Tragedy strikes Ventura

A memorial has been set up on the Promenade for Anthony Mele.

by Sheli Ellsworth

On April 18th at 6:23pm, a 911 call reported that a homeless man was at the Ventura Promenade yelling and “being disruptive,” according to a statement issued by Ventura Police. Because all patrol cars were on other calls, the command center staff watched the pier’s security camera for twenty minutes and determined that a man matching the caller’s description was not threatening or disturbing.

At about 6:30pm, a homeless man, Jamal Jackson (49) entered the Aloha Steakhouse patio and stabbed patron Anthony Mele (35) in the neck. Mele was eating dinner with his family and had no connection to Jackson. Aloha employees quickly responded with first aid using towels to stop Mele’s bleeding. They took Mele’s family to a back room to comfort them. Mele’s wife appeared to be in shock. His daughter was given ice-cream. Mele was taken to the hospital and later died. The tragedy marks the city’s first homicide this year.

According to the police report, “Officers from the Special Enforcement Team, who were patrolling the area, quickly arrived on scene. The officers observed a group of people standing on the Ventura Promenade who had chased the subject (Jackson) from the crime scene and onto the beach.”

Jackson was arrested without incident. Reports of Jackson using a restaurant steak knife to commit the crime was in error.

“The Ventura Police Department would like to speak with those people and anyone else who had contact with Jackson. The video is available for public view at f77c6945d9. If you have information contact Sgt. Matt Cain 339-4488.

Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere says, “As a father of young children, I am truly heartbroken and send my deepest condolences to Mr. Mele’s wife and daughter. My council colleagues and I want to assure the public that the City Council will commit whatever resources are necessary to make sure a senseless crime like this does not happen again . . . .”

Homelessness is a diverse problem. According to the 2015 US Department of Housing and Urban Development report, at least 25% of our nation’s homeless population suffers from severe mental illness and 45% were identified as having some form of mental illness. According to the Ventura County 2017 Homeless Count, the city of Ventura has about 300 homeless people. An extrapolation would indicate that at least 75 of the city’s homeless population is severely mentally ill. However, historically, homeless research has reported that the homeless are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population. To make matters worse, according to the American Journal of Community Psychology (Vol.42, No.3) recent research has found that shuffling homeless people from one shelter to the next actually increases the chance of them committing violent crimes such as robbery and assault.

Is it possible to asses someone’s mental state in a short period of time? The 911 caller felt uncomfortable enough to report the behavior. However, on video tape, the man did not appear aggressive. But the short answer is “no.” Mental illness can be transient or pervasive which is why a 72-hour 5150 (involuntary psychiatric hold) is used for people who might be a danger to themselves, a danger to others or severely impaired (disabled). A 5250 (involuntary confinement for up to 14 days) may follow for certain mental disorders. However, a bi-partisan bill was passed (1967) in California to reform mental health protocol. The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act signed into law by Gov. Reagan was designed to end involuntary indefinite commitment for the mentally ill. It also provided for prompt evaluation (surely more than 20 minutes of video feed?); the safeguarding of individual rights; to provide treatment and placement; to use public funds to accomplish these objectives; to prevent the mentally ill and the disabled from becoming victims of crimes.

Is Jamal Jackson mentally ill? Could this tragedy have been prevented? Perhaps. But do taxpayers want to pay for the evaluation, treatment and temporary placement of what could possibly be up to 75 people in Ventura alone? Can we afford not to? There are also legal fees. The mentally ill and disabled have the right to refuse treatment and dispute their mental diagnoses. Do taxpayers also foot the bill for any legal help they might require? How do you provide treatment for someone who doesn’t want help? And how does an over-burdened police department have the time to evaluate every person who might appear impaired? Important questions to be answered!

As our entire city mourns for the Mele family, maybe we should also mourn our loss of innocence.

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