Hansen: Finding out more about Laguna’s infamous panhandler
This post has been corrected, as noted below.
I never intended to involve the police.
It was 11:02 p.m. on Monday. I remember because I had just looked at my phone, thinking I should call it a night. I was tired after waiting for nearly two hours on Forest Avenue next to Soon Chey, the 84-year-old woman in a wheelchair who begs for money.
I wanted to ask her son, David Chey, why he drops his mom off nearly every night and leaves her for several hours. As a result, she is forced to relieve herself on public benches — as photographed recently by resident Lorene Auger. So upset, Auger is trying to spearhead an anti-panhandler ordinance with the City Council.
Apparently working happily together, the Cheys have been doing this financial outreach for many years — and not just in Laguna Beach.
There are “elder abuse” accusations dating back to at least 2013 and documented by local media outlets such as ABC News, KTLA and others. They reported one infamous Christmas incident in Irvine’s University Town Center where Soon allegedly was left out in the cold until 2 a.m.
On Monday in Laguna, it wasn’t particularly cold but a nighttime dew was forming. With her ever-present “Please Help Me” sign, Soon wore a heavy jacket and wool cap pulled tight.
When she did try to move her wheelchair to a few nearby locations — including the benches at the corner of Glenneyre — the rubber on her left wheel would come loose. She would have to bend over for several minutes and try to put it back on.
Most of the time it just dangled like a broken rubber band.
When the son arrived in his clean, nicely appointed Prius, I quickly snapped a photo, wondering if he added a special wheelchair holder in the hatchback.
But I never got to ask him.
He immediately pulled out his cell phone and started taping and calling the police at the same time.
He was loudly ranting about conspiracies, harassment and his right to arrest me. People stopped walking and starting pulling out their own phones.
I could overhear the dispatcher telling Chey to slow down. She called him by his first name, and it was clear it wasn’t the first time.
He told the dispatcher I was an “NSA troll.” He also added that I had a “very large nose,” which was probably the only thing he got right the entire night.
His mom, meanwhile, showed some spunk as well.
“What’s your name?” she asked me. “I will sue you.”
Once the son seemed satisfied that the police were coming, he turned his attention back to me, announcing that I was not to leave.
“I’m going to exercise a citizen’s arrest,” he said, citing various penal codes and continuing to roll his video. “You are under arrest.”
The Police Department is within eyesight of this location so it wasn’t long before an officer walked up. Besides, I wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted to see how this played out.
With apologies to unintentionally causing the police response, I was curious about what they would do exactly. Of course, the short answer was nothing. There were no laws broken.
The Cheys, however, are known to police in Laguna. On March 13, 2014, at that same location, Chey, then 50, and his then 82-year-old panhandling mother, both of Irvine, were arrested on suspicion of burglary and petty theft, according to police reports. However, the charges were later dismissed.
FOR THE RECORD
July 19, 5:03 p.m.: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that David and Soon Chey “have broken laws in the past in Laguna.” In fact, the Cheys were arrested on suspicion of burglary and petty theft in 2014, but the charges were later dismissed.
It’s this continuing pattern of leniency that particularly upsets Auger, the Laguna resident who caught Chey defecating on the public bench.
“The whole town is upset about this continued abuse, and I think the professional panhandling licenses will do a lot to curb it,” Auger said. “Let’s put it this way, had I dropped my drawers downtown and dropped a deuce on the bench, I think I’d be in handcuffs for sure.”
According to Auger, more than one city councilmember is similarly fed up with Chey, calling the latest incident — and long, sordid history — “unacceptable.”
On the other hand, the city is still in the throes of a separate ACLU lawsuit over the city’s treatment of the homeless, which the city is vigorously defending.
Either way, the two are completely different issues. First of all, Chey is not homeless, and it’s doubtful she is destitute. They live in an Irvine apartment, according to records. While they did lose their family home in 2007 to bankruptcy after the father died, they were compensated, based on housing and court records.
During the bankruptcy, by the way, the Cheys entered into a protracted legal fight with Wells Fargo, which they lost, with David Chey representing himself as a “Pro Se Private Attorney General.”
They have also tried unsuccessfully to challenge Irvine Regional Hospital and several doctors after Soon Chey’s other son, Henry, died of cancer. In that battle, they somehow included top officials within the Orange County Sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office.
With their own words, in a lengthy, rambling post on a fundraising site, Soon Chey accuses several public officials of “execution and murder.”
“Mr. Henry Chey was in constant progressive, unimaginable, pain and in terror from his execution and murder by Orange County Superior Court Judge John D. Conley, Anthony J. Rackauckas Jr., Orange County District Attorney, Michael S. Carona, former Orange County Sheriff, Edward W. Hall, Orange County Alternate Defender while being denied access to medical care …” she wrote on the Fund Anything website.
And in case you’re wondering, the fundraising plea resulted in no financial support from the public.
Clearly, Soon Chey and her son may need help but not for the reasons they claim.
“I just don’t understand how this is allowed to happen,” said an exasperated Auger.
I don’t either but welcome to a free country.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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