The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against the city of San Diego today, alleging that the city’s police and environmental services departments illegally confiscated and destroyed the property of homeless people who left it unattended.

In its complaint, the ACLU said the city has conducted raids in which police officers and city workers waited for homeless people to enter churches or shelters seeking services and then descended on their unattended property and immediately destroyed it.

“The City has mounted a campaign against its homeless citizens with a series of well-planned, ruthlessly executed and mean-spirited raids designed to harass these citizens and ‘drive them away,’” the complaint states. “The City knows that these items are not trash and that they have been placed outside the church or shelter only temporarily.”

The suit alleges the property was seized in violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure.

“It’s also a violation of due process,” said David Blair-Joy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “Government should not take or destroy property without due process of law.”

“This was extremely important personal property including medication, family photographs and blankets to keep them warm at night — irreplaceable stuff,” Blair-Joy said.

The lawsuit documents three separate raids the ACLU says the city systematically conducted.

City Attorney spokeswoman Gina Coburn said her office had not seen the complaint as of Wednesday and could not comment.

The class action suit asks the federal court to issue an injunction and temporary restraining order forcing the city to stop any raids. It also asks the court to define a class of all homeless people who have had similar experiences and will seek damages on their behalf, Blair-Joy said.

The case was filed jointly with the law offices of Scott Dreher, one of the attorneys who in 2007 won a lawsuit against the city that forced it to allow homeless people to sleep on public sidewalks between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

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