Monday, January 25, 2010

More Sinning Than Sinned Against?

Reviewing the events of the last two weeks, it's hard to determine what is more curious about Del. David Englin's public housing legislation: his apparent failure to vet HB264 with police and local officials or his neglect in performing even a perfunctory background check on those whose complaints led to the controversial bill's introduction.

According to an article by Michael Lee Pope in the Alexandria Gazette, Del. Englin stated "I think the current policy treats people like chattel. It denies poor people the basic dignity and respect that any human being would demand from their fellow human beings."

Most importantly, Del. Englin was quoted as saying "Under the current policy, a police officer who doesn’t like the cut of your jib can bar you from ARHA property essentially indefinitely."

By contrast, Mr. Pope quoted ARHA Commissioner Carlyle Ring, an attorney, as saying "People get barred because they have engaged in the drug trade or domestic violence against a spouse or child. No one gets on the list without factual information that they’ve been convicted or arrested."

The Growler has no access to ARHA's list of individuals who are barred from its properties. But the Gazette story prominently featured the name of one individual who felt that her family was unfairly treated.

Knowing from the past that those who make the loudest complaint often have the most to hide, the Cranky One loped down to the Alexandria courthouse intending to find out more about this Adkins resident who was singled out as an apparent examplar of civil injustice.

Is Mr. Englin right or is Mr. Ring correct? Are police stopping trespassers on a whim or is there overwhelming evidence that those who are barred are just the sort of people that shouldn't be on ARHA property?

Suffice it to say, the Growler could have spent a week at the court house, parsing through this resident's family history and their entanglements with law enforcement.

But for simplicity's sake let's focus on one member whose records clog the computer databases at the court house: a son who was cited repeatedly for trespassing misdemeanors in past years, most recently in April 2009 when he was found guilty.

The trespassing citation he was issued was for violation of City Code 13-1-33, which is entitled "Trespass after having been forbidden to do so." So although ARHA is not specifically cited, it is reasonable to assume that this gentleman is on the barred list.

It is no exaggeration to say that he has a lengthy criminal record going back more than a quarter of a century. In his 2002 Circuit Court trial for assault on a police officer, the Commonwealth Attorney's office introduced a list of his convictions in both Alexandria and Arlington County dating from 1983, including misdemeanor and felony assaults, possession of PCP, possession of cocaine, distribution of cocaine, burglary, and assault and battery on a police officer. The sentencing report noted his lengthy record, his relapse into drug use two days after completing "an intensive drug treatment program," and his antipathy to law enforcement.

This was far from the end of his activities. In 2007, he was charged with beating a woman and pleaded guilty in Alexandria Circuit Court to unlawful wounding, impeding a police officer, and brandishing a machete.

Lest some persons think the Alexandria police simply have it in for this man, be aware that he pleaded guilty to 2nd degree assault in Prince George's County last October.

And most startling of all, in the past few years his own family has turned him in to law enforcement. His mother and sister reported him for taking his sister's car (which she had loaned to her mother) and not returning it. That led to a police chase on Route 1 near Potomac Yard, and yet more charges which underscore for the Growler just why PBA came out so strongly against the bill.

The son is not the only problem in this family. There are others, such as a sister who lived in Adkins with her mother. She was found guilty of a misdemeanor drug charge in 2006, briefly jeopardizing her parent's public housing accommodations.

The Growler could go on and on, but readers have probably grasped the point by now. Is this resident the best example that public housing advocates or reporter Michael Lee Pope could bring forward to back Mr. Englin's case that their families are being unjustly barred -- and on a whim?