Dear PoPville- What the Hell is Going on with the Tree Vandalism and Arrest of a Homeless Man in Shaw?


Thanks to all who sent emails:

“Dear Neighbors

Good Thursday morning to you. Yesterday while I was out walking – from Logan Circle along P Street NW towards NJ Ave, I saw a man hacking into a tree planted in a tree box between the sidewalk and the street. This was on the south side of the street between Logan Circle and 12th NW.

He is short in stature (around 5’5″) and has a beard and a grizzled face that marks him as a person who has spent years living on the street. He was wearing several layers of outer wear/coats mostly in the grey to black color range.

He chopped into the trunk of the tree with a rock that had a sharp edge/point to it, like it was a pre-historic hand tool one might find in an excavation of an archeological site. He was not acting agitated, shouting, cursing, or talking to himself. He was quiet, deliberate, methodical, moving slowly such that nobody would stop to pay any attention to him or what he was doing.

As he walked past me I looked past this now damaged tree, in the direction where he had just been walking, and noticed that he had notched deeply into the trunks of each and every tree on that block of P Street.

I called 911.

And then noticed the block ahead of me, past 11th had also been attacked. I called 911 again and begged the police to stop this man before he attacked all the trees in Logan Circle and moved on to Dupont Circle.

After this, I walked back to NJ Ave and saw that this man attacked most (but not all) the trees the length of the P Street to NJ Ave. Block after block of trees.

The police called me on my cell to let me know they made an arrest. I gave a testimony of what I saw and that confirmed they got the right person and he was in custody. They got him!

Reflecting on these events this morning, it dawned on me that I had noticed that the red oak in front of our house had been nicked (or so I thought) by a shovel during a snow removal day over a week ago. So this morning I walked out and inspected the trees on our street. He had been up and down our block, and had notched into the trunk of about half the trees on the 1600 block of 4th as well. The good thing is that he did not do all the trees on our street, nor did his marks go as deep into the trunk or base of the trees as he had achieved yesterday morning (Wed March 12). So I am hopeful the trees on our street will survive.

But there are many on P Street that might fall to disease and rot thanks to the actions of this one man.

I called Officer Barnes this morning. He is the officer who called me back on my cell to inform me of the arrest yesterday. I told him I wanted to press charges against this man. And I also wanted to know if he was still in police custody.

Officer Barnes told me that the arrest was made in the 3rd District. And that the accused is a homeless man. Barnes would not give me the name of the person I saw yesterday due to confidentiality laws. He went on to say that the homeless man was released from the 3rd District station yesterday.

The homeless man has been scheduled for a court hearing and will be prosecuted by the District Government for damaging trees on 4th Street, 5th Street, and P Streets NW.

I am calling Commander Kitschner (202 673-6820) today to ask how the man could have been released. His release surprised Officer Barnes, who told me it was not his decision. He would have kept this person in custody. The decision was made by those in charge in the station at that time.

So I can only assume that this man, wearing dark clothing, with multiple layers, 5’5″ or so, heavily bearded and worn face…has another rock in his hand and is setting out to get more tree work done today.

He has attacked hundreds of trees, including trees along M Street which I discovered this morning on my way to work.

If you see this man, call 911 immediately! He needs to be stopped.”

MPD’s response after the jump.

“Several residents have voiced concerns about damage to trees that has been observed in the Bloomingdale and Eckington neighborhoods. This damage consists of circular holes that have been chiseled into the tree bark.

A suspect was arrested for this activity in the 3rd District and these cases are being investigated by the 3rd District’s Detectives’ Office and DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration.

Any additional information related to damaged trees can be reported to 311. If you witness such activity, please call 911 immediately”

80 Comment

  • Hey look at it this way – if he attacks a person, MPD might keep him in custody for like a whole day!

  • I love it. Our society bends over backwards to accomodate the mentally illl so much so that we will allow a single person to destroy every tree in the city if need be. This is frustrating, but not a surprise.

    • How is this bending over backwards? It’s a failure of not doing enough to help someone who is clearly mentally ill. If the man had a heart attack or a stroke, he’d be taken to the hospital and treated. But with his brain being ill, he’s treated as a nuisance and petty criminal. Let’s all try a little compassion for a human being who clearly isn’t well, and focus on getting these people medical help.

      • I agree with you! My reply is more out of frustration that we do not do enough. Instead, we just let these people destroy themselves and us. We do everything we can to accomodate their particular psychosis or neurosis- tolerating bizarre behavior, looking the other way. We do everything but actually treat it. Because we are so backwards in our approach to mental health, we have people like Lanza, Cho, et al running around. I have compassion, but I’m sick and tired of this country’s handling of mental illness. [I’ll save the institutionalization argument for another day.]

      • And since our ridiculous laws allow mentally ill people to refuse treatment unless they are a threat to themselves or others (trees don’t count), this guy can cause thousands in property damage and ruin the city for everybody else. Gee, how compassionate to the people who just want a nice place to live that isn’t wrecked by people who refuse to be cared for…

        • So, if you feel that “danger to self or others” is an inappropriate standard for having psychiatric treatment forced on someone against his/her will, what sort of standard would you prefer?

    • Well, no. If we were “accommodating the mentally ill so much” we would have a wide array of wrap around services that including housing options and treatment — regardless of ability to pay. Instead, we’ve expanded the prison system.

      • +1. It’s not so much “bending over backwards” as being unwilling to pay for proper facilities and treatment.

  • What a joke. Keep him locked up… There’s no way in hell that he’s reporting for his court date.

    • I think the 8th Amendment would prohibit holding someone without bail on a vandalism charge.

      • set the bail high enough that he rots in jail.

        • Rots in jail? Come on, the guy needs help.

        • I think setting bail high enough just so someone “rots in jail” would also violate the 8th Amendment. It sucks what the guy did, and he’s clearly mentally ill and could probably benefit from a 3-day hold for evaluation, but trees are property. Legally nothing more. He defaced and possibly destroyed property. You don’t get held without bail or have bail set specifically so you can’t get out for that.

          • A smart prosecutor could charge him with enough destruction of property to set the bail high enough that he couldn’t get out.

            how much would it cost to replace several hundred mature trees? millions of dollars. 10+ years in prison would be completely justified.

          • 10+ years in prison?? Look I’m not liberal when it comes to prison sentences if we’re talking about someone who has done harm to a person or an animal. However, putting someone who has vandalized public property in jail for ten years is an absolute waste of resources and tax payer money.

          • I’m guessing that reintroducing prison ships to float in the Anacostia is out of question, right?

          • I disagree that jail time is not appropriate. Those trees are irreplaceable. I suggest that the next person who spots this guy vandalizing trees give him a taste of his own medicine.

          • MIke, I think the issue is that he probably isn’t taking medicine.

          • “A smart prosecutor could charge him with enough destruction of property to set the bail high enough that he couldn’t get out. how much would it cost to replace several hundred mature trees? millions of dollars.”
            I’m betting that you don’t work anywhere near the criminal justice system. A “smart prosecutor” likely has no interest in doing what you’re proposing.

        • PDleftMtP

          Yeah…what a jerk for being mentally ill, the bastard!

  • I’m sorry. I certainly would not appreciate someone going around systematically defacing trees or other public property but did this really require a 15+ paragraph diatribe?
    And “attacking” trees? Yes what he was doing is vandalism but I hardly would use such strong language. It’s not like he was going around hacking at people for goodness sake! Also you wanted to “press charges?” For what? The trees are public property even if they’re in your tree box. How do you go about pressing charges against someone if it doesn’t directly affect your property or person?

    • Seriously. Obviously this guy needs to be stopped but that letter is ridiculous. Way more compassion for the trees than for an obviously sick individual.

      • are you kidding me? how would you feel if a large percentage of the trees on your block fell ill because this criminal vandalized them? trees last centuries and contribute immensely to the well-being of everyone in the city.

        • I honestly wouldn’t give a shit. I didn’t pay for them so what ever. I think it’s a dick move but Im not gonna crucify the poor bastard

          • “I didn’t pay for them, so whatever.” Way to be invested in your community… NOT.

          • Where’s the Lorax when you need him? Interesting that you feel more apathy towards the trees on your block that keep the neighborhood looking nice, property values up, air clean, temperature mild, etc., than you do for some “poor bastard” who you have zero connection to. And fyi, if you factor in property value, then you basically did pay for the trees too.

          • that’s a moronic statement. and presumably incorrect. you do pay for these public assets with your tax dollars. what a shitty “it’s not mine” attitude.

          • gotryit

            How have you avoided paying any form of tax ever? That money comes from somewhere.

          • Just FYI, this post at 2:35 is NOT the same person who posted at 1:53 (who I am).
            My point was that here we have some damaged trees and a sick individual. I care about the trees and the sick individual. It’s much easier to fix the trees than it is the sick individual. I’m not saying let him keep doing it, I’m saying you’re kind of an a-hole if you’re upset about the trees but can’t spare a compassionate thought for the person.

          • No, what’s moronic is wasting man power, tax money, and time, tracking, apprehending, containing, trying and possibly sending him to jail where we are spending more tax money feeding and housing this crazy person for carving on trees based on that it “might” kill the tree. THAT IS A WASTE OF TIME.

    • In defense to the author — I live on this block and this was a listserv post to neighbors — he didn’t write it as a blog post but to give context and set up the rest of us to help out if we ran across this lunatic.

      • Ok that makes a lot more sense- thanks for clarifying. I took it as someone who specifically wrote in to PoP. Though, I still find it a bit dramatic even so.

    • Um, the city can press charges.

      • Yes, the CITY can, but not the individual resident who saw it happening. All that person can do is tell the officials what they saw. Everyone needs to get the bees out of their bonnet- sheesh.

  • It’s a complicated tragedy.

  • The City has a Department of Behavioral Health who serves people with mental illness, and a DHS that funds homeless services. So, the police should have made a referral and not simply let him go on his own.

  • It’s odd they wouldn’t tell the OP his name. His name is in the paper today.
    “Bonerje Hernandez, 45, whose last known address was in Northwest, was charged in a criminal citation with destruction of property and released.”

  • I saw the same guy doing the same thing to the roots of one of the larger trees on Rhode Island Ave. at Seaton Elementary School on Wednesday morning. I’m a little sheepish that I didn’t do anything and totally forgot about it.

    At the same time, begging the police “to stop this man before he attacked all the trees in Logan Circle and moved on to Dupont Circle” seems a little melodramatic. You can get through this; I believe in you.

    • LOL @ your second part.
      It’s pretty obvious that the guy is seriously mentally ill. The arrest was fairly pointless, as the guy needs to be committed to an institution rather than a jail cell.

  • The city posted an interesting map of the damage: This person really dedicated some time to this effort to be able to damage so many trees.

    • this is awful – he got all the trees on my block. hopefully i will be able to testify at his trial and make sure he spends many years in prison.

      • Anonymous, did you consider testifying to make sure the man receives psychiatric help? A judge can also order that.

        • This is America. We wish the complete and utter destruction of those who cut us off in traffic, Anonymous is in large company hoping for this mental ill man to rot for the rest of his life. It’s unfortunate.

    • I mean, I think this behavior needs to be stopped, but I really don’t understand why such strong language is being used. “Tragedy”? Really? Either there is a lot of overreaction going on or I don’t understand the ramifications of notching the bark of a tree.
      Are the trees going to die because of it? I really had no idea that could kill a tree…

      • There’s a risk of them getting a sort of “infection” and decaying, but generally unless the “wound” is very serious the tree will most likely heal just like you would from a cut.Trees lose branches all the time and recover from that. Making holes in trees is clearly a dick move, but if you look at the pictures most of the trees weren’t seriously damaged – calling this a “tragedy” is really melodramatic.

        • That’s what I thought. It’s certainly behavior that should be stopped, but a tragedy? I don’t think so.

    • Really? that can’t be any worse than carving a heart in a tree with AA+SS 4EVER in center….

  • I seriously thought I was reading the onion news for a minute. I’m not a fan of defacing trees or property or anything, but this letter was written with so much passion for trees that I couldn’t help but laugh. I hope the author feels as passionately about the lives of human beings and s/he does about the trees.

  • 750 is a LOT of trees. Some of the weird patterns are kind of creepy too. I say keep this nut job off the streets.

  • I noticed all our trees on the 400 block of M St. had been hit the other day. At first I thought it might have been some sort of city service for fungus or insects. Guess not.

  • You all realize we’re talking about trees here? Those of you saying this person should spend years in prison are ridiculous. Should he be kept off the streets? Sure. But don’t you think prisons are already over burdened with people who have committed actual more serious crimes, such as oh, armed robbery, murder, etc? I’d MUCH rather the police concentrate their efforts on locking up individuals who are a threat to other people or animals.

  • Anonymous 2:02 is ridiculous with the statement hoping he “rots in jail”. This man should be prosecuted but he also obviously needs help.

    Maybe all the large construction firms that skirt laws to cut down scores of trees should receive the same backlash? They do it with much larger scale than this guy.

  • We should not make the assumption he is mentally ill. It could well have been a malicious act, not unlike tagging random buildings.

    And, had this happened on the mall to our beloved cherry trees, public outcry would have been very different. Complaining about a tree vandal sounds dramatic, but if/when these trees start dying, the negative impact on quality of life in these neighborhoods will persist for years.

    This is frustrating, sad, and unlikely over. If he’s seen on my block, he won’t be asked politely to leave.

    • Well then we should also not make the assumption that any of these trees are permanently damaged and the long-term impact to neighborhoods will be non-negligible. It could well be that not a single tree will die.

    • If you are comparing this to tagging you need the mental health check up as much as this guy. He’s crazy. Period. Jail is not the answer but he needs to be taken out of society for sure this is not a sign of rational person in control of their actions.

  • I think damaging 750 trees IS egregious, and if this man is mentally competent, he does deserve jail time. Yes, many, many, more terrible things happen on a daily basis in this city. But that doesn’t diminish the seriousness of this man’s actions. Thankfully someone had the guts to do something to try to stop this. Looks as if many more people just shrugged.

    • Thank you. Can you imagine if it had been 750 cars? People would go berserk. I guess there isn’t much sympathy for trees in this town. Too bad, because we have lots of beautiful ones.

      • Screw the cars – that can be easily repaired. Not the case with trees.

      • Or sympathy for people from the sounds of it. You know that vandalizing 750 trees is not something that a sane person would do, right? Nor is it exactly the work of a criminal mastermind. You don’t feel a little sad for someone who spends his time doing this? (Hint: you can feel bad about the person AND the trees at the same time. You don’t have to pick just one or the other.)

  • Large trees can survive a nick. Might cause a branch to die. As long as he doesn’t learn to girdle the entire tree!!!

    This guy should move to Vermont and get into the maple syrup business!

  • Wonder if he thinks he is blazing some sort of trail for his invisible army?

  • If the free range pit bulls would only attack tree vandals, we’d have a perfect world.

  • Thank you for reminding me why I try never to read this website. From the original dehumanizing lock-up-this-prehistoric-tool-weilding creature tone of the original post to the hate in the comments toward both people with mental illnesses and homeless people (not to mention the blithe celebration of long-term incarceration–which, incidentally, isn’t known for its positive therapeutic outcomes), I want to take a shower.

  • what will we (tear&sniffle)…tell our children (tear&sniffle)…on arbor day (moan)

  • All of the trees on N st. across from Dunbar have been hit as well.

  • While the contributors here bicker about mental health policy, maybe someone in the affected neighborhoods might call Casey Trees to find out how to treat the trees right away to prevent infection? Perhaps painting with a disinfectant to seal off the open area that is now open to the entrance of disease? My guess is that the trees could survive this if given fast attention.

  • albany

    Let him get help in an asylum, and in the meantime (until he’s ready to rejoin society) keep him from messing with the trees.

  • So has anyone gotten off of their computers and consulted an arborist? I have treated tree nicks on fruit trees in the past, much like your skin if you seal the wound from outside microbes you can fight off tree infections.

    I hope the guy gets help but I’m not optimistic. Its a shame the police have to be mental health experts on top of everything else.

  • What Vered said.

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