SALT LAKE CITY — A business in the Ballpark neighborhood is calling for change after the owner said a homeless woman assaulted two people inside his salon. The situation came out of nowhere and was caught on camera.
What used to be an old auto garage is now a place of modern beauty and relaxation.
Randy Topham renovated the building at 1010 S. State Street three years ago and relocated his longtime business Cake Hair Salon from downtown to the Ballpark area.
The move came after a lot of research, he said, and learning about city plans to revitalize State Street.
Since then, Topham has created the salon space he's always dreamed of.
"Still every time I look at it, it feels like a dream when we're inside. Inside is perfect," he said.
It's the outside that he said is a challenge, and it has recently gotten worse.
Topham recounted the various things he's had to deal with. On some occasions, he's had issues multiple times a day.
"Sometimes it's just people coming in the front door, and yelling and screaming obscenities at us," the salon owner relayed. "Sometimes it's people getting into our parking lot and doing things out there. We've had several different transient groups think that it was a good idea to come cut our power lines."
But Topham never experienced the situation that unfolded in Cake's lobby on Saturday.
Newly-installed surveillance cameras show a woman wandering in. She walks off screen, and Topham said the woman sat down in one of the lobby chairs, in a daze.
He walked up to ask how he could help her.
"All of a sudden, she roared and just jumped at me and attacked me," Topham said.
The woman raked her hands across product shelves, flinging items everywhere, he added. He was going to try to usher the woman back outside, but Topham said the woman tried to spin and make a break for the back of the salon.
They got into a struggle.
"We spun into view [of the security camera], and she fell down and I tried to just hold her in place so she couldn't punch and kick me," he recounted.
The video shows Topham holding the woman on the ground. All of a sudden, the woman starts to raise her head toward him.
"She hawked up a loogie and spit all over me, and I kind of jumped up and stepped back," he remembered.
At that point, a first-time salon client gets up from a chair and steps in to help. As the man offers his hand to help the woman up, she grabs it.
But on the way up from the floor, she shoves her other hand into the client's pocket. Topham said the woman then groped the client.
Eventually, the woman is pushed outside and leaves.
Topham said that same woman came into the salon another time, and started to laugh while groping Topham as he tried to get her to leave.
Not only do people walk in from the street like that woman did, but Topham said he's been seeing issues with people camping in an empty parking lot on the other side of the building next to his.
Topham says he's called the police several times, but they are only able to respond a fraction of the time. Officers did respond on Saturday, and Salt Lake City Police confirmed a detective will be taking over the investigation to pursue criminal charges.
But Topham described how some of the lesser aggressive problems aren't properly handled.
"I’ve talked to the police extensively about it," Topham explained. "And they say that their hands are tied, they do everything that they can to help, but they're understaffed and then there's only so much that they're allowed to do, unfortunately, to the transient population."
Upon hearing that, Topham said he also reached out to the Salt Lake City Council as well as the Mayor's Office and the Homeless Engagement and Response Team.
He hasn't been satisfied with what they've told him, either.
"I think that so many of these transient people need our help and I think that we need to give it to them," Topham stressed. "We can't just blindly look the other way and say, 'Leave them alone.' Because what you permit, you promote. If you allow lawlessness, then that's what you get."
SLCPD Sgt. Brandon Shearer said they have received an increase of calls over the past two months in that area. They've taken at least 9 to 10 calls from Cake Hair Salon, mostly for trespassing.
When calls increase in a specific area, he explained that they will devote more resources there.
Shearer talked about how city social workers often try to come out to offer resources to those experiencing homelessness.
"I think the important thing to remember is that being homeless is not a crime," he said.
The Ballpark neighborhood has seen many resident and business complaints about crime for more than a year, and Shearer explained some of the steps taken to engage with the community.
He said just last week, they hosted "Coffee with a Cop" in the Ballpark area.
"Our community liaison officer assigned to that area has been working very closely with the community members to identify what kind of problems they're seeing, and help address those in a timely manner," he said.
Topham wants to see more action at an administrative and city council level.
He's hoping that the city can work on policies to address the problems as he works to keep his salon that perfect dream space — both inside and out.
"I'm hoping that we can make some changes moving forward so we don't have those challenges," he said.