Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 9:25 am | Overcast with Haze 61º


Ken Williams: A Rush to Judgment

Is it really wise for police to halt their investigation of a homeless man's murder?

With shock and dismay I was informed Wednesday that Santa Barbara police had closed the investigation into the Ross Stiles murder. Barely five weeks since his death, his murderers will be allowed to skate free from this heinous crime.

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Ken Williams and his dog, Sampson. (Williams family photo)

Confusion and sadness came next when other information came to my attention. First, Ross suffered from a “massive swelling of the brain.” He had reported to his friends that he had been assaulted days before his admittance to the hospital with a severe headache. Eyewitnesses reported seeing two men fleeing his camp after hearing glass break. I’m not sure how else these facts can be looked at? And then I learned that the police have closed their case while the coroner’s case is still open.

And what are we to make of the questionable news release that seemed to go out of its way to report that Ross was drunk at the time he was admitted to the hospital? It begs the question why? Does this serve any purpose other than to color the story? To put Ross in a negative light? And where did this blood-alcohol content come from since it is my understanding that the toxicology report has yet been completed?

The next day one man who Ross had told of the assault told me the police hadn’t interviewed him since the day before he died. Another man who shared the campsite and was present at the time of the assault also told me he hadn’t been interviewed since the first day of the investigation. In fact I have talked to no one who has been interviewed in the last few weeks.

This kind of violence can never be tolerated. Ross was a gentle man, crippled with several pain in his hips and legs and battered by personal demons. It must have taken a couple of real men to come into his camp and assault him like that — cowards come easily to mind. I know some will say he shouldn’t have been sleeping outside. Without arguing that debate on where fault can be assigned, homelessness is not a capital offense. Ross did not deserve to die like that, nobody does.

At the bedrock of our society justice must be equal for all: rich and poor alike. Both sides of the homeless debate should unite as one and demand justice for Ross. Everyone must denounce violence, which in the end only debases us all. As citizens of a democratic society we have the right and at times the moral obligation to petition our government to right a wrong. We should respectfully contact the police and asked that the case be reopened, witnesses re-examined and everything possible be done to bring his murderers to justice.

When we do so we need to show the police the respect that we ask them to show Ross. We will not turn to hateful nor harsh rhetoric, but simply ask that they join us in bringing a measure of justice to at times a disenfranchised community.

— Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the last 30 years. He is the author of China White and Shattered Dreams, A Story of the Streets.

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