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Pier Street Vendor Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against the City

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By Lookout Staff

July 29, 2022 -- A street vendor sued the City in Federal Court Thursday alleging that police are towing the vehicles of unlicensed Black and Latino drivers and charging an unjustified impound fee, according to news reports.

The class action lawsuit filed by Reyes Murcia alleges that the City is depriving low-income minorities of their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to a City News Service report Friday.

According to the suit, the City uses its vehicle seizure policy to impound the vehicles driven by unlicensed Black and Latino drivers without a warrant “in order to coerce” its owner to pay a fee, the News Service reported.

This is done “despite the registered vehicle owner being capable to produce or direct a licensed driver to operate the vehicle,” the suit alleges.

“They are not following basic California law in terms of what to do when a vehicle is impounded from an individual who is unlicensed,” civil rights attorney Christian Contreras, who represents the plaintiff, told KTLA.

Murcia said police stopped him in the Pier Parking lot for driving with a broken tail light and impounded his 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe, according to the lawsuit.

Asked for his license, Murcia told the officers the van was not a traffic hazard and produced an expired license from Mexico, the lawsuit says.

According to the City News report, Murcia "contends he learned that the fee to release the vehicle would be $159.90 and, in addition, the city charges a 30-day impound fee of $1,128."

In addition to the City, the suit names Police Chief Ramon Batista, City Manager David White and All City Towing as defendants.

The suit asks the court to find Santa Monica's vehicle seizure policy unconstitutional, have the towing company return the vehicle to Murcia and award him damages and court costs, according to City News.

The City issued the following statement on Friday in response to requests for comment.

“The City of Santa Monica has just received this information and needs time to evaluate thoroughly to provide an accurate response.

"At this time, the City is unable to provide more information or a position on this lawsuit,” the statement said.

Pier vendors have been the subject of crackdowns by the City, which says they are engaging in risky behavior that poses a danger to the public ("Council to Consider Banning Risky Vendor Activities," August 18, 2021).

In January, the City launched a Pier vending task force made up of Police, Fire, Code and Public Works personnel to stop renegade vendors from lighting cooking fires, spilling grease into storm drains and overflowing trash bins with waste.

The first crackdown resulted in the arrests of a juvenile for carrying a loaded firearm and a female -- Michelle Antonia Murcia -- for an assault that took place in November ("Santa Monica Cracks Down on Illegal Pier Vendors," January 11, 2022).

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