Tyrone Henry, Officer Jarrod Foust, & The Real Root of Revolving Door Justice
November 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Some people just can’t quit breaking the law. Tyrone Henry is one of them:
Tyrone Henry, a 35-year-old homeless man, was the most arrested and cited man in Denver, according to a 9Wants to Know and Rocky Mountain PBS analysis of Denver police and court records from 2011 – 2015.
Officers ticketed Henry 64 times and he spent 174 nights in jail over 5 years, according to court records. He racked up medical bills for detox and emergency room stays.
If Henry wasn’t homeless after the first few arrests, there was no chance he was going to be able to maintain anything resembling a normal life after five very busy years of them. Lot of cities seem to have a most-arrested man. Lexington, Kentucky’s legendary Henry Earl, for instance, immediately comes to mind. They’re pretty much always homeless.
They pretty much always have substance abuse problems too, which is the case with Tyrone Henry:
More than 60 percent of his court records reflected charges related to alcohol, mostly drinking in public. Henry has also been charged with trespassing, urinating in public, and use of a controlled substance.
“This is life out here,” Henry said. “Me, I drink.”
With homelessness comes having to find a place to sleep each night. Trespassing charges come with the territory. Add debilitating alcoholism to that, and urinating in public charges become more or less a guarantee too. For an intoxicated person accustomed to sleeping in public spaces, using the bathroom in public spaces isn’t such a stretch.
Henry seems quite aware that he has a problem, though he seems both unwilling to do anything address it and quite happy to view it simply as a product of living on the streets. That’s not uncommon. It’s also part of the reason why he’s racked up such an impressive criminal record in such a short time.
Perhaps the most interesting part about Henry’s situation, however, is that his frequent stays in jail often come courtesy of the same arresting officer:
One officer in particular also seems to recognize him.
9Wants to Know found that Denver Police Officer Jarrod Foust cited Tyrone Henry 34 times since 2013 – 30 instances related to drinking in public.
Apparently, the probable cause statements from the officer supporting the arrests are often quite similar, and they go something like this:
“The probable cause of the arrest of the above-named individual is as follows: On 08-22-16 Det. Stewart, Ofc. Vonfeldt, and Cpl. Foust were working plain clothes fare evasion for RTD. At approximately 1615 hours, officers observed a party on the sidewalk on the northwest corner of E. Colfax Ave. and N. Franklin St. drinking from a 24 oz. can of Red Dog beer. Upon contact, the party was identified and cited for public consumption of alcohol.”
On the bright side, Henry probably saves Foust a lot of time when it comes to writing police reports; he just has to change the date and time. On the other hand, the time that Foust spends dealing with Henry is time not spent responding to more important calls. Odds seem pretty good that during more than a few of those 34 arrests, Foust could have been doing something more important than arresting Henry.
Sadly, maybe Foust might not find something more important, as he seems narrowly focused on a certain type of crime:
Henry’s citations were only a fraction of the public intoxication tickets Foust has handed out.
From Jan. 1 2013 through September 2016, Foust has issued 3,892 citations – 3,191 of which were related to the public consumption of alcohol. That’s more than 80 percent of all citations written by Foust since 2013.
Most often, the people Foust arrested were transient or homeless, or used a homeless shelter as their address.
Henry’s revolving door involves being drunk on the streets and then getting a roof over his head and some food for a little while before starting the process over again. It’s an endless cycle paid for by the people of Denver. Officer Foust basically operates the door, not just for Henry, but for perhaps thousands of others too. Henry’s situation is amusing and maybe a little sad. What Foust is doing is troubling, though.
Authorities try to paint it as something other than a public servant picking the low-hanging fruit over and over again, providing more unwilling fodder for the justice system:
“It’s not just arresting, he’s been offered help numerous times,” Jackson said, referring to Henry’s case.
“The day he left jail he was offered help. It’s not just arresting him. It’s not just arresting him.”
Henry probably thinks Foust was just arresting him. He obviously doesn’t want help. Maybe he’d like a room indoors for the night even if it means a room in jail, but he certainly doesn’t want to have to go to court and pay a fine he can’t afford. Plus, Foust isn’t even a part of the police unit that’s supposed to be “helping” people like Henry:
Foust does not work on DPD’s Homeless Outreach Unit. Only three officers do.
The Homeless Outreach Unit is a specialized team of police officers who try to connect homeless people with resources that could help them find work, food, shelter and treatment.
“Basically, I go every day just making sure the homeless citizens that live in Denver are not sick,” Officer Steven Hammack said, part of the Homeless Outreach Unit. “Normally I’m not going to make an arrest … I’m not trying to push him out of here, I’m trying to get him to utilize their resources.”
What comes to light are two very different approaches to policing. There’s Hammack’s approach on one hand:
Hammack is also a Crisis Intervention Training instructor, and hopes that he can shift the philosophy of the entire police force to better interact with people suffering from addiction or mental illness.
“If I can get the entire department to do what I do to a point, it would help us a ton,” Hammack said.
And then there’s Foust’s approach on the other hand:
But the kind of discretion that Hammack seems to show isn’t reflected in Foust’s records.
Scott Reed, a spokesperson for RTD, explained that when officers are working for RTD, as Foust frequently does, they just have to deal with the nuisance at hand.
“When someone continues to perform illegal acts in public; threatening our passengers, endangering our facilities, and kind of breaking our facilities, that has to be enforced,” Reed said. “Police are obligated to act appropriately.”
Never trust police when they give you a list of the horrible things they prevent people from doing. They arrest people like Henry for breaking the law. Nothing seems to suggest Henry was threatening passengers, endangering the facilities, or “kind of breaking” the facilities, whatever than means. It’s the “perform illegal acts in public” part that matters, but taking a hard line for minor infractions simply because they’re illegal and done out in the open isn’t going to make anyone think a cop is a hero. Adding stuff about threats and danger makes it seem like much more noble work.
Henry wouldn’t have been arrested such a ridiculous number of times if he’d only encountered cops with Hammack’s view of things. Foust’s approach is one of nitpicking and liberal uses of force. It’s an approach that requires his real motives to be hidden in a list of more obviously acceptance law enforcement goals. For every cop like Hammack who’s trying to fix the problem, there are cops like Foust just roaming the streets trying to force people to obey with the bluntest tools they have.
It takes more than just a homeless guy with a drinking problem to end up with a story like Henry’s. Here, the part of the equation that’s probably more important than Henry is Foust. Henry’s 64 tickets are sad and maybe a tiny bit amusing. Foust’s almost four thousand tickets should be an embarrassment to police everywhere.