The city of Longmont will pay $210,000 to resolve claims brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado on behalf of four people who were subjected to warrantless drug-dog searches of their apartments at a public housing complex.
The settlement was on behalf of Alice Boatner, Billy Sparling, Michael Kealy and Christine Herrera. The ACLU and Longmont officials announced the settlement on Tuesday.
“I did not have any opportunity to stop a police officer and K-9 from coming into my home and searching it,” said Alice Boatner, in a prepared statement from her released by the ACLU. “I felt violated, powerless and demeaned.”
She thanked Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler, who has expressed regret over the searches and who has retrained his staff on the requirements for lawful searches.
The searches, conducted in May by Longmont police and a K-9 at The Suites Supportive Housing Community, prompted national controversy, one that the Longmont Housing Authority admitted in one report had “coalesced into a Category 5 storm.”
The ACLU of Colorado last week filed a notice of claim with the Longmont Housing Authority. The $210,000 settlement does not resolve the claims against the housing authority. The settlement will pay for damages and attorneys’ fees.
As part of the settlement, Longmont officials agreed to issue a statement saying the city’s public safety department “regrets playing a role in the search of the apartments of the residents.”
The statement also added that the four residents “did not consent to the police searches of their apartments, nor were they given an opportunity by Longmont Police Services to do so.”
A heroin overdose death of a resident in April caused the housing authority to have Longmont police and their drug dogs participate during monthly inspections of apartments at The Suites, according to e-mails obtained under Colorado’s open-records laws. Those searches stoked a rebellion from residents, who complained that doesn’t mean they give up rights protecting them from illegal searches.
Residents signed a petition protesting the searches. The conflict then went public a day after that petition when Denver’s 9News ran a report. The news became national after The Washington Post highlighted the searches in an opinion column that stated, “Low-income people are not the equivalent of tackling dummies, or lab rats or volunteers on some police training course. You can’t use poor people to train your police dogs.”
The settlement also calls for the release to the public of a Weld County Sheriff’s investigative report into the drug-dog searches, likely by Dec. 31, 2017. Further, under the terms of the settlement, Longmont must create a public forum where the ACLU and its clients can speak about the incident. The ACLU also will have input on Longmont Police Department policies related to searches, according to the settlement.