A Homeless Man Punched Two People in the Face, But Was Cited and Released

Attorney Brandon Coen wasn't at all surprised when a homeless man walked up on a downtown Los Angeles sidewalk as Coen walked his dog, and punched him in the head.

"What was shocking was that I lived here for four years and it didn't happen sooner," Coen said. "I am always on the lookout."

Security footage shows a homeless man strike a woman in the face with such force that she falls backward onto the ground. The man is then seen punching Coen, who managed to block some of the force with his left arm. 

"It was scary because I didn't know if he was going to stop or if he was going to continue to hit me or attack other people, possibly my dog," he said. "I was very happy when LAPD showed up about five minutes later and arrested him because that's fairly rare here."

Coen is among thousands of Los Angeles residents who've been victimized by crimes in which the city's growing number of homeless people are identified as suspects.

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"Downtown is supposed to be the crown jewel of LA," he said. "Unfortunately that's not the reality. It's different if you come and visit and go to dinner or get a drink but when you live here and you're here 24 hours a day you see a different side of downtown, a scarier side."

It's not just Coen.

In one case, a Los Angeles woman was pulled from her car not far from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and doused with feces. She's had to get tested for infectious diseases every three months since. 

In December of 2018, a man was pushed off the sidewalk, and run over by a truck in downtown Los Angeles.

In August of 2019, a homeless man was caught on camera tossing a large rock at the windshield of a man's car, and was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. 

According to Los Angeles Police Department records obtained and analyzed by the NBC4 I-Team, 6,528 homeless people were arrested on criminal charges in 2017. In 2018, the number of arrests rose more than 50% to 9,846.

The number of violent incidents -- including assaults with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault and battery by homeless people -- saw an even steeper rise, up 55% from from 1,763 in 2017 to 2,735 in 2018. The year 2019 is on pace to record even higher numbers.

While the homeless are often identified as the victims of these crimes, increasingly, the city's housed residents are also being targeted.

In the map above, click on a location to see arrest numbers. You can also toggle each year on and off in the right rail. (Credit: Esri)

These alarming statistics coincide with a new report citing the prevalence of untreated mental illness and drug addiction among the nation's homeless population. 

The UCLA California Policy Lab found that 78% of unsheltered people are experiencing mental health conditions, while 75% are suffering from substance abuse conditions.  

"(Life on the streets) absolutely leads to violent behavior," said Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown LA. "How could you live in this kind of environment and be OK?"

Bales, who's worked with the homeless for 13 years, called for more urgency in getting the 36,000 unsheltered people off the streets of Los Angeles.

"We need to be humble enough to say, 'you know, we've blown it,'" Bales said. "We have an urgent need to get people off the streets and into the shelters, and into case management, and into recovery.

Coen's attacker, Charles Fuller, had four previous felony convictions, records show. But after he attacked Coen, he was given a citation for misdemeanor battery, and let go. Four months later and a block away, a similar attack against a mother and daughter occurred.

"They need treatment for drugs or mental illness," Coen said.

Heather Navarro contributed to this report.

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