Miami homeless win settlement for rights violations (ACLU) FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 20 Dec 1997 19:03:48 -0800 (PST)

FWD from see also ACLU Home Page <>


MIAMI (December 18, 1997) -- Homeless residents could get up to $1,500
apiece if they can prove Miami police violated their rights, under a
settlement signed Thursday between the city and the American Civil
Liberties Union.

Mayor Xavier Suarez approved the agreement, which could cost the cash-poor
city as much as $1.5 million. Suarez was in office in the 1980s when the
suit was filed -- a time when advocates said the city treated the homeless
likes pests.

If the deal is ratified by federal courts and a state-appointed board
overseeing Miami's finances, the checks for up to $1,500 each could be
handed out by the spring. Checks would go to those who could show they were
wrongfully arrested or had their civil rights violated since 1984.

The deal also requires police officers to undergo special training on the
circumstances and rights of the homeless.

The settlement, which covers 5,000 homeless people, calls for Miami to pay
at least $600,000 to the homeless and an additional $900,000 in attorney
fees to the ACLU.

Howard Simon, the ACLU's Florida director, said the maximum an individual
could receive is $1,500. If the total exceeds $600,000, then individuals
would take their claims to a court-appointed mediator, he said.

In the 1988 lawsuit, the ACLU alleged that police violated constitutional
rights by arresting and harassing people who slept and ate in public
places. The city's practice amounted to what critics called "pest control."

People sleeping in a downtown park in 1990 were awakened and handcuffed
while their personal belongings -- medicine, identification, a Bible --
were set on fire, according to testimony.

In 1992, Senior U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins found Miami had
violated the Constitution. His mandate for no-arrest "safe zones" helped
inspire community leaders to establish what now stands as a nationally
recognized system to help the homeless -- shelter, job training, counseling
and other assistance.

Negotiators for the city and the ACLU then sought to recast the ways police
deal with the homeless, balancing empathy for the needy with discipline for

The deal would allow police to resume arresting homeless people who block
sidewalks, camp in parks, litter, loiter in public restrooms or commit
other infractions.

The Miami Commission approved the 38-page document last week.