ENCINITAS — A Cardiff woman is making a public plea to local officials to improve public safety measures related to the city’s growing homeless population after suffering an aggressive and lewd confrontation earlier this summer by a transient man living in a school bus parked in front of her condominium.
Natalie Settoon, 48, a longtime Cardiff resident, was granted a civil harassment restraining order against Robert John Gatsos, of Imperial Beach, on June 30 in Vista Superior Court based on “unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence or stalking,” according to court documents.
At approximately 3 a.m. on June 5, Settoon’s dog started barking, alerting her to two unknown individuals, a male and female, speaking in hushed tones outside of her bedroom window.
Settoon, a single mother of two adult daughters, said she turned on the porch light and watched the individuals make a run for it, heading eastward across the parking lot and deeper into the complex.
Later the same morning, Settoon learned that someone had defecated on her neighbor’s front lawn, which is located in the same direction the individuals were seen fleeing hours earlier.
Neighbors told Settoon they suspected the individuals responsible for a recent spate of package thefts and property damage were living in several vehicles parked on the street directly in front of their condominiums.
Settoon, a former department head at a local nonprofit helping provide resources to unsheltered individuals, said she went outside to take a photo of vehicles that were still parked in front of her unit, including a large blue school bus and a white cargo van.
“I thought I’ll just snap a photo,” Settoon said. “Nobody was around. I had no idea they were in the vehicles.”
According to Settoon, a woman rolled down the cargo van’s window and began yelling obscenities at her for taking photos of their vehicles.
“A man then leaps out of the passenger side of the van and starts chasing me across the street,” Settoon said. “He was deranged, yelling and screaming so much that the neighbors came outside. At this point, I’m running trying to get away from him toward my front door.”
Upon reaching her door, Settoon said she turned to face the street and started taking pictures of the man as he proceeded to drop his pants, exposing his genitals and spread his butt cheeks open.
The individual, later identified through DMV records as Gatsos, was allegedly yelling threats and obscenities, including, “I’m watching your house,” and “I’m going to make sure you never get another package again.”
After Settoon and neighbors called 911, Gatsos fled the scene in a large blue school bus. Sheriff’s deputies were later able to identify the suspect and Settoon filed a temporary restraining order on June 7 in Vista Superior Court.
“I had no trouble at first but the problem I found is the Sheriff’s Department won’t serve a restraining order to someone who doesn’t have a permanent address,” Settoon said. “Apparently, people choosing to live in their vehicles are not subject to the same terms of the law.”
The Coast News contacted the Sheriff’s Department for comment but has yet to receive a response.
Gatsos was eventually served the court order but not before violating it four times, according to Settoon. Neighbors and friends spotted Gatsos’ vehicle at several locations around town, including Lazy Acres and Swami’s Beach, at times within 100 yards of Settoon.
Just days after being served, Gatsos returned to Settoon’s street to park his bus for the night.
During one incident at Swami’s Beach, Gatsos’ vehicle was impeding Settoon’s ability to reach her car and leave the parking lot. According to Settoon, she called 911 several times but law enforcement didn’t respond to the scene for more than an hour.
Deputies later explained that Gatsos was allowed to be in a public place despite being within a 100-yard no-contact zone outlined by the temporary injunction.
“It makes me feel like the sheriff’s deputy was saying they can’t really do anything about it because he’s in a public place,” Settoon said. “It negated the fact that I had a restraining order that said he wasn’t supposed to be within 100 yards of me.”
The Coast News attempted to contact Det. Monica de la Torre Chavez, a sheriff’s deputy tasked with investigating the incident but did not receive a response.
Gary Sirota, Settoon’s attorney, told The Coast News while he empathizes with unsheltered individuals, the current homeless situation in Encinitas appears to be the result of a failed system.
“I have empathy for people who either voluntarily or involuntarily find themselves in a situation living on the streets,” Sirota said. “But at the same time, I pay a lot of money to live here. I work really hard. All the empathy in the world has to be balanced by doing something about it. I don’t know the solution (for homelessness) but I know we have a problem. And I look to the government to fix it.”
Settoon, who voiced her concerns with the Encinitas City Council during a June 9 meeting, said she doesn’t feel the city has implemented measures to ensure residents’ safety, including the unsheltered population.
“Quite frankly, I don’t want to deal with this,” Settoon said. “If I wanted that, I’d live down in Venice Beach. I don’t want to be hassled when I walk down the street. I don’t want to worry about being assaulted. I worked very hard to be able to live here. I live in a place where I’m not going to be a victim of crime.
“The City Council is not protecting the taxpaying residents that they hold in their charge or the unsheltered residents that are drawn here. That’s how I feel. And I feel betrayed that my safety is threatened because our council is voting in favor of policies to create a culture of compassion for the unsheltered yet leaving residents vulnerable without appropriate resources.”
CORRECTION: An original version of this article misattributed Gary Sirota as an attorney at Coast Law Group. While Sirota was a founding partner of Coast Law Group, he has not been a member of the firm since Dec. 2020, according to Marco Gonzalez.