The sight of the homeless man living in his Jeep unsettled neighbors, even in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury where strange people hardly raise an eyebrow.
There was something about him.
The way he parked in the same parking spot day after day, night after night. The way the weeks rolled on, yet he was always there. “He was hanging out all the time, just in his car,” said a Waller Street T-shirt maker, who didn’t want to be identified.
The Jeep, the neighbor said, was filled with stuff. “You know, garbage on top of garbage on top of garbage, inside of it,” he said.
The neighbor said the man didn’t seem to bother anyone.
He mainly commiserated with his fellow homeless brethren who camped on Waller Street, near the eastern end of Golden Gate Park. “I’d say that he was relatively low-key and quiet,” said another neighbor, who also didn’t want to be identified.
“Engaging -- very engaging with all the homeless people.”
Nine weeks went by.
Police said they first encountered Robert Johns on June 30th, near Alvord Lake in Golden Gate Park. He was smoking, in violation of San Francisco’s ban on smoking in city parks. When officers approached him, he uttered something disturbing.
“He made other statements to the fact he might want to harm his family,” said San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr. “So the decision was made that he would be bound over for a mental evaluation.”
Johns consented for police to search his Jeep.
Inside they found a pair of rifles.
Johns was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where he was observed and released. Police weren’t sure how long he was in custody.
The next time they heard of him was July 17th, when someone complained at Park Police Station Johns was harassing them. Several days later, police tracked down Johns and his Jeep. Suhr said officers spotted a short barrel rifle inside the vehicle.
After obtaining a search warrant they searched the Jeep, discovering a 9mm pistol, 5,800 rounds of ammunition, loaded rifles, a collection of knives and survivalist supplies.
They also discovered a card listing the names of several national politicians, including President Obama. “I think it’s serious enough we’re very happy we got all this weaponry off the street,” said Suhr at a news conference.
“I know that in light of what went on in Colorado a few weeks ago, that there’s a lot of people making that connection.” Police said they have no evidence Johns was intending to carry out an attack. Johns told a reporter he collected the weapons and never intended to harm anyone.
But neighbors in the Haight-Ashbury said they were upset police didn’t keep closer tabs on Johns after their initial encounter. “I would expect him to be every three days checked on and make sure he’s not collecting more weapons,” said one neighbor.
On Tuesday, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr defended the actions of his officers.
He said they were justified in not further searching Johns Jeep after the first encounter since they were intervening out of concern for his mental health, rather than as a criminal investigation.
“I think the officers did a good job at the time in evaluating the person in crisis and the approach they took,” Suhr said.
“In this instance I think it turned out just as it should.” Suhr revealed investigators had also questioned another man who neighbors said often accompanied Johns. Suhr said the man was questioned and detained on an unrelated warrant.
He said investigators were still trying to determine where Johns obtained the guns and ammo. Johns was being held on several charges including possession of marijuana for sale, possession of a loaded firearm and possession of an unregistered firearm.
His bail is set at $100,000.