Court Order Requires City to Follow Law: Impound, Not Destroy, Property Seized in Sweeps

Court date of 1/12/16 set for Martin v. City and County of Honolulu

Read the Order: MartinVCC_2007523-0–10888-2

HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I – In response to new evidence, Federal Judge Helen Gillmor has ordered that the City and County of Honolulu (“City”) must stop “immediately dispos[ing] of any property” under the Sidewalk Nuisance and Stored Property Ordinances (“Ordinances”). The only exceptions are for hazardous and perishable items.  Although the City had previously told the Court that it was only collecting trash and that it was not destroying private property, the new evidence showed otherwise, and the City agreed to this new order restricting its activities.

ACLU Legal Director Dan Gluck said: “This Order gives the Plaintiffs in our lawsuit significant relief, and substantially changes what the City has been doing during its sweeps of homeless encampments. Effective immediately, the City must stop destroying homeless individuals’ property, unless the City documents specific reasons why an item is too hazardous or dangerous to store. The City must also give us prior notice of any future sweeps, and must video the sweeps and provide those videos to us; we will be monitoring the sweeps and will report any violations of the Order to the Court. If the City continues to conduct itself like it did in Kaka’ako in the last two months, it is subject to being held in contempt of Court.”

The Order requires the City, effective immediately, to:

  • Tag and store all property not posing a public health or safety risk, and to cease throwing property into trash compactors.
  • Post notices of sweeps and removal/recovery instructions for owners not present, and to cease destroying items without notice or recourse.
  • Give property owners a chance to collect personal items after a sweep is underway, instead of threatening them with immediate arrest.
  • Ease the previously onerous process for waivers of storage fees.
  • Document with video when the City decides that property poses a public health or safety risk and cannot be stored.

During sweeps of Kaka’ako homeless persons, the City seized and disposed of over 134,000 pounds of property while storing for retrieval only 8 small containers of property. The City has admitted that it has allocated only about 1,000 square feet of space to store all property taken under the Ordinances – clearly insufficient for the personal possessions of the hundreds of persons and families displaced by sweeps.

Kristin Holland, Of Counsel with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing said: “We are glad that this agreement will require the City to follow the law while the case moves forward and as Hawaii’s lawmakers find ways to meaningfully address the crisis of homelessness. This case is not about people’s ‘right’ to live on sidewalks and no one is seeking to force the City to store trash or hazardous goods – there is no such right or obligation. It is about illegally taking and destroying personal possessions, the constitutional right of everyone to reclaim property seized by the government, and the right to challenge that seizure. These rights apply to everyone equally, rich or poor.”