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June 1, 2018

Motion filed in federal court states that City of Miami has blatantly and systemically violated the long-standing consent decree protecting homeless persons in Miami from abuse by law enforcement

MIAMI, FL – The Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has filed a motion urging a federal court to enforce a historic legal agreement protecting the rights of homeless persons in Miami, in response to recent actions by the City of Miami that violate the agreement.

As described in the motion, over the past three to six months, police and city workers have been seizing and destroying the property of homeless people in the city, banishing homeless persons from certain areas – particularly around recent luxury developments in and around downtown Miami – and arresting people for engaging in “life sustaining misdemeanor conduct” without offering shelter or assistance, as required by the Pottinger Agreement. On the same day as the ACLU’s filing, the City filed a motion seeking to terminate the agreement.

The Pottinger Agreement, which was the result of a lawsuit (Pottinger v. City of Miami) originally filed by the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida in 1988 on behalf of 6000 homeless persons living in the city, was approved by a federal court in 1998 based on a finding of intentional and systematic violations of the constitutional rights of homeless persons by the City of Miami. The landmark settlement – won after a decade of litigation involving two trials, two appeals, and nearly two years of mediation – protects homeless individuals from being harassed or arrested by law enforcement for the purpose of driving them from public areas.

“The rapid gentrification of Miami in the 20 years since the signing of the Pottinger Agreement does not mean that the City can return to the failed policy of trying to use the criminal justice system to address homelessness in Miami,” stated Benjamin Waxman, an attorney with the law firm Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, P.A., and lead counsel in the Pottinger case. “Miami may be changing, but one thing hasn’t changed: people do not lose the protection of the law simply because they are poor.”

The motion filed by the ACLU of Florida on Wednesday, May 30 seeks the court’s enforcement of the agreement, compensation for homeless individuals who have had their property seized and destroyed in violation of the Agreement, and that the City be held in contempt for those violations. The filing is the latest in a number of cases throughout the state of Florida in which the ACLU of Florida has gone to court to protect the rights of homeless persons who have been subjected to unlawful abuse by law enforcement.

“The City’s efforts to undermine this historic agreement in Miami are reflective of a larger problem throughout the state of Florida of communities criminalizing homelessness,” stated ACLU of Florida legal director Nancy Abudu. “Rather than using the criminal justice system to go after those with so little foothold in society, cities should focus resources on treating the underlying causes of homelessness.”

A status conference in the case has been set for Tuesday, June 5.

A copy of the ACLU’s Motion to Enforce the Pottinger Consent Decree and Hold the City in Contempt is available here: https://www.aclufl.org/sites/default/files/pottinger_enforcement_motion.pdf

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