OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Two East Bay men sued the city of Oakland in federal court Wednesday to challenge the constitutionality of a municipal law that forbids loitering on public housing property.

The lawsuit by Darren Matthieu, 26, of Oakland, and Edward Jackson, 27, of Hayward, claims the Oakland law violates the constitutional rights of due process and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and is being used to harass and unfairly search Oakland Housing Authority residents and guests.

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Matthieu is a current resident of the authority’s Lockwood Gardens complex and Jackson is a former resident who likes to visit friends and relatives there, according to the lawsuit.

Alex Katz, a spokesman for City Attorney Barbara Parker, said lawyers in that office had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

The 1983 law makes loitering an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $250. It defines a loiterer as a “person who loiters, prowls, wanders or is present without lawful business” on Housing Authority property and refuses to leave when asked to do so by a police officer.

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The lawsuit claims that under the guise of enforcing the law, the authority’s Police Department has “broken up family barbecues, has dispersed groups of friends simply hanging out and getting fresh air,” has questioned family members bringing medications to relatives and has even questioned a resident as friends and relatives were gathering for his son’s funeral.

The lawsuit asks for a declaration that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the measure.

The case was filed in federal court in Oakland and was assigned to U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer of San Francisco.

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