He’s been arrested 80 times in metro Atlanta ... and counting

Jail, rehab, anger management: Nothing yet has altered Atlanta man’s path
Tiffany Hendricks, a man who is homeless and has dealt with substance use problems, has been arrested 80 times, often in Midtown Atlanta. Matt Kempner / AJC.com

Credit: Matt Kempner/AJC

Credit: Matt Kempner/AJC

Tiffany Hendricks, a man who is homeless and has dealt with substance use problems, has been arrested 80 times, often in Midtown Atlanta. Matt Kempner / AJC.com

He’s been banned from the premises of multiple Atlanta businesses. Some Midtown residents try to avoid him. Police recognize him on sight, which hardly comes as a surprise.

Tiffany Hendricks bears a dubious distinction: He’s been arrested 80 times.

Roughly 30 times, he’s been accused of criminal trespass — that is, showing up places where he’s not wanted, according to Fulton County jail records. Homeless for nearly three decades, Hendricks struggles with addiction and says he sometimes hears voices.

Almost 20 times, the 48-year-old has been booked for public indecency, which in some cases involved flashing his private parts to passing motorists. Another 10 times or so, he was picked up for drug possession. On several occasions, he’s been accused of burglary.

On top of all of that, more than 100 times he’s also been accused of municipal code infractions — violations that often don’t include a trip to jail, things such as drinking in public, running afoul of MARTA passenger conduct rules, being disorderly while under the influence. Over and over, he didn’t show up at court.

Hendricks and others like him present a conundrum for law enforcement and communities: What do you do with people who have underlying issues that contribute to them repeatedly and frequently breaking the law?

In January, Atlanta police officers responded to a call at the closed Hudson Grille on Peachtree Street. When they arrived, they found the burglary alarm blaring and Hendricks nearby.

He was arrested for allegedly stealing six bottles of alcohol from the restaurant. “I didn’t do nothing wrong,” he insisted to the arresting officer.

Later, another officer peered into the back seat of the patrol car. A handcuffed Hendricks peered back.

“Really?” the lawman said to other officers in earshot. “Hey, I arrested him like a month ago.”

Dropped cases

There are many repeat offenders in metro Atlanta. But only 16 people charged in the city last year had more total arrests than Hendricks, according to a police spokesperson, including one man with 147.

Nothing that police, jailers, prosecutors, courts, counselors and social workers do seems to make a difference in Hendricks’ trajectory. He’s been in rehab programs about 15 times, by his own count, including twice last year.

Out of the last 25 years, he was behind bars around 2,100 days — roughly five and a half years, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of local jail and state corrections records shows.

Two cases against Hendricks were dropped this year, one because a police officer didn’t show up for a hearing and one because a prosecutor didn’t. When cases have gone through, judges have often sentenced Hendricks to the time he already served in jail while he awaited trial. Sometimes, they’ve ordered him to go into drug intervention programs rather than spend more time in a cell.

Many prosecutors and judges tend to focus on putting violent felons away and are often less inclined to pack crowded prisons and jails with offenders whose crimes may be tied to mental health problems, addictions or homelessness, because they believe incarceration won’t help much.

Repeat offenders can be subject to stricter penalties under Georgia law. But again, typically, violent offenders are most targeted.

This year, Georgia’s law changed to expand the number of offenses that will require cash bails, making it harder for defendants awaiting trial to be released if they don’t have money or property.

Asked by a WSB-TV reporter about Hendricks’ long criminal history, Atlanta Police Department Chief Darin Schierbaum suggested there’s only so much police can do.

“I don’t know if those who are making sentencing decisions just don’t have the facts like the police department does or know the impact Mr. Hendricks has on the community,” Schierbaum told the outlet.

“When we make an arrest, it should never be to lock a person up and throw away the key. It should be to get them help for whatever’s causing them to offend in our neighborhoods. And I think there’s been opportunities missed, time and time again, by the courts and by the programs that are supposed to be assisting Mr. Hendricks and those that are supposed to be monitoring his compliance. It’s not happening.”

The police department referred questions about Hendricks’ prosecutions to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Spokespeople for the DA did not respond to messages left.

People who have been jailed numerous times often struggle with significant mental health issues, serious substance addictions or both, said Moki Macias, the executive director for the local nonprofit Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative.

More efforts are underway to create alternatives to calling on law enforcement when a person with mental health or substance abuse issues steps out of line. In Atlanta, residents can dial 311 and a team will be dispatched to try to de-escalate the situation and steer the person to other resources. But the service isn’t available around the clock, and the teams don’t attempt to force the person to do something he or she doesn’t want to do.

There’s nothing quick or easy about ending the cycle of addiction, Macias said.

What helps is ongoing contact, making sure people have access to support when they are ready to accept it and not giving up on them.

“It will take years. And some will end up dying trying,” Macias said. Others will turn their lives around.

A judge’s warning

Early in 2020, in the middle of the night, a Midtown resident was awakened when he heard noises coming from a closet in his apartment. He grabbed a knife and opened the closet door.

The man found Hendricks inside, holding some shirts. Police came and arrested him. Nothing in the closet was taken.

An attorney for Hendricks later told a judge that her client, hoping to get shelter on a rainy, cold January night, had entered an unlocked door at the apartment complex, not knowing that it was a back way into a resident’s apartment. Hendricks thought he had settled into a tight space that housed the complex’s heating and air conditioning systems, the attorney said.

The judge — after telling Hendricks that he was lucky he wasn’t killed by the resident, because “that’s really a person’s nightmare, having somebody invade your home” — sentenced him to serve a year. But Hendricks was given credit for the eight months spent in jail awaiting trial. The rest of the sentence was commuted, on the condition that Hendricks complete an intensive residential rehab program.

The judge also issued a warning to Hendricks: He’d be headed for a state penitentiary if he had another violation “for anything.”

“Your honor, not going to happen,” Hendricks assured.

In fact, it did happen. Hendricks was arrested three more times before this year’s incident at Hudson Grille.

Tiffany Hendricks, a man who is homeless and deals with addiction, has been arrested 80 times, often in Midtown Atlanta. Matt Kempner / AJC.com

Credit: Matt Kempner

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Credit: Matt Kempner

‘A lot of lessons’

Hendricks has at times expressed regret and embarrassment for his long rap sheet. He said he wants to get his life together. But he also has suggested others don’t like seeing someone who is homeless or twirls around on the street.

“I have to stop ... doing things that cause problems,” he said, during a midday interview, before which he’d already been drinking.

People in and around Midtown have varying views on him.

A bartender at a local restaurant described Hendricks as a positive person who is fond of dancing in the streets. A paralegal cites years of friendly encounters and recalled a morning when he was rushing to work and Hendricks pointed out to him that he had forgotten to lock his car door.

But the paralegal also has seen shouting matches between Hendricks and others in the neighborhood who get angry when he camps out on the front stoops of businesses.

A convenience store manager said he’s banned Hendricks because he scared off customers. Patrons have told the manager that Hendricks cussed them out when they didn’t give in to his panhandling. Once, Hendricks was arrested for simple battery for spitting on someone. A judge ordered him to attend anger management sessions.

Asked by an AJC reporter about some of the interactions, Hendricks explained that he’s gotten upset when people were dismissive of him and didn’t provide assistance when he was particularly bad off.

“That’s when I was emaciated, drunken, dirty, you know, being looked down upon,” he said. “Why can’t you help?”

Other than being homeless and a schizophrenic with substance abuse problems, PTSD and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Hendricks said, he’s also HIV positive.

Hendricks’ mother, too, had a hard life, he said. She was a prostitute who was addicted to drugs, he said. She was stabbed to death when he was a young child. Hendricks said his mom gave him a first name usually bestowed on girls, but he didn’t know why. Even before she died, he lived with an uncle and aunt who moved with him from California to Decatur.

The aunt, Jean Hendricks, now 79, said she and her husband took Hendricks to church regularly. He was a Boy Scout who abided by curfews and went to school, she said. But he had behavioral disorders even in elementary school, she said.

He ended up using drugs and alcohol, probably as a teenager, she said. What she thinks he needs now is intensive substance abuse treatment that he isn’t allowed to quit. “I keep telling him there are rules he has to follow.”

She prays for him every day and insists he will change, eventually. “It’s never too late for him.”

Friends who have tried to help Hendricks say he has exhausted their patience.

“He’s been a lot,” said Rebecca Rossetti, a trained microbiologist who met Hendricks near where she lives in Midtown after he commented on her clothing. He was a homeless man who knew fashion designers. One day he asked her: Is that Marc Jacobs or Stella McCartney?

She found him funny and intelligent and, even after learning about his many arrests, never considered him dangerous or abusive. He was a regular along Ponce de Leon Avenue, and he’d warn her if he spotted sketchy people in the area.

For five years or more, Rossetti said, she tried to help him, making sure he took medications, fielding frequent calls from him, spending $2,000 or more to give him food, phones and other supplies.

But recently Rossetti pulled back. She gave him $10 and told him that would be her last such gift. She was frustrated with his constant requests and all the excuses for why he’d leave programs: Case workers weren’t attentive, roommates weren’t nice.

“I learned a lot of lessons,” she said. “You can’t change people. … You can help them. But they have to help themselves. They have to take the initiative.”

Still, she said she remains baffled by a legal system still arresting Hendricks, as if somehow that will make a difference.

Tiffany Hendricks, a man who is homeless and has dealt with substance use problems, often received help from Midtown resident Rebecca Rossetti, shown in this photo taken in February of 2024. But Hendricks, who has been arrested 80 times, eventually frustrated Rossetti, who questioned whether he was really trying to change. Matt Kempner / AJC.com

Credit: Matt Kempner

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Credit: Matt Kempner

It doesn’t appear that Hendricks has been found guilty of anything violent.

Still, Hendricks recently spent two and a half weeks in Fulton County’s jail awaiting hearings on his latest misdemeanor charge, sexual battery.

His attorney, a public defender, told the judge that Hendricks planned to fight the charge. She asked that he be released on his own recognizance, without cash bail, under conditions that he go directly into a free residential drug rehab program along with a program for people with HIV.

The prosecutor protested, rattling off details of Hendricks’ voluminous criminal history. She pointed out that his latest arrest, which a police report said was for grabbing a woman’s buttocks while he was highly intoxicated, occurred while he was enrolled in a diversion program.

She suggested a $1,000 bond, which likely would have meant Hendricks would have stayed jailed until his case is resolved.

The judge, instead, decided to release Hendrick without requiring him to put up bail. She ordered weekly random screenings for drugs and alcohol and mandated that he take part in both the residential rehab and health programs.

“Mr. Hendricks, this is one of those rare miracles where there is not one shining light, but two shining lights that are bestowed upon you where you have the benefit of an amazing, spectacular program to help you get back on your feet and be a valuable citizen to the community,” the judge said, referring to the rehab and health programs.

Hendricks, in a blue jail outfit like many he has worn over the years, nodded. Then he spoke words he has uttered plenty of times in the past. “Thank you, your honor.”