- Nat Stein
- Andi Van Gogh (left) and Tasha Harvey tell their side.
Tasha Harvey was showering at her ex's place when the eviction went down. But upon returning to Springs Rescue Mission's parking lot, where she had been staying in a loosely organized camp for several weeks, the situation was abundantly clear: Cops and TV crews surrounding the hurriedly abandoned and trashed tent city meant it was time to pack up and go.
As the Indy previously reported, SRM, one of the city's largest faith-based service providers, had given the encampment of around 150 people, otherwise known as the Last Sanctuary, permission to stay until new shelter beds come online in less than a month. But on Oct. 12, the first frosty day of the season, SRM did an about-face, evicting the campers despite having 48 hours to devise a plan for city approval. Everyone living at the Last Sanctuary had until 3 p.m. to move along.
Having to move along is nothing new for Harvey, who has been without shelter for several stretches of her life, so she knew the drill: Pack up, find a new spot and hope it remains under the radar long enough to get some sleep (after blowing off steam by playing games on her cellphone). Since moving her stuff can exacerbate her already volatile heart condition, Harvey called her friend Andi Van Gogh, a dogged advocate for the local homeless community.
Van Gogh helped load Harvey's belongings into her car and drove to a nearby spot she felt would be safe to camp. The two women pulled into the alleyway that leads out most directly into this out-of-sight open space and began unloading Harvey's stuff. Partway through that task, they were approached by two men — one older, one younger — who asked what they were doing on their private property.
What happened next is disputed. Here's how the one independent witness tells it:
"I was like 50 feet away back there in the woods saying 'peace out' to a friend of mine when the owners pull up and I didn't pay no attention to it," says Doriun Thompson, 38. "Then I start hearing this commotion, you know, so I perk up and I'm hearing them say 'get out of here' and then 'we don't like your kind.' And that's when I start feeling like something ain't right."
Thompson recalls seeing the younger of the two men start chucking Harvey's possessions over the curb. "Like all her clothes and stuff," he says. "So that's when I went over there to see what's going on and [the men] pick up the girls, all rough, and slam them to the ground. And it was all dark, right, so they don't see me, but I step out then like '[what] the fuck is going on? Did y'all just put your hands on these women?' And I'm going ham, right, because that ain't how you treat people — especially women."
At that point, the parties parted ways and each dialed 911.
"Initial information from dispatch was that a male was outside of this location with a machete and was not allowing staff to leave," according to police records listing Phil Boatright, owner of Discount Exhaust Works, 1207 S. Nevada Ave., and father of Alexander who also works there, as the reporting party. His call contained no mention of the physical altercation, so when cops showed up, they immediately detained Thompson.
Thompson, who does indeed carry a large blade for protection but says it never came out of the sheath that's visible on his belt loop, felt baffled to be the focus. "Boom, they put me in the car, not even checking on the women," he says, "and I'm used to dealing with the cops, you know, but I never got to give a statement and they're only listening to the guys who are just concocting a story to get [attention] off of them."
The case report describes Thompson, who is black, as "racially volatile" and "uncooperative" before narrating the chain of events based on information given almost entirely from Alexander Boatright. While returning a rental truck to their property, the account reads, "there was personal [transient] property in their path ... he and his father began moving the transient property when a white female (with red hair) [Van Gogh] violently jumped on Boatright's father ... he grabbed the female to remove her from his father. A larger female [Harvey] joined the fray."
Phil Boatright reinforced that telling of the story to the Indy, saying "the two girls attacked first, beating up on me with their fists so my son pushed her out of the way."
Van Gogh, Harvey and Thompson all maintain that the men instigated the physical confrontation, but none feel their side of the story was heard by the responding officers. "Nobody's writing anything down, recording the facts," Van Gogh remembers, "and what, because they're men and they're business owners, their word goes?"
Lt. Howard Black, police spokesman, called the situation a "quandary" because of the conflicting stories.
"Sometimes people don't tell us the truth, but our officers are very capable of sorting through information and evidence to make decisions about the direction a case should move." Black told the Indy that there was no probable cause to make any arrests.
Boatright says he's fearful of the homeless population that congregates near his shop. "It's hard to operate with all this anarchy going on," he says, adding he wishes the city would "tell them to please leave" because "it's terrible for tourism and for business for people to see all the trash."
Harvey says she has been recovering slowly from a sprained elbow, strained back and banged-up knee. She adds she's been having anxiety attacks and recurring nightmares since the incident, but is determined to get back to working on her GED to go to college to study zoology.
"I've been ridiculed for being homeless, I've been mocked but I've never, never in my whole life been assaulted just because of that," she says. And even though there will be some shelter beds for women available this winter, Harvey intends to keep on camping "because there are women out there who've got it harder than me, trust me."