While standing on the corner of Westlake Blvd. and Thousand Oaks Blvd. with dozens of others rallying in support of local candidates, Conejo Guardian columnist Katherine Strange was attacked without provocation by a known transient, Jill Rogers, who has a history of battery, assault and drug violations.
To the shock of those who witnessed the assault, when police arrived, Rogers was cited and released to walk freely down the street in the direction of Westlake High School. The incident, which took place on April 16, illustrates at least two critical issues facing Ventura County (and California) citizens: the legal double-standard California has created toward transients who violate the law and the current under-enforcement of laws that involve violent misdemeanors.
Observers say the attack happened out of the blue on Saturday at around noon.
“I was minding my own business, waving my American flag with a couple of people on the corner,” Strange says. “It was a really friendly rally to support the candidates. This woman, who I didn’t even see coming, was going to cross the street. Then she just started yelling at me specifically. She said she wanted to kill me. She literally got two feet away from me with her fists in my face, and all of a sudden, I’m like, this is a crazy person who might actually hurt me. I’m not going to tell you the obscenities that came out of her mouth, but she went absolutely crazy on me.”
Rogers was screaming, “What are you people doing? I want to kill you!”
She charged Strange, and when Strange put her flag in a defensive position in front of her, Rogers grabbed the flag’s pole and rammed it into Strange’s stomach, then tore it from her hand, stomped it on the ground and broke it. Strange turned to nearby friends and told them to call 911.
“I was terrified,” Strange says. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next.”
Moments later, sheriff patrol vehicles, a fire truck and a couple of CHP vehicles arrived. Rogers had taken a seat nearby, making no effort to flee. She also shouted her own name. When the sheriffs arrived, they recognized her from previous incidents.
“She’s a homeless person, in and out of shelters. She’s mentally ill,” Strange says. “They were very frank with me and asked, do I want to press charges? I said absolutely. People like that shouldn’t be out on the street. They said, ‘Okay, we can do that, but here’s how it works. We will write a ticket. She will be charged with two misdemeanors. She doesn’t have to sign or take the ticket, and furthermore, nothing will happen if you don’t pursue it. The courts will do nothing.’”
Upon giving Rogers citations for “misdemeanor battery (PC 242)” and “misdemeanor vandalism (PC 594),” the officers let Rogers go, and she walked down Thousand Oaks Blvd. Records show that Rogers has been cited four other times in the past 13 months, including for:
● battery, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and shoplifting not to exceed $950 on February 11, 2022;
● possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia on October 3, 2021;
● assault, possession of a controlled substance and exhibiting a deadly weapon other than a firearm on September 15, 2021; and
● robbery and possession of drug paraphernalia on March 9, 2021.
Sergeant Jason Karol of sheriff’s administration in Ventura admits that “Nobody really has a good solution to the transient homeless problem, and we do the best we can.” A 2021 homeless count shows 1,743 homeless people live in the County, up from 1,271 in 2016 — a 37 percent increase in the homeless population in just five years.
He says the citations Roger received are “similar to traffic citations but for a misdemeanor crime” and are given with “a promise to appear in court on a specific date.”
While he says perpetrators are not treated differently based on their residence status, other members of the law enforcement community say otherwise.
“There’s a certain amount of apathy about homeless people. They can almost do what they want.”
If Strange had been attacked by “a normal person with a job, they probably would have been arrested,” one experienced member of the law enforcement community told the Guardian. “There’s a certain amount of apathy about homeless people. They can almost do what they want. The State of California has made it clear that homeless people should get a free pass.”
For responding officers, this creates “more of a willingness to look the other way when it’s a transient,” he said. “The way we [in California] are prosecuting crimes, law enforcement just doesn’t see the point. … Say they arrest her. The judge will release her anyway, and now you’ve got this homeless person wandering around Ventura. They feel like it’s pointless for them to make the arrest because nothing’s going to happen because of the nature of sentencing laws and other things.”
Even when charges are brought against transients, attorneys, judges and other people within the legal system often blame victims for bringing those charges in the first place.
“When you have a legislature that communicates that criminal rights are more valuable than victims’ rights, it sends a message to criminals, law enforcement and crime victims,” this law enforcement officer (LEO) veteran told the Guardian. “That’s why you see more apathy and more crimes like this happening.”
The present environment, then, is “citizen beware” — especially when a transient is involved.
Also troubling is the trend toward not taking violent crimes seriously, officers say.
While the sheriff’s office says that violent crime rates in Ventura County are at historic lows, this “fact” is based on deceptive data and hollow statistics. For one thing, neither misdemeanor assault nor misdemeanor battery is considered a violent crime by the legal definition.
These days, “If there’s a battery or assault that doesn’t lead to a deep bruise or physical injury, I’m not sure we would file that case,” one member of the law enforcement community told the Guardian.
But the main problem with violent crime statistics today versus 20 years ago is the huge number of crimes that now go unreported because LEOs know they will never be prosecuted.
“It’s not like crime has suddenly stopped. It’s that we’ve stopped reporting it,” says one longtime LEO. “The reason is it’s worthless, given the lack of support we have from Sacramento. To continue a policy of ‘tough on crime’ in certain situations would be pointless. They’ve taken away our teeth. People are taken to jail and released almost immediately. Nothing happens. … There are crimes we don’t even arrest for anymore.”
Furthermore, crime reporting numbers are based on convictions, not arrests. For example, Rogers’ misdemeanors for assault, battery and exhibiting a deadly weapon don’t make it into violent crime statistics.
Sacramento, says one longtime Ventura County LEO, “considers most misdemeanors to be a joke” and has made it almost worthless to pursue criminal charges for offenses like these.
Karol recommends using apps like Next Door, Ring and sites like Nixle “where people in neighborhoods can speak to each other about crime that’s going on or transients on the street,” he told the Guardian. “A lot of people on social media are putting out things like Safety for Citizens — public safety information.”
Sheriffs also use these tools to alert local residents of problems or potential problems or to solicit help finding missing people or criminal suspects.
For her part, Strange says it physically hurt to be assaulted with her own flag pole, though it caused neither bleeding nor bruising. More disturbing were Rogers’ repeated threats to kill Strange for no apparent reason and with a demonstrated intent to carry it through. After the peace officers left the scene and Rogers disappeared down Thousand Oaks Blvd., Strange and a group of friends from the rally went to lunch “to do something normal,” she says.
The next day at church, she stayed for two services, then went home and crashed as her body and mind recovered.