Fresno A U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of California has ruled that the City of Fresno’s practice of immediately seizing and destroying the personal possessions of homeless residents violates the constitutional right of every person to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
“The question is no longer whether the City will have to pay damages to class members, but how much,” said attorney Oren Sellstrom of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. “Given that many homeless people lost everything they owned in these illegal sweeps – including their medicines and items of tremendous sentimental value – we believe the damage award will be significant.”
“The Court’s ruling in this class-action lawsuit makes it clear that our Constitution protects the rights of everybody, rich or poor,” said attorney Michael Risher of the ACLU of Northern California. “It should send a strong message to other cities throughout our country that if they violate the rights of their most vulnerable residents, they will be held accountable.”
Six plaintiffs provided testimony in the case, Kincaid v. City of Fresno, on behalf of the entire class, which includes all homeless people in Fresno who had their property seized and destroyed by the City or by the California Department of Transportation. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the firm of Heller, Ehrman, LLP.
The case was filed in October 2006. The court issued a temporary restraining order against the City of Fresno two days later; in December 2006 it issued a preliminary injunction after hearing evidence from both sides over the course of five days.
During oral argument on April 25, 2008, Judge Oliver W. Wanger declared that, “…the practice of announce, strike, seize [and] destroy immediately is against the law.” (Excerpted from transcript by court reporter.)