SARASOTA - Despite Sarasota’s New Year’s pineapple drop being regarded as a major success, Monday night's celebration also faced a major problem, after a homeless man allegedly stabbed a tow truck driver for no apparent reason.
Police say it was an unprovoked attack and that the suspect, 44-year-old James Cooper, was carrying multiple packets of what they suspect could be synthetic drugs.
Now while Cooper is homeless, police say a crime is a crime regardless of who commits it. But some homeless people we spoke with fear this attack could undermine any progress that's been made between the homeless community and the City of Sarasota.
James Franklin and Cindy Edlund are homeless. They say they keep to themselves, and they hope people know that they're not like the homeless man who allegedly stabbed a tow truck driver Monday night.
"It's embarrassing that that happened," said Edlund, "I don't know what to say."
Officers, including new Police Chief Bernadette Dipino, arrested 44-year-old James Cooper after they say he attacked a tow truck driver just before the stroke of midnight.
"It was a very interesting first night for me to work New Years Eve and be one of the first officers on the scene to an incident like this," said Dipino.
2012 saw multiple run-ins between the police and the homeless, but Dipino says the fact that Cooper is homeless has nothing to do with why he was arrested. "In this case, the facts are what they are," said Dipion, "this was a homeless man, who attacked a tow truck operator and you can't stereotype and say every homeless person is going to do something like this, that's just the facts of the this case."
Still, Edlund and Franklin fear that in the eyes of the downtown community, one bad apple could spoil the whole bunch.
"I think I'm going up here, and then they make me fall down to here, especially by that incident last night," said Franklin.
Cooper was found to be carrying incense not intended for human consumption. Police aren't sure yet whether it's spice, bath salts or something similar, but Edlund and Franklin say getting synthetic drugs off the streets needs to be a high priority for the incoming police chief.
"Please get it out of here," said Edlund, "I've seen too many people act like zombies, if not go paranoid, if not go ballistic."
Cooper was arrested for Aggravated Battery with a Deadly Weapon.
The victim, 28-year-old Joshua Paul Wren, was transported to a local hospital for treatment. There is no word yet on his condition.