A city in Colorado is settling with tenants of a public housing project who said their homes were searched without warrants.
The settlement – reported by The New York Times – came as an agreement between the City of Longmont and four residents, who were representing in the litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.
On top of having to pay $200,000, Longmont agreed to collaborate with the ACLU on search policies. Officials will be tasked with holding a public forum explaining the incident and will release a public report detailing the May 2017 set of searches.
A resident of the Suites Supportive Housing Community brought the possibility of a warrantless search to the ACLU in June, one month after receiving a strange letter from law enforcement.
“We will occasionally have K-9 units with LPD to accompany us for purposes of training and compliance,” it read.
The Longmont Police Department told Denver7 that it tried implementing the program from a place of concern.
Suites Supportive Housing was purportedly suffering from an uptick in “drug activity.” Several overdose deaths had occurred in the project’s vicinity.
But residents say they’d never consented to having K-9 units trawl their properties – something the LPD expressed regret about.
ACLU attorney Rebecca Wallace said the four residents behind the complaint resented the department’s suggestion that the searches were a way to reach people with drug addictions.
“Our clients do not see themselves as needing caretaking,” Wallace said. “The fact that they live in public housing in no way diminishes their privacy rights.”
But Wallace says the residents never launched a full-blown lawsuit. Rather, the city’s top public safety official reached out and acknowledged the searches hadn’t been conducted in accordance with law.
Nevertheless, some of the community residents – and Wallace, too – are considering suing the Longmont Housing Authority, which had requested law enforcement search the Supportive Housing Community with drug dogs.
The New York Times reports that Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler said an internal investigation over the affair is underway.
The city mayor, Brian Bagley, also took an initiative by apologizing to the tenants involved. He said he hadn’t spoken to the housing officials who’d requested the search. Wallace said she’s yet to receive a response from the authority, even though she informed them of intent to sue over a week ago.
Butler, the Times says, apologized to the residents, too.
“We know that saying you’re sorry is an important part of the healing process,” he said.