ACLU Hawai‘i clients Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau

April 1, 2024 10:00 am


HONOLULU - The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i today announced the successful milestone in its lawsuit against Maui County aimed at their unconstitutional  sweep at the Pu‘uhonua o Kanahā encampment at Kanahā Beach Park in September 2021. 

Hawai‘i Supreme Court issued a historic decision on March 5, 2024 stating that Article I, section 5 of the Hawai‘i State Constitution required Maui County to hold a contested case hearing before seizing and destroying the property of houseless individuals. 

The ACLU Hawai‘i represented two houseless individuals Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau, whose written requests for a contested case hearing were ignored by Maui County. Both Daivs and Lau lost all of their personal belongings in the sweep. 

Sonia Davis, Plaintiff, said: “For me, the sweep has been a huge stress. During the sweep, I felt like I was a target. The police officers involved in the sweep were so intimidating. I was terrified by their threats to take me to jail. I felt like I had no choice but to leave everything behind. That day, the County destroyed my vital documents, my vehicles, and even my grandchildren's baby pictures. Even though we won the case I still feel hurt. It’s always going to be with me. But with this case, I finally got to be heard. And hopefully this never happens to others living on the streets; whatever they have left shouldn’t be taken away. I want to thank everyone who has supported us.” - Sonia Davis, Plaintiff

“Sweeps are not a solution to houselessness and are devastating. We’re talking about people’s birth certificates and legal documents, family photos, medical equipment including wheelchairs, walkers and medication being taken, which further destabilizes people who are desperately seeking housing,” said Taylor Brack, ACLU Hawai‘i Acting Legal Director. “This Hawai‘i Supreme Court decision is a tremendous victory and it should prompt all county governments to treat their houseless constituents as part of the solution, rather than the problem. Real solutions are rapid re-housing, supportive housing, transitional housing, housing vouchers, affordable and coordinated approaches. The ACLU is so proud of our clients for standing up for their rights. When we uplift and protect houseless people’s dignity and humanity, we start to build a strong, enduring community where taking care of each other is the norm. That is how we protect public health and safety. Leaving houseless people behind is not a viable option.”

“The way the government treated us, during the pandemic even, was incredibly stressful. This gives us hope that we’re not alone. We all come from different walks of life and many people have trauma but we’re all humans and we all should be equal. Especially when we’re just trying to live in our own community.” - Jess Lau, Plaintiff

The ACLU Hawai‘i also acknowledges that there was significant community involvement and support that made this achievement possible. Community advocates, like Lisa Seikai Darcy, did the important work of raising awareness to the constitutional violations that were happening and helping houseless residents to advocate for constitutional rights before, during, and after the sweep. 

“The county is responsible to care for every citizen equally. Most of the residents harmed suffer from significant disabilities without access to meaningful care. We need the entire government and their partner agencies to share in this responsibility to provide systems of care and safe, sanitary shelter. This ruling holds them accountable. Since the catastrophic fires which exacerbates the existing housing crisis, more people on Maui need help and protections, not abuse.” - Lisa Seikai Darcy, Founder of Share Your Mana.

ACLU Hawai‘i

The mission of the ACLU of Hawaiʻi is to protect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the U.S. and State Constitutions.  The ACLU of Hawaiʻi fulfills this through legislative, litigation, and public education programs statewide.  The ACLU of Hawaiʻi is a non-partisan and private non-profit organization that provides its services at no cost to the public and does not accept government funds.  The ACLU of Hawaiʻi has been serving Hawaiʻi for over 50 years. 

Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau

ACLU Hawai‘i clients Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau

ACLU Hawai'i Legal Director Wookie Kim and Clients Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau

ACLU Hawai'i Legal Director Wookie Kim and Clients Sonia Davis and Jessica Lau