Saturday, December 13, 2003

Homeless men settle lawsuit

5 who lived on Covington riverbank to get $1,000 each after shelters torn down

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Delbert "Frog" Thompson, 58, is one of the plaintiffs who sued the city of Covington after shelters, clothing and other items were removed from camps in which the lived.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
COVINGTON - Five men who lived on the Ohio riverbank will receive $1,000 apiece as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit after city of Covington workers razed their makeshift shelters last year.

Eight men sued in U.S. District Court in Covington after city workers dismantled their riverfront camps in April 2002. They claimed the city illegally removed their belongings without notice.

However, three of the men failed to follow through with their claims when they didn't show up for depositions.

Lawyers for the transients also will contribute another $1,000 to each man out of the attorney fees paid, said Cincinnati attorney Robert Newman, who represented the homeless men. The lead plaintiff, James Paul Ashcraft, will receive an additional $2,000 from the attorney fees.

"The other thing that this case accomplished was a first-in-the-country decision that cities that engage in this kind of activity must notify the people that the confiscation is going to occur and give them a hearing before it takes place," Newman said.

"Most of these men were at work (when the camps were dismantled). By settling, we're preserving what we think is a very valuable precedent and also getting some money for them."

Steve McMurtry, assistant city solicitor for Covington, said there was no admission of wrongdoing. He said it was cheaper to settle the case than to take it to trial next month.

Covington officials said the riverfront camps were a health hazard and an eyesore. City workers showed up April 22, 2002, without warning and filled several trucks with materials from the camps.

They suspended the cleanup for a few days after resident complaints created a stir. The men said they lost everything from photos to work clothes to medicine.

"These transients claimed that some of their personal items which had some value were destroyed," McMurtry said. "We denied that and continue to deny that. The only things the city took were the pallets, the plastic and the tarps used to construct the shelters."

McMurtry said the men chose to live on the riverbank.

After Covington workers razed the camps, the city commission enacted a law that prohibits camping in city parks and along its riverfront.

Two suits on behalf of homeless people are pending in federal court in Cincinnati. One challenges the city's law that requires panhandlers to register with the city. The other challenges the city's eviction of homeless people from underneath bridges and highway ramps.


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