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Skid Row Drop-Off Detailed

Sheriff's Dept. report responds to LAPD claims that transients are dumped downtown.

September 28, 2005|Richard Winton and Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writers

Sheriff's officials sought to move a homeless man lingering around the County Jail's reception area to skid row last week after a department supervisor recognized him as the man who had exposed himself to woman in the same location a month earlier, according to a Sheriff's Department memo.

The supervisor approached Byron Harris and advised him that because of "his history of exposing himself to females at the reception area, it would be wise if Harris left the area," according a report written by Timothy F. Cornell, captain for the inmate reception area.

Harris initially opposed leaving because he had nowhere to go, Cornell said in his report. The man eventually agreed to be taken by two deputies to a mission on skid row, the report said.

But an LAPD captain who saw the deputies dropping off the man said Harris was in handcuffs and later told him he didn't want to be downtown. Capt. Andrew Smith also said Harris told him the deputies took him to skid row against his will.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department report, obtained by The Times with the deputies' names redacted, comes amid a furor over claims by the Los Angeles Police Department that other law enforcement agencies are dumping the homeless, criminals and mentally ill people on downtown streets. The issue emerged a week ago when Smith said he saw deputies drop off Harris in skid row.

Since then, Smith and others have said it was one of numerous incidents that he and his officers have seen over the years of dumping downtown. Smith said four suburban police departments -- Burbank, El Monte, El Segundo and Pasadena -- have engaged in the practice, though all the agencies denied that their officers dropped off people downtown.

The Sheriff's Department has maintained that its personnel did nothing wrong in the Harris case. Sheriff Lee Baca and others have said the deputies were simply trying to get Harris services by delivering him to a place where he could receive help.

"They weren't just trying to get rid of him from around the jails," Steve Whitmore, the sheriff's spokesman, said late Tuesday. "They could have done that by calling the LAPD. The jail area is their jurisdiction, and the LAPD would have had to arrest him. [The deputies] were trying to help this man."

Citing the Harris case, the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday directed Police Chief William J. Bratton to produce a report on any recorded incidents involving police agencies dumping people downtown. On Monday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called on the city attorney's office to examine what legal recourse the city has to prevent such actions by other agencies.

Harris, 27, who previously lived in the Long Beach area, has a history of arrests; he told officers he was mentally ill.

According to the memo, Harris was arrested again Aug. 13, for alleged indecent exposure in the lobby of the Inmate Reception Center, hours after his release in the traffic case.

Deputies released Harris again at 10:17 p.m. Sept. 19. But the next morning, a supervisor walking to work spotted Harris "standing inside the IRC lobby area" and recognized him, Cornell said in his memo.

The supervisor told Harris he could arrange to take him to a mission where he would be fed and have a place to sleep, according to the memo.

Harris "agreed to be transported away" from the jail area and the two deputies were told to drive him to a mission in the area, according to Cornell.

The deputies drove to an unspecified mission on Los Angeles Street, but it was closed. They then drove to the Christian Day Assessment Center at 431 East 7th St., whose staff members pass out fliers outside the reception center, according to the memo.

Outside, they saw "a group of homeless individuals being fed" and were unloading Harris when LAPD Capt. Smith, appearing upset at them, approached.

Smith said in an interview that the deputies told him Harris had been released from the Men's Central Jail and was standing on the street when a supervisor ordered them to take him to a downtown mission.

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

The center where the Sheriff's Department says the deputies had chosen to drop Harris has an unmarked door. A spokesman from the Christian Day Center said that the facility was a resource agency that helped homeless people find shelter and treatment, but that it did not have medical services on site.

When Smith left, the deputies noticed Harris had become uncooperative and it "appeared to them" that he "no longer wanted to be fed and cared for at the location," Cornell wrote.

For Harris' own safety, the deputies drove him to USC Medical Center, where medical personnel said they were familiar with him, the memo stated.

He has since been moved to another hospital for unspecified medical reasons.

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