Trees fell onto tents in Wallace Marine Park during an intense storm on Valentine's Day weekend. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Tino Montero didn’t know unsheltered people lived in Wallace Marine Park when he signed up for a contract job cleaning up city parks almost two years ago. 

But on Thursday, he squared off against a man living in a tent in the park. He was bit multiple times by the man’s dog. In an interview with Salem Reporter, Montero said the man held him down and tried to bite his face and gouge out his eyes.

The attack raises questions about the safety and security at Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway Park where the city has allowed unsheltered people to camp since last March in an effort to limit the spread of Covid.

At the start of the year, Salem released a plan to “unwind” camping at the two parks. The plan hinges on finding new shelter sites and additional shelter beds becoming available later this year. It also calls for finding the location for a managed camp, where a social services group provides onsite staff and connects people to programs.

Monday night, the Salem City Council approved a managed camp on Portland Road that can hold up to 48 people as currently planned.

However, homeless service organizations estimate there are about 200 to 300 people in each park.

Montero and his coworker, Christian Arevalo, were 15 minutes from the end of their shift when Montero told Jacob Collazo, 56, to move the garbage from the front of his tent or he would have to drive over it in the ATV they were in, according to Montero.

The men work for Galt Foundation, a nonprofit the city contracts with for services like cleaning up trash in the parks.

A Salem police report described a verbal altercation in which Collazo “struck” Montero several times.

Montero said Collazo started cursing him out from his inside this tent and threatened to kill him. Collazo then unzipped the tent and got out, said Montero.

Montero said Collazo threw wire cutters at his chest and started swinging a four-foot branch at him. Collazo’s Pitbull barked nonstop.

 “Is this really happening?” Montero recalled thinking. He grabbed a shovel out of the ATV to defend himself.

The confrontation escalated from there. According to Montero’s account in an interview with Salem Reporter:

Collazo dropped the branch, grabbed a rake out of the ATV and hit Montero’s hand as Montero swung the shovel at his shoulder.

Then Montero tackled the man. Collazo’s dog bit him in the arm three times and Collazo got on top Montero.

“Then he was trying to bite my face and scratch it,” Montero said “And then he was like trying to poke my eyes out and bite my face. That’s when I realized I couldn’t get him off me.”

Arevalo pulled Collazo off Montero, but the dog bit him in the leg.

The pair got into the ATV and drove off.

Montero said his skin was cut open from the dog bite, but he was wearing a sweater and jacket at the time that didn’t tear. Arevalo said he got a tetanus shot for the bite on his leg.

Collazo was cited and released for fourth-degree assault, police said. He has been charged with fourth-degree assault seven times in the last three decades, according to court records.

The next day, Arevalo was back at work, cleaning parks. He spent the day looking over his shoulder.

“We’re getting paid minimum wage to get swung at, bit by dogs,” he said.

Shaken from the experience, Montero worries that Collazo might retaliate.

“I honestly didn’t even feel like I had to worry about anything like that happening,” he said.

Kim Harman, a representative for Oregon AFSCME Council 75, said there have been a number of Salem employees who have been accosted at the park with guns, knives and threats.

Unlike the Galt employees, city workers represented by the union have access to mental health care to deal with such attacks, she said.

Harman started a GoFundMe to raise money for their medical expenses. It collected more than $1,500 over the weekend and was closed.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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