To both locals and visitors who sit and mull over moves for hours, Santa Monica’s Chess Park provides a remarkable mix of beauty and brains. The small park just south of the Pier overlooks the beach and attracts chess novices and experts, retirees and children.
“There’s some good players out here,” said Paul Scott who lives just a few blocks from the park. “I can hold my own against most of them.”
Scott began coming to the park every day three years ago after he retired from the electric car and solar energy business. At 64-years-old, Scott is now dedicating his days to mastering the ultimate game of strategy.
But just last Friday Scott was hit with a move he didn’t anticipate – a literal blow to his face.
“I’m an old man,” Scott said in an interview with the Daily Press a few days later. “To get clobbered like that – it took me right back to high school. It was bizarre.”
Scott was playing against another regular around 3:30 p.m. last Friday when he was attacked and punched in the face by a drunken homeless man.
“It was kind of surreal,” Scott said. “There were three homeless men at the table next to us. One, a thirty-ish man dressed only in dirty shorts and sandals and stumbling drunk, started yelling about some drug dealer not showing up. His two companions were quiet. He came over to us saying he’d kick our asses – screaming it actually.”
Scott and Tony jumped up from their table and dialed 911. While Scott was on the phone with dispatch, he says the man lunged at Tony.
“After he struck at Tony, he was floored with a right to his jaw,” Scott said. “One of his friends then pulled out a Taser not ten feet from me. I could hear it crackling. I yelled that into the phone, too. We later saw a hammer on the same guy.”
“All of a sudden, the drunk guy came right at me and clobbered me on the left side of my face. He hit me pretty hard, too.”
When the homeless man took off, Scott and Tony followed. Running and nearly out of breath, Scott looked at his phone he’d been holding up to his jaw – realizing he was bleeding from his cheek. When the two chess players caught up with their attacker, Tony “clocked him hard” according to Scott, knocking him to the ground.
Police finally caught up to the group on Ocean Avenue south of the Pier. The homeless man, Jon Nicholas, was arrested for being drunk in public and had an outstanding warrant for possession of methamphetamine. Police say the 35-year-old man is from Pomona and had previously been contacted by police just a month before on May 23.
Scott decided against pressing assault charges after he says officers told him his attacker would likely spend no more time in jail than if they arrested him on just the other charges.
“I bitched to the police about losing our beloved chess park to these roving bands of dangerous homeless, but didn’t see the point in pressing charges given the reality of our legal system,” Scott said. “Crazy, huh?”
More people are living on the streets in Santa Monica than at any time since the City began keeping count eight years ago. As shelter beds remain at constant capacity, the number of those living in Santa Monica on the streets has surged, up 39 percent from the pervious year. In Los Angeles, the total number of homeless climbed 23 percent over the same time period – nearly 58,000 people sleep on the streets or in shelters.
But while ballot initiatives and elected officials address the overall strategy to house the homeless, everyday tactics become a problem for park-goers. For Scott, he hopes the City will realize something has changed at Chess Park. He says there have always been homeless chess players – many of whom and genuinely love the game and even give pointers to newbies.
“There’s a lot of trash talking and people who are just having fun but what these guys are bringing is a whole different thing,” Scott said. “It’s violent and it’s scary. It’s a different kind of animal. And we need to just be we aware of it and know that it can happen.”
Back at the board a few days later, Scott says regulars were talking about purchasing Tasers of their own. The retiree doesn’t think he’ll be buying one for himself, saying it’s up to police to make the park feel safe again.
“It shouldn’t be our job to carry a weapon and protect our park,” Scott said.