On a chilly afternoon in downtown Tulsa, the hotel manager noticed a homeless man talking to guests as they were unloading luggage in front of the Hampton Inn & Suites.
The sidewalk was busy and the hotel was fully booked with a concert that night at the BOK Center, just one block from the Hampton’s front door. It was, in other words, a good day and a good spot for panhandling.
“Hey, friend,” the manager said. “Can I help you?”
Stephanie Pomeroy always smiles and greets the homeless people near the hotel as “friend.”
She knows some of them by name.
“They don’t mean any harm,” Pomeroy says. “They just mind their own business. Most of them.”
Downtown’s homeless population has grown significantly over the past two years, and hotel guests have noticed, she says. The issue appears in reviews and social media comments. “Running interference,” as she calls it, has become a routine part of her job.
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In this case, the man said he was lost. And Pomeroy offered directions toward a homeless shelter a few blocks north. But not long afterward, she noticed him again, still in front of the hotel.
He was sitting on the curb with his pants pulled down around his knees.
“Hey, friend,” Pomeroy said, walking toward him. “You can’t do that here.”
She has no clear memories of what happened next.
“I was on the ground,” she says. “Screaming, screaming, screaming.”
Attack and arrest
Walking near the hotel around 3:30 in the afternoon March 23, a man and his fiancée heard Pomeroy yelling for help. At first, they thought it was all part of the noisy hustle and bustle of downtown, according to witness accounts. It took several moments, with the man continuing to stomp on Pomeroy’s head, before the couple rushed to intervene.
The attacker fled. And police found Pomeroy “bleeding in the street,” according to court records. She was taken to a hospital with a concussion, a broken nose and fractures in her facial bones.
Witnesses followed the attacker, which allowed police to arrest 47-year-old Lacount McClendon a few blocks from the hotel.
Chronically homeless, McClendon has been in and out of the Tulsa County jail more than 30 times. His criminal record dates back at least to 1992, when authorities dropped assault and battery charges after he agreed to enter a mental-health facility, according to court records. Most recently, McClendon received a suspended sentence for indecent exposure last September.
Pomeroy had never seen him before. But McClendon was a familiar face at the John 3:16 Mission, the homeless shelter a 10 minutes’ walk north from the hotel.
The shelter keeps a close watch on guests, both through surveillance cameras and ever-present staff members. If McClendon had been a trouble-maker there, John 3:16 would have noticed.
“He never gave us a problem,” says the Rev. Steve Whitaker, the mission’s senior pastor, president and CEO.
‘We all own this’
Interacting with Tulsa’s homeless population has become an almost daily experience for people who live or work downtown, but it’s rare for an encounter to turn violent.
Whitaker can remember only one similar incident in the past three decades.
“You could maybe find another one or two cases,” he says. “The point I want to make is how incredibly rare such violence is.”
Shelters like John 3:16 don’t provide just food, clothing and a place to spend the night. They offer a contact point between the homeless population and a wide range of social services, including job placement, drug treatment and mental-health screenings.
Shelters watch for signs that someone might be spiraling toward a mental-health crisis and then “gently and cordially steer people” toward treatment, Whitaker says.
That apparently didn’t happen with McClendon. He pleaded guilty April 12 and will face 20 years in prison for aggravated assault and battery.
“Did we miss something?” Whitaker wonders.
By “we,” of course, he didn’t mean just John 3:16. Over the years, McClendon had come into contact with a whole battery of social services and nonprofits that serve the city’s homeless population.
“I’m afraid to say it,” Whitaker hesitates, “but I have to say it: We all own this a little bit. We all do. One person was very seriously injured, and another person will spend a long time in prison. And we all have to ask ourselves how we could have done a better job for both of them.”
Nearly six weeks after the attack, Pomeroy hasn’t returned to work.
“My face and my eyes are still bruised,” she says. “And I’m just sore, especially my head. Mentally, I am not processing things as quick as I used to.”
In a victim impact statement for the sentencing hearing, Pomeroy told the court that the Hampton Inn had been her “home away from home” and her “favorite place.”
“It’s a very weird feeling being there,” she says. “It’s not that I feel unsafe or scared. I just feel uneasy.”
After what happened to her, Pomeroy says, a lot of Tulsans might be feeling that way.