Police Without Warrants Searched Low Income Housing

Above photo: Thinkstock.

Longmont, CO – Though the United States strives to realize justice and equality for all Americans, it is an unfortunate truth that when it comes to people of lower socioeconomic status, the reality is often far short of that.

A rather stark example of this was recently exposed in the Colorado town of Longmont, a community located north of Boulder and Denver.

In Colorado, landlords have the legal right to conduct inspections and perform maintenance on their rental units provided they issue a notice beforehand. In Longmont, however, management for low income housing took this right too far, resulting in the gross violation of tenants’ constitutionally guaranteed civil rights.

In one such notice issued by the Longmont Housing Authority, as provided by a renter to NBC affiliate KUSA, a renter was told their apartment would be undergoing an inspection that would include a police officer and a drug-sniffing dog. This was justified with the pretense that this would merely be a training exercise for the dog.

The truth is that the Longmont Housing Authority had partnered with the police to conduct quasilegal warrantless searches looking for illegal drugs. But perhaps the Longmont Police Department should give the U.S. Constitution a proper read through, specifically the Fourth Amendment. This section prohibits search and seizure without a warrant or probable cause.

The Longmont Housing Authority attempted to justify this act by stating that none of its tenants had denied entry to police during these inspections. The group’s operations director, Krystal Erazo, went further, arguing that if a renter balked at allowing a police officer in without a warrant, “it sparks some curiosity for me. You know, what are they concerned about … (if) there aren’t drugs in the unit?”

It seems quite likely that most residents did not object to these warrantless searchers because they were unaware of their rights or felt intimidated.

In this way, both parties managed to slip these searches through a legal loophole: because tenants acquiesced voluntarily to police entering their units, a search warrant would, technically, not be legally required.

This practice, in fact, was not publicly exposed until one tenant finally chose to deny police entry. Curiously, soon after, these searches came to an end altogether.

Tamika McClure claims that when her complex manager came to her apartment for an inspection, he was accompanied by two police officers and a dog. At first, McClure objected. Rather than respecting her right to refuse, the manager insisted that McClure had no choice. The search was conducted, but nothing was discovered.

So while the other warrantless searches may have been just barely on the side of constitutionality, the inspection of McClure’s apartment appears to be unlawful.

Longmont Police Department Chief Mike Butler denies the occurrence of any wrongdoing, and has also opted to throw the Longmont Housing Authority under the bus. The department claims the housing authority was responsible for the miscommunication, and that there was never intent from the police authority to violate citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.

Though it is definitely troubling that the Longmont Housing Authority sought to violate its tenants’ civil rights so casually, perhaps what is most concerning is that they and the police department may have done so by exploiting a lack of legal knowledge. Because their housing is public, tenants may have felt they did not have the right of refusal, as was seen with McClure’s case.

This in and of itself is abhorrent and very well should form the basis of civil legal action against the City of Longmont, the Longmont Police Department and the Longmont Housing Authority. These civil servants should not be playing a game of legal “gotchya” – it is beholden to them to uphold the civil rights of those they serve, no matter who they are.