CLARK COUNTY — Clark County leaders are expected to approve a $250,000 settlement agreement this week as restitution for violating homeless campers’ civil rights.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in Tacoma found Clark County liable for violating the constitutional rights of unhoused citizens when county work crews cleared homeless camps, seizing and disposing of the homeless campers’ personal property.
According to the suit, brought on behalf of eight different homeless plaintiffs, county work crews often seized personal belongings — including clothing, tents, sleeping bags, photographs, driver’s licenses, shoes, computers, food, medication, prescription glasses and toiletries — with little to no notice, and then disposed of the items immediately, giving homeless campers no chance to retrieve their belongings.
“It was a clear violation of the law,” says Vancouver attorney Peter Fels of the county’s seizure practices. Fels, along with his co-counsel, Moloy Good, a member of the Portland Human Rights Commission, represented the eight plaintiffs in their case against the county.
On Sept. 16, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan agreed that the county had violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, ruling that the county’s “immediate destruction of the property (rather than holding it for possible return) made the seizure unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Bryan also dismissed the county’s assertion that the work crews were justified in removing and destroying the personal property because campers had violated the county’s illegal camping ordinances.
Quoting a similar case out of Los Angeles that went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the highest court in the nation before the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Bryan ruled that that violation of an ordinance (in this case the illegal camping ordinance) does not nullify a person’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens from illegal search and seizures of private property.