Violent Arrest Causes Stir at Auburn Homeless Shelter

Oct 07 2016

The violent arrest of a homeless man outside the Right Hand Auburn homeless shelter on Richardson Drive upset several bystanders who witnessed the incident, some of whom say Placer County Sheriff’s deputies used excessive force. The sheriff’s office disputed these accusations on Friday.

An eyewitness’ video of the incident was leaked to the Auburn Journal on Friday. It shows the suspect, later identified by deputies and witnesses as 46-year-old James Prinz, being tased and struck with a baton while lying on the ground with his hands raised.

The video begins with audible voices of bystanders saying “don’t do it,” “let ‘em take you, James,” and “it’s OK James, it’s all right,” before anyone is visible. At one point a sharp percussive noise is audible, followed by the voice of a male and female bystander yelling “hey, that’s not necessary!” The camera then pans right to reveal four deputies standing around Prinz lying on his back, rolling back and forth in a semi-fetal position, yelling, as one of the four officers keeps a taser pointed at him. Deputies and witnesses later confirmed this taser was being discharged.

In the video, as one of the four deputies keeps his taser pointed at Prinz, the other three at first back up with batons raised, then close in and start yelling at Prinz to roll over on his stomach. Prinz, lying on his back with both hands raised and empty, palms open, looks from one deputy to the other. A man off camera yells “get your camera out,” and a woman’s voice replies, “it’s on.” One deputy steps closer and swings the baton down on Prinz’s legs, at which point Prinz convulses and rolls onto his side, yelling repeatedly, rolling onto his back again with his legs somewhat folded, knees bent and feet on the ground.

Bystanders continue yelling at deputies to stop hitting Prinz, and at Prinz to roll over. Prinz continues yelling, and a female deputy yells at him to roll over on his belly.

Prinz continues to yell, then rolls onto his left side and onto his feet, head down, hunched, and runs away from the deputies. One of the deputies swings a baton at Prinz’s right side. All four deputies chase after him through a field for about 60 seconds to the edge of a dirt parking lot, with the camera following after. When the camera catches up, Prinz is on the ground again, being pinned and surrounded by at least five deputies.

According to the Placer County Jail roster, Prinz was arrested for violating probation and resisting arrest.

One witness outside the shelter that morning, who declined to be named, said she didn’t understand the use of the taser or the clubs. She said that when deputies surrounded Prinz and tried to put his arms down and cuff him, he tensed up, but he was unarmed and never swung at anybody.

“All I saw was him tense up, in the very beginning, and then that’s when they threw him on the ground,” she said.

Lt. Troy Sander, a spokesman for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment on the video, as he had not seen it. He said deputies’ requests for a copy of the video for a criminal investigation had been refused until Friday afternoon.

Sander stressed that Prinz has a history of violence with the sheriff’s office, including an encounter in which he seriously injured two deputies 12 years ago in Colfax.

“Too often the media, and people who have a special agenda, want to focus the attention on the officers rather than looking at the totality of the circumstances that brought the officers to that point. Knowing this individual had a long, significant violent history with us, knowing that he was routinely causing problems in the homeless community … those are all things in the back of an officer’s mind,” Sander said. “If he’s resisting and not complying with orders, necessary force will be used to affect the arrest.”

He added that his department reviews any arrest where a taser is used, but the review for this incident warranted no further investigation.

“An initial inquiry was looked at. It was determined to be reasonable (use of force), based on the facts the circumstances, and the extensive violent history we have with this individual,” he said.

Jason Smith, director of Right Hand Auburn, declined to comment on Friday morning except to say that the spectacle did no favors for the mission of the shelter.

“One of our goals here is to break down that distrust our residents have for law enforcement, for the rest of society. We’re trying to get them to buy into the system, so that’s why an incident like this is so destructive, because everybody saw it,” he said. “I’m not qualified to say if it was justified use of force or unjustified. That’s not my job. But I do know that things like that undo so much of what we’re doing here – months and months of what we’re doing here.”

When the Auburn Journal reporter was at the shelter early Friday afternoon, deputies arrived at the facility office to ask for a copy of the video. Smith said it was the fourth time that day they had come for it.

Shawn Coleman, a resident at the shelter who also witnessed the incident, said he never saw Prinz swing or speak during the arrest. He corroborated Smith’s comment, that he and many other residents “definitely” have a distrust of deputies and other county employees near the shelter. He said he’s seen some of them throw away homeless people’s belongings, and even soak them with water.

“Talk to us more and get better training,” he said. “Not all of us are drug addicts. Things happen in people’s lives, and they wind up here.”