East Chicago residents join suit over alleged illegal searches

A federal judge is allowing residents of the East Chicago Housing Authority to seek contempt damages against the public housing agency over allegations it violated a court order by conducting illegal and warrantless searches of residents’ homes.

Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry in the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division, issued an order Friday allowing Edith Bradshaw to intervene as lead plaintiff on behalf of a class of people who live in ECHA properties. Bradshaw and the intervenors allege the housing authority violated an injunction issued by the court in October 2016 that blocked ECHA from conducting any unconstitutional criminal and administrative searches. The ECHA did not object to Bradshaw’s intervention as class representative in her contempt petition.

Bradshaw alleged that in November 2017, the housing authority conducted a warrantless “housekeeping” inspection of her apartment while she wasn’t home, after she explicitly withheld her consent, and when there were no exigent circumstances.

The housing authority put residents on notice on Oct. 24, 2017, that it would conduct “annual recertification housekeeping inspections” in early November 2017. The statement advised, “If you are not home the pass key will be used to enter the unit.”

Bradshaw, 67, had experienced a medical emergency and was in the hospital when her home was searched, according to a petition filed Friday that seeks to hold the housing authority in civil contempt. It says Bradshaw, who has lived in the same building for 13 years and is in good standing, was a private person who worried about her things being stolen.

“ECHA staff have told her in the past that if she were not in her apartment to supervise the inspection, that ECHA would not be liable for any damage or loss caused by the inspection,” her petition says.

The petition says Bradshaw called her building manager, Clara Salinas, from the hospital and told her ECHA could not enter her residence without a warrant, and that she was withholding her consent.

“Ms. Salinas informed Ms. Bradshaw that the inspection would proceed as planned,” which it did, the contempt petition says.

Bradshaw seeks a civil contempt order against ECHA, sanctions, damages, attorney fees and other appropriate remedies. Plaintiffs in this case, Mary Gutierrez et al. v. City of East Chicago and the Housing Authority of the City of East Chicago, 2:16-cv-00111, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

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