ACLU motion to stop Honolulu homeless sweeps is denied by judge

titlelogoCity and County of Honolulu Sued Over Homeless Sweeps

More than a dozen homeless and formerly homeless individuals file class action lawsuit over City’s immediate destruction of property

HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I – The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i Foundation (“ACLU”) and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing filed a class-action lawsuit today against the City and County of Honolulu (“City”) in federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the City violated the United States Constitution when it destroyed personal property belonging to the plaintiffs – who are or have been homeless – without due process of law.

The lawsuit alleges that instead of impounding and storing seized property and giving adequate opportunity to reclaim the items, property seized by City officials was instead immediately destroyed. The lawsuit also alleges that no notice, receipt, or information regarding how property might be recovered was given to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks stop the City from violating the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; end the practice of destroying personal property without following procedures; and to require the City to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

Plaintiff Tabatha Martin said: ““Like many people here, my husband and I are working hard. Weʻre saving up for a small apartment for us and our four-year-old daughter. Every time the City comes and throws away our tents, or our clothes, or our IDs, they throw away our lives. We have to start all over again and pay to replace those things.  All of our savings are used up, keeping us on the street even longer.”   Video link for this …

In just one unannounced sweep in Kaka’ako, on November 13, 2014, City officials seized and destroyed the Plaintiffs’ property, including their food, childrenʻs toys, prescription medications, and government identification documents.  In some cases, entire tents, obviously filled with personal belongings, were thrown into a waiting garbage truck and crushed.   City workers have repeatedly refused to allow property owners to retrieve necessary personal belongings like medications and identification documents, instead threatening them with arrest if they interfere with the sweep.  The City continues to violate the Constitution in its sweeps, by announcing that it will immediately destroy certain items (like tarps and perishable food) and that it will arrest anyone who gets in the way.

Attorney Kristin L. Holland, Of Counsel with the Law Firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing, said: “The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the government from seizing a person’s property and destroying it without due process, but that’s exactly what happened to the Plaintiffs.  We will seek all available remedies for our clients, and will work to ensure that these violations do not recur.”

ACLU Hawai‘i Legal Director Dan Gluck said: “The Constitution protects us all equally, regardless of who we are and whether we are rich or poor. Using arrests to solve homelessness and destroying what little property a homeless individual has to survive is contrary to a fair and just community. All these policies do is set families back and makes it harder for them to build productive lives.”

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)- Homeless sweeps are set to continue, at least for now. On Tuesday afternoon Judge Helen Gilmore denied the American Civil Liberty Union’s motion for a temporary restraining order. 7673418_G

Judge Gilmore said at this point, the ACLU simply did not provide her with enough information to immediately halt the city’s homeless enforcement operations.

(Photo taken from HawaiiNewsNow website)

The latest sweep happened Tuesday morning in Kakaako near Ilalo and Coral Street just before noon. The city maintains it’s only discarding trash. However the ACLU disagrees.

Last Wednesday, the organization filed a class action lawsuit saying the city’s policy of seizing and immediately destroying property during these sweeps violates the due process clause of the constitution.

“The issue about homeless in Kakaako is about poverty. People who are living there are in extreme poverty and they’re doing everything they can there to survive on a daily basis. They are putting together meager belongings and things like tarps and wood pallets just so they have something to shelter them from the elements to shield them and shield their children,” said ACLU attorney Daniel Gluck.

Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong issued the following statement today:

“We are pleased with today’s decision and the Department of the Corporation Counsel will continue to defend the city. Honolulu’s Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance ordinances have withstood challenges in federal court before and we believe they will survive the current challenge. In the meantime, the city will continue to enforce the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance ordinances in accordance with their provisions. The ordinances support the safety, health, and welfare of all residents of the City and County of Honolulu.”

The next hearing on this issue is set for December 14.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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