By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In court that day, the prosecutor handling the case, Apraham Atteukenian, looked surprised when Muzika, with Jimmy near his side, offered up the disputed land-ownership evidence. It’s clearly very basic land-ownership homework that Los Angeles city prosecutors should have done before hauling a man into court for trespassing on railroad property. The prosecutor promised to “make some calls.” Jimmy is defending himself pro per, having dumped a Los Angeles County public defender who advised him to plead guilty to trespassing against Union Pacific. Jimmy is now facing trial August 3, yet, Cummins says, even now, the city attorney and Smith’s office have not responded to her finding that Jimmy is not on railroad land.
If Jimmy does reside on county-owned land, Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the ACLU-Southern California, says the City Attorney’s Office, now overseen by newly elected Carmen Trutanich, has no case. “If the citation is based on private property,” and he’s in fact on public property, the attorney says, “then it doesn’t have any validity.” Bizarrely, after a year of back and forth, the city and county of Los Angeles still have no certainty who has jurisdiction over Jimmy and the concrete span on which his encampment sits. Until somebody can prove who owns the little bridge, there’s a good chance Jimmy is free to live in his well-tended tent.
Few people know how Union Pacific was drawn into this uncomfortable dispute against a lone, unemployed man. Smith and Union Pacific spokesman Tom Lange won’t say. Smith’s office and Lange say businesses complained, which may have gotten Union Pacific moving. But when contacted by L.A. Weekly, employees at several chain stores in the small shopping center just a few dozen yards north of Jimmy’s tent, known as Nordhoff Plaza, said they have “no problems” with Jimmy. Asking to remain anonymous, these employees also said that neither customers nor fellow employees have complained about Jimmy. Most never realized he was in back of the stores, his tent pitched on a cement bridge that crosses a small flood-control channel.
Yet one employee, who asked for anonymity, says that when his store negotiated a contract with Nordhoff Plaza, the corporate honchos asked the owners to clean up trash and make improvements. One improvement, according to the employee, was getting rid of Jimmy, and the owners agreed to handle it. Pat Murphy, project manager for Nordhoff Way LCC, a principal owner of the shopping center, says he wasn’t sure what was discussed in those negotiations, but he determined that Jimmy was not on Nordhoff Plaza property, so the owners could not take legal action. He said he was “sorry for (Jimmy’s) plight,” but that local laws should be enforced.
Jimmy says that ever since Best Buy, Office Max and Jersey Mike’s moved into Nordhoff Plaza, he’s had visits from the Los Angeles Police Department and shopping-center security guards, as well as passersby, who throw cups of coffee or soda at his tent, and, in one case, three people who flashed fake police badges, told him to leave, and messed with his belongings. Jimmy says he filed a crime report with the LAPD at the Devonshire station, but the police never responded.
LAPD Captain David Hanczuk, patrol commanding officer at Devonshire Division, says the incident is part of an ongoing investigation, noting that it’s a “good possibility” that the people who bothered Jimmy were “impersonating police officers.”
Interestingly, Hanczuk says, LAPD is reluctant to act since it still doesn’t know who has jurisdiction. “We don’t step on the Sheriff’s toes,” Hanczuk says, “and they don’t step on ours.” If dealings with Jimmy are the city’s responsibility, then the police will “develop a plan” with Councilman Smith’s office and decide what to charge him with. Hanczuk says that LAPD Senior Lead Officer Kathy Bennett, who works in Jimmy’s neighborhood, is “very much aware of Jimmy” and has met with him several times, with no problems. Bennett has offered city services to Jimmy, the captain says, but Jimmy continually refuses.
LAPD Officer Darryl Williams finds Jimmy to be “different from most transients” because Jimmy takes care of himself and appears to want to stay permanently — Jimmy often says he can’t move because his cats would suffer. But Hanczuk says LAPD has received “several complaints” about Jimmy, and the feral cats that come around. No one, according to Hanczuk, has complained about Jimmy’s personal behavior.
In homeless expert Joel John Roberts’ mind, people are failing to respond to Jimmy in a way that works. “The community has to figure out how to get Jimmy housing,” says Roberts, chief executive officer of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), a nonprofit, homeless-advocacy group in Los Angeles. “Fighting over where he is [located] is not the issue.”