1988 arrests spurred lawsuit

04/27/2007 9:07 AM

04/27/2007 9:08 AM

In 1988, thousands of homeless people sued the city of Miami, accusing police of violating their constitutional rights when they rounded them up for simply living in the streets.

The arrests, they said, were little more than mass relocation efforts initiated by city fathers intent on sprucing up Miami's image during major events such as the Super Bowl.

The class-action case, filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and named after the lead plaintiff in the case, Michael Pottinger, ended with a landmark agreement a decade later. The agreement now hangs over Thursday's controversial arrests of homeless residents at a fire- damaged shantytown in Lib-

erty City.

Under the 1998 settle- ment, city police can no lon- ger immediately arrest homeless people because they're eating, sleeping, sit- ting, congregating or walk- ing in public.

Police can issue a warning to the homeless person to stop such conduct -- but only if there is an "available shelter'' in the city.

If there is such a shelter, the officer must offer it to the homeless person. If the person accepts it, the officer cannot arrest him. Arrange- ments are then made to take the person there.

But if the homeless per- son refuses the offer, the officer can carry out the arrest. The charge: a "life sustaining conduct'' misde- meanor.

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