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Captain Brad Liles, of the Albany PD, pushed back against the idea that the Enhanced Law Enforcement Area was designed to criminalize unhoused people, or keep them from accessing the help they needed. “There wasn’t a violation to go to get your services,” he said. “But there was to hang out on the corner and drink another beer.” In recent years, Albany PD crossed paths with Plymell frequently — sometimes several times a week, sometimes several times in a single day. The department reported him for “transient complaints,” disorderly conduct, being intoxicated, camping in prohibited places. Liles said that while the department saw Plymell often, “he’s nowhere near the highest,” he said. “I’ve had some in the 300 to 400 category.” The fall of 2018 is a good example. On Sept. 2, shortly after noon, Plymell was riding his bike shirtless near a drive-thru taco place, where the smell of carne asada blends with the exhaust from four busy lanes of traffic. Officer Emily Schroff spotted him and recognized him from previous interactions. She ran his name, saw he had 10 warrants, circled the block and stopped him. “(He) became very anxious and fidgety,” Schroff’s report of the incident reads. “He was yelling that he wasn’t drunk.” She searched him for weapons — he was unarmed — and took him to Linn County jail.
The next day, the police ran into Plymell twice in the Enhanced Law Enforcement Area: first, when he was sitting shirtless on a I Loved You Your Whole Life I’ll Miss You The Rest of Mine Cardinalis Shirt local trail he had been prohibited from visiting for six months. An officer cited him, and banned him from it for two more years. Later that night, Plymell was sitting on a sidewalk with a friend who had an open can of Four Loko. His friend was cited. Three days later, both were cited — this time by Schroff. The pattern continued: An officer would see Plymell, who had warrants, and cite him again or take him to jail. It was a dance that both parties seemed well-acquainted with. On one occasion, the officer citing him noted that “Plymell was decent and cooperative.” One Sunday morning, CSO Morris spotted Plymell “wrapped in sections of carpeting” and sleeping on a park bench downtown; he woke him and cited him for prohibited camping. The next week, Morris roused him from the same bench. “Plymell had wet himself,” he wrote in his report. He cited him, again, and banned him for life from the property. Later, he noticed Plymell’s bedding had been “folded and left on the ground between a bench and a table.” He cited him for littering. A few days later, Plymell got another citation from Morris for sleeping on the same downtown bench. The next morning, another officer cited him as he rode his bicycle. Later that night, he flagged down an officer as he was walking down the sidewalk.
“He was very intoxicated, and it appeared he had urinated and defecated himself,” the officer wrote in a report. “James was very upset and stated he was going to kill himself and that he wanted to hurt other people.” Plymell told the officer if he didn’t help him, he’d jump off a nearby bridge. The officer transported him to the local hospital, helped him to a room and into a bed, and he calmed down. Two days later, he was back in handcuffs for outstanding warrants, and, yet again, was transported to the Linn County Jail. In 2017, the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an organization dedicated to ending homelessness, joined the ACLU to push for the introduction of a “Right to Rest” bill in Oregon, after surveying nearly 600 unhoused people in Oregon about their frequent police citations and tickets. But the bill couldn’t get a hearing. “The rate of interactions between cops and homeless people is … Astronomical,” Paul Boden, WRAP’s director, said. “Sleeping, sitting and standing still, by massive percentages, were the top three criminal offenses people are being hit with. Sleeping, sitting and standing still — who doesn’t do that?”