U.S. Justice Department demands $12.5 million Section 8 settlement

Lancaster mayors says city won’t pay

City News Service | 7/5/2013, midnight

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials have demanded that Los Angeles County, Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents who the federal government found were victims of harassment and intimidation in the Antelope Valley, it was reported this week.

The Justice Department last week accused Antelope Valley authorities of conducting a systematic effort to discriminate against African Americans receiving subsidized housing (Section 8) and said that sheriff’s deputies engaged in widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detention and unreasonable force.

Assistant County Counsel Roger Granbo told the Los Angeles Times that, under the Justice Department’s plan, the money would go to people whose civil rights were violated when deputies and housing inspectors visited their homes to check on whether they were complying with Section 8 rental program requirements.

Federal authorities said they have asked for payment for victims of that discrimination.

“It is not an order to pay,” Granbo said of the Justice Department’s demand for payment. “That’s where they want to start the negotiation. But Granbo says the federal government has failed to look at changes in the way the county handles compliance checks for tenants who qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers.

As part of a January 2012 agreement to settle a discrimination suit brought by the NAACP and other civil rights advocates, Los Angeles County and Palmdale officials agreed to new protocols and training for county workers handling the checks.

They also moved to limit the involvement of sheriff’s deputies only to cases in which county workers needed additional protection—a response to allegations that teams of deputies, sometimes in riot gear, conducted unannounced raids to intimidate families.

“I think we have resolved all of the issues,” Granbo said. “I’m not sure what more can be done.”

The DOJ has not reviewed the process for compliance checks since December 2011, despite multiple requests, according to Granbo.

“We have implored them to come to the county of Los Angeles,” Granbo said.

The move to demand compensation for the victims, is significant, said V. Jesse Smith of the Antelope Valley NAACP following a Tuesday press conference with The Community Action League (TCAL) addressing the DOJ report.

“We are pleased with the report. It validates and affirms what African Americans and Latinos have been complaining about for years. The reported laid it out in detail, what people had experienced,” said Smith, noting that the monetary recommendations added teeth.

Compensation payments would come from the two cities, the county’s Housing authority and the sheriff’s department, he told the newspaper, adding that he already has told federal officials that the county has no intention of paying its share of such a large amount.

If talks on the sum fail, the two sides could end up in court.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris told The Times his city “isn’t going to pay 10 cents of it,” and Palmdale said in a statement that it had not been asked to be part of a settlement.

Smith called Parris’ comments rhetoric designed to pacify a particular constituency.