Homeless plaintiff’s RV seized by SLO police

April 26, 2012

Robert Watts and Crystal Vernoy


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.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I think that since San Luis Obispo has been courting out of town homeless-by-choice, they should let them park anywhere the want.

Another idea would be to erect a big sign at the city limits. “Welcome To San Luis Obispo; Where personal responsibility is in your rear view mirror”.

??? How exactly has SLO “been courting out of town homeless-by-choice?” Evidence and facts, please.

SLO Liberal’s war on the homeless continues. Liberals like to portray themselves a compassionate individuals, but the word knows better.

I’m not trying to “make an ass” out of either you or me, but did you mean to type “but the world knows better.” ? At least that would make some sort of sense, because the rest of your comment makes no sense what so ever; “SLO Liberal’s war on the homeless continues.” What. the. hell?

In this case I don’t feel that this is a lib or a con thing. It appears that you are simply looking for a reason to bash libs.

Appears she got her SSI (Social Security Supplemental Income). That is good for $854 mo. + arrears. This is good news and hopefully will get her into shelter and off Prado road.


Sarcasam ommited in last post. Now we can see if some money takes care of the “problem”. Mmm….

Homelessness is really a sad state of affairs. I really don’t agree with the sleeping in a car ordinance in SLO. I often think about how close my family is to being out on the street. In reality, not that far away. Being homeless however does not give anyone a free pass to break the law. If I want to have a vehicle on the road, I know it needs to be insured and registered. That is just how it is, and has been as long as I can remember. I also don’t want to be driving around with other drivers whose vehicles are not insured.

If your registration is expired for 6 months or longer, it is subject to storage until it is current. RVs can’t be non-op’ed. 6 years is a lot longer than 6 months for this guy. His two different stories (excuses) makes him sound like a liar in my eyes. Perhaps these people should re examine their priorities and their own causation for their predicament. A glance at her FB a few months ago told a clear tale of attitude, habits, and entitlement issues. I personally don’t feel sorry for those that don’t want to help themselves and blame others for their own demise. Sounds like her being handcuffed saved her from being booked for interfering.

So, it is safe to say that anyone can call the SLO Police Dept about a non-current registration and the Police will immediately come out and tow your vehicle. Or is it safe to say that only if you are on Prado Road with an RV and an unregistered vehicle that you get towed. Shame on SLO on the eve of a storm, on a street that has been the focus of homelessness and the community working to resolve the issues at hand that they take on the Police State attitude. And then to treat a disabled person in the manner you did. This is the new leadership we can expect from our new Police Chief. I thought we were working to resolve this issue. Good show of helping to resolve this problem.

I’m shocked; Shocked that the cops acted like pigs…NOT!!!

I sure hope the Morro Bay PD goes after the “beater VW van” with BRITISH COLUMBIA plates…I have NO idea how that piece of crap even made it all this way…

How about ticketing all the Out-Of-State vehicles that are in California longer than 30 days – it’s the law. Drive on Cal Poly campus and see all the out-of-state plates and soon to increase since California High Education deems it necessary to accept out of state students vs California because they pay a higher tuition. Drive in the RV parks and see all the snow birds who live here in the winter and others in the summer. Perfect example is Morro Bay Pines RV – they have permanent residents with mostly Oregon plates – lower registration fees. Come on PD in this County, do your job and do it fair and equal. TICKET ALL VIOLATORS, I TOTALLY SUPPORT YOU!!!

Apparently I’m in the minority here, but I feel it needs to be said. I’m with the cops on this one.

Essentially the police are enforcing an ordinance, you know… DOING THEIR JOBS.

We all know that the cops don’t tow your car for not having the blasted little sticker, as someone has already mentioned, they give you a fix it ticket. Part of their due diligence is looking up all the relevant info to see if the car in question–in this case the one without the sticker–has any other outstanding violations/warrant associated with it. They would know whether the car was truly delinquent in paying the registration or not.

And it only takes a base level of common sense to realize that if you intend to take on the judicial system by trying to get the cops NOT to enforce a law/ordinance, your better have all your ducks in a row, that includes keeping your registration current.

But they do issue tickets for non-posted “parking infractions” nobody would know about. I know — I got one for parking in front of my own house! When I asked why, they said the infraction “is posted at the city limits.” I checked; it wasn’t. And it took fussing all the way up to the mayor to get it rescinded. The homeless don’t have that avenue to pursue. SLO has become a police state.

To hell with auto registration. It’s just another POLICE STATE tactic.

and another thing, why should the PD handcuff MS Watts and make her sit in the dirt? Is it now against the law to tell off the cops and give them a piece of your mind?

Welcome to the POLICE STATE. Hope you enjoy your stay. It’s a joy sleeping under the stars, isn’t it?

Hold on a minute. First Watts say’s he has paid the registration and just needs to get the smog done. That would indicate that the vehicle did not have a current registration tag. Then later, Watt’s claims that someone stole the registration tag off the vehicle. Statements like this can become confusing but if I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, then I’m going to assume that he is claiming that the RV was registered after 2006 but that the most recent tag was stolen (and some prior tags that were stuck to it) and that it isn’t currently registered because he needs a smog but that the fees are paid and only the current registration is late. Fact is, if he isn’t in full compliance he would not have received his current tag even if he paid the fees but I can understand that he is saying it was previously currently registered.

Usually, when a current registration hasn’t been renewed in a timely fashion, the police issue a “fix it” ticket. That has happened to me when I forgot to mail in the renewal in the past and all I had to do was get the car registered by the date on the ticket and then get the ticket signed off and mail it in to the court. Even if someone had stole his previous registration tag, the police will always call in a vehicle before they tow it and they would have known when it was last registered. If it was only delinquent on its current registration then I would say that the SLOPD broke policy by towing the RV and singled out this homeless family. Shame on the SLOPD and the city of SLO if this is the case, I hope the attorneys for the homeless advocates kick your butts.

Shame on everybody involved in this cruelty. Glad you’re all nice and cozy in your warm dry homes while you make the less fortunate suffer because you’re too selfish and self centered to allow then even a place to park. Too take away all that they have left is despicable, unforgivable and sinful. If I see any SLO CC hypocrites in church, I’ll chase you out of it.

1) I agree this is a sad and heartless-sounding situation. “Man’s inhumanity to man” isn’t my forte, and I don’t intend to address it here.

2) What I do intend to address is the expired registration and towing issue.

a) I believe Morro Bay has a standing policy to tow all cars with reg more than 1-year out. I presume SLO has a similar anti-blight policy.

b) A guy I know well had his car towed by CHP (with 30-day impound) for no registration which discovered during a “rolling stop” citation.

c) So the rules are out there, being enforced some of the time.

Courts have ruled that 30 day impound is against the law and it should be.

It sounds like this guys registration wasn’t a year out as he is saying that the tags were stolen but that he is only delinquent for the current due to failure to smog. The PD would have known the last date of registration because they would have had to call the car in prior to towing to confirm lack of registration among other things.

Unless SLOPD are dopes, they *knew* this was going to be a hot issue, and would have crossed and dotted all their tees and eyes before going in.

What I mean is that they knew, or should have known, that Watt has some lawyers working for him, and that police interactions with him will be very well scrutinized.

I am suggesting that the truth of the registration (how “expired” it was) was known to the cops before they issued the tow order. And I can’t imagine them acting outside of normal policy or protocol in such a potential powder-keg situation.

Yes I suppose you’re right and this story really is possibly misleading with Watts stating that the current registration tag was stolen. “Watts said someone stole the tags off the back of his RV and that it is currently registered”. If he needs to smog it then he didn’t have a current tag so all I can deduce is that it was the latest tag that was stolen and that he wasn’t a year out but maybe he is confused or maybe he is lying. We need more information but its still mean to take away his only shelter. We need to designate a place for the homeless to park and find refuge. They should call the Refuge Church in Atascadero, I bet they would help them and let them park in their lot overnight. All Churches should open their lots at night for the homeless and Debbie what’s her face (from the shelter who wants to charge 80K to oversee the parking lot inhabitants) should mind her own business about it. They don’t need her “budding her nose” into their lives unless they ask her for her help. They just want a place to park and sleep.

Really Cindy? You are going to chase someone out of church because of what you believe? Who is the hypocrite now?

Dont worry, they lawyered up. If towing their car was unlawful, he will fix it.

Not for what I believe. It would be for blatantly breaking the only rule Jesus Christ gave them apart from believing in him.

Cindy says: "Too take away all that they have left is despicable,

unforgivable and sinful. If I see any SLO CC hypocrites in church, I’ll chase

you out of it."
Words of a good Christian??? Reel in your anger there



I have seen both sides of this issue and think that your generosity needs to be limited slightly. You are very right about the situation for some people but their are also some very manipulative liars in the homeless community who have made this a way of life.

Some are that way because of mental illness or other serious disabilities that limit their ability to function well enough to meet the regular obligations necessary to either own or rent housing. We have, as a society, failed these people.

Others are in this condition due to substance abuse or because they are minor league sociopaths. They are also good at disguising their real problems and creating plausible lies about their misfortune to draw sympathy and support. Until you have been really burned by one of them, you don’t appreciate how nasty they can be.

It is good to see that you try to do your part, but don’t get taken in. The tweaker who burned me for ~$3K did so with the support of well-meaning but gullible church-mates. (My income that year was under $20K so that came out of an already declining savings account.)

BTW, even if you think I’m a hypocrite, you don’t have to worry about chasing me out of your church. I don’t enter them except on business or for special occasions involving family.

1 2 3