Case Date: July 11, 2007
In July 2007, in partnership with Bay Area Legal Aid, we launched an investigation to determine whether the Antioch Police Department was unlawfully targeting African-American families who receive federal housing assistance through the Section 8 program. Since 2006, many tenants in the City of Antioch had asserted that the Community Action Team (CAT), a special unit of the Antioch Police Department (APD), subjected them to a pattern of harassment and intimidation. Most of these tenants had two things in common: they participated in the federal Section 8 housing subsidy program for very-low income families, and they were African-American.
In 2008, we met with city officials to discuss the findings of our report on the issues, and policy reforms to address the problem. When the City chose to discontinue those discussions, we filed suit, with the Impact Fund, the ACLU of Northern California and the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
On October 27, 2009 we filed our motion for class certification, supported by declarations of our named plaintiffs and of many unnamed class members. The City submitted three expert reports with its opposition, and we submitted three rebuttal expert reports, including from a nationally-recognized expert on “problem-oriented policing,” an approach on which Antioch erroneously claims its CAT team is modeled, and a racial profiling expert.
September 2, 2010 — The Court granted our motion for class certification. Merits discovery will take place through fall 2011, followed by briefing and trial in late 2011 and 2012.
Oct. 26, 2011 — Antioch last night agreed to a settlement in Williams v. Antioch, a class action civil rights lawsuit brought by five African-American women. The suit accused the city of Antioch and its police department of engaging in a concerted campaign of intimidation, harassment and discrimination against African-American families that get federal assistance with their rent through the Section 8 program. In the settlement, the city agrees that it will not focus on African-American Section 8 recipients in its policing efforts, except when race is used to identify a specific suspect in a crime. Antioch’s Police Department also agrees to send copies to plaintiffs’ counsel of any letters it sends to the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County regarding complaints about identified Section 8 recipients. The lawsuit had charged that letters like these were part of an effort to push Section 8 families out of the community. The settlement also provides for federal court oversight for three years, damages for named plaintiffs and attorneys’ fees. The settlement is subject to court approval.
More about Williams v. Antioch
In December 2007, we published a report describing our findings and presented it to Antioch and Contra Costa County officials. The report reveals a disturbing pattern of the CAT interfering with the housing rights of low-income African-American families. Among other things, our analysis of Police Department and Housing Authority documents show that:
- 40% of CAT cases involve non-criminal activity.
- African-American families are approximately four times more likely than White households to be subjected to CAT investigations.
- Of the cases forwarded by the CAT to the Housing Authority for lease termination, half were determined to be unfounded. 70% of these unfounded cases involved African-American families.
The cases referred to the Housing Authority are not limited to removing a family from the neighborhood. They are designed to terminate the family’s housing assistance all together, essentially forcing these families onto the street. The result is that the CAT is interfering with the housing rights of law-abiding African-American families in Antioch.
The report includes several short-term recommendations Antioch public officials can take to address the issues identified in the report. Our hope was that public officials would act quickly to address the concerns raised in the report. Our shared goal should be to ensure that efforts to protect the safety of Antioch residents do not unfairly single out their law-abiding African-American neighbors.
Unfortunately, the city did not respond as we hoped. So on July 16, 2008, Public Advocates joined in a class action lawsuit against the City of Antioch, Williams v. City of Antioch. Joining Public Advocates in representing five clients are the IMPACT Fund, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
On September 9, 2008 Public Advocates, The Impact Fund, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California submitted written testimony to the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in Los Angeles, California.
On September 11, 2009 a new expert report was released demonstrating that the City of Antioch specifically targeted Section 8 households comprised of African Americans. Nationally renowned criminologist Barry Krisberg, Ph.D., the President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, reviewed data from case discovery documents to determine whether the activities of the Antioch Police Department have a discriminatory impact on Antioch’s African American Section 8 subsidized housing recipients.
The report is the first time that data from the Housing Authority and Police Department have been analyzed together. By cross referencing these data, the actual racial impact of the Antioch police’s so-called Community Action Team (CAT) can be measured.
Among Dr. Krisberg’s findings: From 2006-2009, CAT activities were focused predominantly upon Section 8 households in general, and on African Americans in particular.
* Although Section 8 households make up only 5% of all Antioch households, and 20% of Antioch rental households, they were the major focus of the CAT. Since about half of Antioch’s Section 8 households are African American, this means the CAT focus on Section 8 inevitably had a greater impact upon African Americans.
* The CAT targeted African Americans at an even higher rate than their presence in the Section 8 population. In 2006, for example, while 46% of Antioch’s Section 8 households were African American, 67% of CAT’s Section 8 targets were African American. Over the 2006-2009 period, 68% of CAT section 8 locations of interest were African American.
* Nearly 70% of the Section 8 households that Antioch Police referred to the Housing Authority for revocation of Section 8 status were African American. The Housing Authority only terminated 30% of these cases.
* Dr. Krisberg’s findings validate the underlying claims of the lawsuit. They also confirm the findings of a 2007 report by Public Advocates and Bay Area Legal Aid based on less comprehensive and specific data.
Since July 2008 plaintiffs’ lawyers have done extensive investigation and discovery in this case. They received databases and more than 20,000 documents from the Antioch Police Department and the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County, have taken 15 sworn depositions and interviewed 50 witnesses.
The plaintiffs are represented by several civil rights organizations: Impact Fund, Public Advocates Inc., ACLU of Northern California, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area as well as the by the private law firms of Bingham McCutchen and Covington & Burling.