Several street people in Guerneville and Monte Rio were arrested or cited last week on charges that included vehicle theft, drug use, obstructing a law enforcement officer and occupying a condemned building. The arrests came in the aftermath of a town meeting and a demonstration in Guerneville last week addressing problems associated with homeless Russian River residents.
A couple camped in a vacant downtown hotel, recently damaged by arson fires, were cited last Friday morning for unlawfully occupying a condemned building where county officials had posted “do not enter unsafe to occupy” notices. Susan Fisher, 46, of Santa Rosa, and Rudy Inong, a 48-year-old man, were written up last Friday at the former New Dynamic Inn on Mill Street in Guerneville, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s arrest log. The vacant building next to the Guerneville Post Office had been boarded up to deter transients after several fires were started there last month.
Another man listed as a transient, Robert Reid, 23, was arrested in Rio Nido on Friday on charges of car theft and drug possession. And in Monte Rio, Benjamin Laszlo, 28, whose address was listed as “transient Guerneville,” was charged with trespassing and being under the influence of drugs at Bohemian Grove.
Coincidentally on Friday, a rally in the Guerneville town plaza drew about four dozen demonstrators protesting what they say is an influx of people committing misdemeanors including littering, public drinking, drug use and trespassing. Passing drivers on Main Street. last Friday evening honked in support as demonstrators waved picket signs that said “Save the River,” “Save Guerneville” and “We are taking back our town.”
The Friday demonstration came five days after a crowded town meeting last week when hundreds of River residents turned out for a gathering at Guerneville School where county law enforcement officials heard complaints that they’re too lax about enforcing laws that impact people that are homeless.
“It’s not true that homeless violators are being ignored when they commit misdemeanors in Guerneville,” said Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch. But by the same token, “You can’t arrest yourself out of a problem such as the River area’s current homeless situation,” said Ravitch.
The homeless presence in Guerneville is not going away soon, it is common elsewhere and is not by itself a crime, both the district attorney and Sheriff Steve Freitas reminded the River crowd last week.
“There is an enormous problem in Santa Rosa as well,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebel told the Guerneville School audience.
“We’re trying,” said Staebel, regarding the district attorney’s role in addressing unlawful homeless behavior. “It’s an enormously complicated problem.”
Responding to a theft complaint last Saturday, Guerneville substation sheriff’s deputies arrested a homeless man at the Guerneville Safeway on charges of shoplifting, obstructing a law enforcement officers and unlawful possession of a concealed weapon. Christopher Bowman, 36, whose address was listed as “homeless, Oakland area,” was in custody awaiting a court hearing this week at the Sonoma County jail where his bail was set at $10,000.
On Sunday afternoon deputies arrested an unsheltered Guerneville woman on Armstrong Woods Road on charges of stealing a car. Kattie Yocum, 28, was also charged with resisting arrest and was held in lieu of $10,000 bail while she awaits a court hearing this week.
Another River arrest of a homeless man occurred Jan. 7 after the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office got a 911 call from a woman reporting a man trying to break into her home on Drake Road.
The woman said an intruder was tapping on her windows and trying to open her doors at approximately 9:23 p.m. “She yelled at him and he hid under her back stairs,” said a sheriff’s office report. Deputies from the River substation who responded to her residence near Neeley Road found a man without pants in the backyard, according to the sheriff’s report. When the deputies confronted him he ran away and crawled into a drainage pipe, reappeared in a culvert and swam across Pocket Canyon Creek near the Guerneville River Park.
“He was last seen climbing the embankment whereupon he fled into the dark woods,” said the sheriff’s report. “Deputies were able find the man hiding in a hollowed-out tree near a resort on Neeley Road. It was very dark and the man did not respond and comply with the repeated commands to surrender.”
After several warnings the sheriff’s K9 dog, Falko, was sent in to help with the arrest and was able to drag the suspect out of the tree. “While attempting to take the man into custody, he violently resisted and fought the deputies,” said the sheriff’s report. “They were eventually able to secure him in handcuffs and placed him under arrest. One of the deputies suffered an injury to his hand during the assault.”
The prowler was identified as Jeffrey Aaron Pate, a 34-year-old man from Guerneville. He was arrested on charges of attempted burglary of an occupied house, prowling, assaulting a peace officer, violently resisting arrest, being under the influence of a controlled substance and violation of probation.
Pate remained in custody at the Sonoma County jail this week where he awaits a Jan. 25 court hearing.