REDWOOD CURTAIN COPWATCH
July 19, 2008
To Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen, Eureka City Council members, Eureka Mayor, Eureka City Attorney Sheryl Shaffner:
Re: EPD Sergeant Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez
We write this letter with grave concern regarding the ongoing harassment and violence against homeless Eureka residents by Officer Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez, and about the civil rights violations inherent in Officer Sanchez’ actions. While Sergeant Mike Quigley is not the express subject of this letter, please note that he behaves similarly, destroying houseless peoples’ meager survival gear and harassing, intimidating, and violating said peoples’ civil rights.
We will assume that you have been unaware, up to this time, as to the unwarranted threats, cruelty, and intimidation perpetrated on a consistent basis by Officer Sanchez against homeless people. Apparently, Officer Sanchez believes that he can say and do anything to people he perceives as vulnerable. Officer Sanchez conducts himself in an inappropriate, unlawful, and vile manner toward people- based on their status as unhoused residents. Clearly, he believes he is acting with absolute impunity.
While the Eureka Police Department and the local government may choose to believe that Officer Sanchez’ (and Officer Quigley’s) actions are protected under law, we want to bring to your attention the unconstitutional, and frankly obscene, nature of his behavior. We understand that Sergeants Sanchez and Quigley likely do not make full reports of much of their own behavior; perhaps finding it easier to continuously and secretly intimidate houseless people by keeping those actions ‘off the record.’ However, we believe that it is possible that the EPD and other city entities are aware of some or much of Officer Sanchez’ and Quigley’s behavior, and as a result of department and city complicity, these officers indulge in ongoing abusive behavior, confident that no disciplinary consequences will arise.
Edith [name changed here on website for privacy] is an older houseless woman in Eureka. She has health issues, aggravated by the fact that not only is there no shelter she can rest in, but that the police refuse to let her sleep anywhere. On the evening of July 15, 2008, two Pacific Coast security guards, whose names we are unaware of, approached Ms. Edith, who was sitting on a bench in downtown Eureka, around midnight. She had her legs up, as directed by an Urgent Care doctor, to bring the persistent swelling down in her legs. Pacific Coast security told her that she could sit on the bench, but not lie there, or not have her feet up. Ms. Edith informed them: “I can’t move around well because my ankles and other parts of my body are swollen.” Then she repeated exactly what the doctor had told her: “If I sit up with my feet down, I won’t get any better.” She also explained that she had been told there is no room at the Mission for her. The guards redirected Ms. Edith to a spot to sleep, an unused doorway.
On July 17, 2008, Officer Sanchez, in the middle of the night, rousted Ms.Edith at the same unused doorway, using his car’s spotlight and crude and threatening language. What this rousting did to Ms. Edith, as it does nightly to other women, men, and youth in Eureka, is give them no choice but to roam the streets all night, deprived of sleep. Sleep deprivation, as a policy and/or practice, is patently illegal. "...sleep is a physiological need, not an option for humans" If an officer does not have a viable sleeping place to offer a houseless person, s/he must not awaken a resting person on public property, who is neither interfering with others nor engaging in criminal activity.
It is well established by California and U.S. courts that because sleep deprivation is a human necessity, depriving a person of sleep is a far more “significant evil” than the alleged or actual breaking of an ordinance or law that prevents that person from getting rest. Also, the courts have determined that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” to penalize a person experiencing homelessness for sleeping, sitting, or lying down. Sleep deprivation is an internationally recognized from of torture, yet the City of Eureka continues to aggressively attack people who are forced to rest in public. In addition to forcing Ms. Edith to remain awake at all times, Officer Sanchez spoke to Ms. Edith (as he does to other homeless residents on a regular basis) with degrading language, and threatened jail if he finds her asleep again.
On July 18, 2008, Officer Sanchez approached Ms. Edith at about 6 am, in the daylight. Ms. Edith was sitting with her feet elevated, again, as she was directed to do by a doctor. Ms. Edith carries a blanket on her shoulder, having no other place to store it, and because it is more manageable for her than in a bag. Officer Sanchez threatened Ms. Edith, “If I see you again sitting anywhere with your blanket, I will take you to jail.” He also treated Ms. Edith, again, as if she is less than human, made statements as if ascertaining her mental and physical health, and chastised her for not having a job like him. In past interactions, Officer Sanchez has told Ms. Edith that he and the rest of Eureka would be better off if she was locked up. We agree with Ms. Edith that Officer Sanchez carries an attitude of resentment and indignant hostility toward all houseless people. Ms. Edith is trying to survive, and she is not hurting anyone.
After Ms. Edith’s encounter with Officer Sanchez on July 18, 2008, a different EPD officer (name unknown to us) contacted Ms. Edith and asked if she was alright. When Ms. Edith explained about her swollen feet and ankles, this officer inquired as to whether Ms. Edith needed a doctor. When she replied that she had been to the doctor twice, and explained the doctor’s directions, he then told her, “You’re fine and you can stay on the park bench as long as you need to.” We believe that this officer treated Ms. Edith appropriately, as a public servant should.
Officer Sanchez shows an absolute disregard for houseless peoples’ civil rights and apparently feels authorized or entitled to treat unhoused people with disrespect. This is not only unprofessional and can be likened to hate speech and hate crimes, but also traumatizes his victims. In Ms. Edith’s case, he is also violating her medical and disability rights.
We have reports of numerous occasions on which Officer Sanchez and Officer Quigley have outright destroyed homeless peoples’ possessions. One person has reported that he has never been cited but has had his sleeping bag, tent, and food destroyed by these officers thirty-seven times!! Theft and destruction of another’s property does not become acceptable because the theft and destruction are done by police officers.
Officer Sanchez has been reported to us as having asked a houseless person for ID, and when presented with the ID card, laughed and tore it up. He and Officer Quigley have tore up bags of dog food and scattered it on public property. Houseless people, merely walking down the street, have been repeatedly threatened and harassed by Officer Sanchez. In addition, Officer Sanchez has repeatedly threatened unhoused veterans with arrest; men who were “flying a sign”- an activity protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This is by no means a complete record of Officer Sanchez’ despicable behavior toward unhoused residents of Eureka. At this point in time we urgently request that you do everything in your power to protect the rights of such Eureka residents.
We request that Sergeants Sanchez and Quigley refrain from harassing, intimidating, violating the rights of, and depriving Ms. Edith of sleep and medical self-care. Of course, we demand that all houseless people be left to exist with dignity and their civil rights intact, including the right to sleep and the right to be secure in their persons.
We have attached Ms. Edith’s formal citizen’s personnel complaint to the Eureka Police Department. We believe, for reasons stated above, that it would be inappropriate for Sergeant Quigley to be part of the review process for Ms.Edith’s complaint. Therefore, we request that, to avoid a severe conflict of interest, and as an act of good faith, Officer Quigley be excluded from the complaint review process here.
We will continue to document threats or actions Officer Sanchez makes against Ms. Edith.
Redwood Curtain Copwatch has and will continue to urge victims of this abuse to file formal complaints with the EPD, as we understand that the complaint process can be helpful in providing leverage for the disciplining of officers. However, unfortunately many who have suffered from this cruel treatment are fearful of retaliation by officers, including Officers Sanchez and Quigley, who have already exhibited flagrant disregard for their human rights, and are thus reluctant to expose themselves to further harassment.
We hope that you will warn all of your officers that it is not appropriate to retaliate against people who have made complaints or requests to you, nor is it appropriate to retaliate against the people upon who’s behalf such complaints or requests are made.
Redwood Curtain CopWatch
cc: Tracy D. Herrin, Attorney at Law
Jeffrey Schartz, Attorney at Law
Jay Moller, Attorney at Law
Humboldt County Human Rights Commission
Northern California ACLU, Mark Schlosberg, Attorney at Law
Office of the Attorney General, Jerry Brown