Three homeless citizens and an advocacy group filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sacramento County on Wednesday, alleging that deputies who ousted more than 65 people from a Stockton Boulevard encampment three weeks ago broke one woman’s arm, destroyed their possessions and violated their civil rights.
The 22-page lawsuit seeks compensation for the lost property and medical expenses, and also seeks a permanent injunction that would stop the county from enforcing anti-camping policies against the homeless.
“On any given night, more than 3,000 people are homeless in Sacramento County,” the suit says. “These 3,000 individuals must compete against each other for one of only 762 shelter beds in the county. ...
“Despite acknowledging that unsheltered people have nowhere to be during the day and night, defendants ... persist in criminalizing those who must sleep and rest on public land.”
The suit was filed by attorneys for Legal Services of Northern California on behalf of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee and three residents of the encampment who were given three days’ notice on April 28 to vacate their living spaces in a publicly owned lot in the 5700 block of Stockton Boulevard.
The county and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, but officials said at the time the lot was cleared that authorities had worked well ahead of the eviction to prepare residents to leave.
Despite that, the incident, which the lawsuit refers to as a “raid,” sparked angry protests by homeless advocates and led to at least two arrests.
The action was aimed at two undeveloped parcels that once housed a motel and mobile home park. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which has plans to develop affordable housing at the site, now has possession of the lots.
No development has begun yet, and a homeless encampment had been at the site for nine years until deputies cleared the lot May 1.
“The Sheriff’s Department deployed at least 15 sheriff’s vehicles and one helicopter during this raid,” the lawsuit says, and began ousting residents, including Betty “Bubbles” Rios, the suit says.
During the removal, a deputy grabbed Rios’ previously injured but nearly healed arm and “exerted excessive force” that re-broke it, the suit says.
She was taken to a hospital for treatment, but upon her return she discovered many of her possessions were gone.
“Ms. Rios lost her breathing machine, bone stimulator and medication in the chaos of the raid, in addition to her clothes and other personal items,” the suit says. “Ms. Rios was not told how or if any of her property could be reclaimed.”
Two other residents, Lucille Mendez and Palmer Overstreet, also are plaintiffs claiming they lost property when they were told to move.
The lawsuit, which alleges unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment and excessive force, seeks to stop the county from enforcing anti-camping policies that the plaintiffs say are “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
The suit is the latest legal challenge by homeless advocates to policies in the Sacramento region that are aimed at dealing with the burgeoning homeless population. A suit against the city recently led Sacramento officials to scrap an ordinance against panhandling.