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Section 8 landlords sue cops for civil rights violations

June 5, 2009

by Lynda Carson

Interviewed last December by the Associated Press about the racial tension in Antioch toward Section 8 tenants renting upscale suburban homes, Karen and Thomas Coleman say they simply want a good place to raise their three children. But after five years in Antioch, the Colemans still feel that “they don’t want us here.” – Photo: AP
Interviewed last December by the Associated Press about the racial tension in Antioch toward Section 8 tenants renting upscale suburban homes, Karen and Thomas Coleman say they simply want a good place to raise their three children. But after five years in Antioch, the Colemans still feel that “they don’t want us here.” – Photo: AP
A family of Section 8 landlords, Riaz, Maryam and Mark Patras of Antioch, who have rented several homes to Section 8 families, are suing the City of Antioch and five members of its Police Department in federal court for civil rights violations, including loss of rental income, emotional distress, humiliation and loss of privacy. They are also alleging that the police department’s Community Action Team (CAT) used rough and illegal tactics to force the landlords to evict their Section 8 tenants, all of whom are African-American.

The officers named in the suit are Chief of Police Jim Hyde, Officer Desmond Bittner, Sgt. Mitch Schwitters, Officer W. N. Dillard and Officer Steven Soares.

The Community Action Team was formed in July of 2006 to investigate problem properties and assist the local housing authority in policing Antioch’s subsidized housing sites. Antioch lies about 40 miles east of San Francisco.
Since its inception, CAT has faced many complaints by Section 8 renters and as recently as July of 2008, the Antioch Police Department was named in a federal class action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and Section 8 renters contending that CAT unfairly targets African-American families participating in the Section 8 housing program. Public Advocates, a civil rights advocacy group, and Bay Area Legal Aide, also involved in the class action suit, released a 41-page report in December 2007 that said, “Black families are four times more likely to be scrutinized by CAT than are white families.”

The Patras family lawsuit, Riaz Patras v. City of Antioch, is the third suit filed against CAT since it was formed less than three years ago.

“I have been renting to Section 8 families in the East Bay since 1997,” said Riaz Patras “and have never had a problem with them, except in Antioch when the police started paying me visits to tell me that they want me to evict all of my Section 8 families.”

“I’ve owned around 10 to 12 properties through the years and only own around five properties now. Times are hard, and I lost a few properties because of foreclosures in recent years. My Section 8 tenants are hard working families with children who have all been certified by the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County and have been qualified to reside in my rental properties. Their good people and they’ve never been a problem.”

Antioch Police Chief James Hyde responds to charges of racism. When he was police chief in Davis, Calif., he had a reputation for tolerating civil rights violations against Blacks.
Antioch Police Chief James Hyde responds to charges of racism. When he was police chief in Davis, Calif., he had a reputation for tolerating civil rights violations against Blacks.
“I filed suit against the police department and the City of Antioch because I am being pressured not to rent to Section 8 tenants, and the cops are watching me very closely. We all have rights in this country, and I have been unfairly treated by the Antioch Police Department because they are trying to force me to evict all the African-American families from my properties. Looking back on what has occurred, I wish that I would have gone before the mayor and the City Council to complain about the way the Antioch police have been treating the citizens of Antioch,” said Patras.

Indeed, as alleged in the suit, the Antioch Police systematically intimidated, harassed and pressured the Patras family to evict their Section 8 tenants. CAT officers used guns to intimidate them and phone calls to harass them – pressure they call “Jim Crow tactics.”

According to court documents, during May or June of 2007 Officers Bittner and Schwitters knocked on the Patras family’s front door and pushed their way in when Riaz opened it. When Riaz demanded to see a search warrant, the officers claimed they did not need one and told Riaz that they had arrest warrants for landlords who failed to comply with their demands, which included 1) that the Patras family stop renting to “Black” people and 2) that they evict their “Black” tenants.

The Patras family alleges that the officers then threatened to arrest them if they did not provide the officers with the social security numbers of their Section 8 renters, their lease agreements, the number of people residing in each of their rental properties, information if any about the criminal history of the tenants and employment information.

Riaz Patras allegedly refused to give the cops any information, telling them to get it from the housing authority. In anger the cops allegedly roughed him up and handcuffed him on the spot in his own home, and one of the cops went upstairs to search Riaz’ office while he was handcuffed.

The suit alleges that Officers Bittner and Schwitters came to the Patras home six times to pressure the family to evict their “Black” Section 8 tenants and threatened them with criminal and civil actions if they did not comply. The officers allegedly came back to search their home a second time, including the adjoining garage and filing cabinets, all without a search warrant or consent and threatened to arrest Riaz Patras if he interfered with their search.

Matthew Kumin, a civil rights advocate and one of the attorneys representing the Patras family, told me by phone May 12: “I am horrified by what is going on with the police in Antioch and what has happened to the Patras family. The cops are going to claim that the Section 8 tenants behaved poorly and that they’re just doing their job. But I believe that the cops are going after the Section 8 tenants for being Black. The real story is how the citizens of Antioch are supporting the police in their efforts to run Black families out of Antioch.”

Kumin wrote in a May 1 release: “It’s unfortunate and tragic that more than 40 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act we still see systematic and racially motivated tactics by a city police department. Even in the Bay Area, it’s surprising that institutionalized racism continues.”

Around 4.7 million seniors, peoples with disabilities and low-income families are assisted by rental subsidies through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program across the nation. The Patras lawsuit, Case No. CV-09-1891, will be back in federal court on Sept. 14.

Lynda Carson may be reached at This story was first published on Indy Bay News Wire.

17 thoughts on “Section 8 landlords sue cops for civil rights violations

  1. El Grande LATIN GUY

    I really dont understand black folks who come to Antioch looking for an escape valve, if they bring a problem here or their so called children bring problems to the community what do they expect???; I’m Latino and have lived here for 7 years, & I have never ever felt unwelcomed to this beautiful city; I have followed the rules of society & conducted my self with honesty & fairness, so I dont belive Black people when they beging to use their race color as an excuse to abuse the MAGNIFICENT CIVIL RIGHTS we enjoy in America today. If Black people have problems, create problems or dont abide by the laws or rules set by a democratic entity, it will not matter where they seek to live, because their way of life (THUGS,DOPE,LOUD MURDER RAP,BUlLIES, BELIGERANT,DIRTY,SECTION 8,FELONIES,MISDEMEANOR) will always be the target of OUR local police officers.

  2. John Galt

    What a fair and balanced article. The CAT Team only responds to complaints called in by neighbors. If people aren’t causing problems, there is no reason that they would even be contacted by the police. I live in Antioch and there are several Black families that live on my block. Only one has problems with the police and guess what, they are renting section 8. There have been 3 families in that house in the last year and a half. All have been renting section 8 and all have caused problems with loud music, threatening neighbors, yes even the Black ones who ask them to turn down the music, car burglaries, vandalism, and theft. If Antioch PD is harassing Black People, how come my other Black Neighbors don’t have problems. Could it be because they obey the law and follow the norms of civilized behavior just like the rest of us? The problems that these people are encountering is not because of their race, it is because of their behavior. These people are not being judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character

  3. Starchild

    Responding to “John Galt’s” comment — I am sorry to see you expressing such viewpoints while using the name of a hero of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” because Rand believed in treating people as individuals, and supported civil liberties. She certainly did not support police invading people’s homes without search warrants. While you go to pains not to paint people with the same brush on the basis of their being black, you clearly do apply a broad brush on the basis of people being the beneficiaries of Section 8 housing. Yes, government subsidizing some peoples’ housing at the expense of others is wrong — but the real responsibility lies with those who create and vote for the laws that create the subsidies in the first place, not with those who take advantage of them when offered. How many people are principled enough to turn down all forms of government welfare? Do you have a library card?

  4. John Galt

    Responding to “Starchilds” comment-
    No one has proven that the police has done anything unlawful. All there have been are accusations. If they have done something wrong I am sure it be delt with.

    No where did I state that all section 8 families were a problem. I just pointed out what I have observed in my neighborhood to show that the racism charge just doesn’t hold up.

    All that has been posted in this article is a bias view as to what has happened. From what I have been told, there are over 1000 section 8 vouchers being used in Antioch. How many of those people are complaining about Police harassment? If it was department policy to harass “Black” section 8 families. where are all of the other complaints.
    The fact is that the CAT team only responds to citizen complaints. They have no way of knowing if the call involves a section 8 house until after they respond to the complaint. But hey, lets ignore the facts and statistics and scream racism.
    As a wise old black man once told me “these days,
    racism is often used as an excuse by irresponsible black people to excuse bad behavior”.
    As far as your theory that “the real responsibility lies with those who create and vote for the laws that create the subsidies in the first place, not with those who take advantage of them when offered” it sound to be that you are the one “painting with a broad brush” by insinuating that these people are not capable of following the norms of civilized behavior. Ayn Rand also believed in personal responsibility, something that you brush aside with your comments.
    By the way, I have never applied for welfare and I no longer have a library card. I buy the books that I want to read and then donate them to charity when I’m done. I do not hold anything against anyone that takes advantage of any type of government assistance, but receiving government assistance is not an excuse for anti social behavior. no matter what your race.

  5. Kareem

    John Galt it doesn’t matter if their are a million Section 8 families, if only 1 Section 8 family is harrased then it’s wrong.

  6. John Galt

    Interesting that no one can respond to the merits of the article, instead they make broad statements.

    Kareem, if only one police officer is falsely accused then it’s wrong, If only one Section 8 family is cheating the system then it’s wrong. If Mr. Coleman who was reportedly not on the lease, on parole, and living in the house in violation of Section 8 rules, it’s wrong. So yes, if only on family is harassed, it is wrong. So is ignoring the facts and crying racism when the facts and statistics show the opposite.
    For all you people that see racism behind every door, maybe it’s because there is a mirror mounted to the back of it.
    Remember the boy who cried wolf and chose your battles wisely. If you don’t, you take the chance of being ignored when something racist does happen.

  7. El Grande LATIN GUY

    Well, the way I read this whole mess, is that Mr. PATRAS is suffering from the sickness that America’s been suffering; G L U T O N Y ………….”he who has’th and not need’th and profits from it’th, will suffer my wrath!!!!… C’mon Patras, if you lived next to people (BLACK,LATINO,ASIANS,ISLANDERS and yes WHITE) and they were creating a missearable neighborhood you too would get involved & seek any means to get the trouble out of you’re life the legal way. I don’t feel sorry for you loosing properties becasue of the economy or whatever reason, look at it as PUNISHMENT FOR HAVING TOO MUCH & not listeniing to the regular citizen here in ANTIOCH!!!!! =)

  8. Joker

    I personally have been having problems with the section eight problems for over four years now. If the people have issues with the Antioch police doing exactly what we pay them to do then they can leave the city. We as citizens do not want crime and violence in our city and we chose to tell our law enforcement officials to crack down on the crime. If the people on section eight are the ones committing the crime and they happen to be black, how does that become a race issue?
    If the housing authority had been doing their job a long time ago this problem would not exist today. By tracking crime committed by section eight households the criminals would have been evicted and not allowed to participate in the system again.
    The problem does not stop there; as people come into our city and get on the system they bring their children and their attitudes with them, the lack of respect for any authoritative figures and their threatening ways, both on and off campuses. Again no one is talking color. But the areas they come from bring gang and territory issues with the kids.
    As a school teacher who teaches at risk children I get to see the area these children come from by what school district they transfer from! Due to the cut backs in the housing authority, probation, and the police our area suffered a setback in the last four years. As terrible as the housing market has been it has helped correct a little of the section eight issue, the owners of these houses are unable to keep both homes so they are selling or losing them, forcing the troubled element out. I have seen a great improvement in my class demographics, the kids still make mistakes and I still have a full class but the attitude to blame everyone else is gone, these kids want to succeed and overcome their mistakes. They realize it is not the police that get them in trouble or pick on them, they realize if you do something wrong there are consequences that will be dealt out by society and the police just happen to be the elected arm of our society to do that job.
    How dare you compare yourself to the suffering of black Americans of the sixties, that was a different time and this country did wrong and so much good has come from what we all worked to correct back then. I have many good friends serving our city on the police force. They are good caring family oriented folks. Take a look inside your house before throwing the race gauntlet down.

  9. El Grande LATIN GUY

    Joker, you are deffinetly confused with the article in question; I for one will not, have not ever attempted to compare our civil rights (present) to the civil rights movements of the sixties!. You of course are short sighted because you saw the small refference I make toward the “RIGHTS” we enjoy in this country in contrast to the RACE issue the section 8 folks are using (AS USUAL). I’m not going to get in a competion with anyone, I want to focus on the issue on hand JOKER !,I’ve seen suffering, I’ve seen death, I’ve seen poverty, I’ve seen brutality. All this in my Country of origin: EL SALVADOR, & all these things I mention were the work of you’re friendly “DEATH SQUADS”. So when you try to throw the CIVIL RIGHTS issues, you need to have lived a lifetime in a third world county to talk about these issues! Mr. JOKER of course I D A R E! !

  10. ms bitch

    I really think that his comments are disrespectful to the minority community. As a minority we all suffer from discrimination and disrespect just because of our status or living situations. Section 8 should not be used as a tool to judge or down grate people. Section 8 has been an opportunity for many families to overcome certain obstacles and hardships they have faced. Section 8 is not the way out but it may also be a way to live espcially if you are trying to change your life. You dont have to be a recipient to understand but just a minority to knoe that your family is important no matter what people think.

  11. Robert

    Its amazing how neigh-sayers would minimize alot of things and villafy minority families especially when it comes to low-income Black section-8 renters. Who in the world is saying that these people are criminals?
    But again,
    El Grande LATIN GUY, has apparently not seen his own people harassed, day laborers and simple latino men handcuffed and harrassed for no reason… which happens all the time. He lives in a bubble. In his world, they would deserve it. Every dog has their day, his will come…I will apologize on the behalf of the latino community and say that his comments are not reflective of the whole but reflects his own prejudicial view on the Black community. He really think that law enforcement would some how differentiate between him and those section-8 tenants or his own people who are day laborers and simple men tryin to make it.

    Just because they are not at your doorstep does not mean it doesnt happen. You’re just too naive, ignorant, apathetic to even see it happen before your eyes.

    Its good to see that you guys are sticking together…If it wasn’t for that CAT would make society believe that their actions are just and fair.

    Don’t give in. Raise hell. Record them each every time.

  12. Robert

    I remember my professor once told me that when it comes to having to confront something and make a decision, we would go against what is right to absolve the moral dilemma that our brain poses on us.

    You came from A third world country where CHAOS was the natural order. You therefore moved to an area where you can feel safe under the protection of LAW ENFORECEMENT.

    Therefore, when law enforcement does go over the line your mind could never see them as “doing any wrong”. But you would instead see it as them doing their job and the harassed party as “deserving” of such treatment. Because you need them to feel secure. Without them, you would feel like your in El Salvador with the Death Squad all over again.

    I guarantee if you saw Law Enforcement in action much the same way these people in the article describe and see them much the same way others do, you would suddenly feel that you’re in El Salvador all over again. Your sense of security in the new world would quickly come crashing down.

    If a person was shot by law enforcement, your mentality would say to you that the person shot deserved it and Law enforcement in the right. Again, you mind will side with Law enforcement because of your serious need for their security.
    As my professor would, to you, THEY COULD DO NO WRONG…

    Unfortunately America has a history that others have not been privileged to experience.

    Trust me I was naive and didn’t think racism existed until I moved to Los Angeles.

    Racism is truly apart of California’s culture. Bred through generations of prejudicial views on one another.

    Its everywhere. But from NY, I have seen alot here than at home. Its weird though how people like:
    El Grande LATIN GUY
    John Galt all get on the band wagon demonizing section-8 tenants.

    I would love to do an experiment on all three of you guys in the same room. Unknowningly to each, all three would have prejudicial views on the next on first sight. I mean Joker is used as a moniker in gangs right? Do you have tattos? Do you lack a High School diploma? Galt sounds Welsh which would make you Caucasian, right? And Latin guy is an immigrant from a third-world country, EL Salvador. I can only imagine the comments I could divulge from you about the next. Historically, all three of you guys hold racist and prejudical views against each other.

    But I guess demonizing the subjects in this article sets you apart from “them”. (laughing) Amazing.

    They come to “our” neighborhood! Wow….Whites were saying that as well to Latinos who were in California you know? Or of immigrants who came to California for refuge. And yet you see no issue with your comments…



  13. El Grande LATIN GUY

    Well, Robert, it seems to me that you have a chip on you’re shoulder of some sort. You attempt to confuse the reader and or audience with big words & “some” factual literature but in reallity, there is only one truth, and it aint pretty. Reality is, if young black,white,latinos,asians or whatever cannot and will not abide by the rules of society and law enforcement, then they should be punished severaly with no hesitation; It should be swift and by any means!. Yes “OUR”, Yes “MINE”, Yes to all the meaning of ownership and you know why?…because everyone and anyone who wants to succeed in life here in AMERICA can do it, I wish I would have YOU go to EL SALVADOR & live for about 1 year, that should open you’re eyes to the real world…oh excuse me, I mean “third world” and then I would have you make or request all you’re wishes for a better law enforcement. I will fight to my last drop of blood for what I have accomplished here in the U.S. & people like me are being bred by the hundreds. So before you begin to ramble about how bad it is for “troublemakers”, see whats on the other side if the fence & maybe you’ll change you’re point of view and then you will undestand how good you have it here in the U.S. =0

  14. Robert

    Sorry my bigs word confused you. (Laughing) Which reminds me why I should not be debating with you.

    “I have been renting to Section 8 families in the East Bay since 1997,” said Riaz Patras “and have never had a problem with them, except in Antioch when the police started paying me visits to tell me that they want me to evict all of my Section 8 families.”

    “Their good people and they’ve never been a problem.”

    And yet you’re still trying to push your negative stereotypes of a group of people which the article has already made clear that these people were not troublemakers . But your going to tell readers that they are. How dare you! Again, my comments once proves again your prejudicial views. You’re so into it that you don’t even know what the hell your saying. This is why you are not employed by the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIIES UNION. You have no concept of Civil Liberties whatsoever instead of traumatized view as an immigrant from a third world country. Nobody is talking about living in El Salvador, this is paradise compared to your country….lol

    As millions of people would tell you, especially those who are now elders…To be a minority in the US, you already know whats on the otherside of the fence.. Shame you don’t! Go read some American History Textbooks. That should have been a requirement for you before anyone issued you a green card.

    Then he talks about success. What the hell? Stop trying to beat your chest to make yourself look good…You have no clue what are other people are trying to do with their lives. Or the REAL WORLD obstacles that they face.

    Every dog has their day….and as an Immigrant from El Salvador, your Mexican immigrant counterparts could definitely teach you something. Your day hasn’t come yet.

    Issues existed along time in America before you decided to jump on a boat to come over here.

    Its called Institutional Racism…You should take a class in it before you comment…In El Salvador do they even teach you guys that stuff in college. Do they have colleges? Those who have been fortunate enough to learn American History and Instutional racisim at a University, know exactly well what I am talking about.

    Kudos for the author to bring this to light.

    EVERYONE READING YOUR MESSAGES YOU SHOULD NOT TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY…IM SORRY! You are seriously miseducated, ill-informed, Blind, and a biased immigrant.

  15. El Grande LATIN GUY

    Well Mr. Robert, once again you show off you’re inteligent demuir by offending me!, thats OK; It sounds like you dont want to give up the hand that feeds you (JUST LIKE A DRUG PUSHER MENTALITY). Racism ? , my friend if in you’re last writing you don’t seem racist I don’t know what racism is?. Mr. Robert, We just want persons who bring, create or break the rules to undestand that this situation cannot & will not continue. You are going to far deep into history of this country & its past mistakes, but never forget how you got to where you are. Books or schools don’t make you an expert on any issue, all it does to humans is to show us the different options & historical events that have taken place & it shows us mistakes that were made by different kind of people toward other humans. So, while you wave you’re banner of an intilegent,afluent,educated,resourseful african american, I just reply to you, I lived amognst thieves!…. L O L……..=)

  16. Robert

    I can see how you’re trying to sound smart; your grammar and statements are totally off the wall and left field…I dont think you truly know how you sound or look. Thats okay…

    Its funny, who said I was African-American?…
    Crazy to think that an educated Latino American is writing on the other side on the behalf of these African-Americans in the article.

    Thank you for complimenting my intelligence.

    Stop using we…speak for yourself….”We just want persons who bring, create or break the rules to undestand that this situation cannot & will not continue.” -READERS!!!! LATINGUY IS TOTALLY LOST…ITS OKAY ITS NOT HIS FAULT.

    “I just reply to you, I lived amognst thieves!” (WHAT THE??? AND PEOPLE SHOULDN’T LAUGH AT YOU FOR THAT STATEMENT) You sound really simple and should make better use of the english language instead of trying to make jokes…



  17. keep it real

    Antioch got caught lying and paid off a S.F.P.D Dectective for discrimination and civil rights violations and police bruality.
    Wow Antioch Police cant hide behind their twisted facts on this one. They paid the S.F.P.D Officer off to attempt to hide the truth.
    Why pay someone off in a "settelment "if the Antioch police officers are acting justly and following policy.
    Something smells on this one folks.

    Maybe the U.S District Attorney needs to do a further investions on this one. I bet you there will be something very interesting exposed.Ultimately,Officer Santiago Martinez was fired why?????????
    I bet you it was because he got caught lying on the police report he submitted because inversely it did not match up with the facts which were heard on the audio tape which was booked into evidence THAT IS PERJURY!!!!!!


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