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Skid Row Advocates Want LAPD Reined In

LOS ANGELES - Police harass Skid Row community organizers in downtown Los Angeles and maliciously prosecuted one for assault after she blew an air horn during a protest, the group claims in court.

In a federal complaint for violation of civil rights and malicious prosecution, Los Angeles Community Action Network and its member Deborah Burton sued the city, the LAPD, the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District, the Central City East Association and its executive director, and the LAPD lieutenant in charge of the "Safer Cities Initiative" on Skid Row.

The Community Action Network, which also refers to itself in the lawsuit as LA CAN and Cangress, advocates for Skid Row's minorities and homeless people. It frequently protests the city's Safe Cities Initiative. It calls the initiative a front for officers to harass, interrogate and issue citations to people who live on Skid Row.

Officers use "quality of life" laws that are "generally ignored" in other parts of the city to target the homeless, the group claims.

Officers harass the homeless because the value of real estate on Skid Row has risen dramatically, according to the 39-page complaint, and developers see the homeless as a roadblock to gentrifying the area.

"Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to address defendants' wrongful and illegal conduct in targeting LA CAN, its staff and members by continually violating their civil rights in an attempt to shut them up," the lawsuit says.

The relationship between the community organizers and police is contentious. Among other things, the group claims Officer Deon Joseph falsely accused the group in an LAPD blog post of selling knives and beer to homeless people, and giving them pornography. Joseph accused the group of "'pimping poverty for funding'" and "'poisoning the community,'" the complaint states.

Police prevented the group from videotaping officers on Skid Row, and have threatened protesters with arrest for lawful protesting, the complaint states.

Burton, 62, who is African-American, says she was arrested and charged with crimes "she did not commit as an effort to punish her for speaking out and to silence the entire organization."

Burton claims she was falsely accused of assaulting a business leader during a 2011 protest of an event called the Skid Row Walk, when she blew an air horn in protest. Burton says that defendant Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Association, claimed that the air horn had damaged her hearing.

Defendant police Lt. Shannon Paulson did not mention in a report about the incident that Lopez had suffered from ear problems for 30 years, according to the complaint.

Burton says a jury returned a not-guilty verdict on all the counts against her after the criminal case went to trial at Superior Court in Norwalk in the summer of 2013.

She and Cangress want the LAPD enjoined from violating their freedom of speech and association, and damages for due process violations, retaliation, malicious prosecution, and threats, intimidation and coercion, violation of mandatory duty, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck also is a defendant.

Los Angeles Community Action Network is represented by Barbara Schultz of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.

The term Skid Row apparently originated from a section of Portland, Ore., where loggers dragged, or skidded, logs for transportation by the Columbia River. Ironically, the original Skid Row has become a fashionable part of Portland.

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