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East Bay | Health, Housing, and Public Services

Section 8 Landlords Sue Cops For Civil Rights Violations
by Lynda Carson ( tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com )
Tuesday May 12th, 2009 10:25 PM
East Bay landlords sue Antioch Cops for intimidating them into evicting Section 8 families from their housing!


Section 8 Landlords Sue Cops For Civil Rights Violations

By Lynda Carson May 12, 2009

On April 30, 2009, a family of Section 8 landlords in Contra Costa County have filed suit against the City of Antioch and several members of it's Police Department, for violating their civil rights. Antioch is around 40 miles east of San Francisco.

The lawsuit filed in San Francisco's U.S. District Court for Northern California, alleges that members of the Antioch Police Department used rough and illegal tactics to force the landlords to evict their Section 8 tenants, many of whom are African-Americans.

The suit also alleges that the Riaz Patras family has been targeted by the City of Antioch through it's Police Department because they rented their properties to Section 8 families.

The plaintiffs, Riaz, Maryam, and Mark Patras of Antioch, own numerous homes in the city which they have rented out to Section 8 families, and they are suing the City of Antioch and four members of it's Police Department in federal court for civil rights violations, including loss of rental income, emotional distress, humiliation and loss of privacy.

Documents filed in court outlines how police members of the specially formed "Community Action Team" (CAT) violated their rights, a police unit which the family alleges tried to intimidate them into evicting their Section 8 families from their housing in Antioch.

The officers named in the suit include Chief of Police Jim Hyde, Officer Desmond Bittner, Sergeant Mitch Schwitters, Officer W. N. Dillard, and Officer Steven Soares.

The Community Action Team (CAT) was formed in July of 2006, to investigate problem properties and assists the local housing authority in policing Antioch's subsidized housing sites.

Since it's inception, CAT has faced many complaints by Section 8 renters and as recent as July of 2008, the Antioch Police Department was named in a federal class action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Section 8 renters contending that "CAT" unfairly targets African-American families participating in the Section 8 housing program. Public Advocates, a civil rights advocacy group and Bay Area Legal Aide also involved in the class action suit, released a December 2007, 41 page report that said, "black families are four times more likely to be scrutinized by CAT than are white families."

The Patras family lawsuit called "Riaz Patras v. City of Antioch," is the third lawsuit filed against CAT, since it was formed in July 2006.

"I have been renting to Section 8 families in the East Bay since 1997," said Riaz Patras, "and have never had a problem with them, except in Antioch when the police started paying me visits to tell me that they want me to evict all of my Section 8 families."

"I've owned around 10 to 12 properties through the years, and only own around 5 properties now. Times are hard, and I lost a few properties because of foreclosures in recent years. My Section 8 tenants are hard working families with children who have all been certified by the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County and have been qualified to reside in my rental properties. Their good people, and they've never been a problem."

"I filed suit against the Police Department and the City of Antioch because I am being pressured not to rent to Section 8 tenants, and the cops are watching me very closely. We all have rights in this country, and I have been unfairly treated by the Antioch Police Department because they are trying to force me to evict all the African-American families from my properties. Looking back on what has occurred, I wish that I would have gone before the Mayor and the City Council to complain about the way the Antioch Police has been treating the citizens of Antioch," said Patras.

Indeed, as alleged in the recent suit filed in court, documents state that the Antioch Police systematically intimidated, harassed and pressured the Patras family to evict their Section 8 tenants, all of whom were African-Americans. Furthermore, it's alleged that the CAT officers used guns to intimidate, and harassed the Patras family with phone calls, using "Jim Crow tactics," to intimidate the landlord into evicting the Section 8 tenants.

According to court documents, allegedly during May or June of 2007, Officers Bittner and Schwitters of the Antioch Police Department knocked on the Patras family front door, and pushed their way in when Riaz opened the door to see who was knocking. When Riaz demanded to see a search warrant, the officers claimed that they did not need one, and told Riaz that they had arrest warrants for landlords who failed to comply with their demands, which included: 1) The Patras family must stop renting to "black" people. 2) They must evict their "black tenants.

In the court documents, it's also alleged that the officers then threatened to arrest the Patras family if they did not provide the officers with the social security numbers of their Section 8 renters, their lease agreements, the number of people residing in each of their rental properties, information if any about the criminal history of the tenants, and employment information.

The court documents provides more details as to how Riaz Patras allegedly refused to provide the cops with any information being demanded of him, as he told them to contact the local housing authority for that type of information, including how the cops in anger allegedly roughed him up and handcuffed him on the spot in his own home, and how one of the cops went upstairs to search Riaz's office while he was handcuffed.

The suit alleges that Officers Bittner and Schwitters of the Antioch Police Department, came to the Patras home a total of 6 occaisions to pressure the Patras family to evict the "black" Section 8 tenants, and threatened the Patras family with criminal and civil actions if they did not comply.

In addition, it's alleged in the suit that the officers came back to search the Patras home a second time, including the adjoining garage and filing cabinets, all without a search warrant or consent of the Patras family, and allegedly the cops threatened to arrest Riaz Patras if he interfered with their search.

During a May 12, phone call with Matthew Kumin a civil rights advocate and one of the attorneys representing the Patras family, he said, "I am horrified by what is going on with the police in Antioch, and what has happened to the Patras family. The cops are going to claim that the Section 8 tenants behaved poorly, and that their just doing their job. But, I believe that the cops are going after the Section 8 tenants for being black. The real story is how the citizens of Antioch are supporting the police in their efforts to run "black" families out of Antioch," said attorney Kumin.

In addition, in a May 1st release, Kumin says, “It’s unfortunate and tragic that more than 40 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act we still see systematic and racially-motivated tactics by a city police department. Even in the Bay Area, it’s surprising that institutionalized racism continues.”

Around 4.7 million seniors, peoples with disabilities, and low-income families are assisted by rental subsidies through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program across the nation.

The Patras lawsuit will be back in federal court on September 14, and is numbered Case No. CV-09-1891.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com