The Los Angeles city attorney's office will not file criminal charges against 11 transients arrested for trespassing two weeks ago after they refused to abandon makeshift homes in Justiceville, a Skid Row shantytown for the homeless that was closed by authorities.
The case was dropped, Deputy City. Atty. Alice Hand said, because the offenses were minor, no property was destroyed and it is unlikely that the 11 will return to the former Justiceville site at Gladys Avenue and 6th Street.
The city attorney's office routinely rejects criminal charges in cases where the facts are similar, she added.
"The normal situation, where there is an alleged minor trespass, no destruction, no possibility of return, we generally reject them in the interest of justice," Hand said.
One of the lawyers who represented the "Justiceville 11"--10 men and a woman--said he has mixed feelings about the decision. While pleased that his clients will not be prosecuted, attorney Douglas Booth said, "It's frightening to me, because the Constitution says no one shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
"These people were deprived of their freedom, thrown in jail (briefly), without any neutral forum provided to them to see whether whatever they had done was right or wrong."
Hand replied that the 11 arrested at Justiceville are entitled to press claims against the city in civil court for false arrest or destruction of property, if they choose.
"They are not entitled per se to have the (criminal) case filed to determine the merits of the arrests," Hand said. The criminal justice system is intended, she added, "to determine the defendants' guilt or innocence, not whether the police acted properly."
In this case, Hand said, "We are not making any statement that it was not a valid arrest, because I wholeheartedly believe that it was and that a violation did occur."
Second Such Case
Booth noted that the Justiceville incident was the second time this year that the city attorney's office has refused to file charges against homeless people arrested during civil protests. The first incident occurred Jan. 2, when about a dozen residents of "Tent City," a temporary shelter at 1st and Spring streets, were arrested at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration as they urged the Board of Supervisors to extend the shelter's permit.
Justiceville, organized by former minister Ted Hayes, who was one of those arrested, was shut down by Los Angeles police on May 10. Under pressure from the county Department of Health Services, the owner of the lot on which the settlement was built had ordered the homeless who had been living there to leave.
Officials said the settlement, in the middle of what used to be a children's playground, was in violation of health codes, with no running water and a limited number of portable toilets.
Twelve people were originally arrested as the site was closed, but a spokesman for the Inner City Law Center, which arranged for attorneys to represent the group, said one was not a Justiceville resident.