City of Lawrence asks federal judge to toss lawsuit of man who was trespassed from homeless camp

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Phillip Michael Eravi is pictured at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

The City of Lawrence is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a man who claims his First Amendment and other civil rights were violated when he was trespassed from the city-supported homeless camp in North Lawrence.

The city says in its response, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for Kansas, that Phillip Michael Eravi’s lawsuit should be thrown out because the city was well within its rights to restrict access to the homeless camp, which it calls a “nonpublic forum,” and that probable cause existed to trespass Eravi, who had been given multiple warnings to not enter the camp.

Eravi was trespassed from the camp on March 21, 2023, at the request of a city worker, as the Journal-World reported. In his suit, he claims that he was at the camp in response to the death of 36-year-old Ashley Sawyer, a camp resident. While Eravi was there he began filming for his YouTube page.

At the time, police were investigating the death at the camp, which had a no-visitors policy. Police officers asked Eravi to leave on behalf of the city employees working there. Two police officers and the city’s homeless programs project specialist were later named as defendants in Eravi’s suit.

His suit claims that by ordering him to leave the camp the city violated his First Amendment rights “to speak, the right to listen, the right to photograph and record, and the right to associate and assemble with other residents.” The suit also claims the city was “retaliating” against Eravi “for reporting Michael had done regarding (the) City.”

In its request for dismissal, the city argues that it cannot be held liable for alleged constitutional violations “that did not arise out of an official policy, custom or practice of the City of Lawrence”; rather, Eravi’s complaint “solely concerns the actions of City employees” — who have qualified immunity — “who prevented plaintiffs unfettered access to the homeless encampment.”

The city’s suit says that even after Eravi was ordered to leave the camp on March 21, he returned to the camp on March 23 and March 27.

Eravi was convicted on Sept. 21, 2023, in Lawrence Municipal Court of criminal trespass for an incident in June at the camp. He was fined $173 including court costs and sentenced to 90 days in the county jail, which was suspended, according to court records. He has appealed that conviction in Douglas County District Court.

Eravi is also facing a felony interference with law enforcement charge after he allegedly forced officers from their protected positions during an armed stand-off in May, as the Journal-World reported. His retained attorney, Angela Keck, has filed motions to dismiss the case based on First and Fourth Amendment violations. In December, multiple officers testified about the dangers they and Eravi faced during the incident. The court is set to hear additional testimony and rule on those motions on March 8 along with a scheduled status conference for his municipal appeal, according to court records.

Eravi’s co-plaintiff in the lawsuit was Chansi Long, a Lawrence journalist and homeless advocate who died in November after being struck by a train, as the Journal-World reported.


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