Federal court rules in favor of city of Berkeley in case regarding homeless encampment

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A federal court ruled against three homeless men and in favor of the city of Berkeley last week, deciding that constitutional rights were not violated in the removals of a homeless encampment and that the procedural seizure of people’s possessions was valid.

The jury ruled against the plaintiffs — Clark Sullivan, Adam Bredenberg and Benjamin Royer — who were represented by the firm Siegel, Yee, Brunner & Mehta. According to First They Came for the Homeless co-founder and activist Mike Zint, the firm took the case pro bono.

“Nobody thought it would be easy, and we are proud that we were able to stand up for our clients,” said attorney EmilyRose Johns, who represented the plaintiffs. “It’s important that these things that cities are doing don’t go unremarked upon, uncommented on.”

The case came about after the three men alleged that they were being unfairly targeted by the city for their political activism supporting homeless protections as part of the group First They Came for the Homeless. According to Johns, the First They Came for the Homeless encampment was targeted at a disproportionate rate compared to other camps and was removed eight times between October 2016 and January 2017.

Johns added that laws surrounding the notification of confiscated property had changed since the plaintiffs’ property was taken and that U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who presided over the case, allowed the case presented in trial to include the issues of whether the laws at the time were fair for the men and whether the city owed damages to them.

Johns said the most troubling part of the trial was the city’s distinction between the homeless and other residents. She added that the distinction was upsetting for her because it treated the homeless people as “others” and not as part of the community, which she said she felt they were.

“You have a lot of people who are exhausted by what they see every day and who are being encouraged by their legislatures to think of homeless people as others and invaders,” Johns said.

According to Johns, the firm has not decided whether it will appeal the jury’s decision. She added that the firm cannot appeal the decision simply because it does not agree with it — the firm would have to find a place where due process was violated, which she said would take “deconstruction” of the proceedings before a decision can be made.

First They Came for the Homeless will continue to fight for the homeless community, according to Zint. He added that he was unhappy with the decision, as well as with recent developments in laws and regulations regarding the homeless.

“Being homeless, our fight has been and always will be for equal rights for the homeless, and for common-sense solutions based on opinions and experiences from the homeless themselves,” Zint said.

Representatives from the city of Berkeley were contacted for comment but did not respond as of press time.

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.