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Jury's Out in Indigent's Suit Against Santa Ana


NEWPORT BEACH — An attorney for a homeless man told jurors Wednesday that Santa Ana officials attempted a "political," rather than practical, solution to the increasing homeless population when they developed a plan in 1988 to "remove all vagrants" from the city.

As part of that plan, Christopher B. Mears said during closing arguments, the personal belongings of his client, Mashone Bonner, were illegally taken in 1989 from the Civic Center and thrown away.

Bonner, 45, is suing the city for unspecified damages.

The city's attorney, Phillip D. Eaton, argued that Santa Ana officials had not targeted the homeless and that abandoned property was routinely picked up as part of the regular maintenance of public areas.

Eaton said Bonner, who has lived in the Civic Center since 1985, should have been aware that park employees regularly maintain the area.

After closing statements, jurors deliberated for three hours before recessing for the weekend without reaching a verdict. The jurors are scheduled to return Monday to Superior Court in Newport Beach to continue deliberations.

Mears' case centers on internal memos written in the summer of 1988 by Allen E. Doby, Recreation and Community Services Agency executive director, and then-Deputy City Manager Jan C. Perkins. The memos stated that it was City Council policy "that vagrants are no longer welcome in the city of Santa Ana" and outlined steps to be taken to implement the policy.

More than a year later, Doby testified during the trial, he wrote another memo stating that he did not intend to imply that a "council policy" existed.

But Mears told the jury that other staff memos did not support that claim and that Doby had been pressured by his supervisors to rewrite the policy because of a separate lawsuit then pending against the city.

Doby was "the messenger that was sent to be shot," Mears said, speculating that was why Mayor Daniel H. Young and City Manager David N. Ream did not defend their policy during the trial.

"The politicians were not going to come in here and face the heat, were they?" Mears told the jury. "It might hurt their reputations."

Mears equated what happened to Bonner to someone coming home at the end of the day, opening the door and finding that all his possessions and mementos have disappeared.

"You would feel like you had been raped and beaten in just a second," Mears said.

But Eaton said the city's top officials did not need to testify because subordinates in the Parks Department, who were charged with carrying out the program, had testified that they were unaware of any policy targeting the homeless.

The city's primary goal was to maintain the Civic Center in a "decent, safe and clean condition," Eaton said, adding that Bonner kept his belongings in a garbage bag that could have been mistaken for trash.

"Does it sound like we are doing anything that wouldn't be expected, that you would not do in your own yard?" Eaton asked the jury. "Does it sound like we are doing anything we should not be doing?"

In response to Mears' assertion that the city's program was illegal and unjust, Eaton said: "The city of Santa Ana has as much right to your ear, has as much right to justice, has as much right to your support, as Mr. Mears' client does."

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