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SoHo Street Vendors Sue City Over 'Illegal' Raid

By Andrea Swalec | September 5, 2012 1:43pm

TRIBECA — Five SoHo street vendors are suing the city for seizing their carts, tables and merchandise in a crackdown on Broadway this May that they say cost them money and violated their rights. 

The vendors, who are represented by the Street Vendor Project of the advocacy group the Urban Justice Center, said at a press conference Wednesday outside the First Precinct station house that NYPD officers unfairly issued them tickets on Broadway May 17 and then confiscated their property. 

"They said we were in bus stop, but we weren't," said Jhampa Dolma, who was granted political asylum from Tibet and has sold New York souvenirs on Broadway since 2005. 

Dolma said she and her husband, Karma Dorjee, who is one of the plaintiffs in the federal civil rights lawsuit planned to be filed Wednesday, lost about $200 and many nights of sleep after their goods were seized.

A spokeswoman for the city's law department said the office will review the lawsuit as soon as it receives it.

The vendors are a controversial subject in SoHo, with many residents saying they clog sidewalks, leave behind garbage and violate city rules about where they can set up shop.

Urban Justice Center staff attorney Matthew Shapiro said the seven officers named in the lawsuit had no right to seize the goods of the food and merchandise vendors, who he said were fully licensed and in compliance with policies about how close vendors can set their carts and tables to doors and bus stops, and what size their carts can be.

“It is unfortunate that the NYPD resorted to illegally seizing property of hardworking street vendors who are trying to make an honest living to support their families,” Shapiro said. "The raid damaged their merchandise and left them humiliated." 

Alassane Fall, a Senegalese immigrant who has sold cell phone accessories and other small electronics on Broadway for the past 12 years, said he has never been able to retrieve more than 100 pairs of sunglasses that were taken from him in the raid. 

He added that being compensated for the approximately $250 that the sunglasses are worth is not the point. 

"I'm really not looking for money. I'm looking for my rights," said Fall, who is one of the plaintiffs in the planned lawsuit. 

A dollar amount to be sought by the vendors has not yet been determined, Shapiro said. 

"We really just want the police to stop bothering the vendors."