A viral video that has sparked outrage this week, showing a San Francisco gallery owner spraying a homeless woman with a hose, could wind up resulting in criminal charges, as the SFPD continues investigating.
The incident occurred late Monday morning outside Foster Gwin Gallery at 712 Montgomery Street, in Jackson Square. According to the gallery's website, they specialize in Italian period furniture, Abstract Expressionist art, and Greco-Roman antiquities.
SFist mentioned the video in Tuesday's Day Around the Bay, noting that gallery owner Collier Gwin has said he was very familiar with the woman and she is "psychotic." Gwin has since explained that he has repeatedly had frustrations over the woman's actions — specifically, that day, she had overturned some trashcans outside his gallery — and he claims to have sought city services for her repeatedly, and allowed her to sleep in his gallery's doorway more than once.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin tells the Chronicle that the woman, identified as Cora or "Q," is "well known in the neighborhood," and has been the subject of frequent reports and efforts of assistance. But, he says, that is no excuse for attacking the woman with a hose.
"I don’t care how frustrated somebody is, this is not the way human beings treat other human beings,” Peskin tells the Chronicle. “It’s unconscionable, it’s abuse.”
The video was shot by a chef at nearby bakery Brioche SF, Edson Garcia, who said he was in his car and on his way to make a delivery when he shot the video, just as a traffic light turned green. Garcia tells the Chronicle, "I was shocked. It’s crazy how people can act. I know that lady."
Garcia posted the video to the bakery's TikTok and later removed it, but it has since been picked up on Twitter and elsewhere, garnering millions of views. (An unintended casualty of the viral video has been cocktail and wine bar Barbarossa, whose windows can be seen behind Gwin in the video, leading to viewers assuming, without eother context, that Gwin is associated with that business, which he is not. Barbarossa's Yelp page now has one of those Community Alerts on it because of a wave of negative, retaliatory reviews.)
Gallery owner Gwin has been both remorseful and defiant, at turns, in discussing the incident. As he tells KPIX, "I'm very, very sorry, I'm not going to defend myself, I'm not going to, because I can't defend that." He added, "I feel awful, not just because I want to get out of trouble, or something like that, but because I'd put a tremendous amount of effort into helping this woman on the street."
But, as he said in a Chronicle interview, "You know, spraying her’s not the solution, but spraying her was something that woke her up, and that calmed her down. So am I sorry? I’m only sorry that... my way of helping her countlessly has gotten nothing done."
The Chronicle also followed him to check on the woman, who was huddled in a doorway just a block away, and she shooed them off. And the reporter watched as Gwin showed the video to another nearby business owner, Michael Imperiale of Tricolore Caffe, who also is very familiar with the woman, and who exclaimed, "Collier! That's not good!"
“Violence like this assault occurs in the context of government, societal, and press participation in scapegoating unhoused residents and treating them as though they are objects to be swept, jailed, and harassed,” says the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement, putting some of the blame on a neglectful city and state.
Cora, or "Q," was questioned by police alongside Gwin after the incident was reported on Monday, and she was reportedly "referred for follow-up assistance," per the Chronicle, by the city's Crisis Response Team. But, as the paper notes, she was back in the neighborhood by Tuesday.
Gwin tells KPIX that he and other business owners have "called SFPD and social services more than two dozen times in the last two weeks" about the woman.
The SFPD says it is investigating the incident, and legal experts tell the Chronicle that Gwin could face a battery charge, especially if he did not experience any threat to his own person when the hose incident took place. No charges have yet been filed.
The incident calls to mind one from 2015, in which a downspout cleaning system at St. Mary's Cathedral was apparently turned on every hour in order to deter homeless people from sleeping in the church's outdoor alcoves.