AKRON- A federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of eleven homeless people, claims the City of Akron violated their rights by routinely carrying out sweeps of their secluded encampments, chasing them away, then confiscating their tents and their belongings including important personal documents.
The suit was filed by a Case Western Reserve University Attorney and Law Professor Avidan Cover who claims the series of raids began in 2010 at the urging of local business owners.
It claims, "In a series of raids occuring between 2010 and 2014, the Akron Police Department, with the assistance of the Akron Department of Public Service and community-service crews, seized and destroyed property without sufficient notice to (the homeless), or with no notice at all," and that the acts are in violation of their constitutional rights.
The lead plaintiff in the case is Patrick Moe, 45, who the suit claims is a military veteran, who has been a homeless citizen of Akron for the past three years, at times living in a tent shelter.
The lawsuit claims, "As a direct result of the City's policies and practices, the Akron Police Department and Akron Department of Public Service seized and destroyed all of Mr. Moe's belongings including his tent, which was his residence at the time, and his financial documents, military documents and countless personal items," during a November 2013 sweep.
Other homeless plaintiffs named in the lawsuit claim to have had their birth certificates, personal papers and photographs, their clothing and other property taken and destroyed without any opportunity for them to be able to get them back.
"The fourth amendment prohibits unlawful search and unlawful seizure. That's exactly what the city has perpetrated," claims Cover, who also believes the homeless have been denied due process, in violation of their fourth and fourteenth amendment rights.
The suit names Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Akron Police Chief James Nice along with three others.
The City of Akron responded late Monday with a written statement saying, in part:
"In this case, the police, acting upon the request of private property owners, enforced the law. The police worked with the people that were trespassing on private property, walked through the sites, talked with them, and gave them plenty of notice and ample time for them to gather their belongings and vacate the property (weeks and sometimes months of time.)
At every turn, the police followed the law, gave people warnings about the up-coming clean-up of the area, and told people when they were coming through to clean-up the property. The police gave them the opportunity to claim and salvage their belongings.
The City enforced the law by removing the materials that were left behind."
Also working on the suit are Case Western Reserve law students.
"One of the things we allege is that the City had a sweep in November and so during that time these individuals lost things like their clothing, their tents, boots things like that and it left these people vulnerable to the weather elements," said Emma Victorelli.
In one of the cases, the homeless plaintiff claims as a result of the city confiscating his tent and clothing he was left exposed to the elements and was subsequently treated at a local hospital suffering from frostbite.
"These people are citizens just like us and they are afforded the same constitutional rights to protection that anyone should receive," said Nathaniel Ehrman.
The suit asks for a permanent injunction prohibiting the City from carrying out any further such raids and asks for compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial.