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RV dweller to face charges over sewage dumping in Venice

L.A. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich says his staff erred in not pursuing case against woman who was arrested but released after two days in jail. 'When it hits the fan, it hits my office too,' he says.

August 26, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

Responding to community outrage over the dumping of raw sewage onto the streets of Venice, Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said Wednesday that he intended to file criminal charges against a motor home dweller who was arrested but released after serving two days in jail.

"When it hits the fan, it hits my office too," Trutanich said of the dumping, which a longtime Neighborhood Watch captain witnessed last week and reported to police. City crews finally cleaned up the mess Tuesday, but only after residents had complained for several days to various city and county agencies.

Venice residents have asserted for years that people living in recreational vehicles were emptying raw sewage into storm drains and street gutters or using yards and gardens as bathrooms. Affected neighborhoods have long lobbied for overnight parking restrictions to keep people from sleeping curbside in their cars or campers.

More recently, the Los Angeles City Council approved amendments to toughen an ordinance prohibiting overnight parking of so-called oversize vehicles, those exceeding 22 feet in length or 84 inches in height.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl also is seeking to implement a safe, overnight parking program that would allow qualified RV dwellers to park in approved lots as long as they agree to avail themselves of social services aimed at finding them permanent housing.

But those measures are still weeks or months from going into effect. In the meantime, police and residents say more raw sewage has been appearing on the streets.

Last week, Boston Dawna, a 38-year resident known for her nighttime citizen's arrests of suspected criminals, said she finally caught somebody red-handed. (She said she does not use her real name because she fears retaliation from those she has helped arrest.)

On the night of Aug. 18, Boston Dawna said she looked out of her apartment window near Pacific Avenue and Fleet Street and saw the driver of a large camper walk around the vehicle and then look up and down the street. He got back into the camper, and a female passenger jumped out.

"I hear a pop and I hear fluids," Boston Dawna said, adding that she soon detected a stench. The camper then pulled away, spilling sewage and toilet paper from the vehicle's holding tank.

The Neighborhood Watch captain then alerted a friend nearby, who was able to note the license plate as the RV drove by. She then alerted police, who drove her in their patrol car as they searched for the camper.

Officers caught up with the vehicle at 3rd and Sunset avenues. Because the officers had not personally witnessed the dumping — a misdemeanor — they relied on Boston Dawna to make a citizen's arrest, said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Jeff Merlo. The officers then took the suspect, Lindsey Kathrine Estilette, 28, into custody.

"She starts crying," Boston Dawna recalled. "I said, 'There's no crying in baseball.'"

Dumping was reported at three locations: Pacific and Fleet, 3rd and Sunset and 3rd and Rose avenues.

Boston Dawna said she was outraged Wednesday to hear from the city attorney's office that Estilette was released after two days in jail because she had no record.

"This is beyond comprehension to me," Boston Dawna said of the city attorney's action. "The politicians take one side. The city attorney takes another. They've turned my community into a [expletive] cesspool — literally."

Trutanich, responding to a query from The Times, said in a phone interview that his staff had erred and that he intended to charge the woman. After taking a look at the police report, he said, "in looking at the manner this was done, the time it was done, the location it was done and the acting in concert with the driver, I felt it deserved a second look."

"I believe the case should be filed," he added. "I believe that's what will happen."

The dumping of human waste is subject to a $25,000 fine and as much as a year in county jail, he said.

Rosendahl said in a statement that the three reported episodes of dumping were "sickening and offensive crimes that threaten public health and diminish the quality of life."

"This sort of crime is simply intolerable," he said.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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