Escalon has released body camera footage of its officers’ Aug. 15 interaction with a homeless couple they drove to Modesto, which created an uproar and allegations that the small city was dumping homeless people here who had worn out their welcome elsewhere.
The footage appears to support the San Joaquin County city’s previous account of the incident: That its officers were providing a courtesy ride to two transients who wanted to go to a Modesto motel and had money to pay for a room. Officials have identified the couple as Dante Ciraolo, 57, and Andrea Caracciolo, 51.
Still, Modesto and Stanislaus County officials have said it appeared Escalon essentially dumped two homeless people with extensive criminal histories in the Bay Area and San Joaquin County and no apparent connection to this community, though court records and an interview with Ciraolo show the couple have been in Modesto before.
It didn’t help that the Escalon police officer who drove the couple the roughly 10 miles to Modesto dropped them and their possessions off in the Rite Aid parking lot at Briggsmore and McHenry avenues, and not the nearby Budgetel Inn & Suites.
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A passerby photographed the officer dropping the couple off. The photo was posted to Facebook, and a controversy was born.
Escalon officials said that during the ride, the couple questioned whether they could stay at the Budgetel, considered going to another motel, and then asked to be dropped off in the Rite Aid parking lot. Officials have said the officer should not have listened to the couple and taken them to a motel.
Escalon officers initially contacted Ciraolo and Caracciolo about 11 a.m. on Aug. 15 after receiving a report of someone lying on the ground in the 1600 block of Main Street.
The police body camera footage shows officers were respectful and friendly but made it clear that Ciraolo and Caracciolo could not continue to lie on the ground and that while they could rest in a city park, they could not camp there. “We can’t force them to go to Modesto if they don’t want to go,” an officer says, “but they can’t sit here.”
Escalon blurred the images of Ciraolo and Caracciolo. (City Manager Tammy Alcantor said there is no body camera footage during the ride to Modesto and the drop-off in the Rite Aid parking lot.) The footage shows a couple with problems and few options.
While Caracciolo tells officers she wants to go to Modesto (she also tells them she wants to go to Oregon), Ciraolo is not so sure. He calls the city “methdesto” and says he doesn’t want to come here. He’d rather go to Manteca but says he and Caracciolo can no longer stay in that city’s motels. And Escalon’s only motel won’t rent them a room.
Ciraolo tells officers he has cancer and cannot get adequate care despite going from hospital to hospital.
Officials have said Ciraolo is estranged from his family in Escalon. Some of the officers know Ciraolo, who eventually changes his mind about Modesto.
In a sometimes disjointed phone interview Friday, Ciraolo said he and Caracciolo had just come from Manteca when the Escalon officers contacted them. He said Escalon officers forced him to go to Modesto because he really wanted to rest in a city park before hitchhiking or taking a taxi to Modesto.
He said he and Caracciolo each receive about $900 a month in disability payments. He said he and Caracciolo have stayed at the Budgetel Inn & Suites in the past. And Stanislaus County Superior Court records show the couple have been here.
Modesto filed a case against Ciraolo in June after an officer cited him on suspicion of illegally camping on private property in May. The city also filed a case against Caracciolo in the same incident, alleging she stored personal items on private property without the owner’s permission.
And prosecutors filed a misdemeanor case against Caracciolo on Aug. 28 from a July incident in Modesto in which she is alleged to have had methamphetamine and a drug pipe.
Ciraolo — who said Friday that he and Caracciolo were in Santa Cruz — said that several days after he was in Modesto he called Escalon police to take him back to Escalon. He said he had become separated from Caracciolo after she wandered off. He said they later were reunited in the Bay Area.
Alcantor, the Escalon city manager, confirmed that a police sergeant arranged for Ciraolo to stay Aug. 22 at Escalon’s only motel — Emil’s — through a voucher provided by a local church and picked him up in Modesto.
She said the sergeant offered to take Ciraolo to shelters in Manteca and Stockton, have him taken to a hospital after he complained of pain, and connect him with San Joaquin County mental health services. Alcantor said Ciraolo declined assistance, saying he did not want to go anywhere without his girlfriend.
Alcantor said the church voucher program provides one night’s lodging every six months, but Ciraolo requested a second night. He was later found sleeping on the sidewalk near the motel the next day. He then stayed on the grounds of a church before saying he was taking a taxi to Modesto.
Escalon officials have said officers provide courtesy rides about four to six times a year to connect people to services, and that the city of about 7,500 residents has limited services for the homeless.