LOS ANGELES - U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson ruled Monday that the Los Angeles Police Department has been engaging in unconstitutional searches of the homeless on Skid Row.
As part of it's effort to stop the criminalization of homelessness in the city of Los Angeles, the ACLU of Southern California, civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, and the law firm Hadsell & Stormer petitioned a court last December to extend a 2003 injunction that prohibits LAPD officers from indiscriminately stopping and searching the homeless without adequate justification.
The lawsuit claimed that LAPD officers were stopping residents of Skid Row, asking if they were on parole or probation, then even when they said they were not, searching them and their belongings.
Residents also alleged that officers sometimes initiated searches before asking their probation or parole status. All of these acts were in violation of a 2003 injunction that prohibited these types of searches. The injunction was set to expire last December.
In his ruling, Judge Pregerson granted a four-month extension of the injunction finding that the LAPD, by its own testimony, 'admitted to an unconstitutional policy' that violated the rights of Skid Row residents.
The ruling limits the LAPD from using tickets for minor infractions like sleeping on the sidewalk or jaywalking as pretexts for searches; it requires that officers either believe that the person has further evidence of a crime in order to conduct a search, or actually make an arrest for the minor offense so that the search is required as a safety precaution in transporting the person to jail.
'This is a big victory for the residents of Skid Row,' said ACLU staff attorney Peter Bibring. 'Arbitrary, unjustified searches where Skid Row residents were stopped, publicly handcuffed, and detained for about 20 minutes are oppressive to individuals and to the entire community.'
The court extended the injunction for four months saying the extension should give the LAPD ample time to review its policies and practices to ensure that they comply with current Fourth Amendment law. The court also allowed for a further extension if LAPD does not comply by August 23, 2007.