Los Angeles Times

Judge bars skid row prop­erty seizures

Rul­ing says city can’t take and de­stroy home­less peo­ple’s prop­erty with­out suf­fi­cient no­tice.

- By Gale Hol­land gale.hol­land@la­times.com Twit­ter: @gehol­land Homelessness · Crime · Society · Canada News · Social Issues · Los Angeles · United States of America · Michael Feuer

A fed­eral judge Wed­nes­day is­sued a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion bar­ring Los An­ge­les po­lice and san­i­ta­tion of­fi­cers from seiz­ing and de­stroy­ing home­less peo­ple’s prop­erty with­out suf­fi­cient no­tice, and or­dered the city to seg­re­gate and store im­pounded be­long­ings where they can be re­cov­ered.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said in his rul­ing that the city can con­fis­cate or de­stroy con­tra­band, crime ev­i­dence and haz­ardous ma­te­rial or rat-in­fested prop­erty that posed pub­lic health and safety is­sues.

But, he added, “The city, in many in­stances, ap­pears to be con­fis­cat­ing all prop­erty, with­out dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing the types of prop­erty at is­sue or giv­ing home­less peo­ple a mean­ing­ful op­por­tu­nity to sep­a­rate es­sen­tial med­i­ca­tions or med­i­cal equip­ment from their other prop­erty.”

“Some of the in­di­vid­ual de­fen­dants ap­peared to take away prop­erty from a per­son ly­ing on the side­walk, vis­i­bly suf­fer­ing phys­i­cal pain,” the judge said.

A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer said his of­fice was eval­u­at­ing the rul­ing.

The plain­tiffs had sought a broader in­junc­tion cov­er­ing the city, but the rul­ing nar­rowed the scope to skid row and “ad­join­ing ar­eas.”

A group of home­less in­di­vid­u­als and two home­less ad­vo­cacy groups, the L.A. Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Net­work and the L.A. Catholic Worker, sued the city last month, say­ing it had en­dan­gered home­less peo­ple by tak­ing their med­i­ca­tion and bed­ding and dis­card­ing it or stor­ing it in a hard-to-find spot in a mu­nic­i­pal parking lot that was ac­ces­si­ble only 20 hours a week.

The suit also said prop­erty seizures and ar­rests on skid row were part of a cam­paign to crim­i­nal­ize home­less peo­ple.

The city re­sponded that the plain­tiffs were not be­ing truth­ful, Otero noted in his rul­ing. The city sub­mit­ted a video show­ing of­fi­cers giv­ing home­less peo­ple am­ple time to clear or store their prop­erty, and de­picted one of those who sued con­tra­dict­ing his own af­fi­davit by ad­mit­ting he had con­tra­band in his pos­ses­sion when he was ar­rested.

Of­fi­cials also said they fol­lowed a strict pro­to­col in de­ter­min­ing whether ma­te­ri­als were haz­ardous be­fore they were de­stroyed.

Otero, how­ever, said the city’s counter-ev­i­dence was “at best in­con­clu­sive” and that city of­fi­cers “some­times seize and sum­mar­ily dis­pose of es­sen­tial med­i­ca­tions and med­i­cal equip­ment, with­out dis­tin­guish­ing con­tam­i­nated prop­erty from other prop­erty and with­out sep­a­rat­ing each in­di­vid­ual’s prop­erty.”

“Af­ter­wards, [home­less peo­ple] face sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in re­cov­er­ing this prop­erty, some of which is nec­es­sary for their ba­sic sur­vival,” the rul­ing said.

Since the law­suit was filed, the city ap­proved a new or­di­nance lim­it­ing home­less peo­ple’s pos­ses­sions to what fits in a 60-gal­lon trash bin. Home­less peo­ple can be cited or ar­rested on mis­de­meanor charges for ex­ceed­ing the lim­its or for re­fus­ing to take down their tents in day­light hours.

 ?? Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times ?? CITY CREWS clear out a tent be­long­ing to a home­less per­son on Main Street above the 101 Free­way last month. A judge said home­less peo­ple were some­times not al­lowed to re­trieve med­i­ca­tion and other key items.
Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times CITY CREWS clear out a tent be­long­ing to a home­less per­son on Main Street above the 101 Free­way last month. A judge said home­less peo­ple were some­times not al­lowed to re­trieve med­i­ca­tion and other key items.

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