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Sacramento DA "gathering evidence" in possible homeless lawsuit against city

Sacramento DA takes steps toward possible homeless lawsuit against city
Sacramento DA takes steps toward possible homeless lawsuit against city 03:24

SACRAMENTO — The Sacramento County District Attorney is taking the first steps toward a possible lawsuit against the City of Sacramento over the downtown homeless crisis.

District Attorney Thien Ho sent out a neighborhood nuisance questionnaire on Monday to downtown neighbors and businesses asking them to describe how the homeless encampments are impacting their businesses — and lives.

The results of this survey could be used as evidence in a criminal or civil suit alleging the city is violating nuisance laws by failing to enforce city ordinances that ensure health and safety.

CBS13 spoke to the owner of a café near the District Attorney's office who told us he's had to call the police at least 20 times. He said his window and door have been shattered three times and he cited repeated incidents of unhoused individuals stealing food, bothering customers or urinating outside his front door.

These are the types of stories Ho is hoping to compile.

"I've opened an investigation to see whether or not the City of Sacramento has violated the law, and we are gathering evidence," he said in an interview with CBS13 on Monday.

Ho said his biggest concern is selective enforcement, noting that California Highway Patrol officers clear homeless encampments around the State Capitol during the day, and city officials clear the grounds around Sacramento City Hall. But elsewhere, encampments remain all day, disproportionately impacting certain people and businesses.

"What I see is selective enforcement and inconsistent enforcement, and that simply needs to change," Ho said.

Just last week, he said one of his employees was attacked by an unhoused man. A court reporter was attacked last month.

Ho cites several recent lawsuits where cities were successfully sued for failing to abate a public nuisance caused by homelessness or to address the issue of tents breaking disability access laws.

The DA is now asking anyone who lives, works or visits downtown to fill out this survey.

In a statement Monday, the City of Sacramento said:

"The City of Sacramento is working urgently and diligently to address the current homelessness crisis and all its complexities. We are bringing to bear all available resources to help resolve the hardships faced by unsheltered individuals while working to protect the health and safety of our communities.

The City and County of Sacramento currently are deploying joint outreach teams that provide intensive outreach, assessment, navigation, service delivery and housing to as many people as possible in encampments within the City limits. These teams include mental health workers from the County who have the ability and qualifications to provide a behavioral health assessment and enroll or link people to an appropriate level of mental health and substance use services.

In addition, the City's Code Enforcement team and the Sacramento Police Impact team also respond to calls for service related to vehicle violations as well as sidewalk and critical infrastructure enforcement. 

In June, the City of Sacramento responded to more than 300 calls for service involving people experiencing homelessness in District 4, which includes downtown.

Here is an FAQ of what the City can do to legally address encampments on both public and private property:

The City of Sacramento remains committed to providing support to its most vulnerable residents while also enforcing its laws and ordinances. This commitment is underscored by both the new City/County partnership as well as the City's willingness to explore new and innovative ways to address the homelessness crisis with a variety of community partners.

Lastly, it is expected that the City Council will be reviewing/discussing the City's response protocols in the coming weeks."

Sources note that several business and community members are considering separate suits against the city. They would likely all be consolidated with the DA's case should any of these suits move forward.

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