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SF prosecutors halt enforcement of street-camping citations

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The San Francisco district attorney’s office has hit the brakes on charging people who have been cited for sleeping on the city’s streets and in other public areas.

District attorney spokesman Alex Bastian said the office suspended new prosecutions of such citations last month after the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities can’t charge people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go.

The case was brought by six homeless people who sued Boise, Idaho, in 2009 over a local ordinance that banned sleeping in public spaces.

The court ruled that prosecuting tent dwellers without offering alternative shelter amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

In San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascón halted new prosecutions after the public defender’s office filed a motion challenging the enforcement of the city’s law against public camping.

A state court is expected to rule on that motion this week. Bastian said the D.A, was holding off on any new chargings until prosecutors get a read on how local judges will interpret the Ninth Circuit ruling.

According to San Francisco police records, 101 campers were given misdemeanor citations from June 15 to Sept. 15 for sleeping in buildings or vehicles. The maximum penalty for such a citation is six months in jail.

Twenty-two of those cited in that three-month stretch were also booked into County Jail.

“They may have been repeat offenders or had outstanding warrants, or may have been inebriated,” said Deputy Police Chief Michael Redmond, who oversees the department’s homelessness unit.

Redmond said that although “it is not a written rule,” officers usually offer shelter to a public sleeper before issuing a citation.

“Most of the officers work with the outreach teams, where the primary goal is shelter first,” Redmond said.

He said the D.A.’s decision not to prosecute the cases was news to him.

In recent years, San Francisco has worked hard to eliminate public encampments, offering people on the street the option of going into shelters or Navigation Centers.

Assistant Public Defender Brian Pearlman filed a series of challenges to citations in recent weeks, saying the Boise ruling applies to San Francisco because the city provides too few shelter beds for its homeless population.

“Even if they offer beds, getting to them is difficult for people,” Pealrman said.

On your marks: Phones have been ringing all over town since District Attorney George Gascónannounced he won’t seek re-election next year.

Former Police Commissioner Suzy Loftusgot a big boost when Mayor London Breed and a host of women’s groups endorsed her over the other big names in the race, former Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese and Leif Dautch, a state deputy attorney general.

But the door for contenders is still wide open.

Former San Francisco Supervisor and local Democratic Party Chair David Campos tells us he’s “seriously considering” a run.

Sleeping on the Streets

    Other names being floated for the job include Assemblyman and former prosecutor David Chiu and Supervisor Jane Kim.

    Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom offered the job to Chiu in 2010 after D.A. Kamala Harris was elected state attorney general, then gave it to Gascón after Chiu turned it down. Word is, Chiu’s position hasn’t changed.

    As for Kim, she did not return our call seeking comment.

    Matt Gonzalez, chief deputy public defender and a former supervisor who ran unsuccessfully for D.A. two decades ago, tells us he will not be a candidate.

    Gonzalez also raised doubts about whether a progressive candidate without law enforcement experience could win the race — particularly after the rough go that lefty attorney and former Supervisor Terence Hallinan had in the job after his election in 1999.

    While the city may no longer have a “high degree of hostility to a lot of progressive ideas,” Gonzalez said, “I don’t think the public is going to be open to a civil rights lawyer saying, ‘I want reform.’ They want the nuts and bolts of getting things done.”

    As for Campos, he says he’s got the right resume for the job.

    “I was on the Police Commission for a number of years, and I did a lot of work in criminal justice,” he told us.

    If Campos jumps in, however, he will almost certainly have to answer again for his Board of Supervisors vote to reinstate Ross Mirkarimito his sheriff’s job in 2012 after then-Mayor Ed Lee tried to bounce him for a domestic-violence-related misdemeanor conviction. It was an issue when Chiu narrowly defeated Campos for the Assembly in 2014.

    “I’m sure they are going to try to revive that issue all over again,” Campos said. “And they will also say I beat baby seals on the beach.”

    San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KPIX-TV morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call 415-777-8815, or email matierandross@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @matierandross

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    http://sfchronicle.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/SF-prosecutors-halt-enforcement-of-street-camping-13288604.php

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