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Judge blocks O.C. deputies from arresting homeless who refuse to leave encampments

A federal judge Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order barring Orange County sheriff's deputies from arresting homeless people who refuse to leave encampments along the Santa Ana River.

U.S. District Judge David Carter's order is related to a lawsuit filed Jan. 29 seeking to halt an ongoing effort to clear homeless people who have set up camp along the river trail and prevent three cities — Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange — from enforcing anti-camping, trespassing and loitering laws.

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The lawsuit alleges that the county and cities have taken actions that forced hundreds of homeless people to move to the riverbed and that the county is now moving to push those people back into cities without plans to provide adequate housing and shelter.

"The court will not allow haphazard, hurried enforcement action in an effort to clear the population," Carter wrote in his order.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Orange County Catholic Worker, which provides services to the poor, and seven homeless people who live in encampments along the river — asked the court to block law enforcement from making arrests.

The group filed the request after it found out authorities planned to cite and arrest homeless people who remained in the area for trespassing beginning Wednesday morning, according to the filing.

Carter's order will stand until a Feb. 13 hearing, when representatives of the county and cities will provide information about the number and circumstances of citations issued or arrests made under trespassing, anti-camping or loitering laws since the beginning of the year.

Police presence along the river trail is still allowed, and deputies are permitted to make arrests for probation and parole violations or other illegal conduct.

Orange County Counsel Leon Page said in a statement last week that he had "no comment on the merits of the litigation" but that the county was looking "forward to discussing positive solutions that will benefit all stakeholders, including the population encamped in the Santa Ana riverbed."

City of Orange police respond to a report of an armed man near a Santa Ana River homeless encampment. The man was released after a fake firearm was found.
City of Orange police respond to a report of an armed man near a Santa Ana River homeless encampment. The man was released after a fake firearm was found. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Fry and Money write for Times Community News.

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