City Beat

The People vs. Martin Gonzalez

You think that guy living next door who lets his dog bark at midnight is a bad neighbor? Try living near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 24th Avenue in South Oak Park.

For at least the past decade, that little slice of working class Sacramento has been the wrecking grounds for one Martin A. Gonzalez. At least that’s what City Hall alleges.

Gonzalez’s alleged pattern of crime and nuisance has gotten so bad that the city filed a lawsuit against him last month, seeking to ban him from South Oak Park for good. Apparently 23 trips in a police car hasn’t done the trick, so the city wants a judge to intervene.

“This is kind of our last resort,” City Attorney James Sanchez said.

The complaint against Gonzalez lays out the impact he has had on South Oak Park, often in colorful detail.

He’s been accused of arson, lewd conduct, defecating in public, ripping the protective plates off a power pole and hurling large concrete blocks and rocks. He has “continuously stolen metal” and other property, hauled piles of garbage into the neighborhood and done drugs in the street, according to the complaint.

It gets weirder. Once, he “frightened children by walking around with a blanket covering his head while grunting and making strange noises,” the lawsuit said. Another time, he “filled a shopping cart with carpet he had smeared with canine feces and used a bicycle lock to attach the cart to a homeowner’s fence.”

And yet despite that alleged behavior – and multiple complaints from residents - Gonzalez remained on the street.

According to his Sacramento court file, Gonzalez has rarely faced severe punishment for his arrests, serving 150 days in jail here, 90 days there. Sometimes he’d get a 45-day stint in a work furlough program. He once got sentenced to two years in a state prison, records show.

And then, the city contends, he’d be back in South Oak Park, wreaking havoc.

This is an unusual case. Some cities place injunctions on organized street gangs, seeking to block them from hanging out together in certain neighborhoods. But this case involves a city of a half-million people suing one guy who, according to the allegations in the lawsuit, has tormented a small, economically depressed area.

Some of Gonzalez’s alleged behavior occurred near Christian Brothers High School and Oak Ridge Elementary School. Most of the neighborhood is residential, and more than 40 percent of the families live below the poverty level.

The city attorney’s office hasn’t heard from Gonzalez since filing its lawsuit Dec. 22. The suit said Gonzalez is a transient and doesn’t say where he stays or give his age.

Sanchez said the city has filed similar actions in the past, but not often. If a judge grants an injunction banning Gonzalez from South Oak Park, it could give the cops more to work with if he’s arrested again, making it more likely Gonzalez would face stiffer penalties, Sanchez said.

“He’s built quite a record there,” Sanchez said. “And we got to a point where we have this pattern and we’re not seeing change.”