‘A Walk on the Wild Side’

Public needs protection when taking a walk

By R.E. Graswich
June 2021

Here’s a warning for people who walk along the Sacramento River levee in Pocket. Several residents who live near the levee seem ready to resort to violence as they harass folks enjoying the waterfront parkway.

The threatening behavior has frustrated city authorities responsible for public safety on the levee.

Earlier this year, Neal Bucknell and his 14-year-old son walked the levee near Arabella Way. The boy ran ahead. He encountered a man wearing a gasmask and carrying a chemical spray tank and nozzle. The man blocked the youngster and tried to spray him with the poison. Bucknell yelled. The teen scampered down the levee. Father and son made it safely home.

“I didn’t have my phone, but when I got home, I grabbed it and hightailed it back up the levee, hoping to get some video or pictures of the guy,” Bucknell says. “Mr. Gasmask was gone. If I had some more to go on, I would have called the police.”

A few weeks later, ace Inside Sacramento photographer Aniko Kiezel was walking the levee near the same Arabella spot when a man shouted at her to get off “his” levee. She stopped and said she wasn’t doing anything wrong. The guy unlocked his back gate and turned a big dog loose.

The animal raced up the levee toward Kiezel. She used her camera bag to keep the dog away. Luckily, Aniko can handle dogs. She didn’t run and wasn’t bitten. But she was frightened.

“Seriously, that man should be ashamed of himself,” she says.

After both attacks, I contacted Sacramento Police Capt. Adam Green, the city’s south area law enforcement commander. Green is a good cop. He’s accessible and straightforward in his motives and directives. He doesn’t want people fighting on the levee. But the problem of a few levee residents threatening and bullying the public has left him frustrated.
“We’re working with the city attorney’s office and City Council member Rick Jennings to find a solution,” Green says.

Police interviewed Bucknell and his son. They concluded the spray incident fell a fraction short of assault on a child. As for Kiezel, the captain referred the case to animal control officers. They opened a file and looked for the dog and owner, without luck.

This story has layers. On one hand, the city is sympathetic to property owners along the levee who believe their privacy has been disrupted by the removal of private (and illegal) cross-levee fences and gates, which blocked public access for decades. The fences and gates were torn down in preparation for major levee repairs. The state Central Valley Flood Protection Board, which owns and controls the levees, will not permit new fences.

“The fences are down, they’re not coming back, and for those residents on the levee, their lives are changing,” says Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for Jennings. “The process is happening in slow motion, like a slow drip. It’s painful for them. It would be better to just rip the bandage off and move ahead with levee access, but we can’t.”

Sympathy only goes so far. Some property owners think citizens walking on the levee are trespassers. But let’s be clear: Criminal trespass in California—a misdemeanor—requires a refusal to leave someone’s property. Simply walking or running on the levee is not trespassing. And it’s not a crime.

Attacking someone on the levee can easily turn into a serious crime. Using chemical spray on a child can be prosecuted as a felony. Letting your dog attack someone can bring a prison stretch. Bucknell and his son and Kiezel were lucky. But so were the men who tried to assault them.

“Property owners, as well as property violators, will be held accountable,” Jennings says.

So let’s make some rules. Levee walkers and runners should never confront levee-adjacent homeowners. If you are on the levee and someone harasses you or accuses you of trespassing, politely ask for their name and address. When they refuse—as they will—keep walking and send me the details. You don’t need to stop for anyone on the levee. Other than a cop.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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