Civil-rights groups sue Caltrans over homeless raids

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Berkeleyside – By Daphne White 

A coalition of civil-rights groups and one of the nation’s largest law firms have taken on the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), asking for a state-wide, permanent injunction to stop the sweeps which end up confiscating and often destroying the property of homeless people. In Berkeley, this lawsuit would protect homeless people living on state property, such as those who camp at the Gilman underpass.

The class action suit specifically names five homeless people, one of whom used to live at the Gilman underpass and had her belongings confiscated. The other four live in Oakland and Emeryville. The lawsuit states that 55 homeless people have filed claims against Caltrans for having their belongings unlawfully taken and destroyed; 28 of those people had their belongings taken from the Gilman underpass.

Caltrans is “violating the constitutional rights of homeless people by confiscating and destroying their property in ongoing sweeps,” according to a press release by the ACLU of Northern California, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. “On multiple occasions, Caltrans has failed to give proper notice before raiding encampments — refusing plaintiffs an opportunity to move their belongings before destroying them in trash compactors.”

The suit was filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court by three civil-rights nonprofit organizations — The Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, the ACLU of Northern California and the East Bay Community Law Center — as well as the national law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.

The groups are asking that Caltrans give homeless people adequate notice before they conduct a sweep; that they be specific as to the time and date of the sweep; and that they keep any property for 90 days before disposing of it so the owners can come back and reclaim it.

“All people, including the homeless, have a right to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable seizure of property, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections against the deprivation of property without due process of law,” said Elisa Della-Piana, legal director at the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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