Predatory behavior

Police dismiss a mother’s claim that her 12-year-old was harassed by a city trash collector

Debra posts notices around downtown Sacramento seeking the identity of her daughter’s harasser.

Debra posts notices around downtown Sacramento seeking the identity of her daughter’s harasser.

Photo By Jill Wagner

It started out as another Midtown morning walk to school for 12-year-old Carrisa Harris (name changed at the family’s request). But the incident that followed was anything but typical. The child’s claim—that a city garbage-truck driver made a lewd overture to her during her 10-block walk to Sutter Middle School—has left her parents concerned for her safety and frustrated with city officials, who, in turn, say the allegations don’t hold up under investigation.

“She was walking to school, at 27th and I, and she walked past the guy driving a city garbage truck,” said Carrisa’s mother, Debra, who has been driving her daughter to school since the November 22 incident. “And he shouted at her out the window of the vehicle. He was beckoning her toward him, and she kept going, and he said, ‘Hey, come here. I have a nice Mexican in the trunk for you.’”

She says her daughter ran away from the man, with him “waving his arms at her” as she fled.

“She ran to school and didn’t say anything to me until that night,” said Debra. Carrisa describes the man, who was alone in the truck, as Hispanic with a round face and clean-cut appearance.

Uncertain whether the incident was child harassment or the preamble to an attempted abduction, Debra considered her daughter fortunate enough to escape. Debra contacted the Sacramento police and, the next day, officials from the city’s solid-waste-collection department.

After an investigation that included two photo lineups, where Carrisa was unable to identify a suspect, the family has no leads on a man they thought, under the circumstances, would be relatively easy to track down. Police and leaders of the solid-waste department say that whoever the man was, neither a city employee nor a city vehicle was involved in the incident.

“We gave her a photo lineup, and she wasn’t able to identify a suspect,” said Michelle Lazark, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento police. Lazark added that the youth also described a side-loading truck but that all of the city’s trucks are back-loader models.

“There aren’t any city garbage trucks in that part of the city that day,” said Lazark.

Police closed the case on December 16 after an investigation that involved reviewing all the drivers in the downtown area—none of whom fit the description of the suspect. But Debra says she didn’t find out the case was closed until last week.

The aftermath has led Debra to do something she held off from doing while waiting for police to identify the man: This past weekend, she began distributing fliers about the incident, warning residents about a man that no one seems able to find. “I’m going to type notices up to give to my neighbors,” she said, “and give notices to route drivers.”

Debra said she contacted police at 7 p.m. on the day of the incident, after her daughter arrived home, shaken up, to tell her about it. Officers arrived at her home at midnight to take a report. The ensuing interactions between city staff and police compounded her frustration with what she recalls as “sloppy” police work.

“The next day, I called back to follow up on it. They didn’t have a report,” she said, adding that she was referred to a detective in the child-endangerment/sexual-assault unit. She says a detective was put in contact with her, approximately one week later, and took an initial lineup of photos to Carrisa’s school, where she was unable to identify a suspect.

That detective later requested more photos of drivers from the city’s solid-waste department. Although the suspect was described as Hispanic, Debra says the detective amusedly remarked on what he received from them.

“He asked them to get pictures of everyone who fit the description. [Then] he said they’d given him a very strange array of photos,” she said. “Caucasians, African-American and Hispanic. He said they’d even given me photos of guys who were in his fraternity in college.”

Lazark, however, says that the child’s description of the suspect changed when further questioned, which might explain the diversity of the second photo lineup.

Edison Hicks, superintendent of solid-waste collections, says his department took every possible step in working with the police investigation to identify whether one of his employees was the suspect.

“We did everything we could,” Hicks said. “I contacted the police department and said, ‘You guys need to close this case out.’ I didn’t want an [internal] investigation, because they’d say, ‘You’re protecting your people.’ I wanted an independent investigation. Because if somebody in our department was doing it, I wanted to make sure it was someone that was taken care of. We don’t want anybody working for us that’s going to be harassing kids.”

Hicks added that the city’s drivers there that day did not fit the description of the suspect.

“We had two African-American drivers in the downtown area that day, and I gave the police department their names,” Hicks said.

Hicks did say that there might have been some miscommunication between officials in his department and the police about who should have informed Debra that the case officially was closed. Debra says that Harold Duffy, the city’s solid-waste manager, called her January 4 to tell her just that.

Debra took off from work January 10 to distribute the flier to people in Midtown, including route drivers in city trucks. She’s hoping to get more citizens on the lookout for the man who put an end to Carrisa’s morning walks to school.

“What it comes down to, basically, this guy thinks it’s funny to scare little girls, or he’s a predator,” she said. “In any event, he’s an idiot. My daughter looks very much like a 12-year-old. This wasn’t a man thinking he was talking to a woman. This was a man obviously behaving inappropriately.”