DENVER — Two years after the Longmont Housing Authority joined with officers to conduct illegal searches of low-income housing, the LHA and the residents involved have reached a settlement.
A settlement agreement shows $170,000 will be divided among the four residents named in the lawsuit, and that the LHA shall provide them with a written apology.
"Unfortunately, there were some mistakes made, and we apologize for that,” Bruce Robbins, the current Longmont Housing Authority Board chair, told 9NEWS on Friday. "We will do our best to make sure that we don't repeat past errors."
The police department agreed to pay $210,000 for their part in the searches about six months after they happened. In May 2017, two Longmont Public Safety officers agreed to search apartments with drug dogs, and without warrants, after the LHA invited them to The Suites.
Residents had been given a letter stating that the landlord and K-9 officers would search apartments at random, but the residents involved said they did not provide consent and were not told they had the right to refuse the officers’ searches.
Robbins said that since the searches came to light, there’s been an 85% turnover in LHA staff.
"We've had a lot of staff turnover, not necessarily because of this particular incident, but when you have some people that are relatively low-paid, and they suddenly find themselves in the pressure cooker, they leave,” he said.
Jillian Baldwin is one of the new employees. She started running the housing authority in September.
"I took the job because my strength is in organization change management. I've been involved in two other cleanup efforts at two other housing authorities across the country,” she said.
The previous executive director, Michael Reis, left after the board saw pictures showing him poke fun at media coverage of the warrantless searches.
"Everything is not good, I wouldn't put it that way, but we have taken huge strides to rebuild relationships that were broken in this process," said Baldwin. "I will comfortably say, we will never have 100 percent fan base, but we are working very hard to be transparent and rebuild bridges with our residents."
Part of the settlement also requires the housing authority to involve the ACLU when crafting their new policies for how and when they will enter a resident's home.
Robbins said the settlement will be paid by the LHA and with money from insurance.
"For every dollar that we paid out, that's a dollar that keeps us from being able to meet our mission," said Robbins.
"Certainly, we would like to see all monies that come into the agency used to build and manage affordable housing," said Baldwin.
So why did this settlement take so long, where the settlement with the city happened within six months?
"Whereas, the Longmont Police and Chief (Mike) Butler, in particular, moved extremely quickly to acknowledge the harm done and rectify it, LHA spent months denying wrongdoing, casting aspersions on our clients and suggesting that people who live in public housing have diminished privacy rights," said ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace. "Thankfully, the bad actors in this event are no longer with LHA, and there is new leadership within LHA. We believe that with this change in personnel and leadership, and with an imminent lawsuit, LHA was able to finally come to the table in good faith and try to finally resolve this matter in a just way.”
The Longmont Housing Authority contracts its legal services with attorney David Herrera. We reached out to Herrera to find out how much of the LHA settlement is covered by insurance and how much is from the LHA budget. We also requested his billing to LHA since May 2017, to find out just how much the warrantless searches cost LHA in legal fees. As of Friday night, we had not received a response. We will provide an answer when we get it.
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