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Regional Interests

Homeless artist swept at Laurelhurst Park demands $10,000 after attorney tracked her painting to a w

A painting by Marge Pettitt that was allegedly taken to a waste removal site after Laurelhurst Camp was dismantled.
A painting by Marge Pettitt that was allegedly taken to a waste removal site after Laurelhurst Camp was dismantled.

A homeless artist who was forced out of Laurelhurst Park last week is demanding the city pay $10,000 after biohazard teams sent to dismantle the large encampment in Southeast Portland allegedly threw out one of her paintings.

Local attorney Michael Fuller filed a tort claim, or a notice of his intent to sue, Wednesday on behalf of his client Marge Pettitt against the city and Rapid Response Bio Clean, a hazardous waste removal company the city contracts with to dismantle campsites and disperse campers.

Fuller said he had irrefutable proof that crews from Rapid Response trashed Pettitt’s painting in violation of city rules due to a tracking device he stuck onto the painting the day before campers were removed from Laurelhurst. According to Fuller, that device showed the painting did not end up at a storage warehouse, as city rules dictate, but at the Recology Oregon Recovery Transfer Station Waste Facility, a collection point for waste before it gets sent to landfills.

Under Oregon law, the city must retain all property that is “recognizable as belonging to a person and that has apparent use” when dispersing homeless campsites. The city is required to store the property in a warehouse and give individuals 30 days to pick it up.

Houseless individuals have long maintained that biohazard teams often flout the rules and end up trashing treasured possessions while clearing camps. Fuller said he wanted to prove it and got permission from campers to tack on Apple Airtag transmitters to about 16 pieces of property.

Fuller said trackers showed five items ended up at the transfer station, including Pettitt’s painting.

“The painting was irreplaceable, in a sanitary condition, and had aesthetic, therapeutic, sentimental value and use to our client,” the tort claim states.

A paralegal drove to the Recology Oregon Recovery Transfer Station Waste Facility to try and retrieve the painting on Tuesday, five days after the Laurelhurst encampment was dispersed, according to a declaration attorneys filed with the tort claim Wednesday. The paralegal was told there was virtually no chance the painting was still there, as it had likely been taken from the transfer station to the landfill.

Fuller said he plans to file a similar claim with the city on behalf of each person whose property he tracked to the transfer station. While he stated he’s asking solely for the city to pay the value of the items, he said he hopes the series of claims send a larger message to the city that they are putting themselves in legal jeopardy with each removal.

“I want the city to stop sweeps until the sweeps can be done according to the law.”

Fuller said they are asking for $10,000 for Pettitt’s painting because it was “one of a kind.” Other property taken to the dump include a speaker, gloves, and a french press.

The slew of tort claims are separate from a sweep-related class action lawsuit a team of local attorneys, including Fuller, filed in May. That suit alleged that contractors have been illegally discarding people’s personal belongings while dispersing homeless encampments and asks the city to change its policies around campsite removals.

He said the city’s currently preparing a motion to dismiss that lawsuit.

The city has a policy of not responding to requests from media regarding ongoing litigation.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting