A Los Angeles County public housing agency and two Mojave Desert cities have reached a $2 million settlement to resolve allegations they discriminated against black people by discouraging them from living in their communities, the Department of Justice announced Monday.
Between 2004 and 2011, the department said, the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster teamed up with Housing Authority of Los Angeles County and the sheriff's department “targeted campaign of discriminatory enforcement against African American [housing] voucher holders in order to discourage and exclude them and other African Americans from living in the cities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The efforts were designed to discourage and exclude black people from living in the cities about 40 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the Justice Department said.
Emilio Salas, deputy executive director of the housing authority, denied the allegations and said the agency only agreed to the settlement because protracted litigation didn't make financial sense.
"We wanted to move forward," Salas said. "Let's bring a close to this matter, let's go about the business of housing people."
He said the agency overhauled its enforcement measures after meeting with the NAACP and the Justice Department in 2011, when federal prosecutors began the investigation into discrimination in Palmdale and Lancaster.
Under the settlement, the housing authority has agreed to pay nearly $2 million to those claiming discrimination.
Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris called the Justice Department's news release announcing the settlement a "con job," saying the housing agency is on the hook to pay the entire settlement.
"We refused to pay 1 cent," Parris said. "In addition, we didn't change anything nor does the settlement require us to change anything, and they're wanting to parade this out as some kind of victory. It's ludicrous."
He said just four of roughly 200 people who complained of housing discrimination were in Lancaster, "none of which I thought rose to the level of civil-rights violations."
Noel Doran, assistant city attorney for Palmdale, said the allegations against the city are "absolutely false."
He reiterated that the housing authority is responsible for paying the entire settlement and stressed that the city was wrongfully caught up in the investigation because it helped fund fraud investigations by the housing authority.
In April, the the scandal-plagued sheriff’s department reached a $700,000 settlement with the Justice Department after federal prosecutors found a pattern of discrimination in Palmdale and Lancaster that included unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, and excessive force against black and Hispanic residents.
Deputies harassed and intimidated minorities by showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in a June 2013 report.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the settlements mandate community engagement and outreach efforts, including informing residents of their right to refuse searches.
The Sheriff’s Department must also ensure that investigations by housing authorities are not being used “to harass residents in their homes or motivate residents to relocate.”
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press