Capitol Weekly profile: Homeless artist Anthony Taylor

You may know him as the guy selling postcards of his art most mornings outside Chicory Coffee, across from the North Steps of the Capitol. Short, stocky, middle-aged and friendly, Anthony Taylor has become a fixture on the Capitol scene. Powerful people sometimes stop and chat with him. His drawings and paintings hang in several Capitol offices and several downtown retailers. Cards of his work can be purchased in the Capitol gift shop.

Taylor is also homeless, sleeping most nights in an aging but expensive tent at a location he won’t disclose. He’s also still trying to fight what he said are a pair of drug offenses that he says he didn’t commit that nearly put him away for life. Despite lacking things like filing cabinets or a roof over his head, he keeps hundreds of well-organized pages of court documents. He said he still hopes to find an attorney who will take up his case against the Sacramento Police and District Attorney’s Office.  

Now 53, Taylor has been at the corner of 11th and L Streets most mornings for almost a year, chatting with people and selling art. He said he makes about $50 a day, mostly on postcards and bookmarks. A local print shop gives him a low rate “because of my situation.” Sometimes he sells drawings or paintings for $300 to $400. His first sale was to Mike Duvall, a few months before the then-Assemblyman was forced to resign after bragging on microphone about alleged sexual exploits. Taylor said Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass was another early buyer.

Life on the streets is hard, he said, but not as bad as the period between 1978 and 2006, most of which he spent in prison. The first crime, he said, he did commit, an armed robbery of a grocery store when he was broke. That started a cycle of joblessness and homelessness that left him associating with people who kept getting him in trouble, he said.

“I didn’t know nothing about the streets,” Taylor said. When the police would come around, he said, his priors made him “a convenient target” for others to point a finger at.

Since 2006 he’s stayed out of trouble. These days, Taylor said, he keeps away from other people who hang out on the streets. It’s just him, the three pit bulls that protect his camp and a small calico kitten named Samantha. Sam has a swollen eye, and he said he was heading to the vet later to get some antibiotics.

“I’m leery of everybody,” Taylor said. “I never know if they’re going to set me up or what.”

Life was never easy, Taylor said. He grew up with his parents and three sisters on a succession of military bases—Herlong, Reno, Susanville. Even though he wrestled in high school, Taylor said, he was no match for his father, an Army staff sergeant with a temper and a taste for alcohol.

“He had a hard core way of bringing things up,” Taylor said. “He’d come home and find a reason to use that extension cord.”

Looking to get away from his home life “as soon as possible,” Taylor said, he lied about his age and joined the Army in 1974 at the age of 17. When he was saying goodbye, his mother told him cryptically, “Don’t come back here, because there won’t be anything left for you.” Less than a year later she was dead of an undiagnosed heart ailment. His sisters scattered; one now lives in England.

He trained as a radar technician, but in the closing months of the Vietnam War, Taylor said he found himself doing something quite different. He was sent to Cambodia as a “tactical specialist.” What this meant in practice was that he and other soldiers in the unit would dress up like Cambodians and head out into the jungle to spy on the movement of the various forces in the area. Like the others, Taylor was chosen for his height — he’s 5’5”. He said he was never really in combat, except for one time he got pinned down alone in the jungle for three days before a helicopter could get him out.

After getting out of the army, Taylor moved to Sacramento. He was studying at American River College in 1978 when a roommate committed a sexual assault. Taylor lost his apartment and was soon broke. That’s when he robbed the grocery store. He knew he had made a mistake moments afterwards when he found himself “running down the middle of the street with a shotgun.”

He served four years, mostly in the California Correctional Center in Susanville. In 1982 he got out, but soon after someone fingered him in a burglary that even the victim said he didn’t commit. He served another three years.

In 1990, he was working on his art and living at a house in the Alkali Flat neighborhood near downtown, with some girls “that modeled for me sometimes.” It was out of that house that two undercover Sacramento narcotics officers claim they were sold two small pieces of crack cocaine — the first one by another man, the second by Taylor himself, who reportedly said he was  the first man’s supplier and gave his street name as “Ice Tea.” According to the police report, Taylor readily supplied his hours of operation and numerous other details about his business.

Taylor said he did go by the name “Ice T,” but never sold drugs. One of the detectives, he said, had been harassing one of the women in the house for sex. The detective came one night claiming to be following a domestic violence call. There were several people present, including a woman Taylor said may have been a police informant, who was allowed to run out the door. They searched the house, he said, and after coming up with nothing, claimed there was crack.

Aside from drinking beer and occasionally smoking marijuana around that time, Taylor said, “I don’t mess with drugs. Never have.” He said he’s never had a “dirty” drug test on parole.
Norm Leong, a sergeant in the Public Affairs division said he couldn’t comment directly on the case. He confirmed that one of the officers was retired, while the other had since been promoted to Lieutenant.  

“How can you comment on a case that’s 20 years old?” Leong said. He added, “You’re talking about someone’s criminal history that he got convicted and served time for. I can get you a bunch of ex parolees who could say the same thing.”

Sentenced to four years, he served only two. He made his way back to Sacramento, where he knew people, this time to the Del Paso neighborhood. Taylor continued with his art, his true love since elementary school, occasionally making money panhandling, and lived in a house with several other people.

One day in 1995, he said, he came home and found “a house full of people smoking cocaine.” The lease was in his name. He considered moving out, he said, but had been letting a woman with two small children, ages three and seven, stay in the house, and he didn’t want to make them homeless.

A month later, police raided the house. The 30 or so officers included a SWAT team. One of the narcotics officers who arrested him the first time in 1990 was also there. He “carried out a personal vendetta” against him, according to a court petition Taylor filed later. According to Taylor, he was handcuffed and, after he was recognized, police planted more crack cocaine on him, even while he was “screaming bloody murder.”

This time, he said, they got him on a three strikes offense and he was sentenced to 26 years to life. For the next 11 years, Taylor said, he cycled between different prisons: Lancaster, back to Susanville, Tracy, then a stint in Folsom, which he said “It was bad when I was there. It’s worse now.”

o;s father passed away in 1997 while he was in prison; the two never reconciled. His time behind bars was spent doing endless hours of art and studying law. He repeatedly filed briefs challenging the evidence against him, the lack of a warrant and the lackadaisical defense he was given by his court-appointed lawyer.

He got out years early, in 2006, though Sgt. Leong said that this is usually done on the basis of good behavior and doesn’t reflect on the validity of the original conviction. After requesting and being denied access to the 1995 search warrant three times, Taylor finally got a court document, dated June 22, 1999, stating “Search warrant information is not available”—proof, he said, that the warrant never existed.

This time, Taylor said, he knew he had to do things differently. He took his $200 in “gate money,” went to an Army-Navy store and bought the nicest tent he could afford—something he said would keep him out of living situations with questionable people. His new path, he said, has meant greater stability and a better class of acquaintances. Right now, he said, he’s house-sitting for someone for three weeks.These days his goal is to keep selling his art and stay out of trouble.

“They took me down for nothing,” Taylor said. “Why can’t I come back up?”

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