Civil Rights Groups Sue Caltrans to Stop Illegal Raids Against California’s Homeless

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

CONTACT: Bethany Woolman, ACLU of Northern California, 415-293-6385,

OAKLAND — According to a lawsuit filed today by civil rights groups, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is violating the constitutional rights of homeless people by confiscating and destroying their property in ongoing sweeps. 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 Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, East Bay Community Law Center, and the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP (WilmerHale) have filed suit and are seeking a permanent injunction to stop this illegal practice throughout California. According to the complaint, the individual plaintiffs have lost cherished and necessary items, including family heirlooms, irreplaceable photographs of loved ones, tents and sleeping bags, warm weather clothing, mechanics’ tools, food, camp stoves, bicycles, and personal documents.

The raids are carried out by Caltrans workers, sometimes with the assistance of the CHP, using compactor trucks to confiscate tents and shopping carts full of personal belongings, usually crushing them on the spot — often with the owners watching and protesting. The complaint notes that these sweeps are in violation of the United States and California State Constitutions, California statutory and common law, and Caltrans’ own policies.

“I don’t want to be homeless on the streets of Oakland forever,” said plaintiff James Leone. “Caltrans has been a major obstacle to getting my life together. Twice in six years, I’ve been left with only the clothes on my back. Twice I’ve lost everything I own in the world.”


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