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Suit Challenges Police Sweeps of Skid Row

March 19, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Two legal groups sued the Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday, alleging its well-publicized sweeps of downtown's skid row violate the constitutional rights of parolees.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild filed the federal lawsuit, calling the sweeps involving hundreds of officers and citations indiscriminate and unwarranted.

The suit, filed on behalf of four skid row residents, contends that police violated the 4th Amendment by subjecting the plaintiffs to searches without a reasonable suspicion that they had committed a crime.

"The ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild remain committed to the idea that this type of behavior is not acceptable, that it's illegal and that it must be reined in," said Peter J. Eliasberg of the ACLU.

In some cases, the plaintiffs were neither on probation nor parole but were searched anyway, said Carol Sobel, who spoke on behalf of the lawyers guild.

An LAPD spokesman said that he had no knowledge of the suit and that the department does not comment on pending litigation. The mayor's office and the city attorney's office did not return calls seeking comment.

Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Corrections Department, which played a major role in the sweeps, said parolees surrender most of their 4th Amendment privileges, and officers usually don't need a reasonable suspicion or a warrant to search them.

A recent decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that searches of parolees' homes without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity are unconstitutional, but Heimerich said he didn't know what the effect of the ruling would be.

The suit filed Tuesday names the city of Los Angeles, Police Chief William Bratton and Capt. Charlie Beck of the Central Community Police Station as defendants.

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