold—and that the incident occurred a few blocks over the border from Rancho Palos Verdes, which is patrolled by the LASD.
“This was appalling, disturbing and disgusting, and this individual was taken into LAPD custody two blocks down after a call for service was generated by a San Pedro resident,” Buscaino said.
The video begins with the man, who appears disheveled and looks as if he could be talking to himself, already standing on the sidewalk near an open door of one of the LASD vehicles, and the person shooting the video from a balcony can be heard saying that the deputies just let the man out of the car.
Buscaino said the man was arrested after it was determined by the LAPD that he was wanted on a warrant—which the Los Angeles Times reported was a fare-evasion warrant. He also said in a statement on his Facebook account that “now is not the time to pawn off those with mental health issues onto adjacent jurisdictions, but rather, for all cities to step up to the plate and provide housing and services for the homeless immediately.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told the Los Angeles Times the incident was not a case of dumping, but that deputies were “performing an act of compassionate service”
Nishida said the man did not exhibit any danger to himself or others, was not gravely disabled and had not committed a crime, The Times reported.
“The deputies asked him if he needed any help. He only expressed that he wanted a ride,” she said.
According to Nishida, the man had an MTA pass and asked to be dropped off at a convenience store a couple of blocks from the bus stop. She said the deputies checked to see if the man had any outstanding warrants but decided not to arrest him because “such a minor violation” as fare evasion “does not meet the minimum threshold for a sheriff’s department incarceration due to jail overcrowding.”
Buscaino questioned the deputies’ explanation and told The Times, “I drove a police car for 15 years and never taxied anyone to their destination, especially to another jurisdiction… And especially a subject that was gravely disabled and had a warrant.”
Buscaino co-introduced a motion in January set to be discussed by the Public Safety Committee that asked representatives of the sheriff’s department to conduct an investigation of the incident, and representatives of the department have also been asked to appear at the committee meeting to answer questions.
Branimir Kvartuc, a spokesman for Buscaino, said that the councilman “is going to be careful. He’s a former LAPD police officer, he’s not looking to point fingers at the sheriff’s department. What he really wants to do is use it as a platform for shared responsibility… on the homeless problem and to review what the policies and the procedures are.”