The legal battle, in which a group of low-income African-American Section 8 Antioch residents charged Antioch police officers with bullying and unfair treatment, ended as Antioch’s City Council in closed session authorized the payment.
Filed in 2008, the suit alleges that officers targeted African-American residents who received money through the federal Section 8 program for housing. Antioch officials responded that the residents’ claims were unfounded – a notion confirmed in the settlement paperwork, which states that “(t)here was no finding of intentional discrimination against any individual Antioch police officer or the Antioch Police Department in the course of the Civil Action.”
City attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said the city’s officers have always conducted themselves professionally with Section 8 tenants and there was no evidence of discrimination.
“After tens of thousands of pages of documents, there’s nothing there,” Nerland said. “Our officers responded professionally, de-escalated situations and did exactly what you want with community policing.”
Attorney Brad Seligman of the Berkeley-based Impact Fund, who represented plaintiffs Santeya Danyell Williams, Mary Ruth Scott, Alyce Denise Payne, Karen Latreece Coleman and Priscilla Bunton, believes the settlement is a major moral victory for those who utilize the Section 8 program in Antioch.
The five plaintiffs will receive a combined $180,000; their attorneys will get the remaining $180,000. Nerland noted that the payment the city is issuing is much less than the original demand – a seven-digit figure, she said – and also less than the cost of taking the case to court.
“It is both a relief and a positive thing for our clients that this thing is resolved,” Seligman said, “and resolved in a way that protects them and protects other African-American Section 8 renters in the city.”
In addition to the $360,000 payment, the settlement notes that Antioch has agreed to no longer publicly name any other African-American Section 8, except when race is necessary to identify a crime suspect. In the future, when the city sends a complaint regarding a Section 8 tenant to the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County, it must send a copy of the report to Impact Fund.
Antioch is also subject to federal court supervision regarding Section 8 matters for three years. Seligman was pleased with those stipulations, saying that it gives the settlement agreement some strength. He believes the decision will make life more peaceful for Antioch’s Section 8 participants, both in present and future.
But Nerland defended the officers’ quality of work, saying the decision would not change the way the city’s police force operates.
“The ACLU is not running the police department, the court’s not running the police department, the city is – because there was never any finding, any evidence of wrongdoing,” Nerland said. “We’re going to continue those community policing partnerships.”
In 2008, Bay Area Legal Aid sued the city, claiming that the police department’s Community Action Team tried to use racial discrimination as a means to force the five plaintiffs out of the Section 8 program.
Both parties are pleased to have the issue peacefully finished.
“It’s a relief that this is finally resolved and that people will be watching to make sure Antioch doesn’t try to push out any other families like mine,” Williams wrote in a press release from Seligman.
However, while most of Antioch’s battles with Section 8 lawsuits are behind them, Nerland said one more case remains. Onita Tuggles, who sued the city on charges of discrimination from the Community Action Team but lost in a unanimous jury decision, has appealed the case. Nerland said the city will fight the case just as vigorously as it fought the other Section 8 cases, but noted that the unanimous decision makes it unlikely that the decision will change.