At least two independent probes were opened this month into the treatment of local homeless residents by the Sausalito Police Department. Tensions are already high between the City of Sausalito and the residents of a homeless encampment in Marinship Park, as the parties have remained embroiled in litigation for the last seven months.
A civilian employee of the Sausalito Police Department faces an allegation of criminal misconduct against a homeless resident. The case has been referred to the Marin County Sheriff’s Office for investigation, according to Sausalito Mayor Jill Hoffman. The City has also begun internal personnel investigations into the conduct of police officers. An independent investigator will be hired to oversee those investigations.
While the City of Sausalito keeps mum on the recent spate of troublesome incidents between the Sausalito Police Department and the homeless community, video evidence, letters by attorneys and interviews with victims and witnesses shed light on the questionable conduct of some police employees.
On Sept. 10, Holly Wild, 58, a then-resident of the Sausalito homeless encampment, stood at a break in the fence surrounding the Army Corps of Engineers boatyard in Sausalito. The homeless encampment is a few feet away from the boatyard, where vessels are crushed. Many mariners who once lived anchored out on Richardson Bay, including Wild, have had their boats destroyed at the boatyard. After their boats are demolished, they often move into the Sausalito homeless encampment.
Wild watched as heavy equipment destroyed a boat that she believed belonged to her. Upset and frustrated, she admits to kicking the fence and yelling, maybe even using a foul word or two.
Michael McKinley, the emergency services coordinator for the Sausalito Police Department, stood inside the boatyard. Upon hearing Wild, he approached the fence, where the two had a brief conversation. Wild claims McKinley identified himself as Curtis Havel, who is the harbormaster for the Richardson’s Bay Regional Agency (RBRA), the local government agency responsible for overseeing policy on Richardson Bay.
Without provocation, McKinley reached down, picked up a rock and hurled it at her with tremendous force, Wild said. The rock allegedly came through the several-inch gap in the fence and Wild dodged the projectile to avoid getting hit in the face by it.
“It was a five-inch-by-three-inch rock,” Wild said. “And he had good aim.”
A second rock thrown by McKinley hit the fence, according to Wild. McKinley then began to move toward the front of the boatyard.
“He told me, ‘I’m coming to get you,’” Wild said.
Fearful for her safety, Wild left the area. In fact, she no longer feels safe staying at the homeless encampment and has returned to living anchored out on Richardson Bay.
Unbeknownst to Wild and McKinley, Tim Logan, a mariner, observed the rock-throwing from the water and shot video of part of the encounter. Logan later shared the video with Wild.
Bringing the video with her as evidence, Wild twice attempted to file a report with the Sausalito Police Department about the incident. Both times the department refused to accept the report.
Logan even spoke on the phone with Sausalito police officer Nick White about taking a report from Wild. White refused and said he wasn’t going to “play any games,” according to Logan.
Attempting to report the incident himself, Logan met in-person with Sausalito police officer Edgar Padilla. Padilla spent several minutes justifying the rock-throwing incident, according to a video Logan took of the meeting. Again, no report was taken. Instead, Padilla said the conversation was documented by his bodycam.
Eventually, on Sept. 14, Wild wrote a report and hand-delivered it to the desk of a Sausalito Police Department employee. It appears the report was finally accepted.
The following day, Anthony Prince, attorney for the California Homeless Union, and Holly Wild, wrote a strongly worded letter to the City of Sausalito’s attorney and their outside counsel about the series of events. Prince said the rock-throwing incident was extremely serious, as was the officers’ refusal to investigate.
“In conclusion, at this point we insist that pending a full investigation of the attack on Ms. Wild and the police department’s response – or lack thereof – to the attack, that Mr. Michael McKinley as well as Officers White and Padilla be suspended and have no further contact with Marinship Park encampment residents,” Prince wrote.
Mary Wagner, the City of Sausalito’s attorney, replied to Prince on Sept. 17, and said McKinley had been placed on administrative leave pending investigation by the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. No mention was made of suspending any officers.
The Marin County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, Sergeant Brent Schneider, said in an email that it takes all allegations of crimes very seriously, regardless of the person’s employer.
McKinley, too, remained tight-lipped. He declined to discuss the events, citing the investigation by the Sheriff’s Office.
These examples of the Sausalito police department personnel treating members of Sausalito’s homeless community with disrespect do not appear to be isolated incidents.
Earlier this month, Lieutenant Stacie Gregory lost her temper with Robbie Powelson, a resident of the homeless encampment. Powelson followed several feet behind Gregory as she walked through the encampment, and peppered her with questions. During the strained encounter, which Powelson captured on video, Gregory turned around, approached Powelson and stood within inches of his face.
“Get out of my face,” Gregory said, though it was she who stepped up to Powelson. “You got no reason to be talking to me right now. No reason.”
Although the mistreatment of homeless residents wasn’t part of the initial litigation between the City of Sausalito and the homeless, it will likely be a factor in the current settlement negotiations. The Sausalito Homeless Union sued the City of Sausalito in February to stop the encampment from being moved and to prevent a ban on daytime camping. The encampment was eventually moved from the downtown area to Marinship Park, yet camping is still permitted 24/7 by the homeless.
As the Pacific Sun went to press on Tuesday, Sept. 28, the parties are scheduled for a private settlement conference. The same night, the Sausalito City Council is scheduled to discuss a resolution to spend $185,000 for a six-month period on security at the Marinship Park homeless encampment.
The conduct of the police staff will be discussed at the settlement conference, which is being held at Prince’s insistence. Prince maintains that the City of Sausalito has failed to make the camp safe for the residents and that there are negative psychological effects for the former anchor-out mariners who are forced to live next to the boatyard that crushed their boats.
“It’s time for the City to settle,” Prince said. “They have abdicated their responsibility. We want the City to house people now.”