A group of residents who lived in a homeless encampment at Steamer Landing Park are taking the town of Petaluma back to court, claiming police violated a court order by leaving the site in June, according to recent court records.
The group filed a motion on June 14 calling for the court to show cause for contempt, stating that when the Petaluma Police Department conducted a sweep of their camp, located near D Street near the SMART tracks, officers violated court orders by allowing campers’ belongings to be dumped instead of safely stored while they searched for another place to stay.
“I don’t know of a single person whose property has been put into storage,” Robert Tournahu, who is leading the effort, said in a statement filed on the court’s website.
On October 5, 2021, nearly two dozen people from the encampment filed a petition in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to stop police from evicting residents from the Steamer Landing site. Judge Edward Chen granted the injunction and extended it three times during a series of hearings.
Chen allowed the injunction to expire on June 10, saying city leaders had done everything in their power to provide camp residents with services and accommodation options. The police evacuated the camp on June 13 and 14.
Body camera footage released to the Petaluma Argus-Courier shows officers speaking to campers June 13 and advising them that they will be providing storage for valuables for up to 90 days to the police department. Locals say that didn’t happen.
Robyn Eads said police told her she would safely store her belongings – which included personal childhood memorabilia, clothes, books and hygiene products – but she later discovered the belongings had disappeared.
“The officers specifically told me to place my property, which they would store, near the patrol car and add it to the truck, but it turns out they left it behind for d ‘other civilians can get it,’ Eads said in a statement filed on the U.S. District Court’s website.
Lt. Nicholas McGowan of the Petaluma Police Department said officers met with each person at the site and informed them they needed to let an officer know if they had any property they would like to have stored. He said police offered plastic bags and provided evidence tags to people whose goods had been accepted for storage so that police could identify and track the goods.
“Every item of property that has been designated for storage by any of the park’s unsheltered community members has been stored,” McGowan said in a statement filed in court records. “There was nothing designated for storage by an unprotected community member that was not accepted by (the Petaluma Police Department) for storage.”
Police did not store property that appeared to be abandoned, he added.
“Abandoned items appeared to consist of broken, damaged, soiled or hazardous debris and trash,” McGowan said.
It is not known how many personal items were taken away by the police for storage. A request for information sent to the city attorney on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
In their petition, some residents also claimed that they had not received proper notification of the camp’s clearance. But McGowan said police began posting notices – in English and Spanish – from May 18 at park entrances.
Robbie Powelson, a California Homeless Union attorney who said he stayed at Steamer Landing Park for about 12 hours the day police began cleaning it up, also claimed in the petition that police retaliated against him for trying to help the residents.
“If you interfere or delay our operation here, you are likely to be arrested,” an officer told Powelson in body camera footage after another officer was heard questioning Powelson about unpaid parking tickets.
McGowan argued that Powelson was providing residents with “conflicting instructions” on the site, which made it harder for officers to do their job.
“Mr. Powelson became argumentative and began ordering unprotected persons on site not to interact with the (Petaluma Police Department),” McGowan said in his statement. discussions between (Petaluma Police) and individuals in the camps, telling individuals what to say and encouraging them not to engage in dialogue with the (Petaluma Police Department).”
A hearing on the motion is scheduled for October 6 at 1:30 p.m. in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.