July 17, 2017 1:47 pm
Updated: July 17, 2017 4:55 pm

Homeless man at centre of social media uproar charged in assault at Byron pharmacy

Sunny James and London Police at Huron Street and Highbury Avenue on Friday, July 14.

Courtesy of Michelle Wilson on Facebook
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A 64-year-old homeless man who garnered public support after his makeshift shelter was removed by police is now facing assault charges after an incident at a pharmacy in Byron.

READ MORE: Homeless man’s arrest in London garners huge social media response

According to investigators, a man entered the pharmacy at 1224 Commissioners Rd. W. at around 4 p.m. Sunday and began arguing with a cashier. He allegedly assaulted her before leaving the pharmacy.

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Police responding to the incident found a suspect in Springbank Park, and he began yelling obscenities at an officer. They say the man used foul language while in the presence of families with young children and was uncooperative.

It’s alleged the man resisted police while being taken into custody and assaulted one of the arresting officers.

James Gill, also known as Sunny James, has been charged with assault, assaulting a peace officer, causing a disturbance, and resisting arrest.

The victims did not sustain any injuries in relation to the assaults.

The incident comes two days after a brief arrest on Friday evening that caused an uproar on social media.

London police say they were asked by city officials to attend to the scene at Highbury Avenue and Huron Street after James was deemed to have broken city bylaws of obstructing property.

The city’s chief bylaw officer, Orest Katolyk, says putting James’ belongings — including two well-known shopping carts — into a trailer and taking them to a secure place was a last resort after several social agencies were called in.

“What many citizens aren’t aware of is the number of social service agencies that have been involved in this occurrence over the past several weeks. [Their] assistance was denied,” he explained.

Despite a GoFundMe page set up with proceeds going directly to James in the wake of Friday’s events, Katolyk says the city has received largely positive feedback for how they handled several complaints about James’ makeshift shelter.

“Some of those complaints were pertaining to his behaviour, when they were walking on the city sidewalk. There was concern about their safety. Other complaints were the mobility of persons, so people in scooters could not get safely past him.”

While there’s been criticism online directed at the London Police Service and the city itself, Abe Oudshoorn of the London Homelessness Coalition casts the blame on those who made the complaints in the first place.

“What does it take for us as a community to really stretch ourselves and really understand that some people are different. Some people have tough needs, complex needs, difficult mental health challenges, and to help them when they want help and then to maybe let them be when they want to be let be,” he said.

“The tough thing is there really is no simple solution for this, because Sunny is not interested in a lot of the solutions that we might naturally jump to.”

No charges were laid at the time but witnesses described a “terrifying” ordeal that prompted an uproar on social media.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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