Homeless Man Arrested on Felony Assault Charges

A homeless man by the name of Joseph Hernandez was arrested outside of the Malibu Public Library by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on Thursday, June 2, on several felony assault charges. There has been at least one court hearing since that time. 

On May 23, Hernandez allegedly attacked another homeless man, Bill Witter, in the Civic Center area, fracturing bones in his face and also fracturing his skull. As a result of those injuries, Witter spent a week in an induced coma at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital, followed by two weeks of rehabilitation in downtown L.A., sources said. He is back on the streets, walking with a walker because of balance problems, and experiencing pain, headaches, dizziness and blurred vision. 

“I’m lucky to still be here,” Witter said. “But everywhere I go for help, all they do is put me on a waiting list. I don’t have any medications.”

There are newer homeless arrivals in Malibu and there are reports of dealing and using methamphetamines, or “meth.”  After several nights of their continuous partying until about 4:30 a.m., Witter said he got fed up because the loud group was near his sleeping spot, keeping him awake. 

“I’ve been in Malibu since 2011, and I have a regular place I sleep,” Witter explained. “I worked part-time two or three days a week, I don’t drink or do drugs, and I’m trying to live as normal a life as possible.” 

“I tried to tell them nicely, ‘go somewhere else,’” he said. Hernandez allegedly started punching him, and the next thing Witter remembered was “waking up with a lot of blood.”  

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The incident was caught on video, which will be used as evidence, according to LASD Deputy Mike Treinen.

The Rev. Paul Elder of St. Aidan’s Church visited Witter during his convalescence, and confirmed, “He had terrible injuries to his face, jaw, eye socket and nose broken and a possible skull fracture.”

The incident caused many in the homeless community to temporarily leave the Civic Center area until word got out that an arrest was made. One homeless person, who asked not to be identified, said, “There are a lot of drugs down in that one corner — that corner needs to be cleaned up.”

Another homeless person, identified as Tim, observed that meth is becoming more of a problem in Malibu — not just among some of the homeless — and that incidents of “bad behavior” are increasing. 

“[The Sheriff’s Department] needs to enforce some discipline on these people,” he said, later adding, “if someone causes a problem, give them a bus token and don’t let them back in.”

Tim predicts there are “going to be a lot more homeless coming in to Malibu from Downtown L.A. because of the Santa Monica train.”  He said the long-time Malibu homeless “police themselves,” but the newer people do not. 

Witter agreed with Tim’s observations. “There’s a big epidemic among the homeless, where psychotic people that shouldn’t be on the streets are doing meth, and it’s a deadly mix … They’re going schizo[phrenic].”

On Friday, May 27, a man was arrested for wielding a knife in the Ralphs Center, and charged with “making criminal threats,” according to Treinen. 

Burt Ross, a member of the Malibu Task Force on Homelessness, said, regarding these incidents, “It is important that the members of our City Council understand that, ultimately, [the homeless issue] is not only a matter of compassion — which it most certainly is — but also a matter of public safety, and will have to be addressed accordingly.”

Elder, also a member of the Malibu Task on Homelessness, added, “I walk a fine line between my mission to help the poor and homeless and my feelings about the safety of the community. With the task force in the process of [lining up the social services of] Ocean Park Community Center for Malibu, we can accomplish the two goals I am interested in: namely, compassion and finding a permanent solution for these people.”

Witter said he hoped the City of Malibu takes a more proactive role in homeless issues. 

“Our voices don’t count out here,” he said. “I want to start a coalition to get our voices heard. We need residents to come forward and be our shield.”

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