LONGMONT, COLO. - The attorney for the Longmont Housing Authority has found the agency did not respect "Constitutional constraints" when it authorized warrantless police searches of affordable housing units.
Initially, the Housing Authority took a "nothing to see here" approach, when their searches first became public knowledge, even going as far as to say the procedure was good practice for the drug dogs. Tuesday, in a summary of his internal review of these searches, attorney David Herrera introduced his report by calling the confusion a "category five storm." He says a renovation project, the establishment of new apartments and a recent heroin death in the same period as the searches made this a complex time.
Herrera writes the searches started when the housing authority incorrectly assumed it could search units at The Suites, because of policy already in place at The Briarwood Apartments. Briarwood is master-leased by the 20th Judicial Probation Department of Boulder County, and people living there have been recently placed on probation. They are court-ordered to abide by certain mandates, and searches are part of the court order. The Suites are used only as low-income housing.
Their attorney goes onto say that the LHA staff in fact believed they were being responsive to The Suites tenants, who were concerned about drug activity on site. In the months prior to the searches, staff also found methamphetamine in an empty unit.
"The LHA management and staff properly appreciated their property management role in having a statutory duty for district compliance to provide for safe, sanitary and decent housing. What they did not appreciate was their quasi-municipal role and the Constitutional constraints placed upon the LHA that fundamentally distinguish it from a private sector landlord engaging in the same behavior or housing administered by the probation department," the report says.
Herrera writes that while landlords are legally allowed to search rental units, landlords, and even housing agencies, do not have the authority to provide third-party consent for searches to officers.
The report somewhat throws Longmont Police under the bus, saying that while the Housing Authority staff didn't know better, the police should have from the start.
"At several points along the timeline of this unfortunate controversy, law enforcement had ample opportunity to advise the LHA that it could not participate in the inspections of individual dwelling units. Indeed, it was only after the issue become publicly knows that the Longmont Police Department declined to participate," the report says. "Law enforcement should have never agreed to provide its resources or accompany the landlord."
Herrera repeatedly states LHA staff didn't know warrantless searches of units were illegal because they never received proper training telling them so. Herrera suggests more training should give them more context about the Constitution.
"...the LHA staff believed that by contract it could engage in such inspections," Herrera writes.
"Wheras, there is no indication that any Property Management training available to LHA employees would have revealed the limits of the Fourth Amendment third-party consent to warrantless searches."
The attorney recommends implementing that training.
In an interview with Next, Herrera said he reached out to the Longmont Police Chief and the officers who searched the units for their input in this report. He says they never responded. The attorney did speak to another officer in the K-9 unit, who did not participate in the searches.
Herrera also says he reached out to the City of Longmont, to read the external review of these searches, which was done by Weld County. He says the city hasn't given him that information.
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