Santa Ana, County Sued For Violating Civil Rights of Civic Center Homeless Population

David P. Senner for Voice of OC

The homeless encampment at the Orange County Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana.

A nonprofit organization known as the Elder Law and Disability Center is suing the city of Santa Ana and County of Orange over the treatment of homeless people inhabiting the Civic Center, public property in downtown Santa Ana where hundreds of homeless people camp between government buildings.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of OC Catholic Worker and seven homeless plaintiffs, who allege law enforcement has created additional hardships for homeless people by seizing property and issuing citations while people are away from their belongings, going to the bathroom, attending doctor’s appointments and performing other essential tasks.

“Because this not only violates the Constitution and creates a public health crisis, endangering our most vulnerable community members, we had no choice to file a lawsuit,” said Brooke Weitzman, an attorney for the Elder Law and Disability Center, at a Santa Ana City Council meeting Tuesday.

Weitzman successfully sued the county earlier this year over the seizure of belongings for homeless people living along the Santa Ana River.

The homeless people represented in the lawsuit include veterans and people with disabilities.

Taylor Andrew Kent, an Air Force veteran with a disability related to his service, who also has a terminal cancer diagnosis, had his belongings seized and was unable to recover his medications when he picked them up, according to the complaint. The lawsuit claims that, without his medications, Kent’s health deteriorated and he was subsequently hospitalized for seizures and an infection. While hospitalized, Kent’s belongings were seized again.

The lawsuit also argues that the options provided for the homeless are inadequate.

When people’s belongings are seized, they are stored at a facility over two miles away and there is no process for labeling people’s belongings for retrieval, according to the lawsuit.

The Courtyard Center, a partially outdoor emergency shelter at an abandoned bus terminal next to the Civic Center, houses over 400 people.

“More threats of citation and arrest have pushed people into the courtyard terminal, regardless of whether the terminal was over capacity or affected the mental health of those people,” said Brooke Weitzman, “The people who were not moved into the courtyard were forced into the Plaza of Flags, an area that is only cement and outside of any grass and shade that could protect them from the elements.”

Charles Dorsey, another plaintiff in the case, is described in the lawsuit as having mobility limitations after he was struck by a drunk driver and needed surgery. The lawsuit says Dorsey was asked to move his tent out of the shade by a police officer, despite explaining that he needed to be in the shade to recuperate from his surgery.

The lawsuit argues that the city and county have violated Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional protections to due process and against unreasonable search and seizure, by seizing and destroying homeless people’s belongings without adequate notice and reasonable options to retrieve personal property.

It also alleges the county and city are violating the civil rights of the homeless by destroying tents and tarps and exposing people to harsh weather.

The organization is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the enforcement of Santa Ana’s anti-camping ordinance and the seizure of property; require the city and county to replace blankets, tents and tarps that are seized; and to require seized property be stored at a more accessible location.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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  • Mike Robbins

    Hope the people suing are listening. A law suit has to be for lots of money. If they get sued for $100,000,000 then the point will be made that the county and cities need to help not criminalize. Of course the money should be put in a fund for housing administered by a board that has only real human beings chosen like a jury by the judge only from other counties so there is no bias on where the housing projects will be. Crazy idea…

  • verifiedsane

    More political folly…and those most effected; both the community and the without home population are just mere pawns on the ruling oligarchy’s chess game board….Civil Rights?….who’s kidding who…

  • Elizabeth Ann Stewart

    Both of the two plaintiffs named need to be in nursing homes, not living on the street and breaking laws daily by trashing public property and interfering with other citizens who are lawfully using city services. The veteran should have services provided by the VA. What is needed here is professional service by social workers to navigate the paperwork, not lawyers.

  • Ed Romero

    If find this HUMOROUS, because when I tried to Sue the County of Orange, the Sheriff Department and the Probation Department, someone was following me to all the Attorney’s I contacted and applied Political Pressure on them NOT TO take my case. I spoke to numerous Attorney’s, one would take my case if I signed my Condo over to him, another one wanted a large amount of Cash. You see I was a WHISTLEBLOWER, I was EXPOSING all the Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting and Lesbian Nepotism, Lesbians being Hire and Promoted not because they were qualified but because they knew the right Lesbian in Power. I was also EXPOSING those 2 former Orange County Sheriff and their attitudes toward crimes committed by their Deputies while on duty. One of our Security Guards at the Probation Department spent more time having Sex with our Clerical Staff then he did performing his job. There was that other Deputy that would report to work so DRUNK he could barely standup, he would disappear for hours at night, one night he was walking around or should I say stumbling around with a bottle of 10 High in his back pocket. One former Sheriff sent me a message via my Office Manager and I quote “It’s none of you business what my Deputies do while on duty, it’s NOT THEIR fault that those Promiscuous Tramps at the Probation Department can’t keep their Feet on the Floor and their Panties Up. To this day they continue to harass me instead of confronting me in Court.

  • Lori Moore

    Well, at least they have someone to sue I guess?!! As a homeowner in Anaheim that has had cars broken into, homeless urinating on my daughters car, by the homeless living in the Santa Ana riverbed… wish I could sue someone for our rights being violated. The homeowners in my city have ZERO rights.

    • Mike Robbins

      I live by Stoddard park where the kids play soccer all the time. The cars are broken into it seems fairly regularly in my neighborhood and I think it is the soccer kids and the parents. The police must arrest them all. Not to mention the tourists partying next door to my neighbors house – at midnight he sees one guy peeing in his yard, on confronting him a fight almost starts as the police arrive in the nick of time. We must do something about the tourists Disneyland must GO. Our rights are being violated by the tourists and soccer moms!!

  • LFOldTimer

    You’re going to see a lot more of this in the future because the cities and county aren’t really doing anything to reduce the homeless population. All they do is spend more taxpayer money to provide free stuff for the homeless which only attracts more homeless people. The county started the “10-year plan to end homelessness” about 10 years ago. Since that time the homeless population in OC has increased threefold. Get my point?

    Where the hell is the homeless czar that the county hired a year ago or so? I never see her name in print. I thought she was the best thing since sliced bread when it came to coming up with solutions to solve the homeless problem. Since she’s been on board the problem hasn’t improved – it’s gotten worse!

    Hello? Is that anybody in the cockpit flying this county jumbo jet?