Judge: County should have held hearings before Kanaha sweep | News, Sports, Jobs
A judge has ruled that Maui County was required to hold evidence hearings requested by two homeless women before a wave of encampments on county land near Kanaha Beach Park last year.
In an order filed March 16, 2nd Circuit Judge Kirstin Hamman said “constitutional due process required a contested case hearing” for Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau, whose property was seized and destroyed during the September 20-22 sweep.
The order did not require such hearings for Lauralee Riedell and Adam Walton, who did not lose personal property in the sweep.
Davis, Lau, Riedell and Walton were among more than 40 people who filed applications for contested hearings before the sweep, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which represented the four people living in the area known as Pu’uhonua o Kanaha in a lawsuit against the county. Maui County did not respond to requests for hearings, according to the statement.
“We are very pleased that our clients now have their day in court, after the county wrongfully denied them their constitutional right to be heard,” Jongwook “Wookiee” Kim, legal director for the ACLU of Hawaii, said in a statement. “In finding that contested case applications were necessary before Maui County proceeded with this sweep of homeless people and their property, the court confirmed that homeless people do not lose their constitutional rights to due process. simply by existing in public spaces, and also put the county on note that the kind of sloppy procedure he used here will not be tolerated in the future.
In a statement, the company’s assistant attorney, Caleb Rowe, said the county is appealing the decision.
“Four plaintiffs allege the county is required to hold evidentiary hearings before it can remove personal items left on county land without county permission,” said Rowe. “The court granted the county’s motion to dismiss two plaintiffs and ruled that the other two plaintiffs were entitled to a hearing before their property was removed from county land.
“The county has requested that this matter be reviewed by the Intermediate Court of Appeals.”
Employees of the County and State Department of Lands and Natural Resources evacuated homeless people, towed abandoned vehicles and picked up trash during the sweep, which authorities say was carried out because the encampment of the homeless -shelter was creating hazards for the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Treatment Plant on Amala Place and Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.
With the exception of vehicles, seized or abandoned personal property was destroyed, according to court records.
Lau, 52, was able to prevent the seizure of most of his belongings, but lost several items including a portable water tank, fishing rods and Bluetooth speakers.
Davis, 64, lost possessions including pots and pans, tents, awning, folding tables, diapers, stroller, playpen and infant car seat, as well as four vehicles.
While the county argued that personal property lost protections under constitutional due process when kept on public property allegedly “in violation of criminal laws”, the court disagreed.
The order stated that the vehicles in the plaintiffs’ possession were protected by due process, regardless of registered owners, because the plaintiffs “were in possession of these vehicles and used these vehicles for both storage of other personal property and for shelter.”
“The court considers that the private interests at stake here are important,” says the order.
He also said there was a high risk of people being wrongfully deprived of their property because the procedures used by the county did not provide people with “the ability to meaningfully challenge the Kanaha Sweep and the taking and destruction of their property.”
On September 1, the county issued a press release informing the public that the sweep would take place and on September 14 distributed a hard copy of a “departure notice” to homeless people in the Kanaha area. The notice said the area would be cleared of personal property and vehicle access would be restricted from September 20-22.
The notice also said anyone remaining could be cited for trespassing and listed agencies providing mental health and residential services, but did not provide information on how to recover seized personal property, according to the order. of the court.
Some plaintiffs did not receive the notice to quit, according to court records.
The court order recognized that the county “may have important interests in public health, safety and the upkeep of its public spaces, but on balance they do not outweigh the important private interests at stake, particularly in light of the high risk of erroneous deprivation created by the procedures actually used by the defendants.”
In a statement commenting on the court order, Davis said: “I am happy to see that something is finally being done. Every time they swept I took a loss and it was really tough.
Lau, who became homeless when she was evicted in early 2020 after suffering health issues from her job and helping her disabled adult son pay his rent, said: “It means a lot. It’s a beautiful feeling that we are finally going to be heard.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at [email protected]