“We need to find a different solution”


Continuing on with our annual discussion about the conflict downtown–spurred on by City Councilor Bob Jaffe’s remarks on his listserve– between shoppers, tourists, visitors and businesses vs. the homeless, transient, “serial inebriates” and the mentally ill, today’s Missoulian digs a little deeper into the details (thanks liz for your attention to this issue, and pointing out the article!):

“When Michael Van Riper was ordered to spend three nights behind bars after screaming obscenities and threatening the owner of Worden’s Market, Tim France figured he’d get a couple days of relief from the persistent menace outside his shop.

“He’s very loud, thoroughly obnoxious and obscene beyond what’s tolerable – and what’s legal, for that matter,” France said.

But hours after Municipal Judge Marie Andersen heard Van Riper plead guilty and sentenced him, the Detention Center cut him loose. The reasons aren’t clear, and the incident has the judge wondering how often the jail ships out inmates of its own accord.

“I am not aware of any legal authority by which the jail may unilaterally release Defendants prior to the completion of a valid sentence,” wrote Andersen in an e-mail about the incident.”

So it seems that Sheriff McMeekin has taken to interpreting Judges’ detention orders according to his own criteria, which seems a little… arbitrary:

“Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin said the department doesn’t keep statistics on the times and reasons it chooses to let people out before they have served their sentences. The reasons vary, but McMeekin said detention officers can, in some cases, override a sentence without consulting the judge.”

While I’m all about protecting the civil rights of individuals who choose to inhabit or visit downtown Missoula, I also understand the need to have a system of accountability that works as intended for those who break laws, of which the justice system plays a major role. Sheriff McMeekin’s taking on the role of Judge just isn’t going to cut it here.

So it’s obvious that the county jail isn’t doing, and doesn’t have the resources to deal with, Missoula’s problems with the disenfranchised. They don’t want to hold people whose medical expenses they may incur. They don’t want a repeat of the Heather Wasson story, where if she had been diverted to a medical facility for treatment, she wouldn’t have died in lockup.

Missoula needs to sit down and figure out a new way to deal with the problem before it: increasing numbers of homeless, transient and mentally ill people in the face of diminishing resources available to care for and treat their needs. Last year’s panhandling ordinance working group had these words about their work:

“The working group aims to protect and improve quality of life in downtown Missoula for all people who use the area, including business owners, people who live and work downtown, shoppers and patrons of professional offices, and people who are without means and depend on social services,” said city communications director Ginny Merriam.”

Judging by the story in today’s Missoula, those efforts have failed miserably, and they need to get back to the drawing board–maybe with a different mission in mind.

In the words of Municipal Judge Marie Andersen: “we need to find a different solution.”

Get to work, Missoula.

  1. LGpguin

    Keila’s Missoulian article is great reporting, revealing a deep, dark river of complicity between Louden, McMeekin and Van Valkenburg that MUST be dogged by us all !
    Thanks, JC for the thorough post and links to the Wasson case!
    — ElGee

  2. at least we will only have to weather another 7 months or so of sheriff mcmeekin’s lawless, erratic and arrogant approach to law enforcement…


    however large an impediment the current sheriff is to reaching any sort of logical and reasoned approach to homeless,transient, and mentally ill problems, i echo jc’s call for a reexamination of this issue which brings all the elements of government and non-profits together so that we may better utilize the resources and talents of various agencies toward a unified and cohesive solution.

  3. Pilot

    Sounds as if Michael V.R. is due for a visit from an outreach worker who might be able to get him stabilized. If none exist, or it doesn’t work, an involuntary civil commitment to get his meds titrated would probably be in order.

    A few hours in the pokey is only going to make him more irritated and paranoid.

  4. Lizard

    so, over at enlightened-thinkers.com–er, i mean the missoulian.com, they’ve got some stellar thoughts on how to address this chronic offender no one wants to deal with.

    so far we’ve got placing the dirty vagrant in stocks like good old puritan days, rounding him and his ilk up and sending them to either washington dc or seattle, waterboarding, public flogging, and “signing anything” that will push the pov out of downtown.

    it’s especially impressive to see conservative assholes like the perennial andy b. hammond demand jails increase their capacity while simultaneously decrying any allocation of public funds that tries to address these tough issues.

    st. pats won’t detox them unless they’re suicidal, the jail won’t hold them and puts them back on the streets before their shakes get too bad, and the pov won’t shelter them because they’re perpetually intoxicated. again, it’s a tough issue, and recent measures to criminalize panhandling and interfering with pedestrians have had little effect.

    as i read the terrible comments people make, i think this isn’t just a local problem affecting the people in our community. the hatred and rage directed at these supposed degenerates is increasing here because of the general rage many of us are feeling as this country slips deeper into depression (both psychological and economic) and drunk bums make easy targets for gutless, stupid people.

    economically, states can’t afford to maintain current services, so the cuts aren’t coming, they are here, and everyone will see and feel these cuts as our national crisis progresses. people in missoula may wish to tailor services so they help “just missoulians” (whoever those people are) but unless we barricade this valley we can’t stop people from coming here.

    if folks in this town really want to address the spectrum of ills alcohol facilitates, here’s an idea, and i hope it doesn’t sound too sarcastic, because i’m, like, half serious: for chronic offenders (not just transients) who have the common denominator of alcohol behind their offenses will get outfitted with bracelets they can’t take off, and if any establishment that serves or sells alcohol is caught serving them (including the ox) they pay a stiff fine.

    maybe that would make businesses that facilitate this alcoholism better stewards of our community, right? but what do you think the tavern association would say? what do you think republicans would say about that sort of “regulation” on alcohol-related business, especially considering the drinking habits of some of them?

    as creepy as the idea is (it didn’t pass my wife’s sniff test, that’s for sure) it’s one way of looking at the problem of alcohol related behavior downtown.

    or, maybe it will get so bad that skywalks will have to be built from building to building, to elevate the good citizens who work and shop above the ugly dregs of this country’s socio-economic vermin. and for the serious high-rollers, helicopters can whisk them off to their respective ranch compounds at the end of the day. i hear it works fabulously for high rollers in buenes aires.

    • carfreestupidity

      The missoulian site is full of trolls with nothing of substance to add to any issue.

      As for a different solution… The pedestrian ordinance was never fully intended to take care of the problem in any real sense. It’s only a small tool to move vagrants out of the way of businesses and the “normal” people of Missoula. It’s unfortunate that city council passed this law and then pretty much wiped their hands of the issue for the foreseeable future… Or until one of our council members sticks his foot in his mouth.

  5. klemz

    Is anyone challenging the pedestrian ordinance? Sit-lie prohibitions are almost universally unconstitutional. An attorney with some time and interest could get that law overturned pretty easily, I bet. Ellie Hill probably (and rightly) doesn’t need the entire downtown business community furious at her, but someone else must be down.

    There’s gotta be a recent law school grad looking to get some appellate advocacy experience. Fun and adventure await you!

  6. this poem by Jon Davis is offered by The Academy Of American Poets as part of their poem-a-day program


    i found it very fitting for this post….

    Preliminary Report from the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering

    by Jon Davis

    We who wear clean socks and shoes are tired
    of your barefoot complaining, your dusty footprints
    on our just-cleaned rugs. Tired, too of your endless ploys—
    the feigned amputations, the imaginary children
    you huddle with outside the malls, your rags and bottles,
    the inconvenient positions you assume. Though we remain
    impressed by your emaciation and your hunger and,
    frankly, find you photogenic and think your images
    both alarming and aesthetically pleasing, to do anything
    more than sigh will require a complex process
    of application and review, a process that is currently
    in the development stage. Meanwhile, may we suggest
    you moderate your public suffering at least
    until the Committee on Appropriate Postures for the Suffering
    is able to produce guidelines. Do not be alarmed.
    The committee has asked me to assure you
    that they are sensitive both to the aesthetic qualities
    of your suffering—the blank stares, the neotonous beauty
    as the flesh recedes and the eyes seem to grow larger,
    the haloes of flies—and to the physical limitations
    of human endurance and the positioning of limbs.
    They will, I am certain, ask that you not lift
    your naked children like offerings to the gods.
    On this topic, discussion has centered around the unfair
    advantage such ploys give the parents of such children.
    The childless, whether by choice or fate, are left
    to wither silently in the doorways while those with children
    proffer and gesticulate in the avenues unabated.
    This offends our cherished sense of fairness,
    the democratic impulse that informs and energizes
    our discussions. Therefore, we ask for restraint,
    and where restraint is lacking, we will legislate.
    Please be forewarned. In addition, the committee
    will recommend that the shouting of slogans,
    whether directed at governments or deities, be kept
    to a minimum. Not only is such shouting displeasing
    aesthetically, but it suggests there is something
    to be done. Believe me, no one is more acutely aware
    of your condition than we who must ignore it everyday
    on our way to the capitol. In this matter, we ask only
    that you become more aware of your fellow citizens,
    who must juggle iPods, blackberries, briefcases
    and cell phones, lattes. Who must march steadily
    or be trampled by the similarly burdened citizens
    immediately behind them. Your shouting and pointing
    does not serve you well. Those of us employed
    by the agency are sworn to oversee you. If we seem,
    as you suggest, to have overlooked you instead,
    that is an oversight and will be addressed, I am certain,
    in our annual review. Please be aware: To eliminate
    your poverty, your hunger, your aesthetically
    pleasing, yet disturbing, presence in our doorways,
    above our heating grates, in our subway tunnels
    and under our freeways would mean the elimination
    of the agency itself and quite possibly a decline
    in tourism. Those of us employed by the agency
    have neither the stamina, persistence, nor the luminous
    skin tones that you present to the viewing public.
    Finally, to those who would recommend programs,
    who would call for funding and action,
    I must remind you that we have been charged not
    with eliminating your suffering but with managing it.

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