Apartment tenants in Stockton, California are asserting in a federal class-action lawsuit that city police have repeatedly violated their Fourth Amendment rights in unwarranted “blitz raid” searches preformed under the auspices of housing code inspections.
Nine tenants of Gateway Apartments say cops entered and searched their homes without warrants numerous times as part of the cities “Blitz” program which the plaintiffs say is “an intentionally nasty, punitive and wholly unjustified tactic” designed to “target low-income people, racially profile, and deny low-income people, people with disabilities and people of color their constitutional rights.”
The lawsuit – filed Sept. 8 – says the purpose of the program is to “clean up ‘blight and high crime areas’ by combining uniformed policing and code enforcement, and targeting specific identified targets” which have “a significant percentage of poor, black, Latino and disabled residents.”
The raids are considered code inspections by the local government but the lawsuit says Stockton police demand access to homes with less than 24 hours’ notice, and falsely tell tenants that they will be evicted, fined, or criminally charged if they do not consent.
“Stockton police officers intruded at all hours, including during the dinner hour, when residents were sitting down to supper, or in the evening, when people were putting children to bed,” the lawsuit says, adding that “pregnant women and mothers of infants were intruded upon, without regard to the impact on their health.”
The federal suit asserts that during the raids, officers have ransacked tenants personal belongings, demanded copies of bills and have entered the rooms of people who were sleeping – and says none of the searches have lead to any arrests or charges.
The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages on 13 counts, including illegal search and seizure, equal protection violations, housing and public safety code violations, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, nuisance, negligence and unlawful business practice.
Public housing raids are not new and their modern variant is rooted in the early 1990s, when the Chicago Housing Authority illegally raided public housing units for drugs and weapons, until a federal court order halted the practice in 1994.
That was until President Bill Clinton announced a new initiative circumventing the court that allowed police to “increase searches for illegal drugs and weapons in public housing projects plagued by gang violence” setting precedent for similar apartment raids today.
Clinton and former attorney general Janet Reno encouraged “voluntary inspections” but authorized searches in “emergency” situations without warrants.