Los Angeles: Los Angeles detectives are asking the public’s help to provide victim information related to a series of attacks on homeless persons by a group of four Hispanic boys, ages 15 to 17, who targeted homeless persons sleeping on sidewalks since early July 2007.
Just before 1:30 AM Sunday morning, July 15, 2007, patrol officers in Skid Row came upon a homeless man enveloped in smoke and three youths standing over him. Two of the boys were apparently recording on phone cameras. Once detained, the officers realized the boys had thrown a smoke bomb, which set the sleeping man’s blanket on fire. The fire went out quickly and the man, who is developmentally disabled, was not seriously injured.
The officers arrested two 17-year-old boys and one of those boys’ 15-year-old brother. Once at the police station, detectives found each boy had a cell phone with a camera, and all three had incidents recorded of prior assaults on homeless persons sleeping on sidewalks in Hollywood, Skid Row, and the industrial area south of downtown.
The assaults dated back to July 3, 2007, and consisted of throwing smoke bombs on persons or shooting victims with airsoft pistols, which are air-operated guns that shoot plastic pellets.
"In all, we think these boys were involved in at least seven incidents, including the one for which we arrested them," said Lieutenant Paul Vernon, head of detectives at the Central Police Station. "We think their intent had been to record their attacks then post them on the internet. That’s not going to happen now."
Detectives do not intend to release the video footage as it does not show any of the victims’ faces. "We also don’t want to put these acts into the public domain. That’s just what the boys wanted to achieve."
"The parents of all three boys have been very cooperative in the investigation," Vernon said. "But this is a wake up call to all parents to know where their children are and what they are up to at all times."
Vernon added, "The public should also remember this incident the next time they read about an advocacy group decrying the City’s efforts to prohibit sleeping on the sidewalk — had this 36-year-old man been in a shelter, he would not have been a victim Sunday morning."
Detectives have also identified a fourth boy, also 17 years old, who was involved in priors acts with the group. He will be arrested on Monday.
"All four subjects live in Los Angeles, owned computers, cell phones, and had the freedom to roam unsupervised," Vernon added. "But for each one of these boys, there are dozens more whose schools and parents bring them down to Skid Row to serve meals to the homeless. It’s experiences like that that help youth put a human face on what other parts of society see as inconsequential."
List of incidents recorded on subjects’ phone cameras, dates may be off by one day:
•July 3 – Near Melrose Boulevard and Vine Street, near Pavillions Market. Homeless man with blanket over his head, shot with airsoft pistol.
•July 4 – Vine Street and Hobart Street. Subject throws homeless man’s bicycle into the homeless man’s tent.
•July 15, after midnight. Near King Taco, San Pedro Street, north of Washington Boulevard. Subjects throw smoke bombs on sleeping homeless man.
•July 15, around 12:30 AM – Olympic Boulevard and Santee Street. Subjects throw smoke bomb into group of 3 to 4 homeless men.
•July 15, around 12:30 AM – Olympic Boulevard, east of Broadway. Another smoke bomb thrown on homeless man.
•July 15, around 1:25 AM – 1012 S. Broadway. Three subjects arrested by officers after caught recording act of throwing smoke bomb on sleeping homeless man, whose blanket catches on fire.
Lieutenant Vernon can be reached at 213-972-1203.