The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation (ACLU) and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing filed a class-action lawsuit today against the City and County of Honolulu 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.
In one unannounced sweep in Kakaako, on November 13, 2014, city officials allegedly seized and destroyed 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 lawsuit alleges that 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.
“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,” said attorney Kristin L. Holland, of counsel with the law firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing. “We will seek all available remedies for our clients, and will work to ensure that these violations do not recur.”
“The Constitution protects us all equally, regardless of who we are and whether we are rich or poor,” said ACLU Hawaii Legal Director Dan Gluck. “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.”
“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,” said Tabatha Martin, one of the plaintiffs. “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.”