Fresno, California and a number of public officials face a proposed class action over the city’s allegedly longstanding pattern and practice of “mistreating and marginalizing” its homeless population.
The 40-page case was filed by a homeless resident who alleges that he was “beaten up and seriously injured” before being arrested by Fresno police after he “disagreed with [the] officers” during their attempt to evict him from a campsite at which he lived for nearly a year. The plaintiff says that following his removal from the site, which the case asserts was not on city property, he was “wrongfully prosecuted for a year and a half, and had virtually all of his worldly possessions taken and destroyed.”
As the lawsuit tells it, the plaintiff’s encounter is reflective of the experiences of many other homeless Fresno residents, who the complaint stresses are entitled to have their rights observed and respected while the city’s homeless crisis endures.
“If Mr. Brown’s unfortunate saga were unique, this case would only be about him,” the complaint reads. “However, it is not. Mr. Brown therefore brings this action not only on his own behalf, but also on behalf of all others similarly situated.”
Although homelessness is a nationwide crisis, the problem is particularly severe in California’s Central Valley, the lawsuit begins. Of the 40 American cities with the highest rates of homelessness, six are in the Central Valley, including Fresno, the lawsuit states. According to the complaint, conservative estimates peg Fresno’s homeless population at roughly 4,200 individuals, while the probable count “likely swells to more than 20,000” when taking into account those considered to be marginally or sporadically housed. Exacerbating the problem to a great extent is the ongoing pandemic, as well as ballooning housing costs and inflation, the case adds.
Given the likelihood that Fresno’s homeless population will foreseeably increase, the lawsuit says, there is a need to ensure that these individuals’ rights are preserved. The lawsuit—which also names as defendants Police Chief Paco Balderrama, former Police Chief Andrew Hall, Mayor Jerry Dyer and several other law enforcement officers—alleges Fresno has long mistreated and marginalized its homeless population, including by arbitrarily moving them from place to place, taking and destroying property without due process, using excessive and unreasonable force, punishing those who seek to assert their rights by depriving them of advocacy and “harassing and silencing” those who advocate for the homeless.
Detailed in the case is Fresno’s alleged “systemic harassment” of its homeless population dating back to at least 2006. Between then and now, the suit alleges, the city has arbitrarily and punitively engaged in “cleanup sweep” activities of its homeless residents, many of whom have been thrown into the incarceration system for actions inherent to homelessness itself.
“These harassing activities have had the effect of making the very existence of many homeless persons illegal and making them subject to arrest wherever they were found,” the case says.
Further, the lawsuit claims local law enforcement leadership has continuously and intentionally “distorted and over-publicized” crime in homeless encampments as justification for bulldozing them and displacing homeless communities. In the last decade, Fresno has pressured private lot owners to evict homeless individuals under the threat of facing penalties themselves, the case alleges.
The lawsuit looks to represent all homeless persons in the City of Fresno since February 21, 2020 who have had or will have laws or initiatives enforced against them based on their homeless status, or who have had or will have their belongings seized and destroyed in a manner that is contrary to a 2008 class action settlement agreement and/or in violation of their personal property rights.
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