During the three years A.C. Black has lived at the Mission Hotel, he has seen it all — rampant drug use, domestic abuse and fights. But the murder of Rodney Curiel in January was an unusual occurrence.
In fact, Curiel’s murder was the first in a Mission single-room occupancy hotel in two years. But it was just the beginning: This year, three out of five reported murders in the Mission have occurred in SROs, police records show. The others were a street shooting and a stabbing. Another case that the Medical Examiner’s office said is still under investigation — Greg Pool’s “suspicious” death at the Crystal Hotel in June — could bring the tally to four if it is determined a murder.
Community activists said there is no simple explanation for the sudden increase in murders at the Mission’s SROs, but tenant conflicts, lack of police trust and a “no snitching” mentality might have contributed to it.
There are nearly 50 single-room occupancy hotels in the Mission District, with many of them along Mission Street and 16th Street. Often the tenants are among the most marginal of residents.
There were no murders at Mission SROs in 2008 or 2009, making 2010 the most violent in recent memory, police records show.
Of the four 2009 Mission killings, three were gang-related street shootings and the fourth was a street stabbing. In 2008, there were 17 street shootings and stabbings, and a domestic violence incident at Bernal Dwellings.
At least two of the victims at SROs this year reportedly had prior conflicts with their attackers. In at least one of the incidents, a former resident questioned why the assailant — another resident — was allowed to stay in the hotel.
Jeb Creech alleged that Henry “Mickey” Hall assaulted him and another tenant. Hall is accused of raping and killing Amy Mustain at the Krishna Hotel on September 14. Hall also allegedly had slashed the tires of a van used by Mustain and her partner.
These incidents should have raised red flags for the hotel owners about Hall, Creech said.
Luis Montoya, who was found dead near the third-story stairwell of the Prita Hotel on May 26, also had prior conflicts with his alleged perpetrator, Roger Pacheco-Paz, according to a report by Bay City News.
Staff at the Krishna and Prita hotels declined to comment.
“A Culture of Chaos”
“There is such a culture of chaos and of violence,” said Josh Vining, a community organizer with the Mission SRO Collaborative. “It becomes so common that it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.”
When Mustain was raped and murdered, Lala, a resident at the Krishna Hotel, told Mission Loc@l that she heard the altercation but did not call the police. Creech said that Lala had called her husband, but he advised her to stay out of it because Hall had allegedly pushed her off the stairs before.
Police said they did receive an anonymous call telling them about the body, as well as a subsequent call in which the caller said he would turn himself in, but did not.
Black, who lives at the Mission Hotel where Curiel was strangled, said that not intervening in violent situations is common practice for many tenants. He added that he sometimes hears couples fighting and assaulting each other, but he stays out of the way because he “knows better.”
No Police Trust, and No-Snitching Culture
“The thing is, if [you] talk to the police you are considered a snitch,” Creech said. “If there is a problem, you are supposed to just take it.”
Residents said that police haven’t exactly earned their trust.
Black said a woman once called the police because her partner was beating her. But when the police came, they took her instead because she had a warrant.
“I am a crook, and crooks don’t call the police,” Black said. “They make a snitch out of you.”
Creech said that he called the police when Hall allegedly assaulted him, but they questioned him instead.
Mission Police Captain Greg Corrales did not return repeated messages asking for comment.
Troy Dangerfield, a police spokesman, declined to comment about the SRO murders, but said residents should not be afraid to call the police.
“We try to reach out, we try to make them understand that trust is important,” Dangerfield said. “If they don’t trust us, there is an anonymous tip line — that shouldn’t be a reason.”
Black and his friend, Luis Fraius, said they don’t feel safe but that they still wouldn’t call the cops, and remain pessimistic about changes in the SROs.
“I been living here five years and nothing has changed,” Fraius said. “It’s always going to be the same.”