Four homeless people are now suing Maui County, its mayor and finance director after they were expelled from an encampment on Maui’s north shore in late September. If the suit is successful, it could change how the county enacts future sweeps of homeless individuals.

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Forty to 60 people were estimated to be living on a 2,000-foot stretch of road in Kahului sandwiched between a wastewater treatment plant and a wetland until Mayor Michael Victorino announced a “clean-up” of the area.

The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 20 in Second Circuit Court by the ACLU of Hawaii, requested an order requiring the county to comply with the Fourteenth and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which would protect homeless individuals’ publicly stored personal property and their due process rights. The plaintiffs are Sonia Davis, Jessica Lau, Lauralee Riedell and Adam Walton.

The lawsuit says that Victorino, the county and the county’s finance director, Scott Teruya, allowed the “forced eviction” of individuals and the destruction of their personal property while denying their rights to due process. According to the suit, the county did not provide adequate notice before the sweep, ignored residents requests for contested cases, and searched and seized their vehicles, homes and personal belongings without a warrant.

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Maui County is being sued by four homeless people, with the help of the ACLU, after they were evicted from an encampment and lost their belongings. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

In a press release issued three weeks before the sweep, the county said it was in the process of making emergency shelter resources available and working with social workers and service providers to help the homeless living at Kanaha.

The lawsuit paints a different picture, alleging that the county and mayor “did not provide safe, adequate alternative shelter or housing options to all people residing in the area before executing the Kanaha Sweep.”

“By the time the Kanaha Sweep began, not all residents had been relocated to safe, alternate shelter,” the lawsuit said.

Some residents of the area, who were prevented from retrieving their belongings during the sweep, found the county had seized or destroyed them, according to the lawsuit. Had the homeless individuals been afforded their constitutional protections, the lawsuit argues, they could have challenged the county’s action or worked with the county “to gather their belongings and relocate to safe, adequate housing.”

When the sweep began on the morning of Sept. 20, a Maui County police officer stood by his car on the west end of Amala Place, turning away vehicles and pedestrians. Bulldozers were parked down the road by the wastewater treatment plant. The nearby gate to Kanaha Beach Park was locked.

That morning, eight to 10 people were still living there, the lawsuit says. The people, including two of the plaintiffs, Riedell, 48, and Walton, 40, left “under threat of arrest by County officials,” the lawsuit alleges.

The next day, the ACLU of Hawaii issued a letter demanding that the mayor and county stop the sweep, saying it violated constitutional rights. The letter estimated 53 homeless people were living along Amala Place, but that, “capacity at shelters in Maui is woefully scarce: as of this writing, the County has shelter vacancy for only 9 people County-wide.” The ACLU says it received no response.

On Monday, Maui County had 12 shelter vacancies for individuals.

About 40 homeless individuals residing at Kanaha filed requests for a contested case hearing in which they said that their property interests were constitutionally protected and “must be afforded procedural due process before the County may terminate” those interests, the lawsuit says.

None of the homeless individuals who filed requests received a response, and none received a contested case hearing, according to the suit.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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