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A federal class action lawsuit filed in late 2020 concerning the movement of those who lost their property during homeless encampment sweeps in Minneapolis will go forward. 

The lawsuit, filed in October 2020 by the ACLU of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Ballard Spahr, involves nine people who were evicted during the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board's sweeps, which followed safety concerns being raised by nearby residents.

Minnesota District Judge Wilhelmina Wright ruled Friday that, even though people living in these camps don't have the right to stay and the government has a legal right to remove them, police can't trash the belongings of people that are staying there. Therefore, Wright wrote, the people affected had their constitutional rights violated.

The lawsuit alleges that Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, MPRB and specific officials in each agency, "conducted 'sweeps' during which Defendants have seized and destroyed the property of persons experiencing unsheltered homelessness who live in encampments in Minneapolis parks."

"The city and county violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs and others living in the parks by destroying encampments. Giving little or no notice, law enforcement bulldozed people's shelters, throwing away personal belongings including identification cards, clothing, and sleeping bags," the lawsuit states.

The evictions and throwing out of personal items happened in different parts of the city, including encampments in Elliot, Kenwood, Peavey and Powderhorn parks in the same year the COVID-19 pandemic began.

According to MPR News, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed she was awoken around 4 a.m. in the rain in September 2020 by officers "shaking her tent and shining a bright light in her face," with police telling her she had 30 minutes to leave the area, despite claiming she didn't receive an eviction notice. The MPRB disputed that claim, saying notice was given.

Earlier that summer, the MPRB had provided temporary permission to homeless individuals to stay in the city's parks amid declining shelter space due to the pandemic, Bring Me The News previously reported. However, the city said it wouldn't continue through the winter, so officials started to carry out short-notice evictions at the encampments.

MPRB filed a motion to dismiss some of the claims in the case in February, according to court records.

In previous rulings, Judge Wright dismissed some other claims from plaintiffs in this case. A recent rejection was made on Friday, when attorneys with MN-ACLU made a claim that their clients had a fundamental right to privacy that would prevent any law enforcement agency from making these sweeps. 

The ruling on Friday allows parts of the case to be addressed in court going forward.

“This ruling means we get to continue fighting for the people who were living in tents in Minneapolis parks and had to watch helplessly as their belongings including blankets, important papers and keepsakes — and their homes — were destroyed,” said Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid staff attorney Rebecca Stillman in a statement.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have since revised how they conduct these evictions.

A spokesperson with MPRB issued the following statement to Bring Me The News:

"In February of 2022, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) made a motion to dismiss portions of the 2020 lawsuit against the MPRB by nine individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness and ZACAH, a private nonprofit organization that assists Minnesota residents on the verge of experiencing homelessness. While the lawsuit against the MPRB is still pending and discovery is continuing, today U.S. District Court Judge Wright granted in part and denied in part MPRB’s motion to dismiss.

"The MPRB is pleased that Superintendent Bangoura and Park Police Chief Ohotto have been dismissed from the case and that the Court has held that there is no recognized right to sleep/live in parks, or on public land generally.

"The Court denied the motion to dismiss on other grounds."

Isabella Salomão Nascimento, one of the attorneys representing MN-ACLU in the case, tells Bring Me The News that this ruling was "monumental" for change going forward.

"Hearing this order by the judge, the language was exceptionally strong," she said. "Typically these municipal liability claims, especially in a case like this one... the judge found that we had pledged sufficient allegations to support not just an unofficial custom, but an official policy by the MPRB to systematically destroy people's belongings and violate [their constitutional rights]."

To see the full lawsuit, click here.

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