Friday, October 24, 2014

Downtown Cops Arrest Elderly Homeless Woman We Met While Reporting

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 4:53 PM


San Antonio police officers patrolling downtown by bike arrested Erma Jean Grant Thursday afternoon, an elderly homeless woman Elaine Wolff and I met and referenced in our print story this week, "Records show police issue thousands of tickets for homelessness."

According to open records requests and data we obtained, between January 1, 2013 to early October of this year, San Antonio police officers have issued more than 12,000 citations for violations aimed at discouraging the homeless and poor from hanging out downtown, more than 3,000 of which were for things like camping in public and urinating and/or defecating in public that are likely to occur because an individual doesn't have a place to sleep.

We met Grant as "Jean" while reporting our story two weeks ago at the Starbucks location on Houston Street and N. St. Mary's Street, the place where she was ultimately arrested Thursday. According to the police report, which John Tedesco at the San Antonio Express-News cited in his blog post about Grant's arrest, she was arrested for camping in a public place. Officer Gregory Mendez wrote this in his police report that "due to the large amount of baggage, the area was not accessible to the heavy pedestrian traffic." He found her laying on the ground with "several large trash bags of clothing and personal items surrounding her." Mendez also wrote in his report that Grant was "laying between the bags, which concealed her from passing pedestrians/vehicles on the roadway."

The Express-News also posted a video of what happened yesterday.

As Tedesco wrote, and others told us firsthand, including another downtown bike officer, Grant was known in the area but kept to herself. Here is the exact reference from our print story:

On a recent weekday afternoon, a bike officer who appeared to have a good rapport with at least one of downtown’s homeless regulars—an older woman who rolls her own cigarettes and keeps to herself—expressed frustration with the system, which gives them few options for handling the regulars who engage in more objectionable behavior. "It’s a revolving door. What can we do?" he said with a rueful smile.

One Starbucks employee told me that she never bothered anyone. Passersby that Tedesco quotes in his story were alarmed by what was happening Thursday afternoon. 

“All she does is stay out here,” Catherine Moore, a waitress who works nearby, told the Express-News. “She’s not doing anything wrong. This is unbelievable.”

Like we wrote in our story, Grant is an elderly African American woman, 71 years old, according to the police report. She rolls her own cigarettes and wears hoop earrings, and two weeks ago when we first met she sported bright turquoise fingernail polish. I walked past the Starbucks a few days later and sat down next to her to chat. She clearly remembered me and proudly showed me her new hot pink nail polish color. So soft-spoken that I could barely hear her, she asked me my name that second time we met and wished me well.

The cart of belongings she carried when I met her included plastic bags and blankets. According to the police report, Grant was also storying uncashed social security checks and more than $750 in cash. According to the police report, she was transported to 401 S. Frio Street for booking and refused medical treatment. 

Grant's citation is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. 

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