City to continue citing day laborers

Worker successfully fights ticket, but cops say program is legal and is working well

SAN MATEO — City officials are reviewing an enforcement strategy that has seen some tickets against day laborers dismissed by juries, but police say the stings have been effective and will continue for now.

Some laborers have successfully fought their tickets after an undercover police officer impersonated a potential employer, according to defense attorney Tanya O’Malley. In one such case, pursued by laborer Ramirez Lopez Sofonias, the ticket was dismissed Aug. 29 by a jury that found such practices constituted entrapment. The city attorney’s office dismissed the ticket of another worker cited in the same sting, according to City Attorney Shawn Mason.

San Mateo’s parking ordinance makes it a crime to park a vehicle in the middle of the street. Many employers who stop to pick up day laborers do not pull over. In order to discourage loitering, police have issued citations and fines since 2003 to laborers who pick up work in this fashion, according to San Mateo Police Department Capt. Mike Callaghy.

“I think they’re all entrapment,” O’Malley said. “I think [the city] knows a lot of these individuals aren’t going to take them to trial — laborers just want to pay the fine, but it’s important to fight it.”

In three other cases, two workers did not want to proceed to a jury trial like Sofonias did, and a third did not turn up for his court date, according to O’Malley.

San Mateo does not plan to appeal those decisions, according to Mason, who said his office continues to examine the claims of other laborers fighting their citations. The city is also re-examining its enforcement strategy.

“We are discussing and meeting to determine if the appropriate enforcement strategy is going forward,” Mason said.

Meanwhile, city police say the sting program is working well to keep laborers off the streets and out of danger, according to Callagy.

“These are clear-cut violations,” Callagy said. “We were seeing people running out into the street to try and get a job, and without our presence, there would probably be a lot more people on the street and a lot more people running into traffic trying to get jobs.”

San Mateo and Samaritan House launched a day-labor center in 2003 shortly before police stepped up enforcement among laborers on the streets. That center currently sees 100 to 200 laborers per day, according to Kitty Lopez, executive director of Samaritan House.

bwinegarner@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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