By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
An arrest was made Friday morning in a series of window breakings that have damaged businesses throughout Little Tokyo in recent months.
The suspect was arrested as the result of an outstanding bench warrant based on probation violations from San Bernardino County. According to LAPD Senior Lead Officer Adrian Lopez, the man will be detained until he can appear before a judge. In the meantime, LAPD will assist with outreach to mental health providers so that he can be evaluated for treatment.
Approximately 15 to 20 windows were smashed, with major damage sustained to the Kajima Building, Cafe Demitasse, San Pedro Firm Building, Japanese American National Museum, California Bank & Trust, and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
“It is disheartening to see so many of our small businesses and institutions damaged needlessly,” said Ellen Endo, co-chair of the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District (BID). “We are fortunate to have the support of Council District 14, LAPD, and other agencies in dealing with these incidents, but the complex underlying issues of homelessness, mental health, and substance addiction must be addressed as well.”
Cellphone video taken on Dec. 18 showed the alleged suspect throwing rocks or pieces of concrete across First Street. In response, the nail salon and video store on the south side of First Street boarded up their shops. Early on Jan. 5, the same person could be seen on security video from the Kajima Building at First and San Pedro streets.
Brian Kito, president of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association, said he has confronted the suspect on multiple occasions.
“Caught him twice throwing rocks. I’ve spoken to him directly four times. Two times was to tell him to stop throwing rocks and get the hell out of here,” Kito said.
Kito pointed to a homeless encampment of approximately 20 tents that has grown at Toriumi Plaza at First and John Aiso streets. According to a Little Tokyo BID report, others in the encampment said that he is possibly schizophrenic and wants to be committed on a 5150 psychiatric hold.
As a deterrent, the city removed decorative rocks that had been installed in the plaza’s planter boxes. However, Kito said that the suspect has found other materials to throw, including hammers and a fire extinguisher taken from the parking complex below the plaza.
“It’s a horrible situation with this encampment,” Kito said. “It’s a shame because this plaza was dedicated to Rev. [Howard] Toriumi and the street is dedicated to [Judge] John Aiso. It was built by the community, done during [Councilmember] Jan Perry’s days.”
Warren Furutani, senior advisor to Councilmember Kevin DeLeon, said that Council District 14 is working with Little Tokyo stakeholders and city agencies to remedy the issue. Toriumi Plaza is located on property owned by the Department of Transportation. He said CD 14 is also looking for alternative housing for the individuals in the encampment.
“We’re a part of the team to get this taken care of,” Furutani said. “We’re trying to take a humanistic approach but this has got to stop.”