Video shows man with hose spraying person sitting on S.F. sidewalk

A San Francisco art gallery owner has admitted that he blasted water from a garden hose at a homeless person on the sidewalk, an episode that ignited fury after it was captured in a video that rapidly ricocheted online this week.

In an interview Tuesday with The Chronicle, Collier Gwin — the owner of Foster Gwin Gallery on Montgomery Street in the posh Jackson Square neighborhood — acknowledged spraying a homeless woman with water after an encounter in which, he said, she turned over garbage cans outside his gallery and refused to move.

San Francisco resident admitted that he blasted water from a garden hose at a homeless person on the sidewalk, an episode that sparked outrage after it was captured in a video that was circulating widely this week. Video: Rachel Swan

“I said you have to move; I cannot clean the street; move down,” said Gwin, describing the confrontation late Monday morning with a woman he later identified as “Cora.” “She starts screaming belligerent things, spitting, yelling at me…. At that point she was so out of control…. I spray her with the hose and say move, move. I will help you.”

A chef from a nearby bakery documented the confrontation and posted the footage online shortly thereafter. By midafternoon Tuesday, the video had drawn 10.7 million views on Twitter and been shared thousands of times. It shocked and rankled many observers, some of whom described the action depicted as “horrific” and “disgusting.” The owners of Barbarossa Lounge, a business clearly identifiable in the video, released a statement denouncing Gwin’s behavior and deeming it “inhumane.”

“I don’t care how frustrated somebody is, this is not the way human beings treat other human beings,” Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Jackson Square, said on Tuesday night. “It’s unconscionable, it’s abuse.”

Peskin said his office has tried to help the woman, who he knew as “Q” for several years. He said she’s well known in the neighborhood.

Attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights issued a statement, contending that San Francisco’s
policies toward homelessness
create the conditions for victimization like that shown in the video.

“Violence like this assault occurs in the context of government, societal, and press participation in scapegoating unhoused residents and treating them as though they are objects to be swept, jailed, and harassed,” the statement read.

In the Chronicle interview, Gwin complained that the woman behaved erratically and had a tendency to leave possessions on the sidewalk. He referred to himself as “a champion” who tried to help her by letting her sleep in his entryway for multiple days, calling social services and communicating with police officials in a bid to get assistance for her. But the situation only worsened, he said.

He said the woman has refused to leave the area, is often belligerent and often turns over garbage cans that he then has to clean up.

“You know, spraying her’s not the solution, but spraying her was something that woke her up, and that calmed her down,” he said. “So am I sorry? I’m only sorry that… my way of helping her countlessly has gotten nothing done.”

Police officers from Central Station arrived shortly after noon Monday, responding to reports of a possible assault, representatives of the department said in a statement. Officers “met with a male suspect and a female victim who were involved in a dispute,” the statement read. Police said they interviewed both people and they declined “further police action.” Officers filed a police report. The case is being investigated, Peskin said.

Additionally, workers from the San Francisco Crisis Response Team arrived and offered services to the woman, who was referred for follow-up assistance, the statement read.

Gwin walked with a Chronicle reporter Tuesday over to where the woman was — around the corner from his gallery, on Washington Street. There, a person was huddled in a doorway, swaddled in blankets. She appeared to be the same woman from the video.

Addressing her as “Cora,” Gwin tapped the bundle of blankets.

“Talk to me, please,” he said. The person who emerged asked to be called “sir,” then yelled to Gwin that she planned to call a lawyer. When the Chronicle reporter approached, she waved and said, “have a good one, sir.”

Minutes later, when Gwin showed the viral video to Michael Imperiale, co-owner of the nearby Tricolore Caffee & Pizzeria, Imperiale winced and put his head in his hands. Although Imperiale said he is familiar with the woman in the video, and that she has caused disturbances on the street, he appeared repelled by Gwin’s actions.

“Collier!” Imperiale exclaimed. “That’s not good!”

The viral footage was the latest in a spate of local videos depicting contentious interactions between San Francisco residents and homeless people that have catapulted the city into the national spotlight.

And Monday’s incident was not the first time a resident or institution doused a homeless person with water. In 2015,
sprinklers installed in the ample doorways
of St. Mary’s Cathedral saturated people trying to camp there, leaving sodden piles of blankets, clothing and other trash.

Google Reviews for Foster Gwin Gallery had plummeted to an average of one star Tuesday morning, with dozens of online users referencing the video.

Edson Garcia, the head chef at Brioche S.F., posted the video and later told the The Chronicle he was making a delivery through the bakery’s catering business when he saw the hose incident. He immediately started recording.

“I was shocked,” he said. “It’s crazy how people can act. I know that lady.”

Shortly after filming the incident, Garcia posted the video to TikTok under BriocheSF, although the original TikTok video has since been deleted. However, the video was re-posted under the viral Twitter account called Clown World.

Garcia said he hoped the video could speak louder than he was able to in the moment, since he was in the car while recording and the light had already turned green.

Legal experts said the spraying could be battery under California law, where it is illegal to, for example, spit on or throw a drink on someone. Prosecuting such a case without the victim’s help is possible but difficult.

State law defines battery as a “willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” It is often charged along with assault, defined as an “unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.”

The misdemeanor crimes are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Attacks causing serious injuries can be charged as felonies punishable by two or more years in state prison.

Unless the spraying was accidental, experts said, the man could defend himself only by showing that he had an honest and reasonable belief that he was preventing harm to himself, his property or someone else, and that there was no reasonable possibility of escaping or preventing harm except by using force.

Sally Vecchiarelli, a Fresno attorney whose firm handles assault and battery cases, told The Chronicle that the video presented a clear-cut case of battery.

“Any attempt at a defense is futile, given that we have a recording of the event,” she said. “We can hear her protests and most telling, his statements after spraying the woman, ‘Hey, just move, move!’ as he points in another direction. His words and actions after spraying the woman show his intent was to make her move, and his spraying the water is comparable to him pushing her.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Bob Egelko contributed to this report.

Rachel Swan and Annie Vainshtein are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:, Twitter: @rachelswan, @annievain

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