STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – Stockton police systematically invade poor people’s homes under the guise of housing code inspections in “Blitz” raids, apartment tenants claims in a federal class action.
The nine named plaintiffs, all tenants of Gateway Apartments, claim Stockton police repeatedly entered and searched their homes without warrants in the Stockton PD’s appropriately named “Blitz” program.
The tenants call the Blitz program “an intentionally nasty, punitive and wholly unjustified tactic” designed to “target low-income people, racially profile, and deny low-income people, people with disabilities and people of color their constitutional rights.”
The Sept. 8 lawsuit calls the program an unconstitutional, “invasive, war-like program.”
Blitz is German for lightning. Most Americans know it in the form Blitzkreig, or lightning war, the name the Nazi army gave to its invasion of France and the Low Countries at the beginning of World War II.
The stated purpose of Stockton’s Blitz program, the tenants say, is to “clean up ‘blight and high crime areas’ by combining uniformed policing and code enforcement, and targeting specific identified targets.”
The plaintiffs say these targets are communities with “a significant percentage of poor, black, Latino and disabled residents.”
Under the guise of conducting code enforcement inspections, Stockton police demand access to homes with less than 24 hours’ notice, and falsely tell them they would face criminal charges or be evicted or fined if they did not consent, according to the lawsuit.
“Stockton police officers intruded at all hours, including during the dinner hour, when residents were sitting down to supper, or in the evening, when people were putting children to bed,” the tenants say.
They add that “pregnant women and mothers of infants were intruded upon, without regard to the impact on their health.”
During the searches, officers are “rude and demeaning,” rifle through personal belongings, demand copies of bills and enter rooms where people are sleeping. None of the “inspections” uncovered any contraband, nor did they lead to any arrests, according to the complaint.
Despite the cover story about code enforcement, Gateway Apartments “rapidly became significantly more dilapidated, developed more maintenance and code violations, became crime ridden, developed a large number of vacancies and became insect-infested,” the renters say.
The say vacant units have been used for drug sales, gambling and prostitution.
Gateway’s owners are named as defendants for habitability violations.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Yolanda Huang called Gateway’s living conditions “abominable.”
“It is abhorrent that we allow these housing conditions to exist, that people are paying rent to live in such situations and that our government takes it upon themselves to harass and fine the tenants, and to violate the tenants’ constitutional rights, but not take the necessary action to ensure that landlords profiting from the rents meet statutory habitability standards,” Huang told Courthouse News in an email.
The defendants could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The plaintiffs seek class certification and punitive damages on 13 counts, including illegal search and seizure, equal protection violations, housing and public safety code violations, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, nuisance, negligence and unlawful business practice.