‘I can’t defend that,’ says art gallery owner after outrage over spraying homeless woman with hose
By BETTY YU
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SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Video that captured a San Francisco art gallery owner spraying a homeless woman with a garden hose late Monday morning led to widespread outrage online Tuesday.
The TikTok account of San Francisco bakery Brioche S.F. posted a video of Collier Gwin, owner and operator of Foster Gwin Gallery on Montgomery Street in Jackson Square. The clip showed Gwin casually spraying a homeless woman while she was sitting down on the sidewalk near his business.
“What they saw is very regrettable,” Gwin told KPIX in an interview. “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.”
Gwin has lived in San Francisco for 45 years. He said this confrontation was the result of multiple attempts to get the woman help, after he spent days cleaning up her mess and letting her sleep in his doorway. He added that she often knocks over trash cans, and her behavior has scared off his clients.
“I’m very, very sorry, I’m not going to defend myself, I’m not going to, because I can’t defend that,” he said.
Gwin said he and other business owners in the area have called SFPD and social services more than two dozen times in the last two weeks.
“I said she needs psychiatric help,” Gwin said. “You can tell, she’s pulling her hair, she’s screaming, she’s talking in tongues, you can’t understand anything she says, she’s throwing food everywhere.”
Gwin said on Monday, he’d had enough.
“I’ve been down here 40 years. I’ve seen tons of homeless people, we’ve helped the ones that we could, and I have not had any issues with people,” he said. “But in this case, I was very upset, that the city could not help, and their hands are tied too.”
He said police and city workers told him they could not forceable move the woman.
SFPD said in a statement to KPIX 5:
San Francisco Police Officers assigned to Central station responded to the 700 block of Montgomery Street regarding a possible assault. Officers arrived on scene and met with a male suspect and a female victim who were involved a dispute. Officers interviewed both parties who declined further police action at that time. The San Francisco Street Crisis Response Team responded to the scene and provided multiple service options to the female, and she was referred for follow-up. Officers authored a police report documenting the incident.
“I’m out there once again cleaning her mess,” Gwin said. “Washing it down, trying to clean up stuff, and I just snapped. I was watering around her, and I just snapped, when she went off in her belligerent, tongues and stuff. And I just snapped and I pulled the hose up higher, and I sprayed her.”
“When I look at myself on the film, I can’t even believe that that’s me,” said Gwin. “But I didn’t know what else to do. It was getting so frustrating”
KPIX 5 was there Tuesday evening when a man confronted Gwin over his actions, telling him, “I want you to shut down and I want you to move away, because you treated somebody inhumanely.”
SFPD officers called to the scene deescalated the situation. Gwin said he’s been inundated with repeated death threats and targeted by vandals. He said a man also punched his front glass window Tuesday and threatened to kill him.
Barbarossa Lounge next door, whose business could be seen in the background of the video, said it condemns Collier’s actions.
Its statement to KPIX 5 reads:
Barbarossa Lounge has been made aware of a video that has begun to circulate on social media, which was filmed outside of our small business. Barbarossa is in no way associated with the inhumane actions portrayed in the video. Upon investigation it appears the actions are those of a neighboring business owner.We are extremely disappointed in this individual’s behavior and in no way support such actions. We have been informed that further formal and media investigation is underway. Barbarossa strives to support our local community and treat all passerby and patrons with equal respect and dignity.
“It’s very unfortunate that it happened in front of our small business. We’ve been struggling a lot through COVID hanging on by a thread, and now our reputation is being dragged through the mud for something that we didn’t do, for something that’s not even affiliated with us,” said co-owner Trena Hamidi. “We don’t believe in the inhumane treatment of anyone – homeless or not.”
Gwin said before this moment, he had behaved like an “angel,” because he had tried to advocate for the woman.
He said he saw the woman in the video in an ambulance nearby on Tuesday, and he apologized directly to her. But her response was unintelligible.
The SF Department of Homeless and Supportive Housing said to KPIX 5:
“This was an awful act, especially toward someone so vulnerable. There is no place for this kind of violence and hatred in our city.”
San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin posted about the incident on Twitter Tuesday evening, calling it an “unconscionable assault” and saying police were “soliciting witness statements to ensure this man is charged.”
He also said that his office was “well acquainted with the victim” and had by trying to get support for her from the San Francisco Department of Public Health “for months.”
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