In the City of Lancaster, instead of solving houselessness with housing, officials criminalize people who are unhoused. The punishment for simply being unhoused includes citations that carry fines far beyond a person's means to pay. They can appeal, but in a Kafka-like situation, the city demands that a fine be fully paid before an appeal can be heard.

For the supposed offense of sleeping outdoors in a vacant lot or even sitting outside “without a reason,” unhoused people in Lancaster have been subjected to penalties of $500 for the first citation and $1,000 for the second — all without the possibility of appeal without full payment. And if a citation penalty is not paid within 30 days, the city refers it to a private collections agency that imposes an additional $150.

It’s a system that criminalizes poverty in violation of the “equal protection of the laws” guaranteed by the California Constitution.

The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the UC Irvine School of Law Consumer Law Clinic filed a lawsuit against the City of Lancaster and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Leroy Butts, a 68-year-old Black man who was unhoused at the time of an incident in 2019 in a Lancaster park. He was legally passing out “Know Your Rights” pamphlets when two LASD deputies approached a group of people who were homeless. Butts told members of the group of their rights to be in the park, and in a clear act of retaliation the deputies issued him a $500 administrative citation.

Case Developments

October 24, 2022

Plaintiff secures a settlement of the Excessive Fines claim. Read the settlement.

February 8, 2021

Plaintiff files a complaint challenging Lancaster’s administrative citation system in Los Angeles Superior Court. Read the complaint


Adrienna Wong

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

UC Irvine School of Law, Social Justice Legal Foundation


Los Angeles County Superior Court - Lancaster