San Bernardino police arrested a woman suspected of boarding nearly two dozen mentally ill people in converted chicken coops in her backyard.
Pensri Sophar Dalton
, 61, was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of 16 counts of elder or dependent abuse. City Attorney James F. Penman said 22 people were living in three dilapidated buildings - none of them with indoor plumbing
- behind Dalton's house.
"The smell is horrific," Penman said, noting that residents used buckets as toilets
. "The stench of urine is pretty strong. ... No one should have to live in these conditions."
Police arrested Dalton after going to her home to arrest a man who had outstanding warrants for driving under the influence. Neither police nor the city attorney's office were aware of the conditions in Dalton's backyard until that point.
"It has me concerned that city inspectors didn't find it until today," Penman said, acknowledging the site was discovered essentially by chance.
City Attorney Investigator Paul Pancucci said 18 of the 22 residents appeared to be mentally ill, with problems ranging from delusional behavior to schizophrenia.
Despite operating as a type of group home - residents slept in multi-bed rooms, ate meals outdoors at picnic tables and, some residents told Pancucci, had their medication doled out by staff at the house - the facililty was not licensed in any way by the state or the city
It would have needed a business license as well as special licenses granted to care and boarding facilities, Penman said.
Most of the 22 residents - some elderly and some as young as 30, City Attorney Investigator Paul Pancucci said - were picked up by family members or taken to licensed care facilities.
Two residents, one of whom had recently undergone surgery, were taken to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton.
Penman said the buildings, which are surrounded by a metal fence and a cinder-block wall topped with loops of razor wire, never would have met the city's fire or health and safety codes
The chicken coops, turned into barracks-style residences with several small rooms in each of the three buildings, had bars over all windows
- a violation of the fire code - and were full of exposed wiring
. Interior rooms in the buildings had hasps that could have been used to lock people in or out of the rooms
, also a violation.
Warren Callahan, who has lived next door to Dalton since February, said he saw heavily medicated residents being abused by a caretaker at the facility.
"There was a guy on medication, sleeping under a tree, and (a heavy set man) was kicking him, telling him to get up, get up, get up," Callahan said.
Callahan never called the police, but he did call the city's code enforcement department
several months ago to complain about the razor wire surrounding Dalton's yard. He noted that the razor wire, usually used atop high walls or fences where it's safely out of reach, is only about 5 feet off the ground.
Penman said residents ate meals at picnic tables under a metal canopy in the backyard. Meals were cooked in a makeshift "MASH-type" kitchen on a semi-enclosed back porch attached to the main house, Pancucci said.
"It's pretty bad," he said.
Based on his interviews with residents, Pancucci said Dalton was apparently receiving welfare payments of anywhere from $700 to $1,100 per month from residents
, though Dalton was receiving money directly from the state.