The 15 plaintiffs challenging the city’s enforcement of the stored property and sidewalk nuisance ordinances have filed a new motion in federal court, alleging that city officials made “demonstrably false” statements to the court.
The plaintiffs — who are or have been homeless — filed their original lawsuit in September, alleging that the city’s maintenance crew routinely destroyed their belongings required for “mere existence” and “the care of their children” — including tents, sleeping bags and food — in violation of their basic rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments of the Constitution.
City workers load trucks with large pieces of trash along Ohe Street as part of the city’s homeless cleanup in Kakaako on Sept. 8.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
In its response, the city insisted that the maintenance crew removes and immediately destroys only items that are “obviously trash.”
On Sept. 22, U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order to halt city sweeps, saying that the court lacked “sufficient information” to determine whether the sweeps, if continued, would cause “irreparable harm.”
“Defendant’s statements in its testimony, briefing and at the hearing created the false and misleading impression that it stored all property encountered while enforcing the stored property ordinance and sidewalk nuisance ordinance (excluding things like human waste and other objects that are unmistakably refuse). It is now clear that those claims are not true.”
In his earlier declaration, Sasamura told the court that the city does not “destroy” any items “other than empty cups, plastic bottles and caps, used napkins, and empty packages and plastic bags” during the sweeps.
But the plaintiffs allege that, during the deposition, Sasamura admitted that the city removes “tents, bedding, clothing and other property belonging to homeless individuals” and “disposes of” them.
The plaintiffs’ motion includes this dialogue:
Question: Okay. So, is it correct then that in any enforcement action the (Department of Facility Maintenance) has never destroyed a tent? Is that your testimony?
Sasamura: To my knowledge, we don’t destroy tents. We don’t destroy items. And I believe my testimony was that we dispose of certain things.
Q: Oh, I see. So you’re drawing a distinction between the word destroy and dispose of. Is that what’s going on here?
Sasamura: That’s been my testimony.
According to the plaintiffs, Sasamura went on to testify that, when an item is “disposed of,” it is thrown into a dump truck and taken to the H-Power plant to be incinerated:
Q: Okay. Would — when a tent is processed and turned into energy, is there anything left of the tent after that happens?
Sasamura: There is ash.
Q: Okay. So, taking a tent and turning it into ash, would you agree that that’s — that would constitute destruction of the tent?
Sasamura: No, I would not.
The plaintiffs contend that Sasamura’s testimony and “a mountain” of other evidence show “there is no dispute that the city seizes property belonging to homeless individuals and disposes of that property on the spot, without any opportunity for due process. The factual dispute that the court earlier perceived regarding the destruction of property is now conclusively resolved in plaintiffs’ favor.”
Sasamura was not available for comment Wednesday.
In a statement to Civil Beat, Corporation Counsel Donna Leong said: “The city continues to review plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction and has no comment at this time.”
In their new motion, the plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a narrower order than they sought earlier. “The current motions asks only that the city defendant store property it seizes rather than destroying (and/or disposing of) that property on the spot,” they wrote. “The requested relief is consistent with the city’s own ordinances, which the city is consistently violating.”
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