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Column: These Venice residents peacefully coexisted with their homeless neighbors. Until one man made that impossible

John Leddy stands near his home in Venice.
John Leddy stands near his home in Venice on March 5. His street borders an alley that is used as a home base by a troubled man currently in jail. Neighbors fear that if the man is released soon, he will return to the block and intimidate them again.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Talia Landman is a talkative, petite 30-year-old social media manager and ultra-runner who had the misfortune of moving into a Venice apartment house next to an alley frequented by a violent man with a long record of arrests.

She and her lab mix, Juno, love the balcony of their second-floor studio and would relax there in the sun, especially after the pandemic hit and everyone was stuck at home. The balcony overlooks the alley, which, until he was arrested in August, was the makeshift home of David Fern Kroll, 36, who is listed in legal documents as 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.

Venice is a part of town where people in homes often coexist peacefully with those who are homeless. “We have a lot of empathy and sympathy for people who’ve lost their homes,” said Landman, “but to call this man homeless and to group him in with that population is an insult to them.”

Indeed, many neighbors say they were intimidated by Kroll, but Landman had it the worst.

At first, it was the fights Landman says she witnessed between Kroll and others who frequented the alley. “I would go out there and see this guy, yelling about wanting to punch a woman in the face, beat her,” she said. “A woman would come by and they would get in massive fights. ... He would have these spirals, throwing things, breaking things, yelling. I was like, ‘Is this normal? Why is no one doing anything?’”

When she complained to her landlord, she said, he told her to close her windows and hide. “I pay $2,000 to live in a box!” she told me. But she did what she could to avoid Kroll. And she kept detailed notes about every interaction with him and police, who were frequently called. Usually Kroll was gone by the time police arrived. Sometimes they would tell him to leave the alley. Sometimes they would arrest him. He always came back.

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Then, in May, Landman and others say, Kroll began focusing his anger in earnest on Landman. Landman says he threw rocks at her while she was on her balcony, screamed obscenities and threatened to rape or kill her when she called police.

And she was not the only neighbor who reported harassment. Julia Winter, who owns a triplex on Nelrose Avenue, across the alley from Landman’s apartment, says Kroll followed her on his bike, yelling and pointing his phone at her like a gun. One of Winter’s tenants, a young mother taking her baby out of the car, was caught in a crossfire of Kroll’s rock throwing, Winter said. Neighbors say they also saw Kroll accost customers and threaten the owner of a smoke shop on Lincoln Boulevard. At least two of Landman’s neighbors moved out because of Kroll.

One neighbor, John Leddy, 62, became so concerned about the safety of his family that he helped organize a neighborhood watch. Police from Pacific Division, a representative from Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and a city prosecutor attended their meetings.

“As a community,” Leddy told me, “we did this the right way. We were not calling police about the occasional unruly homeless encampment. We were concerned about this guy.”

Landman realized, for the first time, that she was not alone.

Then things got worse. On Aug. 19 at 2 a.m., Landman said, she woke to a loud bang on her air conditioning unit, turned on her light and saw Kroll’s face outside, his hand on her rail, trying to climb onto her balcony. She heard him say, “You wanna play, b—?”

She screamed, texted Leddy, then called 911.

By the time police arrived, Kroll was gone.

“That’s when I started fearing for my life,” she said. “I know he’s out there and it’s only a matter of time before he comes back.”

She changed her schedule, sleeping between 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., then staying awake the rest of the night. “I was a zombie. It was a terrible way to live.” She was afraid to sleep, afraid to leave her apartment, afraid he would kill her. “I felt completely powerless,” she said.

This is when her plan took shape.

“I knew the only way to get him was to injure him, so he couldn’t leave the scene. The cops would not do anything unless they caught him in the act. I thought: If it’s going to be my life or his, it’s going to be his.”

On the morning of Aug. 27, she left her apartment for a run. A neighbor had texted her that Kroll was nearby, so she used a different exit than normal. Kroll saw her anyway, and began to close in. “I was cornered,” she said, “because I was trying to hide behind some bushes.”

Leddy and other neighbors heard her screaming and came running. A foot away from her, Landman says, Kroll reached into his backpack. She aimed her pepper spray directly at his face.

The fight spilled onto Venice Boulevard. Leddy was prepared to use a metal bar he had grabbed as he ran toward the screams.

But police arrived in force and arrested Kroll at gunpoint. A video taken by Landman shows him on the ground in a pink shirt and white pants complaining that his new clothes were being ruined.

Currently, Kroll is housed in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility downtown, awaiting resolution of his case. He was charged with two counts of making criminal threats, one count of stalking — all felonies — and one count of contempt of court.

Landman and her neighbors worry that the progressive policies of L.A. County’s new district attorney, George Gascón, which emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration, will have Kroll back on the streets in a matter of months.

They believe he should be incarcerated for a good long time and fear that if he is released, he will simply return to their alley and resume tormenting them.

“Why does hard time and therapy have to be mutually exclusive?” asked Leddy, who says he was frequently harassed by Kroll. “That seems to be what Gascón is telling us.

Court records show that Kroll has been arrested numerous times, including on charges of possessing methamphetamine. The records are incomplete, but they show he has in the past been found guilty of vandalism, carrying a concealed weapon, battery and making a criminal threat. A hearing in his current case is scheduled for Friday, although his day in court has been postponed several times.

I was unable to reach Kroll’s attorney. The prosecutor handling his case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Eugene Miyata, did not respond to my emails, and a spokesman for Gascón was not able to provide information about the case by The Times’ deadline.

In an email to Leddy, however, Miyata said he expects Kroll to cut a deal to plead guilty to the stalking charge, which could bring a four-year sentence, and a 10-year protective order for Landman, Leddy and their neighbors.

Landman and Leddy worry he will return to the neighborhood as soon as he is able.

They worry as well that, given the new district attorney’s philosophy, he may return sooner rather than later.

@AbcarianLAT


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