Seattle Municipal Court is considering a case over an impounded vehicle and a parking ticket that could change how the city responds to car campers in Seattle.
Steven Long is fighting a parking ticket and the fines he received when his truck was located in South Seattle in a location his attorneys described as out-of-the-way.
Long received a ticket and a $900 fine to get his truck back from impound. His attorneys argue that losing his home and the monetary fines amount to excessive fines disporportionate to the civil parking infraction he received.
Long slept in his 2000 GMC Sierra truck, which also stored the equipment he used to get work doing plumbing, painting, construction and mechanical work. He had a power washer, ratchet sets, wrenches, saws, drills and ladders, among many other tools.
In June, his truck broke down. After a couple weeks staying at the Goodwill on South Dearborn Street, he moved to 951 Poplar Pl. S. The location was good. There were no private homes nearby. Long thought it was safe that didn’t conflict with anyone else. It was also near Peter’s Place, a day center for homeless people.
He stayed there a few months until police officers arrived responding to a complaint about nearby camping. While there, a business complained about Long’s truck. Officers informed him that his truck would be towed in 72 hours.
Long waited all day. At the end of the 72 hours, the police never came. Several days later, he returned from work at Century Link Field to find his truck missing with only some tarps and a few of his personal items where it had been parked.
Long is pushing back against the city and the fines he received, which have since been reduced. The magistrate waved the parking ticket and reduced the $900 impound fee to $547.
His attorneys argue that the fine and impound were unconstutional and amount to excessive fines barred under the Eighth Amendment.
Columbia Legal Services attorney Yurij Rudensky said the fines along seizing the truck — his home and a way for him to earn money — were a disproportional and excessively punitive response to the infraction.
They argued that the impound was in violation of the state homestead exemption, Washington law that bars governments from seizing or selling a person’s home to pay off a debt. Long’s truck was scheduled to be auctioned off if he didn’t pay fines.
Rudensky said the case could change how the city handles ticketing and impounding cars that serve as residences to homeless people.
“There is a potential to have a really broad impact with this case,” Rudensky said, noting that it could move beyond Seattle Municipal Court, where it is now being heard.
Attorneys for Long and the city of Seattle argued the case April 13 A ruling is expected by mid-May.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Ryan called Long’s motion “an odd posture of a case,” noting that a magistrate judge already waved the $44 parking ticket, cut the cost of the impound by 40 percent and gave him papers to get his truck and set up a payment plan.
In a response to Long’s case, the city argued that the case basically argues that Long has a “right to park wherever one wants” and can trespass on public lands or sleep on public property.
Ryan defended the city’s parking ticket and impound process.
“The city doesn’t just go around and put 72-hour stickers on people’s cars willy-nilly,” Ryan said. “They typically do it in response to a complaint.”
Long had 72 hours to move his truck and didn’t, Ryan said. He said Long drove his truck off the impound lot, showing that he could have moved the truck when police asked.
After Long lost his truck, he slept at Peter’s Place in a chair. A magistrate has allowed Long to pay the impound fine in payments, so he was able to retrieve his truck just before it was scheduled to be auctioned off.
He moved his truck to a friend’s property in Brier, where he is unable to use it for work.
Long is still living outside in the same location that his truck was parked.