Authorities Investigating Homeless Man’s Death

'Half Brain' Baumann Died in Custody After 'Medical Event'

Investigators with the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department are looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of James Lawrence Baumann, a jovial, belligerent, mentally ill 51-year-old homeless man known to friends on the streets as “Half Brain” because of a brain injury he’d sustained earlier in life. He collapsed while being booked into County Jail last Saturday and never recovered. Medical authorities withdrew life support four days later. An autopsy has been performed on Baumann, who had a serious history of substance abuse and mental illness, but the results will not be available for several weeks.

James Lawrence Baumann

Less than an hour prior to his collapse, Baumann had been subdued by five Santa Barbara police officers at Alameda Park after resisting arrest on misdemeanor battery charges. According to police, Baumann came to their attention that day after a man complained he’d been struck by Baumann while walking down the street with a female companion. Baumann resisted arrest actively and vigorously, according to police spokesperson Sergeant Riley Harwood, “kicking and squirming.” Harwood added, “He’s not a small man.” Baumann is listed as 6′4″ and weighing 240 pounds. He’s well-known to Santa Barbara cops, who had booked him into County Jail more than 60 times since 2002.

Booking reports indicate this may have been the last time Baumann resisted arrest, but it was hardly the first. Harwood stated there was no indication in the 23-page incident report that Baumann was tased, though one officer did pull his Taser out. Nor did the report indicate any blows had been delivered, Harwood said, or that any variant of the chokehold had been deployed. Harwood characterized the force used against Baumann as “grappling.” No officers reported any injuries in the incident. Once delivered to jail for processing, Baumann reportedly resisted again. It remains uncertain what steps Sheriff’s deputies took to subdue Baumann. Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said she could not comment pending the conclusion of the investigation. She did say that Baumann experienced a “medical event” prior to being booked.

Who Baumann was before he hit the streets of Santa Barbara ​— ​or how he got here ​— ​remains something of a mystery. According to one friend, Baumann graduated from high school in Reseda, worked as a private pilot, but sustained a serious brain injury while being ejected from a plane or helicopter. “He was a big ham,” she said, a big kid. “He told good jokes, always clean. But he liked his eight balls.” Others said Baumann had served in the armed forces, where he reportedly had been shot in the head. When it came to drugs, there were few he did not abuse. In addition, he was a serious diabetic. From 2005 to 2007, Baumann was commonly found at the Casa Esperanza shelter, where he fluctuated between manic joviality and a morose moodiness.

While Baumann was frequently cited for drug and alcohol violations, many of the citations against him involved misdemeanor battery charges. It remains unclear what Baumann’s precise psychological condition was, but for a while he’d reportedly been seeing county mental health workers and frequently ate lunch at the mental health complex located by Garden and Cota streets. Recent police reports suggest Baumann was growing increasingly agitated and unhinged in the last four weeks, during which time he’d been booked into jail no less than four times.

On March 16, he was arrested on the 800 block of State Street for vandalizing a trash receptacle with a knife. Officers involved in that incident noted Baumann’s “egregious mood swings,” “unpredictability,” and “impulsivity.” One specifically noted that Baumann appeared to present a danger “to himself or to others.” Typically, that’s the legal finding needed to place an individual in a three-day involuntary “5150” hold in the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility, or PHF Unit.

As a matter of policy, Santa Barbara cops don’t make 5150 determinations, leaving that responsibility to county mental health workers. As a matter of practice, city cops typically seek 5150 holds in the PHF Unit only when a subject seems suicidal; people inclined to harm others are taken instead to County Jail. As a matter of practicality, the county’s PHF Unit is frequently so full that individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others are sent to facilities in Ventura County.


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