Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Caltrans Is Violating Homeless People’s Constitutional Rights

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December 13, 2016

By Darwin BondGraham – East Bay Express

A complaint filed today in state court alleges that the California Department of Transportation is systematically violating the constitutional rights of homeless people in the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville by destroying personal property during “sweeps.” According to the attorneys who filed the suit, Caltrans’ actions amount to a violation of the California and U.S. constitutions.

“[Caltrans’] illegal actions deprive homeless individuals of personal belongings that are critical to their survival, such as clothing, medication, cooking utensils, tents, and blankets, as well as of irreplaceable personal possessions, such as family photographs,” the attorneys claim in their lawsuit.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, James Leone, alleges that in April of this year a Caltrans crew accompanied by CHP officers ordered him to move his camp and belongings off state property, giving him only five minutes to comply. According to Leone, before the five minutes were up, Caltrans workers began throwing his belongings, including a tent, sleeping bag, camping stove, and more, into a trash compactor.

“When Mr. Leone successfully pulled his bicycle out of the compactor before it was could be destroyed, a CHP officer pulled out his Taser and threatened to use it,” the lawsuit alleges.

Attorneys with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, ACLU of Northern California, East Bay Community Law Center and the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr say that Caltrans practices are in violation of the department’s own policy, which was written after two previous lawsuits over the same matter.

A spokesman for the California Department of Transportation told the Express that Caltrans cannot comment on pending litigation and declined to address specific allegations.

As the Express previously reported, many East Bay residents who live on state property around the freeways have experienced what are called the “sweeps.” In the process, they’ve lost valuable property, which they claim is often thrown directly into garbage compactors rather than stored so that it can later be recovered.

Caltrans officials have maintained, however, that their actions are not in violation of any laws, and that it’s their policy to store confiscated items that have an apparent value of $50 or more so that the owners can reclaim them. Continue reading…

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