When Tom Lackey moved into this ocean front apartment thirty years ago, he thought he’d found paradise.

“Originally it was a dream come true,” Lackey said. “The first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night was the sea. It was peace.”

But the pictures of Lackey’s view on Thursday morning evoke the opposite of tranquility.  His photos, which have been shared with police, show a homeless man openly masturbating at Chess Park. Lackey said he didn’t realize what was happening until he got a closer look through his lens.

“I couldn’t believe this,” Lackey said. “Once again, it was a kick straight into my stomach.”

The Daily Press has chosen not to publish the pictures because of their graphic nature.  They illustrate the grim reality of Chess Park – the beachside park has become a place chess players, parents, and locals avoid. Pictures and videos taken by residents have captured public sex, drug use, paraphernalia and weapons at the .29 acre park near Seaside Terrace.  Players have been attacked in the middle of matches.

Local leaders have been aware of the issue for more than a year. However, little has changed since August 2017, when the Daily Press published the headline “Crime is king at Santa Monica Chess Park.”

In the past, Santa Monica police have said the park faces the same challenges as other public spaces throughout the city, which also see their share of criminal behavior. The temporary presence of police may shift the problem elsewhere, with the criminal element returning once the cops move on. Police say they don’t have the resources to keep police officers in parks around the clock.

In Thursday’s incident, Lackey called police as he snapped photos to document the crime.  After the man ended the lewd behavior, Lackey said he appeared to take drugs and then fell asleep in front of a chess board. Moments later, Lackey’s photos show a father and young son sitting nearby with a stroller and box of crayons.

“It was so vile,” Lackey said. “This is known as a kid’s park.”

Police arrested the 25-year-old man and Lackey handed his photos over as evidence. The location scout hopes police will do more to make the park feel safe and protect children who want to play chess or visit the nearby aquarium.

“This is good versus evil,” Lackey said. “That’s the bottom line. And this was horrifying.”


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press