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Judge rules that Los Angeles officials manipulated records during homeless camp cleanups

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A federal judge has found that Los Angeles city officials altered evidence to support the city’s defense against allegations that it illegally seized and destroyed the property of homeless individuals. Warning that the city will likely face sanctions following a forensic examination, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer wrote in an order that the city had not only “altered, modified, and created documents relevant to Plaintiff’s claims” but had also failed to produce legitimately requested documents. She stated, “Suffice it to say that the City’s credibility has been significantly damaged.”

According to court filings, records documenting what was taken during cleanups and the legal authorization for the seizure were altered or created up to two years after the cleanup occurred and in some instances just days before they were turned over to the plaintiffs. In some records, the word “bulky items” was replaced by “health hazards” or “contaminated,” after Fischer had ruled the city’s law prohibiting bulky item seizures unconstitutional.

Shayla R. Myers, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles who is representing the plaintiffs, described the changes as so significant that they rise to the level of fraud on the court. Myers stated, “This isn’t just about altering or creating evidence, it’s about misleading the court and the public about the existence of safeguards to ensure the city isn’t illegally disposing of unhoused people’s belongings.”

The plaintiffs, including seven homeless individuals and the group Ktown for All, allege that the city violated their rights by destroying their belongings in camp cleanups in 2018 and 2019. Items taken allegedly included tents, chairs, work supplies, a laptop computer, personal identification, and medications. They seek compensation for the destroyed property and a declaration that the city’s policies violate the California and U.S. constitutions.

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Judge Fischer issued a preliminary injunction early in the case, barring the city from enforcing the municipal code that prohibits bulky items. She later held the city in contempt after evidence showed that city workers continued to post signs prohibiting bulky items in some locations. The case has since been embroiled in disputes about the accuracy of the city’s records.

After a neutral third-party forensic examiner was appointed to investigate the altered documents, it was found that over 100 revisions had been made in some records. Fischer issued a finding in February that the city had altered records and criticized the city’s arguments that the revisions were insignificant. She ordered the city to turn over all relevant documents to the examiner by a specified deadline, warning that delays would not be tolerated.

Despite the city turning over a Google Drive for evaluation, no additional documents were provided. Attorney Myers has not yet determined what sanctions to propose, as the forensic examination is ongoing. The trial, initially stayed for the examination, has not been rescheduled.

“This case would have been resolved years ago but for the need for the court to investigate the city’s conduct, delaying a public reckoning about the legality of these sweeps,” Myers said.

As this case continues to unfold, it sheds light on the challenges faced by homeless individuals and the importance of upholding their rights in legal proceedings. Judge Fischer’s findings highlight the gravity of altering evidence in a court case and the potential consequences for those involved. It remains to be seen how this situation will ultimately be resolved and what impact it will have on future homeless camp cleanups in Los Angeles.

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Massive Landslide in Papua New Guinea Leaves Hundreds Presumed Dead

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A devastating landslide in rural Papua New Guinea has left at least three people dead and hundreds more feared to have perished under the rubble and debris. The disaster struck three villages early Friday morning, engulfing them in a massive landslide that buried homes and trapped residents. Local officials, including Sandis Tsaka, the provincial administrator for Enga, have expressed grave concerns over the high death toll expected due to the densely populated nature of the area.

The death toll could be in the hundreds, making it one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region. Prime Minister James Marape described it as possibly the country’s biggest landslide, attributing the catastrophe to prolonged and extraordinary rainfall in recent months.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by the unstable terrain and ongoing rain, complicating the search for survivors. Nearly 4,000 people inhabit the affected villages, primarily subsistence farmers in the highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

The landslide, comparable to the size of three or four soccer fields, has caused significant damage to the area, including the main thoroughfare, the Porgera Highway. International aid organizations and the country’s defense forces are mobilizing to provide assistance to the affected communities.

Despite challenges such as tribal conflicts and delays in aid delivery, efforts are underway to rescue those trapped under the debris. The region’s unstable geology, exacerbated by heavy rainfall, has made it prone to landslides, posing a constant threat to the expanding villages.

President Joe Biden and Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, have pledged support for Papua New Guinea’s rescue and recovery operations. The global community is standing in solidarity with the affected population, offering assistance and aid to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

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As the search for survivors continues and the death toll rises, it is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of communities in disaster-prone regions. The resilience and unity shown in times of crisis highlight the strength and compassion of humanity in facing such tragedies.

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