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City officials announced this evening a settlement in a lawsuit regarding city police officers issuing illegal lodging tickets to homeless people sleeping in public spaces at night.
The settlement, which is subject to City Council approval, means police officers will not issue illegal lodging tickets to homeless people between 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. sleeping on public property, if the act of sleeping outdoors is their only offense. Mayor Jerry Sanders emphasized that the acts of sleeping on private property, drinking in public or using drugs in public are still cause for police action.
The settlement avoids the controversial plan that had been supported by City Attorney Mike Aguirre that certain neighborhoods in the city would be declared “free zones.”
At a press conference to announce the settlement this afternoon, Sanders and Aguirre were joined by Bill Maheu, assistant police chief, and Tim Cohelan, an attorney representing nine homeless individuals in the lawsuit, which was filed in November 2004.
In November, the Police Department adopted similar policies to those outlined in the settlement in response to a federal court ruling in Los Angeles. The ruling found that the issuing of illegal lodging tickets available was cruel and unusual punishment when homeless shelters had too few beds.
Cohelan, one of the attorneys representing the homeless plaintiffs pro bono, said his team’s been monitoring the new procedures adopted by the police, and because of their apparent success so far, he approached the city about resolving the lawsuit.
He said both sides gave up some ground but were satisfied with the settlement.
“I understand why the mayor can’t be for free zones,” Cohelan said. “It’s a total political loser. It’s hard enough to be on the side of the homeless.”
Aguirre said amnesty for past holders of outstanding illegal lodging citations is not included in the settlement, but those cases would be carried out in the spirit of the settlement.
“I think the most significant thing is that both sides are pleased,” said Sharon Johnson, the city’s homeless services chief. “It’s one of the truly successful negotiations.”