A paraplegic man wearing a soiled hospital gown and a broken colostomy bag was found crawling in a gutter in skid row in Los Angeles on Thursday after allegedly being dumped in the street by a Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center van, police said.
The incident, witnessed by more than two dozen people, was described by police as a particularly outrageous case of "homeless dumping" that has plagued the downtown area.
"I can't think of anything colder than that," said LAPD Det. Russ Long, who called the case the most egregious of its kind that he has seen in his career. "There was no mission around, no services. It's the worst area of skid row."
Los Angeles Police Department detectives said they connected the van to Hollywood Presbyterian after witnesses wrote down a phone number on the van and took down its license-plate number.
They are questioning officials from the hospital, which the LAPD had accused in an earlier dumping case that is now under investigation.
Witnesses shouted at the female driver of the van, "Where's his wheelchair, where's his walker?"
Gary Lett, an employee at Gladys Park, near where the incident occurred, said the woman driving the van didn't reply, but proceeded to apply makeup and perfume before driving off.
"She didn't make any attempt to help him," Lett said. "He was in bad shape. He was incoherent."
Kaylor Shemberger, executive vice president for Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, said, "Obviously we are very concerned about the information that has been presented to us. We are continuing to investigate the incident. If some of the facts are correct, it is clearly not in line with our policy of handling these types of patients."
When the hospital was previously accused of dumping in 2005, a top executive said the facility takes discharged patients to Los Angeles Mission at their request.
The case comes three months after the L.A. city attorney's office filed the first indictment for homeless dumping against Kaiser Permanente. The charges stem from an incident earlier last year when a 63-year-old patient from Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower medical center was videotaped as she stepped from a taxi in gown and socks and then wandered the streets of skid row.
Los Angeles officials have accused more than a dozen hospitals, as well as some outside law enforcement agencies, of dumping patients and criminals on downtown's troubled skid row. The city attorney's office said it was considering filing charges against several other medical facilities.
Police describe the homeless people who congregate around Gladys Park, in the heart of skid row, as a tough crowd who have seen much and say little.
But there was no shortage of people willing to describe what they saw about 10:45 a.m. Thursday morning, when the white hospital van pulled up several feet from the curb.
"They were lining up to give their story," Long said. "They were collectively appalled. We were as shocked as the homeless folks."
Witnesses told police that the man propped himself up in the door of the van. He then hurled himself from the vehicle, tumbling to the street. He pulled himself along, dragging a bag of his belongings in his clenched teeth.
Police said several people began shouting at the driver, who in addition to applying makeup was more concerned that the seats of the van had been soiled, investigators said.
LAPD Officers Eric de la Cruz and Pernell Taylor said they arrived to find the man being carried out of the street on a chair that had been retrieved from the nearby park offices.
De la Cruz later asked the victim if he had wanted to be dropped off at the location.
"He said he had nowhere else to go, and the hospital staff told him he could no longer stay there," De la Cruz said of the man, who is being treated at County-USC Medical Center.
The LAPD has accused several hospitals of dumping patients on skid row over the last two years, including Kaiser's West Los Angeles hospital, Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center and Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center.
Officials at those hospitals have denied dumping patients, but some said they had taken homeless patients to skid row service providers.
In 2005, at attorney for Hollywood Presbyterian denied that the hospital had dumped patients, but he said skid row service providers offered treatment and care for some patients who had nowhere else to go.
City officials are trying to crack down on crime and blight in the district, which has the largest concentration of homeless people in the western United States. In recent months, a police crackdown has resulted in more than 1,000 arrests and a drop in crime.