Homeless Activist Treated Like Terror Suspect

May 12, 2009 12:57:15 AM PDT
When city crews recently cleaned up a homeless area in downtown Fresno, advocates, with cameras were there. The pictures are posted on the internet. But when one photographer followed city crews, to take pictures of where they were putting the stuff they cleaned up, police say city workers got suspicious. "It was text book casing. Similar to what a domestic terrorist, an international terrorist, or simply, what a citizen meaning to do harm to the government would do just prior to an event." Said Sgt. Ronald Grimm, the departments Homeland Security Coordinator.

The photographer was taking pictures inside the city maintenance yard. The Police Departments Homeland Security Bureau was notified and they tracked down the photographer by his license plate and sent him a letter. A portion of the letter read: "Your actions during your visit to this facility caused concern among several city employees and was brought to the attention of the Police Department's Terrorism Liaison Officers."

Homeless Advocate Mike Rhodes was among those monitoring the homeless cleanup, and believes the city is trying to intimidate them.

"When they are so concerned about our following up on local government activities that they classify us as terrorists and have us contacted by homeland security, that's a little over the top." Rhodes said.

Fresno city officials may have reason to be touchy about the way the city has treated the homeless. Last year a Federal Judge ordered the city to pay more than two million dollars for seizing and destroying the property of homeless people. But Grimm says the police were only concerned with the potential threat to city property. "Facilities which we consider critical for the continuity of government in the event of a critical incident."

Like Police cars and gasoline storage tanks. Action News Legal Analyst Tony Capozzi understands the concerns of both sides.

"Well, I think the city is being overly cautious. From the defense, from the taking the pictures, I think he feels intimidated and threatened. But take it from the Police side, the public side. You can't be overly cautious these days." Capozzi said.

Police say homeless advocates are free to visit the City Yard, but they suggest they call first, so nobody gets suspicious.

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