Here we were, three women alone, away from home for the first time in many years. Sent to beautiful Santa Monica to participate in a workshop by our home company, US Health Care of Blue Bell, Pa., and conducted by Value Health Services of Santa Monica. Away from our home and families for the first time in many years and after spending a very intense day of workshops looking for a pleasant evening at dinner and relaxation.
We were told of a very fine restaurant called Ivy at the Shore along Santa Monica Beach. We decided to walk the short distance from our hotel, the Holiday Inn Bay View on Pico Boulevard, to the restaurant to allow the cobwebs to disappear as we strolled slowly to dinner. As out-of-towners, we were unaware of the dangers that were ahead.
A few short blocks from our hotel, we encountered hundreds of derelicts and homeless lying on the streets. More of them, as we approached, began accosting us, begging for money, touching and pawing at us. As tourists, new to the area, we became very frightened. We looked around for help and to our surprise we saw a Santa Monica police officer across the street only a short distance away.
The three of us ran from the crowd that surrounded us and bolted for the safety of the officer. Before we could explain our situation and ask for assistance, the officer, Gary Hagerman, Badge No. 2577, whipped out his citation book and stated that we had crossed the street against a red light and was going to issue each of us a ticket in violation of the city code. As we desperately tried to explain why we had crossed in such a hurry, Officer Hagerman refused to listen. He proceeded to ask us for our driver's license or any other identification so that he could properly issue us the citations. As this was taking place, a crowd of derelicts gathered around as Officer Hagerman proceeded in his official demeanor to ask us our names, addresses, color of eyes, height, weight, hair color and the hotel we were staying. Never once did he attempt to hear our dilemma or try to disperse the crowd that had gathered to listen in.
After issuing us our citations, Officer Hagerman simply walked away, leaving us again at our own disposal . . . alone and scared.
With this experience happening on our first evening in Santa Monica and with six more days to go, we continued to feel in jeopardy so we decided that our other evenings and free time would be spent somewhere else other than the "community" of Santa Monica. Being away from the street people and the "police state" of Santa Monica proved to be a much more pleasant experience for us all.
Yesterday, I received a copy of the citation and the summons from the Municipal Court of Santa Monica. This reminder of our stay has added to the bad taste and surly response we received from the officer we had fled to for "help." Enclosed find a copy of the check for $10 asked for by the good people of the Santa Monica courts for our "misconduct." I hope that this money goes to a fund that will help perpetuate the good name of Santa Monica so that other tourists and out-of-towners will continue to receive the kindness and understanding that we received while we were there.
It is inconceivable to me that in this day and age in America, a citizen seeking help and finding a police officer would get the kind of treatment that we received that evening. Officer Hagerman should be placed on a pedestal by the city officials of Santa Monica and rewarded with a citation for duty "below and beyond" the call of duty. If all of the officers of Santa Monica serve their community as well, I feel sorry for the citizens of the city. Santa Monica deserves better!
Plymouth Meeting, Pa.
Editor's note: Asked about the incident, Santa Monica Police spokesman Sgt. John Miehley said that according to Hagerman, Cohen and her friends made no mention at the time of being harassed by people on the street.