LANCASTER — Advocates for the homeless and mentally ill held a rally in front of City Hall Tuesday morning, calling for Mayor R. Rex Parris’ ouster, and for him to apologize for comments he made the night of Aug. 21, after a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy trainee said he was shot in the shoulder in a sniper attack from the four-story apartment building to the north of the station.
The deputy’s claims were later revealed as a hoax.
Protesters held signs and shouted slogans, including “We love our sheriffs; Parris must go,” and “We want an apology. When do we want it? Now” as they walked in the shade in front of City Hall.
“We are here because of the incident with the sheriff and of how they were portrayed, of the mental health and our homeless community,” advocate Anita Molina, who helps feed the homeless and provides services for their pets, said.
Advocate Rochelle Dilick said they are already targets, as it is.
“So this just makes it more difficult for them to be in the city,” she said. “The mayor portrayed everybody in that area as mentally ill. Well, not everybody that’s homeless is mentally ill. They just run into hard times. He also portrayed that everybody that’s mentally ill is a criminal and dangerous.”
Advocate Amanda Bartlett said the rhetoric up here with Parris has been painful and directed toward those of low income and the homeless population in general … “It’s not helpful to anybody here.”
Wade Alexander showed up to the rally out of compassion and sympathy for the homeless.
“I want to do what I can to help the most vulnerable here,” he said. “I feel like Rex Parris and the City of Lancaster has shown no compassion to them whatsoever and that’s what I’m here protesting against. I want to see that their situation is met with compassion rather than callousness.”
Ron Klein, 59, has been homeless about eight or nine years. He moved to the Antelope Valley a couple of years ago to move in with a friend. He lived there about a year before he was homeless again.
Klein organized the rally.
“I want an apology from R. Rex Parris, number one,” he said. “I want them to start putting the funds where they belong and to help us. We aren’t perfect but we’re not a bunch of criminals.”
Parris disputed the protesters’ claims.
“I don’t think that the mentally ill, for the most part, are dangerous, but I do think some of them are extremely dangerous, and I don’t know how to tell the difference,” he said in a telephone call.
Parris added it is not appropriate, or in the interest of the Antelope Valley community, for the mentally ill to be encouraged to move to Lancaster.
“I understand people will throw rocks at me for saying things that are true, but I will say it anyway,” he said. “This is not in the best interest of our children or the families that raise them.”
Parris apologized on Facebook to the people whose homes were invaded because of former deputy Angel Reinosa’s lies. In another Facebook post, he said he was “unrepentant” in regard to his comments about the apartment building.
“That facility should not have windows overlooking the Sheriff’s Department. And, I am tired of these ‘non-profit’ facilities locating in Lancaster bringing problems from Los Angeles into our city,” Parris wrote.
He said Tuesday, he thought it was clear what he was unrepentant about.
He noted the Valley’s health care system is already overburdened.
“We’re going to overburden it more,” Parris asked.
Reinosa’s claim that he was shot by a sniper promoted a massive response from the Sheriff’s Department that included a SWAT team, helicopter and armored vehicles drawn to downtown Lancaster. Authorities placed the 100-unit apartment building on lockdown as they searched it for the reputed sniper.
Parris visited Reinosa at the emergency room and expressed genuine concern for his safety.
Speaking to reporters the night of the incident, Parris expressed outrage that the apartment building was placed so close to a Sheriff’s Station.
“It’s not just a four-story apartment building; it’s a four-story apartment building that is government subsidized for mentally ill people,” Parris said the night of the incident. “Let’s call it what it is, why do you put mentally ill people in a four-story apartment across from the sheriff’s department? It’s indefensible and something has to be done about it.”
The 100-unit apartment building, known as Arbor Fields, is designed for low to moderate-income individuals, with several units designated specifically for individuals with disabilities. The building shares a parking lot with Mental Health America of Los Angeles, Antelope Valley Enrichment Services. The agency provides supportive services to some of the people who live in the building.
More than a decade ago, the City touted the project as part of the revitalization of downtown Lancaster during a grand opening celebration held on May 15, 2009.
“As part of the Lancaster Downtown Revitalization Project, this facility is an example of the projects we want to incorporate into our community. Programs and services which serve the citizens and improve their quality of life are essential to the growth of Lancaster,” Parris said in a May 13, 2009 press release.
He said he does not recall the statement.
“I was a pretty naive mayor at that point,” Parris said.
He was first elected in 2008. A year into his first term, the mayor said he didn’t understand the ripple effects of such projects. Planing for the project began before he was elected.
“I’m a compassionate person, but I’m also entrusted with the protection of this community,” Parris said.
Sheriff’s Department officials held an 11 p.m. press conference at the department’s Los Angeles headquarters on Aug. 24, to announce the reported sniper attack was a hoax.
““There was no sniper,” Homicide bureaus Capt. Kent Wegener said at the press conference. “No shots fired and no gunshot injury sustained to his shoulder. Completely fabricated,”
Reinosa admitted, during a follow-up interview with investigators prior to the press conference, that he fabricated the sniper attack. He did not provide a motive, but could face criminal charges. The false report was submitted to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which is reviewing the case.