Responding to questions about whether two deputies had “dumped” a homeless man in San Pedro, a Sheriff’s Department official said Wednesday they were “performing an act of compassionate service” by taking the man to a bus stop at his request.
“This call is not a case of dumping,” said Nicole Nishida, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.
L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino posted video of the latter part of Tuesday afternoon’s encounter on Facebook. It shows the man, disheveled and apparently agitated, walking away from a deputy’s patrol vehicle, with another patrol vehicle parked nearby. The deputy gets back into her vehicle and both cars drive off.
Later Tuesday, both the LAPD and city Fire Department responded to calls about the man, identified as John Thomas Bryan, 54. He was arrested Tuesday night by the LAPD on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear.
Buscaino submitted a motion to the City Council on Wednesday calling for the Sheriff’s Department to investigate the incident, and asked for an accounting of how much it cost the city to respond to calls about the man.
Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, showed the 49-second clip of the encounter on a large screen at Wednesday’s council meeting. He expressed concern that the deputies not only failed to help someone in obvious need, but could also have exposed the public to danger.
"This was appalling, disturbing and disgusting," Buscaino said. "Not only LAPD but also L.A. Fire had to respond to this gravely disabled individual who obviously was not being looked out for.”
But Nishida maintained that the deputies had gone out of their way to help a “Los Angeles County resident who is iconic of the social crises we see each and every day.”
She said deputies from the Lomita sheriff’s station responded to a call in Rancho Palos Verdes around 4 p.m. Tuesday. She said the man told deputies his name is Shawn Bryan, and he asked for a ride to Pasadena.
“He did not exhibit a danger to himself or others, he was not gravely disabled, he did not commit a crime and was not subject to involuntary detention,” Nishida said. “The deputies asked him if he needed any help. He only expressed that he wanted a ride.”
The deputies said they could not take him as far as Pasadena, but offered to drop him at a bus stop about four miles away on Western Avenue in San Pedro, noting that he had an MTA pass, Nishida said.
Bryan asked to be let out near a convenience store a couple of blocks from the bus stop, Nishida said.
Nishida said deputies checked to see if Bryan had any outstanding warrants, but decided not to arrest him.
The sheriff’s spokeswoman said she was aware that the LAPD arrested Bryan on a $412 fare-evasion warrant, but “such a minor violation does not meet the minimum threshold for a Sheriff’s Department incarceration due to jail overcrowding.”
Late Wednesday, Buscaino questioned the deputies’ explanation.
“I drove a police car for 15 years and never taxied anyone to their destination, especially to another jurisdiction,” the councilman said in a statement. “And especially a subject that was gravely disabled and had a warrant.”
The Los Angeles Fire Department also responded to a call about Bryan, Nishida said.
Department spokesman Peter Sanders said a fire engine responded to a report of a "person down" on 25th Street at 5:24 p.m. Tuesday. The engine was there for about seven minutes and left without transporting the person to the hospital, Sanders said.
Bryan had also been arrested by Pasadena police Jan. 9 and by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in December 2016, records show.
San Pedro resident Mike Olivieri, 54, said he was at home with his wife, Paula, when she became concerned about the scene unfolding across the street. He said he watched what was happening and began recording video. He emailed the video to Buscaino.
As more homeless encampments rise in San Pedro, residents in the neighborhood have been vocal and organized in their fight to remove the tents.
A proposed storage and service site in San Pedro was killed after public protests. Saving San Pedro, a Facebook group with more than 8,880 members, chronicles new encampments, promotes the use of shelters and calls for cleanups.
Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission, watched the video and said he still had questions about the encounter. But he said there was little the deputies could have done if Bryan asked to be dropped off.
“They don’t really have the right to intervene if he’s not broken the law,” Bales said.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement that she instructed local caseworkers to go to the jail where Bryan is being held to help him find services.
“Mr. Bryan clearly needed help,” Hahn said. “I question whether or not our sheriff’s deputies could have done more to get him the help he needed before they left him and drove away.”