Wednesday, November 04, 2015


ACLU files new motion to stop Honolulu’s illegal destruction of property during sweeps of homeless camps

Mr. Garo was homeless and living in Kakaako during the November 13, 2014 sweep. He was prohibited from taking any papers from inside his tent by a policeman. He had a clean tent taken from him, various forms of identification, and cash. After the City took his identification, Mr. Garo was unable to travel to the Big Island in time to see his ailing father, who died within a week of the sweep.—from ACLU/AHFI motion to federal court re Honolulu sweeps of homeless encampments

by Larry Geller

The federal court denied the ACLU’s initial motion for a temporary restraining order when the City denied plaintiff’s allegations that it destroyed personal property instead of storing it. The ACLU has retrenched and filed a new motion yesterday.

It vigorously gathered evidence, both old and new, and deposed witnesses and state workers. Two media professionals monitored the Kakaako sweeps and produced an abundance of photographic and video evidence that—in my words—show that the City lied to the court.

So with many new arrows in their quiver, the ACLU and Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing have filed a fresh motion for a TRO, a motion to move up a hearing on it, and another to withdraw their prior motion.

We’ve reported here (as have many others) that despite hearing testimony to the City Council, for example, that City workers do not destroy personal property, that it is stored, City Council members chose not to question the City on this as they debated new punitive ordinances. The new ACLU motion and supporting exhibits provide ample evidence that City Council members allowed themselves to be mislead. Let’s see if a judge agrees. Our daily newspaper has also avoided reporting on this contradiction, which must be a deliberate omission.

A full copy of the motion is posted at the end of this article and can be downloaded as well.

Some snips to reveal the City’s treatment of its most vulnerable 

Here’s a snip excerpting the deposition of a former city worker who was forced to destroy personal property at the order of her supervisors:

Q. To this day does this enforcement action make you sad?
A. Yes.
Q. Why?
A. There were quite a bit of children, their toys and stuff, and it just wasn't a good day.
Q. Did you throw kids' toys away?
A. Well, if the supervisor said so, yes.
Q. So do you remember, did you throw kids' toys away?
A. I remember some, yeah.
Q. And what did you think about that?
A. I didn't like it.
Q. Why not?
A. They're children.
Q. You felt like they should be allowed to keep their toys?
A. Yeah.
Q. What did you want to do instead?
A. Wanted to give it to them.
Q. But your supervisor said no?
A. It's his decision, so…

A. They could have gave it to the kids, they could have allowed them to take it.
Q. Were the kids asking to take their toys?
A. They were crying

I imagine Mayor Caldwell would consider this to be just an example of his “compassionate disruption.” But that City worker might not agree. She quit her job:

Ms. Ponte testified extensively about how participating in the sweeps made her feel bad. She testified about how other sweeps included waking people up in the middle of the night, and destroying property they owned.  Feeling bad about participating in these sweeps was a reason why she decided to leave the job. As she put it: "I just couldn't do it anymore."

Videos of nighttime raids have appeared on Disappeared News and other blogs. Now the evidence is before a court of law.

Reading on, it gets worse:

… the City took bedding, a cart, and a backpack containing heart medication from a 75-year-old man.The the City refused to allow him to keep it. She observed the City throwing away bedding, clothing, toys, tarps, and other items. The City threw away items when people were not present (and therefore could not have consented to their destruction). During one sweep conducted at 3:00 a.m., City officials ordered her (and many homeless individuals) not to take any property, but rather to leave the property so that the City could seize all of it.

Clintonesque twisting of language

Ross Sasamura, who has testified to the City Council and in an earlier (de)Occupy Honolulu case, may have a Bill Clinton complex, as evidenced by his deposed statements (a small snip):

Q. Okay. So, is it correct then that in any enforcement action the DFM [Department of Facilities Maintenance] has never destroyed a tent? Is that your testimony?
A. 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?
A. That’s been my testimony.

The City’s defense of its prior testimony is, on its face, ridiculous. It is particularly unreasonable given what happens after something is “disposed of.” As Mr. Sasamura testified, when the City disposes of an item in a SNO or SPO sweep, the item is literally incinerated.  Yet, according to the City, that does not constitute “destruction” of the item:

Q. Okay. Would—when a tent is processed and turned into energy, is there anything left of the tent after that happens?
A. 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?
A. No I would not.

The City’s other TRO declarant also denied that incinerating something would constitute “destroying” that object:

Q. What would you have to do to destroy an item?
A. What would I consider would be destroying an item? Breaking it apart in anger.
Q. Burning it up, would that be destroying it?
A. No.
Q. No. But when you put something in the refuse truck, that would be disposing of it?
A. Correct.
Q. Anything else other than breaking something apart in anger that would be destroying something?
A. Not in my definition.

As we’ve pointed out, when the handle on a dump truck is pulled, a blade comes down and begins to scoop up and compact the refuse so that it fits into the truck. So actually the destruction begins immediately.

City routinely seized and destroyed ID

Mayor Caldwell’s people demonstrate their “compassion” in strange ways. Citing a UH study conducted in early 2015 (again, a short snip):

The amount of personal property lost during the sweeps can only be described as shocking. Over 50% of those surveyed had lost identification during sweeps. (Id. at 22.) Only 16% of those who had lost identification were able to retrieve it. Nearly half reported that their identifications were thrown away. The individuals surveyed lost other critical items as well: 43% lost clothing during sweeps, and 40% lost tents.

And finally (for this article), the motion took a look at the recent Kakaako sweeps, noting that the City stored only eight bins of property while carting away 52 tons of material. This looks like a clear violation of the city’s own ordinances.

The short motion can be downloaded here. Below is the longer memo in support of the motion.

Download 20151103 ACLU_AHFI_memo in Support of Motion from Disappeared News


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