James "Mason" Stills is a 30-year veteran of homelessness in Salt Lake City. He came into our offices yesterday alleging he and other homeless people are being harassed by a Salt Lake City Police Department officer. Both men have previously appeared in City Weekly.---
Stills was a City Weekly cover story in 2002, when he highlighted issues with halfway houses in Ogden in a tale called "Halfway to Hell." This time round, Stills raised a concern that first appeared in City Weekly in a 2010 news story by my colleague, Eric Peterson, which you can read here. That concern is that some officers, notably Pioneer Park Bicycle Squad Officer Dax Shane, tickets the homeless when they are not causing a problem.
Stills refers to an incident where Shane allegedly gave out between 25 and 35 citations for trespassing in early February 2012. This took place at 3:30 p.m. two weeks ago outside the Road Home shelter [it opens at 3:45 p.m., Stills notes], as homeless people were waiting to enter, he says. "I don't know how Judge [John] Baxter feels about so many trespass tickets in his court room," Still continues. Judge Baxter runs the homeless court at the Salt Lake City justice court. He declined to comment.
Salt Lake City Police Department's Josh Ashdown advised me to call the Road Home, which, he says, has asked Salt Lake City PD in the past to remove people who are not supposed to be near its property at certain hours. "People know the rules, they've been explained to them again and again. They don't listen." I called Road Home's executive director, Matt Minkevich yesterday, but as of yet have not heard back.
Ashdown said that officers have to deal with homeless people who repeatedly break the rules, for example smoking or drinking alcohol "where they know they are not supposed to be." Such homeless folks may well be given citations. When a number of people were cited at once, he continued, "there can be a group mentality where they feel that's not fair."
Officer Shane, he added, "gives plenty of warnings," to those who are receptive to warnings. Those who are not, it seems, get cited.