Open season on the homeless

Somebody thought it would be funny to attack homeless men with paintball guns. Now Ronald Jerome is blind in one eye.

Ronald Jerome was attacked in his sleep by men with paintball guns. One of the pellets damaged his left eye.

Ronald Jerome was attacked in his sleep by men with paintball guns. One of the pellets damaged his left eye.

Photo By Cosmo Garvin

It was around midnight on February 6 when Ronald Jerome woke to the sounds of his friend and drinking buddy Mike Hogy cussing and diving for cover.

As soon as Jerome sat up to see what was happening, he was jolted with a blinding pain in his left eye. He’d been hit with a paintball from a paintball gun fired at him as he slept. “I got sprayed pretty bad,” Jerome told SN&R during an interview at his campsite behind a warehouse building in the Alkali Flat neighborhood of Sacramento. “Now they say I’m going to be legally blind.”

Jerome’s friend Hogy said he was awake but did not at first see the men who came walking down the alley behind the building where he and Jerome were camped out. “I heard a sound, and I looked up. I thought it was raining or something.”

That’s when Hogy saw three young white men with short hair—“they looked like college kids”—standing in a row like a firing squad. “They just opened up on us.”

The next night, it happened again. But instead of being on foot, the attackers came cruising down the same alley in a white car. Hogy couldn’t tell the make of the car but believes it was a two-door.

Gregg Carr, who was camped out with Hogy and Jerome that second evening, said all he could see of the attackers was a hand extended out of the passenger-side window with the paintball gun in it. Carr said he was hit several times in the back of the head with the paintballs.

Hogy, who takes care of Jerome on the streets, admitted that they didn’t seek medical attention for Jerome’s eye until days later.

“They told us at the hospital that we should have come in when it first happened,” Hogy said. But they didn’t. They were too busy drinking, and Jerome was despondent, Hogy said. Now Jerome may lose his eye.

Jerome is 60 years old. He is sometimes referred to as “the Claw” because of an accident with a drill press years earlier that cut off his middle three fingers on one hand. He’s drunk a lot of the time. That doesn’t make the assault any less of a crime.

“It’s cruel, it’s abusive, and it’s a crime. And in Ronald Jerome’s case, it’s a felony,” said Mark Zoulas, a Sacramento police officer who works closely with the homeless population in the area. “My personal feeling is that if someone were brought to justice on it, they’d go to state prison.”

Unfortunately, homeless people often make easy targets for random violence in Sacramento. “Every year at some point, whether it’s the paintball guns or the BB guns, it happens,” Zoulas said.

Last year, police arrested two men for shooting at homeless people with BB guns in the American River Parkway.

“We were able to locate the vehicle and locate the subjects. And my own personal opinion was it was absolutely the right vehicle and absolutely the right people. The car matched, the people matched [the descriptions], they had a BB gun, but nobody would come forward and ID them, so we couldn’t take it to court. So, they were released, and they’re probably still out there,” Zoulas explained.

Zoulas and his partner, Mike Cooper, can be reached at the Loaves & Fishes compound on North C Street. Anyone having any information on this or other crimes against homeless residents may leave information for the officers with Jim Peth at the Services Center inside Friendship Park at (916) 446-9316.

“We’re not going to let anyone beat up on our homeless without trying to bring them in,” added Cooper.

Amy Yannello contributed to this story.