The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is under fire after an L.A. city councilman accused deputies of “dumping” a mentally ill homeless man in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles recently. The man also had an outstanding warrant.
The incident was reportedly caught on video, which is what sparked outrage from L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino upon learning of the incident. A former L.A. police officer, Buscaino said the alleged unloading of someone who “displayed characteristics of a person who may be experiencing homelessness and mental illness” put area residents at risk.
Sheriff’s Department officials dispute the claim. Said Nicole Nishida, a public information officer with the department, as reported by KTLA: “This call is not a case of dumping.”
She noted that the individual was known to be homeless and had interacted twice with police earlier that day. “The deputies, recognizing him as someone who may need assistance, asked him if they could help,” Nishida argued.
The homeless man in question, 54-year-old Shawn Bryan, reportedly asked for a ride to Pasadena where he claimed he lived. When deputies learned Bryan had an MTA pass, they instead took him to a bus stop in San Pedro.
Nishida called it “an act of compassionate service.” But what about the warrant?
Well, the warrant was a $412 fare evasion warrant. According to Nishida, “such a minor violation does not meet the minimum threshold for a Sheriff’s Department incarceration, due to jail overcrowding.”
L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn believes the Sheriff’s Department could have done better. “I question whether or not our sheriff’s deputies could have done more to get him the help he needed before they left him and drove away.”
This raises questions about where an officer’s responsibilities begin and end in the case of someone who is mentally ill. While Bryan may well be mentally ill, judging if Bryan is a danger to himself or others is not an easy task. If he wasn’t obviously dangerous, what were the deputies supposed to do?
The response from Buscaino is now a negative incentive. Officers may be inclined to leave future Shawn Bryans alone, ignoring requests for help.
If what we have here really is a case of officers attempting to serve the public, then this public rebuke from Buscaino needs to be withdrawn.