The ACLU of Southern California, along with the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of homeless individuals who have been the victims of a campaign of lawlessness on the streets at the hands of private security guards in downtown Los Angeles.

The suit alleges that the security guards are seeking to run the homeless out of certain sections of the city, and that to achieve that goal, have devised and implemented policies that call on their security brigades to engage in a concerted pattern of lawbreaking. By design, these patrols routinely and deliberately violate the homeless' civil liberties through a campaign of physical and verbal abuse.

'These security forces have been on a rampage,' said Michael Small, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. 'It is time for these rogue operations to be shut down.' The court papers document a disturbing series of repeated and ongoing encounters on the streets and sidewalks in which the security guards, without lawful justification, search the homeless' pockets and clothing, rifle through their personal possessions, order them to stay or go somewhere against their will, and place them in handcuffs.

In one frightening episode, a man with a broken leg who refused to consent to having his photograph taken by the security forces was handcuffed, forced by security guards to walk 30 yards without his crutches, and placed in a patrol car until bystanders summoned the police to intervene and order his release. In another episode, a security guard accused a man who suffers from diabetes with jaywalking, then forcibly searched him and threatened to discard the contents of a bottle of prescription medicine. Security guards ordered one man to dump water from his canteen on a day that temperature soared well past 90 degrees. Another was doused with chemical spray. These men have had their possessions confiscated and thrown over chain-link fences and have been accosted on the streets (sometimes at gunpoint), forced to divulge personal information, and sit still for 'mug shot' type photographs even though they had not been accused of any crime.

'There is no excuse for the abusive tactics employed by these security guards,' said Morrison & Foerster attorney Hector Gallegos. 'This case is not about the rights of the police to enforce any laws against the homeless. It simply seeks to require that these security forces not harass the homeless nor interfere with their enjoyment of the same rights afforded all individuals. These security forces find the homeless to be undesirable, and their presence bad for business. But that distaste does not give them license to flaunt the law.' The case stems from the formation in recent years of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in downtown Los Angeles. The defendants in the case are the companies that manage the BIDs and the security guard companies that the BID managers have retained. In their court filings, the ACLU and Morrison & Foerster are seeking a preliminary injunction against the security guard companies that would compel them to obey the law pending trial in the case.