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Robert Sundance, Activist, Dies

August 11, 1993|BOB SIPCHEN

Robert Sundance, whose landmark class-action lawsuit helped reform how the LAPD and police departments nationwide contend with chronic alcoholics on skid rows, died Tuesday morning at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in West Los Angeles.

The 66-year-old American Indian rights activist, profiled in View on Nov. 29, 1992, had battled bone cancer for 2 1/2 years.

Sundance spent 40 years drinking and brawling on mean downtown streets from Minneapolis to Seattle. That lifestyle landed him in jail 250 times, he estimated.

But Sundance believed it unconstitutional for police to arrest someone only for suffering from the sickness of alcoholism and being too poor to have a home. So he began filing legal writs.

In 1987, the California Supreme Court stopped short of declaring the law concerning public inebriation unconstitutional, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on the case.

But "the Sundance Case" had significant national impact.

"The practical effect," attorney Timothy McFlynn told The Times last year, "was to dramatically reduce the numbers of homeless alcoholics arrested and jailed for their illness, and dramatically increase the public-health system alternatives. . . . "

Sundance, a Hunkpapa Sioux whose given name was Rupert Sibley McLaughlin, will be buried next week near his birthplace, on the Standing Rock reservation that spans North and South Dakota.

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