Homeless plaintiff’s RV seized by SLO police

April 26, 2012

Robert Watts and Crystal Vernoy

By KAREN VELIE

One of the litigants in a lawsuit that claims the San Luis Obispo police department is discriminating against homeless people who sleep in their cars is now sleeping outdoors after police seized his recreational vehicle on Monday.

A lawsuit filed by attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins on April 6,  accuses the city of San Luis Obispo and the chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. The attorneys are asking the court to order the city to stop enforcing a city ordinance that prohibits sleeping in vehicles and to pay financial damages and costs on behalf of their clients, several homeless residents of the city and the SLO Homeless Alliance.

“It is troubling that the signatory on the complaint for the entire SLO Homeless Alliance has had his home seized and towed,” Jenkins said.

Robert Watts, the spokesman for the alliance, was spending Monday afternoon applying for jobs when he received a call from a fellow member of the homeless community telling him that police were having his motor home towed away. No notices to move or tickets had been placed on the vehicle prior to the towing, Watts said.

He then rode his bike to Prado Road  and was informed by officers that his RV had been towed because of an expired registration. Watts then headed to a tow yard on Tank Farm Road where he found his RV. He then locked himself  and his girlfriend Crystal Vernoy inside the seized vehicle.

After police officers ordered them to open the door, they left the vehicle with Vernoy aggressively telling officers what she thought of their seizure. Officers responded by cuffing Vernoy and setting her in the dirt by the side of the road. Vernoy suffers from birth defects and is currently awaiting approval for hip surgery.

Before they moved the vehicle, officers allowed Watts to take several of his belongings including a tent, bicycles and a dog from the vehicle.

“That was our last ditch effort to have an existence other than sleeping in a river bed,” Watts said. “I’ve paid for the registration, I just needed to get the smog check done.”

Police Capt. Chris Staley said the vehicle had not been registered since 2006 and that the department was not retaliating against Watts.

“Mr. Watts’ vehicle was a subject of a call for service into the San Luis Obispo Police Department dispatch center,” Staley said. “Employees of the city’s water treatment plant called to complain that they had found dirty diapers, needles and other garbage on the other side of the fence where Watts’ vehicle was parked, and had been parked for some time.”

Watts said someone stole the tags off the back of his RV and that it is currently registered.  In addition, Watts and Vernoy said the diapers and trash did not come from them.

“Why would I be throwing diapers over the fence when I don’t even have a child,” Vernoy said.

Several witnesses, including members of the legal community, said they saw a police cruiser turn onto Prado Road facing the Watts as others helped them gather their belongings while witnesses stood vigil looking back at the police. After a short standoff, the cruiser  loudly broke rubber and screached all the way down Prado Road, witnesses said.

Last night, Watts and Vernoy slept under the Gazebo at the Grace Church in San Luis Obispo. They are spending the afternoon  under a shelter at Mitchell Park in an ill attempt to stay dry.

“It is cold out here with this rain,” Watts said. “All of our belongings are wet.”

On Tuesday, attorneys Jenkins and Rizzo filed a motion for an injunction to bar police from ticketing people for sleeping or living in their vehicles until a judge rules on their lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs have suffered from the city’s illegal actions against them and will continue to suffer if a preliminary injunction is not granted,” the motion says.


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98 Comments

  1. cheseburger says:

    “That was our last ditch effort to have an existence other than sleeping in a river bed,” Watts said. “I’ve paid for the registration, I just needed to get the smog check done.”

    Ya know I hate the stupid two year, no matter how WELL you smogged, you have to keep going back and back, with the same dame vehicle, the smog guy has made more than the girl who sold it to me.

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  2. willieslo says:

    I think the homeless and transient who do not have children can best be helped out by giving them:
    Low interest loans for education?
    Low interest Master and Visa Credit Cards for necessities?
    Community Work Programs so they can pay off their debts!

    In the meantime, Attorney Saro Rizzo has an office with a good size parking lot located on Higuera St @ LOVR, he can arrange to let some of them park and set up tent there as well as let them use his rest room facilities?
    Attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins can also help give them part time work keeping their parking lot clean and doing some office work or assistance?

    (2) 36 Total Votes - 19 up - 17 down
    • cheseburger says:

      “Attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins can also help give them part time work keeping their parking lot clean and doing some office work or assistance?”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      WHY THE HELL NOT?

      (13) 13 Total Votes - 13 up - 0 down
  3. W. A. Piedmont says:

    Yikes! I’ve been doing this all wrong! Instead of worrying about vehicle related fees, I should instead focus on a law suit for discrimination? Besides, six years is not too long to take for a smog check. . .is it?

    (25) 29 Total Votes - 27 up - 2 down
  4. SLOChildrenAtPlay says:

    Now that Vernoy has apparently qualified for SSI, she won’t have to pay for hash anymore. She will now have a full menu of prescription drugs to abuse at taxpayers expense.

    Drug abuse, entitlement, and lack of respect for the rule of law. Crystal Vernoy and Robert Watts are the perfect example of the REAL homeless.

    (36) 50 Total Votes - 43 up - 7 down
  5. obispan says:

    Let’s not blame “the police”. The only time I feel any sympathy for our over-paid officers is when I see them dealing with this B.S. They act at the direction of City administration, the council, and ultimately – you. Anyone with a better idea, one that preferably won’t turn the whole of SLO into the cities that dumped this problem on us, is welcome to step up. And I don’t mean another six-figure salary like the County’s “solution”. Let’s hear the idea BEFORE we spend the money. Plenty is being spent already. If you don’t pay rent, don’t have to maintain and smog your vehicle (6 years!), and collect, at the least food stamps + the County minimum, and possibly “crazy pay” (SSDI), is a pretty sweet gig. This attack on the City is very well orchestrated. I wish Mr. Rizzo and Mr. Jenkins would just pick up and move to Santa Cruz where they would feel more at home.

    (11) 27 Total Votes - 19 up - 8 down
  6. Stunned says:

    Those poor people are getting a BUM rap. Maybe they should HASH it out somewhere else! :)

    (6) 16 Total Votes - 11 up - 5 down

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