Sacramento DA Thien Ho Threatens to Arrest City Officials

Sacramento mayor holds press conference after DA sends letter threatening to prosecute city officials for issues related to homeless crisis

PUBLISHED AUG 9, 2023 11:41 A.M.
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Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and councilmembers Mai Vang and Caity Maple during a press conference on Aug. 8.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and councilmembers Mai Vang and Caity Maple during a press conference on Aug. 8.   Graham Womack

Sacrameno Mayor Darrell Steinberg held a media availability at city hall on Aug. 8 where staff distributed the kind of letter not seen every day: One from the county Districat Attorney threatening to arrest city officials.

Sacramento County DA Thien Ho sent a six-page letter to the city on Monday outlining a range of concerns related to the region’s longstanding homeless crisis. Toward the end, Ho drew attention to California Penal Code Section 373a that makes people who allow a public nuisance on their property guilty of a misdemeanor.

“Be advised that this letter constitutes your formal notice pursuant to penal code section 373a,” Ho wrote in all caps.

In tangible terms, it means that city officials including Steinberg could face arrest should an unhoused person camping on city property engage in nuisance behavior such as the use or sale of drugs.

Steinberg, for his part, came out swinging in his press conference. He said it was the second letter with threats to prosecute city officials in six weeks from Ho. The mayor also noted that a request this time that the city hire four additional city attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor crimes by people experiencing homelessness was unworkable.

“The first time I ignored his threat,” Steinberg said. “This time, I will not. Mr. District Attorney, prosecuting violators, respectfully, that is your job. The city does not prosecute crimes. The city attorney has no authority, no authority to prosecute misdemeanor crimes. That is a fact.”

It was just the latest salvo in one of the Sacramento region’s most vexing problems, one that lacks an easy local solution. It also wasn’t the first time the situation around homelessness has put local leaders at odds.

A Fragile Partnership

Ho’s letter and Steinberg’s press conference came months after city and county leaders forged a partnership agreement around homelessness.

“No single agreement will miraculously solve this problem,” Steinberg told reporters in a press conference back on Dec. 1, when the partnership deal was announced. “I am under no illusions, I’ve done this long enough. On the other hand, no one can make progress acting alone. And that’s sort of the way that it has been, despite a lot of good efforts.”

During his press conference, Steinberg shared his disappointment that the most high-profile engagement between the city and county within Sacramento city limits, at 28th and C streets, which resulted in the discovery of 800 syringes but saw just one person entering comprehensive care treatment.

“We need your help, Mr. District Attorney, to make sure that that partnership agreement actually works,” Steinberg said.

The mayor’s communications director distributed a statement during the media availability noting that Steinberg had met privately with Ho on July 26 to offer a 10-point proposal around homelessness. This included strict misdemeanor crime enforcement, expanding alternative courts and fully implementing the city-county partnership agreement.

The Substance of the Letter

Ho responded forcefully in his letter to the city, beginning by noting that in the past six years, Sacramento’s population of unsheltered people had increased by some 250 percent.

“We have a public safety crisis that is endangering both the unhoused and the housed,” Ho wrote. “Our community is caught between compassion and chaos as we reach a breaking point that requires action.”

The district attorney requested that the city take several actions in the next month, including implementing a citywide ban on daytime camping and arresting homeless individuals who refuse shelter at least three times.

Ho didn’t provide a timeline in his letter for when arrests of public officials might commence. In a statement provided by a spokesperson, the district attorney noted that his office had “taken the first formal step towards litigation against the City of Sacramento. However, we are providing the City an opportunity to adequately address this public safety crisis.”

The district attorney wasn’t available for additional comment. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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