LA Skid Row Searches Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge in Los Angeles has ruled police skid row searches unconstitutional:

U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson found that officers question — and at times search — parolees and probationers without evidence that they might have committed a crime, which the judge said was unconstitutional. He ordered the LAPD to change its practices.

This is the second victory for those on skid row:

A federal appeals court last year found the city's anti-camping ordinance to be unconstitutional, scuttling LAPD efforts to prevent the homeless from sleeping on downtown sidewalks at night.

TChris reported on that here.


The suit was brought by the ACLU:

The American Civil Liberties Union.... maintained that police officers routinely stopped people and questioned them about their parole or probation status. Officers often handcuffed them and searched them without any reasonable suspicion of a crime, the organization charged in court papers.

Even though the ACLU got an injunction, it charges the searches continued.

LA Police Chief Bill Bratton (with whom I often agree, just not this time) says:

"The streets of skid row are much safer today, thanks to the dedication of the men and women of Central Area," Bratton said in the statement. "The LAPD has a clear policy, based on constitutional requirements, on the rules and regulations relating to citizen stops, which are being followed. The department constantly trains officers and supervisors on those rules and regulations and will continue to do so."

Also, last year in Fresno, the ACLU won a victory for the homeless in a suit in which they charged:

.... police and sanitation workers violated the rights of the homeless for the past three years by defining their property as trash and bulldozing their encampments.

Then there's this abominable policy...dumping those released from the hospital on skid row.

Officials say a number of hospitals, police agencies and jails in the Los Angeles area have been guilty of dumping — they take the homeless who are seeking treatment or crowding jail cells and release them on the streets of Skid Row.

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    Parole Searches (none / 0) (#1)
    by Patrick on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 12:39:42 PM EST
    Do not require evidence that the parolee committed a crime.  At least not according to the Supreme Court in (Samson v. California (2006) 165 L.Ed.2nd 260.) and the 9th in United States vs. Lopez (9th Cir. Feb. 5, 2007) 424 F.3rd 1208.

    There is still a question as to whether probationers would require some suspicion, but currently in California suspicionless probation searches are still legal.

    The case a bit more complex (none / 0) (#2)
    by Deconstructionist on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 02:31:15 PM EST
    than the Times story explains.

     This order is the result of a motion to extend a previously issued TRO and that previously issued TRO was based upon a settlement agreement to which the city agreed.

     In the earlier agreement, LA AGREED not to conduct Terry stops without reasonable suspicion, presumably because it did not wish to litigae the allegation that it was emplying bogus claims of parole/probation searches as a pretext to intimidate and harass residents of "skid row."

       The plaintiff argued that the extension was warranted because LAPD was continuing to search people using the probation/parole inquiry as a pretext without any prior knowledge the people being subjected were even on prpbation or parole (and this when it had agreed not to search people on probation or parole without reasonable suspicion).

       It was furtheer alleged that LAPd would follow through with these searches even when people expressly denied they were on probation and parole (and at least in some cases when that was true).

      Finally you are correct about Samson holding it is lawful to conduct "suscpicionless searches of people on probation or parole (and i believe that is the rule in every jurisdiction) but here we have an order resulting from a settlement to which the city agreed forbidding that practice AND it is still generally held that while a suspicionless search of a probationer or parolee is lawful that the police have to have a basis for believing the person is on probation or parole and that was absent in some instances here.

      Finally, to those who consider it significant, Judge Pregerson is considered one of the very most liberal U.S. District Court judges in the country.



    That makes (none / 0) (#4)
    by Patrick on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 03:15:06 PM EST
    a little bit more sense.  Thanks.  Bad law enforcement makes bad laws, but this post was a little misleading.  

    Skid Row (none / 0) (#3)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 03:12:54 PM EST
    I've seen it once, late at night, over a decade ago.

    For those for whom LA's skid row is an abstract concept, here's my picture of it.

    This part of downtown LA looks and feels much like some of the older parts of NYC, SF, or New Orleans with filthy multi-lane one-way streets hemmed in on each side by tall stone buildings and smelling strongly of a mixture diesel and urine.

    There are several charities on these blocks which minister to the homeless.

    Skid row, as I saw it, is a cardboard city that arrives at around dusk each night and disappears with the dawn.

    The "residents" make themselves "beds" built out of cardboard boxes duct-taped together into enclosed, person-sized, sleeping containers. They look remarkably like cardboard coffins.

    At night skid row has dozens - if not hundreds - of these cardboard sleeping boxes lined up one after another on the sidewalks like steps on a ladder.

    I don't really know what to say about Jeralyn's point of view on the ruling, except to say that apparently the homeless "residents" of skid row are/were significantly safer with the LAPD getting at least some of the "bad seeds" off the streets with their stop, question and search procedures.

    As an aside, man, I'd sure hate to be a cop assigned to skid row...

    Safer?....maybe (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 05:43:35 PM EST
    Whose to say?  If you were one of the skid-row residents whose possesions got tossed or taken by the cops, or simply awoken from your slumber and hassled, I don't think you'd be thanking the LAPD anytime soon.

    All I know of the place is the writings of Charles Bukowski...he taught me that the dregs, the drunks, the whores, the crazies, and the like on skid-row are part of humanity too, part of the American family...and worthy of the same legal protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  


    No argument (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 06:47:54 PM EST
    I agree with you. I don't know why you inferred from what I wrote that I don't support anyone's rights.

    As I've mentioned before, my mother is periodically homeless. She's also relatively frail and when she's on the streets I am concerned for her safety.

    I think she and other similar relatively vulnerable and non-dangerous homeless types are generally safer if more-dangerous homeless types are not around - that does not mean I support removing anyone's rights, nor did I suggest such a thing.


    I didn't mean to infer... (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 07:15:16 PM EST
    anything my friend, but I can see how you perceived so...my bad. I probably read a little too much into your point about safety.

    Just stressing that the homeless, like everybody else, need to be free first and safe second.  We can't allow the police to violate our rights in the name of safety or anything else.  I can't speak for your neck of the woods, but we treat the homeless pretty lousy here in NY.  I myself have seen the homeless have their rights violated by the police on more than one occasion.  Guilty of simply occupying space and not looking so good.  If the police are responding to a complaint that's one thing...playing "guess who is on parole and search" is quite another.

    I don't remember you mentioning your mom...hope she is free, safe, and well brother.


    Getting "bad seeds" off the street (none / 0) (#8)
    by Deconstructionist on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 08:11:47 AM EST
     is a worthy goal-- if we carefully define "bad seed."

      People who rob or beat other people should be prosecuted for that. Even people who commit lesser crimes are subject to legitimate prosecution. We should have workable mechanisms that both provide due process and allow for civil commitment of people who can be shown to be imminent dangers to themselves or others.

      The problem is all of that is very hard and would take more time, moneey, effort and expertise than society is willing to devote. . It's simply easier and cheaper to hassle people who "look like" bad seeds.

       I wouldn't want to be a cop on that beat either. Often, they are placed in impossible situations and asked to achieve the unattainable. Moreover, as the ones with "direct" contact with the street the cops on the beat often bear the brunt of sanctions when bad things happen and one could argue that it is entirely predictable that "bad things" will be done by some cops if you put them in such situations because cops are human beings.

      This decision is a little strange. The judge says it goes no further than requiring the cops to obey constitutional commands and at one point seems to state that even though the original agreement went further than that-- "suspicionless searches" of people on P/P are consitutional-- that it really didn't because of other language to the effect that if the SCOTUs or 9th cir. law on search and seizure were to be modified the agreement would automatically be modified by operation of law to incorporate that modification.

      I couldn't really follow him there because the agreement to cease "suspicionless searches" was not co-extensive with the law existing at the time of the agreement and the agreed order did not read to me as though it could be read that any provisions limiting the police to a greater extent than the current constitutional interpretations of courts  were construed to be  only enforceable to the extent thety did not differ from the sesrch and seizure precedents. it seemd to me it was a volunatary agreement by the city to do less than the constitution allows.

      the "constittional holding of Pregerson's decision is that search and seizures can be unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional even if otherwise constitutional if the primary intent  is to harass and intimidate.

       So stated, that's a good principle but it is going to be very difficult to litigate, apply  and enforce because of the inherent subjectivity required ina ny analysis. (That's why courts frequently like "bright line" rules as were discussed in the other thread about whether a vehicle passenger is seized. they are simply easier to administer.