A homeless advocate has filed a federal lawsuit against a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, claiming that he retaliated against her for protesting the clearing of an encampment.
Crystal Sanchez said she encountered the sheriff’s deputy, identified in the lawsuit only as Deputy Albee, on May 1 when she was protesting the eviction of homeless people from a lot at 5700 Stockton Blvd.
Albee allegedly barred Sanchez from entering the property to help pack up people’s belongings and told her she was “this close to being arrested,” the lawsuit states.
On May 17, Sanchez received word that deputies were arresting homeless people at a different encampment and went to the site to observe.
When she arrived, Albee called her by name, handcuffed her and accused her of driving without a valid state driver’s license, the lawsuit states. The lawsuit claims that Albee had not seen Sanchez driving her vehicle, but still ordered that it be impounded.
He allegedly refused offers from several people with valid driver’s licenses who said they’d take the vehicle on Sanchez’s behalf.
Albee then relayed over his radio, “I got one of the protesters,” the lawsuit states.
The suit, filed Monday in Sacramento County Superior Court, alleges that the deputy retaliated against Sanchez for engaging in constitutionally protected activity, detained her without probable cause, and unreasonably searched and seized her car.
The county’s general counsel has not yet been served with the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department said the department could not comment on pending litigation.
Sanchez has been working as an advocate for years, and is part of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, the Poor People’s Campaign and the Sacramento Tenants Union, she said. She also runs a nonprofit called Reckless Charity.
“This appeared to be a private vendetta,” said civil rights attorney Mark Merin, who is representing Sanchez. He said that in such cases, the car normally would be left at the scene or entrusted to an acquaintance of the driver, but that the deputy refused.
“It was clearly retaliation by this officer, who was known to homeless people as a very abusive officer,” Merin said.
The deputy is a member of the Sheriff Department’s Homeless Outreach Team, which is dispatched to help connect homeless people with services, Sanchez said.
“You cannot place a police enforcement team to deal with the social needs of the homeless population,” she said. “Just because they are homeless does not make them criminals.”
Sanchez has been unable to gather the funds to get her car released from the tow yard; the bill is more than $2,000, she said.
In addition to the deputy, the lawsuit names the Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento County in their capacity as Albee’s employer.
Merin said he hoped the case would draw attention to a larger issue in Sacramento County, where homelessness is on the rise.
“The county has no strategy to deal with the ... burgeoning homeless population, other than to turn the police loose and say, ‘You deal with it,’” he said. “And the police are ill-equipped to deal with homeless people. They don’t have anything to offer other than arrest.”
Cynthia Cavanaugh, the county’s director of homeless initiatives, said the county began to increase funding with its 2017 budget, which earmarked $12 million for homeless services. The county now offers a number of options, including scattered-site shelters and a flexible supportive housing program, she said.