A 29-year-old tenant living on Veterans Village of San Diego property was killed last week following a confrontation with her neighbor, according to the San Diego Police Department.
The victim was Jennelle Self, an Army veteran with a two-year-old son. Self had previously spoken with inewsource about problems she faced at the apartment complex, including mold in her living space and threatening behaviors by others on the property.
Last month, inewsource published a four-part investigation about Veterans Village, a renowned nonprofit that provides housing, employment and addiction services. The reporting uncovered widespread drug use and unsafe living conditions at the organization’s rehab center on Pacific Highway.
Why this matters
Veterans Village of San Diego receives more than $17 million a year in funding from city, county and federal governments, which supports rehabilitation, employment, housing and other services.
The apartment complex in Southeast San Diego where Self and the suspect were living was part of the Welcome Home Family transitional housing program run by Veterans Village. The program, funded by the Veterans Administration, provides case management, therapy and other services to veterans and their families.
Three employees at Veterans Village, current and former, said they were not surprised to hear what had happened, given the state of the transitional housing program.
“It’s kind of like a fire, you know, just kind of a disaster waiting to happen,” said Susanne Haman, a former therapist at Veterans Village who worked with tenants in the apartment complex.
Haman said the residents needed high quality mental health services, but the care provided had declined in recent years.
At the same time, police activity became more common at the complex. Records show that police calls at the property have more than doubled in the past four years.
“There were all these volatile personalities,” said Haman, speaking generally about her experience with residents in the program. “It was explosive.”
Debra Berg, Self’s friend, said the two of them were leaving the apartment complex near Valencia Park on June 27 when Self and her neighbor started arguing. Berg said she did not see what prompted the argument, but she heard Self yell, “Call 911!”
Self stepped in front of her neighbor’s car and pointed a camera toward the vehicle, Berg said. The driver started slowly inching forward, while Self stood in front, slowly backing away and keeping the camera pointed at the car.
“The lady yells, ‘Get outta the way!’” Berg said. “And Jennelle’s like, ‘You’re not going anywhere!’”
Then, the car hit Self twice, causing her to fall over on the street unconscious.
“I just gasped and I couldn’t believe it,” Berg said. “And I’m sure Jennelle couldn’t either.”
Self was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead. Her 44-year-old neighbor Samantha Muniz stayed at the scene while officers investigated and is facing charges in connection with Self’s death.
Berg, who got to know Self when they lived nearby each other in Golden Hill, said Self was a strong person with integrity who loved her son unconditionally. The boy was in a parked car in the lot at the time of the incident.
“I’m really angry for that kid,” Berg said. “He is never going to know his mother.”
Self’s friends said she had recently purchased a house in Georgia and was in the process of moving her belongings across the country. They created a fundraiser to help her family pay for expenses related to her death, including travel and storage.
Self’s toddler is now living out-of-state with family, according to her friend Tina O’Connor.
O’Connor became close with Self when they attended San Diego reggae concerts together. She said Self had warned her repeatedly about an unstable and violent neighbor.
Court records show Self had attempted to file for two restraining orders earlier this year against her neighbor Muniz, both of which were eventually dismissed. A temporary restraining order was in effect against Muniz until May 13.
O’Connor said her friend “wasn’t afraid to use her voice for things that she needed to, and I really admired that about her.”
Prior to her death, Self spoke with inewsource three times about her experience in the Veterans Village housing program.
Self joined the program as a last resort to escape domestic violence, she said. She described facing harassment from others on the property, and she was concerned that employees were allowed to enter her apartment without permission.
After her apartment tested positive for mold, Self said she had to move out of the complex for more than two months while it was cleaned.
Veterans Village leadership provided inewsource with documentation showing that it addressed the mold issue by hiring a remediation company and offered to temporarily relocate Self while the work was being done.
Self also described a confrontation with a resident manager that resulted in her falling and getting injured. The manager was eventually terminated.
“I have brought up safety concerns that have yet to be addressed,” Self said in February.
By multiple accounts, Self and Muniz had gotten into repeated arguments over the past year and had made complaints against each other, and both of them had failed to comply with the rules for the transitional housing program.
According to Veterans Village leadership, Self and Muniz had each refused to accept permanent housing options when offered and the two of them were in the process of being evicted.
“VVSD utilized every resource it had within the limitations of local law and the moratorium on evictions due to COVID, to protect all tenants, including frequent updates and requests for assistance from the San Diego Police Department,” Veterans Village CEO Akilah Templeton said in a statement.
Read the full statement from Veterans Village here.
Templeton said she was deeply saddened to learn what happened, adding that the nonprofit placed security guards at the property after the incident.
“We are devastated by this news and are providing counseling to those affected by the tragedy and are fully cooperating with the police investigation,” Templeton said.
Because she had been defunded from the program, Self was limited in what services she could receive through the nonprofit.
Self told inewsource in February that she believed she was being wrongfully evicted for speaking up about her concerns, although she acknowledged she didn’t follow all the housing program rules. And when she tried to talk to the VA about her experience with Veterans Village, Self said she was not taken seriously.
The VA said it could not discuss the specifics of any veteran’s situation due to privacy concerns.
“We are truly saddened by the loss of life in this situation,” spokesperson David Haas said. “VA San Diego Healthcare System takes every action available to provide support for Veterans who voice concerns with their living arrangements.”
Haman, the former therapist with Veterans Village, said she brought up safety concerns about the housing program multiple times to management, and she warned them about the lack of services offered to residents with complex mental health needs.
She said her complaints were not addressed during her time as an employee.
Haman said the majority of the tenants had a history of military sexual assault, domestic violence or both.
“That’s why the program was there,” Haman said, “to help them deal with their emotions to help them transition into normal housing.”
But the mental health care that tenants are offered has deteriorated over time, she said, as the nonprofit has failed to replace workers who left and piled more tasks onto employees with full caseloads.
In July 2021, Haman put in her two-weeks notice and emailed higher-ups with her complaints. Among other concerns, she said resident managers of the Welcome Home Family program had demonstrated “unprofessional behavior, boundary violations, bullying and harassment of staff and clients.”
Haman said shortly after she sent the email, she was escorted off the property and not allowed to return. Another employee corroborated Haman’s story and said she witnessed Haman’s removal from the premises.
Templeton, the Veterans Village CEO, denied that the incident took place and has previously said the organization continues to provide high quality care despite a staffing shortage. She also acknowledged complaints were made against apartment managers that led to their dismissal.
Muniz, the woman accused of causing Self’s death, was originally arrested for murder by San Diego police. But the District Attorney’s Office charged her with lesser offenses, including assault with a deadly weapon and assault by means to produce great bodily injury.
The DA’s office said it could not comment on specific cases, but generally, charges are based on what can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
On June 29, Muniz pleaded not guilty and was released on her own recognizance while the case against her is ongoing.
Muniz and her attorney could not be reached for comment.
O’Connor, Self’s friend, said she is working with Self’s family and attorney to help them process the events that have happened and build a court case.
“I have cried. I have screamed. It is taking a toll,” O’Connor said. “But I’m not doing anything for her that she would not do for me.”
Type of Content
News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.