We’ve all seen videos of people in the Tenderloin strewn out on the sidewalks, under the influence of drugs or seemingly “unable to take care of themselves.” Frequently citizens ask, “What is SFPD doing about this?” If SFPD observes someone consuming narcotics, the most they can do is interrupt the subject with a useless traffic ticket, because District Attorney Chesa Boudin has repeatedly articulated he will not prosecute these crimes.
...Tommy, a resident who was refusing to social distance, fighting with other tenants, opening the door to allow non-tenants into the building, and acting “erratic.” Upon arrival, the two officers immediately observed Tommy was bleeding from his mouth.”
Then there are those who appear completely disconnected to this world: Zombies talking to themselves who, if not a threat to passersby, remain a threat to themselves.
At 7:13 p.m. on the evening of April 20, 2020, two Tenderloin Station officers were dispatched to 64 Turk Street ¾ a residential hotel run by the nonprofit Conard House. The website for the Conard House sermonizes it provides “supportive housing, counseling, community involvement and coordination of essential services, including health navigation… More than 33% of (Conard’s residents) reflect two stark underlying realities: A pervasive disengagement in self-care and a tragic failure to access health care that is available.”
The call from the Conrad’s front desk was regarding Tommy, a resident who was refusing to social distance, fighting with other tenants, opening the door to allow non-tenants into the building, and acting “erratic.” Upon arrival, the two officers immediately observed Tommy was bleeding from his mouth.
One Tenderloin officer asked Tommy if he needed medical assistance, but Tommy walked away saying, “You are going to have to kill me” — not your typical San Franciscan’s response. When the officer attempted to have Tommy remain for an investigation, Tommy punched one officer and kicked the other officer. Additional Tenderloin officers were required to assist in subduing Tommy.
With Tommy in handcuffs, the two SFPD officers had two options: 1) They could book Tommy for assaulting a police officer, or 2) They could recognize that Tommy was not of sound mind and that he needed a mental health evaluation. Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code provides law enforcement officers with the ability to restrict a citizen’s freedom for up to 72 hours, if the law enforcement officers can articulate that a subject is a danger to himself or others. This is frequently referred to as a “5150.” The two officers selected the second option and requested an ambulance take Tommy for a 72-hour mental health evaluation. The ambulance took Tommy to St. Francis Hospital on Hyde Street.
With all of the St. Francis personnel’s training, somehow Tommy was released less than ten hours after he arrived. We know this because at approximately 5:26 a.m. the next morning, 60-year-old Jonathan was walking his dog at approximately 624 Post Street ¾ directly one block north of the theater district, two blocks west of tourist-centric Union Square, and 50 feet from the Bohemian Club ¾ when Tommy stepped out from a building alcove, said “You fu*ker,” and smashed a two-by-four across Jonathan’s face, causing several facial fractures. Meanwhile, Tommy fled further into the homeless nonprofit ecosystem.
An hour later, the manager of the Pierre Hotel at 540 Jones Street called 9–1–1 to say that Tommy was threatening people at the hotel, was swinging a “bloody two-by-four,” and was reaching for a knife or a similar-looking object.
As the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s website advertises, the Pierre Hotel is part of its portfolio with the purpose “that a homeless person’s first and primary need is for a roof over their head.” The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is a nonprofit organization run by career homeless activist Randy Shaw, who lives in Berkeley.
SFPD was quick to link this connection to the same Tommy, still carrying on his rampage from Post Street. When SFPD arrived at the Pierre Hotel, Tommy had hijacked and isolated himself in the lobby’s front desk, which is protected behind counter-to-ceiling transparent plastic partitions. On video released by SFPD, two officers spent more than eight minutes trying to talk Tommy out, before he eventually started swinging the two-by-four around, stained with Jonathan’s blood, and destroying the Pierre Hotel’s front office.
When Tommy finally emerged from the office, he charged directly at a SFPD officer and apparently tried to strip a gun out of the officer’s hand as the officer tactically retreated. One SFPD officer fired his gun at Tommy without striking him.
Next, Tommy fled to another nonprofit, Glide Memorial Church. Per Glide’s website, they are the “radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization…with a mission to change public policy around poverty, discrimination, and civil human rights.”
For the next 15-hours, Tommy barricaded himself inside Glide, tying up platoons of SFPD officers, the tactical squad, and a negotiator, before he was arrested without being injured.
Tommy’s 24-hour-plus tour of Tenderloin nonprofit buildings raises several issues:
1. How are residents in the Tenderloin expected to live in safety if medical personnel only hold persons who are a danger to themselves or others for a fraction of 72-hour 5150 holds?
2. Should SFPD spend time directing desperate souls to hospitals for a 45-minute visit, or should SFPD triage citizens who are victims of crime?
3. How will District Attorney Boudin be able to claim that Tommy is incapable of recognizing what he was doing, if professional St. Francis medical personnel determined Tommy was lucid and taking care of himself?
How can the Board of Supervisors continue to campaign for spreading the homeless throughout the city via “navigation centers,” if, as in Tommy’s case, three nonprofits were unable to help him?
Sadly, I fear it’s only going to get worse.
Lou Barberini is a CPA and worked for the San Francisco Police Department for 21-years, which followed his father’s 30-year SFPD career.
More Articles by Lou Barberini