Venice boardwalk suspect frequented Malibu labor exchange

A transient suspected of killing one person and striking 16 others when he sped his car down the Venice Boardwalk two weekends ago was a familiar face at Malibu’s Community Labor Exchange, according to reports.  
 
Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, was seen at the labor exchange just hours before the attack in Venice, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Campbell is suspected of deliberately skirting a barrier and driving through the boardwalk crowds shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3 in a blue Dodge Avenger. Italian tourist Alice Gruppioni, 32, was killed while on her honeymoon. Eleven other victims were injured. Campbell pleaded not guilty last week to one count of first-degree murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 17 counts of hit-and-run. Bail was set at $1.48 million. 
 
His public defender Philip Dube called it “a horrible accident.” Dube added that his client was depressed and “I don’t believe that he intentionally tried to kill anyone.” 
 
MLCE Executive Director Oscar Mondragon confirmed that Campbell frequented the day labor center, which is headquartered in a trailer on the west side of the former county courthouse building on Civic Center Way. He said there was no hint that Campbell was unstable, recalling him as, “helpful, respectful, did things here, helped clean, and went to the store. Because of all that, our image of him was that he was a good guy. Who knows what triggered this to happen?”
 
The job center has been besieged by television and newspaper reporters, said Mondragon, who expressed grief at the injuries and loss of life. 
 
“We’re in deep sympathy with people [in Venice] who suffered in this situation,” Mondragon said. 
 
No one is sure exactly how Campbell first heard about the labor exchange, but Mondragon said most workers find out about it through word-of-mouth, the website or other organizations.
 
The labor exchange does not conduct background checks because it does not function as an employment agency, according to Mondragon. 
 
“If we see a person is not stable, we do not accept them to get work, although they’re welcome to the free food and coffee,” he said. “I always try to strike a balance between the community and the workers, and there are some workers I will not send out.” 
 
When someone appears violent, Mondragon said he does not hesitate to call the Sheriff’s Department.
 
“In our operation, people come, we ask who they are and if they have a photo ID, an address and any skills, and we put that in the computer and have them sign it,” Mondragon said. “There is no formal application. We also get work evaluation sheets filled out by the employer after each job.”
 
Al Sturgeon, assistant dean for student life at Pepperdine Law School and executive director of MCLE, said, “We don’t guarantee workers. A labor exchange is where people can come make their deals with each other. We just provide the space. It’s an independent contractor relationship.”
 
Campbell had a long history of homelessness, substance abuse and petty crime. Records show he was a resident in Covenant House, a place for homeless youth ages 18-21 in Hollywood, in 1995, according to television station KNBC Los Angeles. He worked at a sober living facility in Denver from 2010 to 2012, then came to the Malibu Labor Exchange for about eight months, the Daily News reported. After spending the first half of 2013 in Colorado he returned to Malibu in early July as the new owner of a 2008 Dodge Avenger, which he may have lived in. This was the same car used in the Venice boardwalk rampage.
 
Campbell’s friends at the labor center told the Daily News he’d only done one odd job since returning to Malibu, but was promised more work by the employer.
 
Public records showed several past run-ins Campbell had with the law, including arrests in Santa Monica in 2002 for trespassing, starting a fire on private property, public drunkenness and resisting arrest. In 2008, he was arrested in Panama City, Fla., for reckless driving with alcohol, and in 2009, he was accused of shoplifting in Colorado.
 
Mark Hewitt, a homeless man who befriended Campbell at the labor exchange, was his last known contact before the Venice rampage. Hewitt told the Daily News that Campbell seemed “normal” and “in a fine mood” late Saturday afternoon. Hewitt said Campbell invited him to ride to Venice with him to do laundry, but Hewitt declined. “When he left, I thought everything was fine,” Hewitt said. “Maybe if I had gone, he wouldn’t have done this.”
 
The Los Angeles Police Department confirmed to numerous media outlets that Campbell failed a sobriety test given about two hours after the rampage, but it is not clear whether he was drinking before the incident occurred. 

MALIBU COMMUNITY LABOR EXCHANGE – what to know and how to help

What is the Malibu Community Labor Exchange?

“[Malibu Community Labor Exchange] is a place where people can meet to gain employment as a day laborer in the community. We’re given this space by the county. Its biggest financial supporter is the City of Malibu,” Richard Erkes, an executive board member of MCLE told The Malibu Times. “Oscar [Mondragon] has been doing this for 20 years with a total budget of $70K.  He is the only paid employee. This is a totally volunteer organization other than [executive director] Oscar [Mondragon].”            

Erkes said board members and volunteers try to provide people who come to the exchange with tools to help them. Demand chronically outpaces supply, he said. 

“We provide donated computers. Computer classes and English as a Second Language classes are taught by volunteers,” Erkes said. “We get donations from the community, and we’d like to get a lot more support – whatever people can do to pitch in with food, time, supplies and funds. Oscar makes this place go, and we’d like to expand our services.” 

What services are available? 

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“Some workers have specialized skills like carpenter or electrician, but most of the work is basic manual labor, like brush clearance for men and domestic help for women,” Erkes said. “We select the workers for a job by a lottery system unless the employer wants to choose.” The center’s brochure also lists construction, landscaping, lawn care, masonry, day care, elder care, tech support and language learning as other skills workers can provide.

Approximately 50 people come to the labor center each day looking for work, and sometimes as many as 80. Mondragon said that lately, “We’ve been very lucky, and we’ve gotten about 15 jobs a day.” Some workers have recently learned to use the on-site computers to look for jobs on Craigslist and other websites, Mondragon said: “We’ve had some real success stories.”

How much are workers paid?

The amount of money that workers get paid on a job is strictly between the worker and the employer. 

“We’re here to facilitate, not dictate,” Mondragon said. 

What services besides jobs does the exchange provide?

“The labor exchange is a community organization. The board members represent a cross-section of the community. We exist for the betterment of the community,” Executive Director Al Sturgeon said. “In the past, when we had fires, people in need came here to get workers. And whether someone is a transient or homeless, we try to be a warm and welcoming place to everybody.”

“We hope that what will come out of this [tragic incident in Venice] is to get more people involved with the labor exchange (a 501c(3) nonprofit organization), which provides opportunities for individuals to become independent and self-sufficient,” Erkes said. “We welcome visitors, and anyone who is interested can come by to see what’s going on (hours are 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday). This is the major social service facility for the City of Malibu to deal with the homeless, etc. It’s a safe and organized place.”

For more information go to: www.malibulaborexchange.org

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