If you’re going to go poking your nose around in a homeless camp in the dead of the night, it’s probably a good idea to bring a gun. That doesn’t negate the fact that poking your nose around in a homeless camp in the dead of the night is an exceedingly bad idea in the first place, something I once thought everybody understood, until recent events in Redding proved otherwise.
Early in the morning on Saturday, June 24, five grown men descended upon the small park at the end of Smile Place, just south of the Cypress Avenue bridge on the Sacramento River. It’s infamous for illegal homeless encampments, and perhaps a score of transients had bedded down for the night when the men, four carrying legally permitted concealed handguns and one wearing a mask, entered the park and began beaming their flashlights around the illegal campground.
The sleeping transients didn’t take kindly to the intrusion. According to the Redding Police Department report, weapons were drawn on both sides—an alleged knife and a crowbar in the transients’ case—and the five men retreated to their cars, which were parked nearby. A throng of enraged homeless people surrounded one car, one man allegedly pounding on the sheet metal with a crowbar, another standing in front of the car and taunting the driver to run him over.
“Kill me,” he told the driver, according to one local media report.
Panicked by the men surrounding and pounding on the car, its driver and owner, 27-year-old Bryant Krause of Redding, told police he tried to swerve around the man standing in front of him and accelerate away from the scene. Instead, he accidentally ran over the man, Matthew Miller, 51, who was taken to the emergency room, treated for scrapes and abrasions and released. No one else appears to have been treated for injuries from the altercation.
When I saw Krause’s name on the police report issued by on Monday, June 26, my eyeballs popped out of my head. Earlier that day, A News Cafe had published my latest story, “Two Bikers Down in Redding: A Cautionary Tale on the Use and Abuse of Social Media”. Krause happens to be one of the two motorcyclists referred to in the headline.
Krause alleges that two Hispanic men knocked him over on his motorcycle and roughed him up early in the morning on June 16 near Smile Place. Now here he was in a new police police report, returning to the same area with a carload of armed men a week later in the dead of the night.
There was another eye-opener in the report. The only man named as accompanying Krause was Dan Ryant, who also featured heavily in Two Bikers Down.
The 44-year-old CCW instructor and former skip tracer from Red Bluff has taken a keen interest in Redding’s ongoing struggle with low level criminals and the homeless, appearing several times to voice his concerns at Redding City Council meetings. After reading Krause’s Facebook posts about the motorcycle incident, he offered to track down the assailants.
Now, here he was one week later in a police report, accompanying Krause and three armed men to Smile Place, waving a firearm at a transient who was allegedly holding a knife, having his weapon and ammo confiscated by the police, being charged with misdemeanor brandishing.
“It’s all been blown out of proportion,” he told me recently by telephone, and there’s more than a little truth to that. I had interviewed Ryant just two days before he decided to jump in with a carload of armed men and pay a midnight visit to the hobo jungle. He had seemed like a reasonable if perhaps overly earnest man.
Possessing investigative skills from prior experience chasing bail jumpers, Ryant had gone down to Smile Place all on his own and tracked down a witness, a transient, to the assault on Krause. That witness also told Ryant the same transients had assaulted another motorcyclist, 28-year-old Ryan Rhodes of Burney, just minutes after Krause had been assaulted, in exactly the same place.
Even though Ryant’s witness turned out to be mistaken—Rhodes crashed his motorcycle all on his own, more than a mile away and an hour after Krause’s alleged assault— some local media ran with the “two bikers taken down by Hispanic transients” story, and I could sense the lynch mob mentality growing on Facebook groups such as Take Back Redding, New Redding Crime, and Redding Area Transient Patrol—R.A.T. Patrol.
Two Bikers Down was labeled a cautionary tale because I had hoped to defuse this mob mentality. Not only was I a little bit too late, two of the story’s subject had already decided to take matters into their own hands, the very thing I was cautioning against.
Both Ryant and Krause may have to pay a heavy price. If Ryant is convicted of misdemeanor brandishing, he may lose his CCW permit and his ability to train others for CCW permits, one of his sources of income. Police are contemplating charging Krause with assault with a deadly weapon—his vehicle. As of this writing, Krause has an attorney, but has yet to be charged.
I spoke to both men for this follow-up story last week, and while they were limited in what they can say about the latest Smile Place incident due to pending legal action, both emphatically agreed that if they had the chance to do it all over, they’d never, ever go poking around a homeless camp in the dead of the night again.
Nothing To Smile About At This Place
Strictly from a tactical standpoint, Smile Place is lousy ground on which to choose a confrontation with the homeless. There’s not a lot of room for maneuvering, just a dozen or so sparsely wooded acres, and the transients have their backs up against the Sacramento River. They’ve got no place to go if provoked, except directly at you, like cornered animals. This is not a secret. Everybody knows you stay away from the people that live down by the river, especially at night.
To be honest, I didn’t want to go to Smile Place in the daytime, because after 30 years on-and-off covering the homeless issue in California, I knew what I was going to find: utter human degradation in this so-called land of plenty. Is it worse here and now in Redding than when I covered it in San Francisco in the early 1980s, or Sacramento in the 1990s and the oughts? No. It’s all the same ugly shade of gray that never goes away, like that paint they use to cover up graffiti.
Eight members of the Guardian Angels, four men and four women, of various ages including old, were standing on the small rise that overlooks the park when I arrived shortly after noon four days after the altercation between concerned citizens armed with handguns and transients armed with knives and crowbars. The GA were there ostensibly as a deterrent to any further skirmishes with the transients in the park, who were mulling about their campsites below, but their presence heightened the feeling that this particular homeless encampment has its back against the wall.
And indeed it is against the wall. Most of the people in the park—almost all of whom were white—had been given notice to vacate the park by the RPD and were preparing to move that afternoon, in accordance with the never-ending shell game being played by transients and police.
There was a petite 50-year-old woman who looked maybe a decade younger, except for the missing teeth. Under a sheen of greasy dirt she smelled just like a garbage dump, which happens when you don’t bathe regularly. Drinking was her weakness, she said, but she’s off the sauce and soon hopes to be off the streets. Most of the public faucets in the area have been shut off, so she’s been drinking river water.
She claimed that several nights before, she couldn’t say exactly what date, a motorcyclist drove right up to her tent, shined his light in her eyes and told her if she wasn’t gone when he came back, he’d slit her throat. He roared off, but he didn’t get far, she cackled. A couple of native Americans camping on the other side of the park stopped him and beat his ass.
Instantly, I flashed on the first incident involving Krause on June 16, in which he alleges he was assaulted on his motorcycle by two Hispanic transients near Smile Place shortly after midnight. After further questioning, I realized she was making up a story based on bits and pieces she’d picked up on the hobo grapevine, which nowadays includes social media. I also realized she was quite possibly insane.
That’s the way it is with a good portion of the homeless/transient population that I’ve encountered over the past 30 years. I’d estimate, and some studies have shown, that a good third of the people on the streets suffer from serious, untreated mental illness. Another third are suffering the effects of longterm drug and/or alcohol abuse. Obviously, there’s some overlap, but those ratios appeared to be holding at Smile Place on the day I visited.
One of the cleaner transients at the park that hot afternoon earnestly told me RPD had discovered “28 burned bodies,” all of them homeless people, in a nearby ravine two years ago. A hulking young man in a sawed off pair of khakis added that I should cover “the body parts market” controversy, “people have gone missing.” As these desperate and possibly deranged men began gathering around telling me their stories, it became clear that one of them had soiled his trousers.
A half-dozen of them claimed to be on hand for the melee that had taken place four evenings previously, and several bore fresh fighting wounds from who knows where. One common theme that emerged is the men fervently believe RPD is looking the other way when violence is committed against transients.
One man claimed that two weeks before the Smile Place incident, on the other side of the river, four men had jumped out of car and beat the crap out of a transient, a friend of his, near the abandoned Railey’s building. RPD was there, the man insisted, but did nothing. All of the men insisted these kinds of things are happening all the time.
I have been unable to verify any of their claims, and RPD told me that any rumors of so-called citizen rat patrols ridding Redding’s streets of transients are at this point just that, rumors, often distorted and magnified by social media, which, it bears repeating, many transients are highly active on, thanks to cell phones and free internet access at the Redding Public Library, which is mere blocks away from Smile Place.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a trend we’re seeing,” said RPD Lt. Jeff Wallace. “Occasionally, we have crimes within the transient community. But I am not aware of any specific group going out there assaulting homeless people. I’m not aware of any specific investigation that we’re doing on that.”
Nevertheless, the transients that I talked to at Smile Place were adamant that attacks on the homeless are happening all the time. Some of their claims are obviously outlandish. But some sound realistic. People drive by and throw things from vehicles. I can believe that. One of the more lucid individuals, Bob, offered a reasonable explanation for recent friction between the Smile Place transients and the neighborhood next to them.
According to Bob, a couple of low level criminal transients passed through Smile Place a couple of weeks ago, burglarized some of the nearby houses, and then moved on, leaving the park’s longer-term denizens to take the blame. Bob said he’d like to get his hands on both the low level criminals that burglarized those houses and the guys driving the various pickups that keep driving by and hassling them.
Three days after I talked to Bob, he called me up and informed me some guy had just driven by in a green pickup truck and struck his friend with a bottle.
There’s no sugar-coating homeless encampments like Smile Place. There were a few people there on the day I visited, the younger ones, who looked like they might be capable of returning to the civilized world, if given a leg up. But most of the people living down by the river, easily more than half, are in need of serious longterm professional help. A few were already beyond such help.
Again, this is no secret, really. That’s why everybody knows you don’t go poking your nose around in a homeless camp, especially in the dead of night.
Well, almost everybody.
Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged
There’s a creepy post on the Redding Area Transient Patrol Facebook page in which the poster claims to be a serial killer of local homeless people who has been acting with impunity for years and will continue to do so. It’s quite convincing, even chilling, but the fact that Facebook hasn’t removed the post after many months leads me to believe it isn’t true.
It’s satire. A troll, and a fairly pathetic troll at that: the poster was fishing for transients logged in at the Redding Public Library.
And lo, sometimes the homeless do respond to the R.A.T. Patrol’s trolls, calling out posters to come down to the library parking lot and fight it out like real men. It’s a sad way to get your kicks.
One classic troll is the super soaker filled with stale urine meme. Supposedly guys are riding around in the back of pickups, just like in the Rat Patrol TV show, except with water guns instead of machine guns, spraying homeless people with piss.
(Note to R.A.T. Patrol members: If any of you are actually doing this, many transients haven’t bathed for days and already smell like stale urine, so it’s actually redundant.) My point being, it’s a troll, satire, not true, but several of the transients at Smile Place believed it to be true.
Trolling transients is admittedly not everybody’s cup of tea, and R.A.T. Patrol the Facebook page, which encourages members to post videos of homeless encampments and the carnage they leave behind, is an acquired taste.
I belong to the group, sometimes there’s a funny post or a wicked reply. I don’t fire up the truck and head down to Smile Place to harass mentally ill people because a post encourages readers to do so, but I can’t speak for everyone. I do wonder sometimes how certain posts survive Facebook’s censors.
Anyway, it wasn’t the posts on R.A.T. Patrol that were bothering Dan Ryant when I talked to him to him last Thursday. In fact, he’d never heard of the group until RPD brought the subject up while they were questioning him after the Smile Place incident. He was concerned with comments on Take Back Redding and New Redding Crime vilifying Krause, his three colleagues and himself, and he actually put it in that order, too.
“It’s all been blown out of proportion,” said Ryant, who was driving to his attorney’s office as I was speaking to him on the phone. “We are not the people we are being made out to be on Facebook.”
I’ve followed the social media commentary on the story closely, and I think it’s been split pretty much 50-50: Half the people branded Ryant, Krause & Co. as old western style vigilantes; the other half applauded their efforts, with some going as far to suggest maybe it’s time we bring back old western style vigilantes.
It was the latter responses that seemed to concern Ryant the most. His voice cracking with emotion on the phone, he wanted to make it clear he didn’t hate homeless people, he’s been homeless himself, he knows what its like, it can happen to anyone, he’s a Christian, for crying out loud. That some people on Facebook openly promote violence against transients turns his stomach. Seriously, he said that.
“If we’d have thought anything like that would have happened, we wouldn’t have ever been there,” he said.
BTW, both Ryant and Krause have shut down their Facebook accounts in the wake of the incident, and I’ve found few traces of either of them on other social media. None of those traces indicates a propensity for vigilantism.
Ryant was limited in what he could tell me due to his pending legal issue—the misdemeanor brandishing charge. In addition to Krause, whom he’d only met recently through Facebook, he was accompanied by one man he knew from his church and two men he hadn’t met before.
On Friday, June 23, at around 9 p.m., the five men took two cars, Ryant’s and Krause’s, and began cruising the Slide Place area for transient activity. Ryant told me that they encountered several transients on their rounds as well as the police. They prayed with a couple of the transients. Ryant gave RPD the following account after the incident, which officers responded to at 1:15 a.m. Saturday, June 24:
“Upon entering the camp, a transient male subject became angry because he [Ryant] shined a flashlight on him. The transient pulled a knife, at which time he [Ryant] pulled a handgun and backed out of the situation. Several transients came out of the bushes, at which time they ran back to their cars.”
The homeless man told police a slightly different version of events.
“While officers were talking with Ryant, a homeless man approached officers and said Ryant threatened him with a pistol during the incident. The homeless man denied having a weapon. He said he was merely coming out of the bushes to see what was going on after hearing a disturbance in his sleeping area.”
RPD took the homeless man’s word over Ryant’s, charged Ryant with misdemeanor brandishing and seized his firearm and ammo for evidence.
“The court system will try my case, and I believe I’ll be vindicated,” Ryant predicted.
He reiterated that he feels bad for the homeless, and while maintaining his actions were done with good intentions, they were wrong-headed.
“I hope that Mr. Miller recovers from his injuries,” he said. He urged everyone to calm down. “I want this whole thing to disappear and it’s not going to go away if we keep feeding the fire.”
Driving While Impulsive: The Bryant Krause Story
I wasn’t able to get in touch with Bryant Krause before Two Bikers Down was published, but if I had, this whole unfortunate affair might have been avoided. Krause and I are both diehard motorcycle enthusiasts, and surely his former love for stunt riding would have come up, and that might have reminded him his driving license was already hanging precariously by a thread, and then he might never have driven back to Smile Place a week after the first alleged attack.
Krause, it turns out, has one of the worst driving records I’ve even seen. Strike that. It’s the worst. In fact, it’s criminal. Beginning sometime around 2008, after he turned 18, he began accumulating tickets for excessive speed, riding wheelies, drifting and various other reckless acts on motorcycles, as well as warrants for failing to appear in court and failing to pay fines.
Between 2008 and 2014, he’s listed in the Shasta County Superior Court database more than a dozen times for criminal driving infractions.
“Yeah, I used to do wheelies and all that stuff,” he readily admitted when I finally did get in contact with him last Thursday. It started with a Kawasaki Ninja 636 sport bike; eventually he owned three bikes, to better evade the police, a plan that failed to come to fruition, to say the least. Eventually, he reached 32 points on his driving record. The most I’ve ever had is 1. He wound up losing his license and spending slightly more than two years locked up, split between jail and home confinement.
“I think I drive really well,” he said rather nonchalantly, noting that he can do things ordinary riders can’t do, like wheelies and drifts, with relative ease and safety. “But in the eyes of California, I don’t ride well.”
And then, recalling the potential trouble he’s facing now—police have threatened to charge him with vehicular assault, but have so far not filed the charges—Krause broke down sobbing.
“I worked so hard to get out of it,” he said, referring to the trouble his former career as a stunt-riding hooligan had gotten him into. “Now … this really sucks.”
He was sobbing during that eclipses, and continued to do so throughout our conversation.
Krause said he has retained a lawyer and couldn’t talk about the second incident at Smile Place. But he was willing to talk freely about the first incident, in which he alleges a couple of hispanic transients pushed him down on his motorcycle and pummeled him in the street.
He left Shameless O’Leary’s shortly after midnight on June 16, riding a blacked-out custom Harley-Davidson Low Rider, a far cry from the sport bikes he once favored. He could have driven straight across the Cypress Street bridge to his home across the river, where his significant other and two children were waiting for him.
Instead, he took a detour on Park Marina Drive, for what reason I didn’t get a chance to ask him, because Krause talks really, really fast and is difficult to interrupt. Many of the details he told me were exactly what he told the police, the two hispanic-looking males, one with a teardrop tattoo under his eye; the tipping over of the Harley, the threatened knife in the neck.
But the way he described the incident to me sounds more like a misunderstanding than an out-and-out deliberate assault. As he was passing them by, he said one of the men accused him of almost striking their female companion with his motorcycle, who was standing nearby. Krause stopped and replied to them. That’s when the fireworks began.
Did Krause take a short detour along the river road on his on his way home from Shameless O’Leary’s to pull some stunts on his motorcycle, almost hit a transient and set the whole thing off in the first place?
I didn’t get a chance to ask him, because he’d already clammed up by the the time I thought of the question. But that’s probably the most plausible-sounding explanation I’ve heard for this whole somewhat sordid affair.
The one silver lining is Two Bikers Down and this story, its sequel, remain cautionary tales, after all. Sure, a few transients got roughed up and two concerned citizens discovered taking the law into your own hands can have serious consequences.
But at least nobody died.