Ever since his arrival as the new Los Angeles City Attorney this summer, Carmen Trutanich has loved to come across as a man of the people.
Trutanich has sparred with the L.A. City Council to the delight of many community activists; he has also personally held a town hall-type forum inside City Council chambers in August that was jammed with ordinary citizens who talked directly to Trutanich, and he applied pressure on a wealthy real estate developer to demolish slum properties in Hollywood after community activist Ziggy Kruse asked for his help.
But now that reputation may be in danger, especially since the City Attorney's Office is going after a homeless man -- the littlest of little guys -- in a way that looks shadier and shadier by the minute.
The homeless man is Naser "Jimmy" Nasralla, whose story was featured in L.A. Weekly in late July. Titled "Jimmy on the Edge of Town," the article examines Jimmy's battle with the Union Pacific Railroad Company and the L.A. City Attorney's Office, who want him to vacate his makeshift home near a stretch of railroad tracks in Northridge.
From all accounts -- from the LAPD to local citizens and businesses -- Jimmy hasn't bothered anyone. But Union Pacific gave him a ticket for trespassing on its private property. The case went to court, with Apraham Atteukenian as the prosecutor from the L.A. City Attorney's Office.
As events unfolded, though, it became questionable if Jimmy was actually living on Union Pacific property. The LAPD, for example, was unsure if the homeless man lives on railroad land, and L.A. City Councilman Greig Smith's office, which represents Northridge, told the Weekly that Jimmy lives on "county property." Longtime real estate expert Mary Cummins, in fact, said that she had no doubt Jimmy resides on county land.
Since two of the three charges against Jimmy involve trespassing on Union Pacific land, the findings were a major blow to the city attorney's case. Incredibly, the private/county property question came as a surprise to Atteukenian, whose boss is Carmen Trutanich.
When Atteukenian was confronted with Cummins' findings during one of Jimmy's court hearings this summer, the prosecutor was caught off guard, said he would make some calls, and asked for a continuance. Atteukenian obviously hadn't done the basic homework of finding out if Jimmy lived on private or county property -- if justice, in fact, was being properly applied to the homeless man's case.
Atteukenian's less than exemplary work as a prosecutor only got worse from there.
At another court hearing on August 3, Atteukenian started to realize the impact of Cummins' and City Councilman Smith's findings. Before the hearing started, the prosecutor approached Jimmy and his friend, Edward Muzika, holding out a business card. With his fingers purposefully obscuring most of the card, Atteukenian used it as proof that he had a contact with the county's Department of Public Works, and said that the unnamed official wanted Jimmy off county land.
Muzika asked for a better look of the card, but Atteukenian refused. The prosecutor pulled a similar stunt at another court hearing this past Friday on September 11. This time, Jimmy, who had been representing himself, went to court with a public defender, Joseph McInnis.
At the hearing, Atteukenian forgot all about Union Pacific railroad and claimed Jimmy lives on the private property of someone else. Atteukenian told Judge David W. Stuart that he "wasn't comfortable" with providing the exact name of the property owner, but assured the judge that the person owned Nordhoff Plaza -- a shopping center that Jimmy lives directly behind and home to such corporate chain stores as Best Buy and Bed, Bath and Beyond -- and wanted the homeless man to leave the site.
The claim was not only astounding because Atteukenian refused to say who approached him -- the prosecutor must turn over such information to the defense -- but the man who operates Nordhoff Plaza, Pat Murphy, told the Weekly that Jimmy doesn't live on his property.
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During the reporting for the "Jimmy on the Edge of Town" feature story, Murphy told the Weekly he looked into whether or not Jimmy lived on his land, with the idea of getting the homeless man away from his shopping center. But Murphy said he found that Jimmy was not living on Nordhoff Plaza property, and couldn't take legal action against the homeless man.
Atteukenian's newest claim, therefore, doesn't seem to add up, and it's just one more example of a prosecutor who appears more interested in putting the screws to a homeless man than getting his facts straight and making sure justice is being properly carried out.
Jimmy's next hearing is September 29. L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich still has time to clean up a mess that's going down on his watch.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.