‘My constitutional and tenant’s rights were violated in John Stewart Co.’s subsidized HUD housing on Treasure Island!’

by Carol Harvey

Reporter’s note: When The John Stewart Co., which functions as Treasure Island property management, got wind of the following San Francisco Bay View news story exposing an employee for illegally bullying and attempting to break in on a subsidized tenant, the company hired the San Francisco-based Zanghi law firm to threaten the publisher, editor and reporter with a cease and desist letter. We have scanned and published the original letter below followed by our own demand letter insisting publicly that all such tenant bullying and unconstitutional efforts to muzzle the press immediately cease and desist.

But first please consider the events below that led to these cascading violations of state and federal law by The John Stewart Co. against Felita Sample, a HUD-subsidized tenant.

Felita Sample demonstrates a San Francisco police officer’s attempt to intimidate her by shoving his foot inside her front door. She blocked his entry so that he failed to violate her Fourth Amendment rights against illegal entry into her home.

Loud pounding on her townhouse door startled Felita Sample. Squinting through her peephole, she spied Max Garcia, a Catholic Charities-John Stewart Co. property manager, standing outside on her porch accompanied by a mold inspector and a maintenance man. Felita lives in one of the Treasure Island subsidized units built by the U.S. Navy between the 1950s and 1980s, all of which are saturated with toxic black mold. She was due for a mold inspection and cleanup, but this visit was a surprise.

Felita tells the whole story: ‘You’re violating my Fourth Amendment equal rights’

Felita, who is often ill with kidney pain that she is certain is caused by Treasure Island toxins, needs advance warning for such visits. She refused Garcia entrance because she knew that, except for fire, flood or earthquake, California landlord-tenant law required him to post a 24-hour notice on or near her door. But the main reason she didn’t want Garcia “on the premises where I pay rent, is that he has sexually harassed me in the past.”

She refused to let the men in.

Frustrated, Garcia began threatening her. “If you don’t let me in,” he ordered, “I’m going to call the police.”

Through the door, she told him, “Max, I don’t care who you call. You are not coming into my house.”

Garcia made good on his ultimatum, reappearing later with the repairman and a cop who joined Garcia, insisting, “We’re coming in there.”

Felita is adamant that she loves all people and is not “prejudiced.” But, because Max and the cop were Hispanic, she sensed a sort of “Mexican connection.”

Felita went to the door, but she did not open it. From her peephole, she observed Max standing just outside with the officer at the top of the stairs on her front porch.

Through the barrier, she asked them, “What do you guys want?”

The cop said, “We’re coming in there.”

The cop said, “We’re coming in there.”

“I am not opening up,” Felita answered. “Get away from my door.”

She walked to the back of her house.

They leaned on the bell. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Forced to stop the racket, she went to the door and cracked it.

The officer immediately wedged one foot into the opening, “like he was going to Bogart on me” and force his way in.

Felita demonstrates how the cop violated her Fourth Amendment protections against illegal entry when he forced his foot in the door.

“What are you doing, man?” she demanded. “You’re violating my constitutional rights. I pay rent here. You can’t come in my house.”

Armed only by her slight frame and knowledge of her Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights, this small African-American woman successfully blocked and stopped four men – a property manager, a maintenance man, a mold inspector and now this cop – from bullying her into opening up.

Armed only by her slight frame and knowledge of her Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights, this small African-American woman successfully blocked and stopped four men – a property manager, a maintenance man, a mold inspector and now this cop – from bullying her into opening up.

She proceeded to inform them they were violating her citizen’s protections from illegal entry without a warrant, her safeguards against search and seizure, her defense against self-incrimination and, finally and most critically, her right of equal treatment and protection under the law.

Fourth Amendment

If the cop had been properly informed and paying attention, he would have understood that Felita knew the Fourth Amendment, which protects “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Fourth Amendment rights protect U.S. citizens from illegal entry as well as arbitrary arrests, stop-and-frisk and forms of surveillance like wiretaps. Additionally, intrusive inspections of homes are written into state landlord-tenant laws, purposely incorporating federal law. California Civil Code 1954 states, “(a) A landlord may enter the dwelling unit” without the tenant’s permission only: (1) “In case of emergency (fire, earthquake or flood, or) (2) To make necessary or agreed repairs.” Repairs or inspections, however, are non-emergency situations for which the code requires a 24-hour written notice posted where the tenant can easily find it.

Fifth Amendment

“You don’t have a warrant. So you don’t have a legal right to force your way into my house,” Felita informed them.

She knew if she allowed them entry without a search warrant, she would hand over her Fifth Amendment protections against admitting guilt for some unspecified crime, possibly unknown to her, along with her right to insist they first go through a judicial process to obtain the appropriate legal papers.

The Fifth Amendment mandates that, before you barge into someone’s private home, you must first file paperwork presenting evidence to a court that you require entry. A judge then issues a signed document describing the place and itemizing objects or persons to be seized. Felita knew that, by law, they must present such a warrant to her at her door.

14th Amendment

Finally, Felita confronted them with the Equal Rights Amendment. Like many Black U.S. citizens who are descendants of former slaves and modern-day police brutality victims, Felita knew that law well. “Those are the rules African-Americans get violated on,” she noted.

The 14th Amendment orders: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdictions the equal protection of the laws.” States must treat each individual person – regardless of race, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age or physical ability – like all other persons in similar conditions and circumstances.

Unable to intimidate Felita, the officer became frustrated. “I hope you die of mold,” he shouted.

“I’m not going to die from mold,” she replied. “The Health Department is going to inspect the premises,” and clean the mold up.

After shutting the door on Max, the cop and the inspector, Felita called 911. She told the sergeant, “Even the police were aiding and abetting a sexual harasser. This is private property.”

After shutting the door on Max, the cop and the inspector, Felita called 911. She told the sergeant, “Even the police were aiding and abetting a sexual harasser.”

Then she held up to his attention the powerful movement “that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.”

Black Lives Matter,” she said.

“Do you want me to counsel the cop?” the officer asked.

“Do what you’re going to do,” she answered. “I’m going file with the Office of Citizen Complaints.”

The following Monday, Max returned with the mold inspector, the maintenance man and a warrant.

She said, “Max, I won’t let you in. You sexually harassed me.”

Felita lives in a second-floor apartment on a curved street, where “I can see everybody from stop sign to stop sign. I’m the only person on my whole block – the whole island, in fact,” whose unit Max enters with the maintenance man.

On one occasion, she asked him, “Why do you come to my house when I don’t see you come to anybody else’s house on my street. I am the only tenant (whose home) you are entering with the maintenance man.”

A property manager’s job is to collect the rent and ensure the place is up to par. Max’s pattern is to amble in and loiter uselessly in the living room where Felita senses him undressing her with his eyes. She feels “really creepy” – so violated she covers herself with a blanket.

What he is doing is very clear to her, as it would be to most women.

Max’s pattern is to amble in and loiter uselessly in the living room where Felita senses him undressing her with his eyes. She feels “really creepy” – so violated she covers herself with a blanket. What he is doing is very clear to her, as it would be to most women.

Felita feels, also, that even though he’s Hispanic, when Garcia treats her in this sexist way, he’s acting within the white man’s male entitlement “system.”

She finally got tired of it and told him, “Just stop coming to my house. Just leave me alone.”

For a third time, Felita shut her door on Max. She ushered the inspector and the maintenance man – “because he does the repairs” – around her apartment, leading them to all the areas where black mold was smeared across living room walls, dotted in ceiling corners and festering in the dark crevices of closets. The inspector took photographs. Felita said, “Goodbye,” and they left.

Felita said the inspection’s final assessment was, “I have mold all over my house.” Catholic Charities had not maintained her premises properly, ensuring the dwelling was mold-free. Widespread fungus caused Felita’s apartment to fail the inspection. Felita reported, therefore, that though she could pay her part of the subsidy, HUD had to deny Catholic Charities’ requests for funds to pay its portion. The housing provider was forced to come up with its cut of Felita’s rent money on its own.

This diminutive woman’s ultimate victory lay in her forceful defense of her constitutional rights. Fortunately, on this occasion, Felita’s refusal to allow a cop and his three male companions to force their way into her home without a warrant didn’t result in her injury or death.

Felita’s story in upcoming issues will cover a vast smorgasbord of other island illegalities.

Cease and desist letter to Carol Harvey and the Bay View from attorney John Zanghi on behalf of The John Stewart Co.

The John Stewart Co. had its lawyer, John Zanghi, write this cease and desist letter to reporter Carol Harvey and to the Bay View. Click each page to enlarge.

Public demand to John Stewart Co., its founder and chairman John Stewart and attorney John Zanghi to cease and desist from violating California landlord-tenant laws and First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution

John K. Stewart, founder and chairman of the board of The John Stewart Co.

John Stewart, founder and chairman of the board of The John Stewart Co.John Stewart pays flotillas of lawyers to bend to his corporate will his management teams and tenants. The John Stewart Co., a self-described “full-service housing management, development and consulting organization” with San Francisco headquarters at 1388 Sutter St. and offices in the Presidio and on Treasure Island, boasts its founder and chairman’s “personal commitment to the field of affordable housing,” with a leading foothold in the immensely lucrative HUD subsidy market – housing masses of low-income Californians, mostly of color.

The 2013 National Affordable Housing Management Association report ranks JSCo California’s largest affordable housing provider, the sixth nationwide, according to its website.

Permission for certain behaviors flows from the top of an organization. Through the combined legal muscle of a clutch of law firms, John Stewart emboldens 1,300 employees statewide, including his management hierarchy, to perpetrate the kind of intimidation and threats Max Garcia felt free to launch at Felita Sample, a HUD-subsidized tenant of color.

Many Treasure Island tenants have reported – and I have personally witnessed – JSCo employees treating Treasure Island residents in this coercive, rude and abusive manner.

After extended investigations into John Stewart’s Treasure Island operations, the San Francisco Bay View newspaper published this article’s documented facts exactly as related by the tenant.

Accompanied by others, including police, property manager Max Garcia attempted to force his way into Felita Sample’s home at 1406 Sturgeon. If Ms. Sample hadn’t stopped him, Garcia would have violated the Fourth, Fifth and 14th amendments – perpetrating illegal entry, warrantless search and seizure, and abrogation of her equal rights.

Surely his lawyer knows that if Stewart incites employees to use police to gain access to a tenant’s home without a 24-hour notice through warrantless, brute “command and control” tactics, everyone from the top down who mimics such intimidation violates California Civil Code 1954 and the U.S. Constitution.

Additionally, Ms. Sample told this reporter that she stopped allowing this project manager into her home around June 2015 because he stood around with nothing to do, staring at her in a sexual way. That she felt so “creepy” she covered herself with a blanket is not open to question and cannot be litigated.

John P. Zanghi, partner in the ZTA law firm: Zanghi Torres Arshawsky LLP

John P. Zanghi, is a partner at Zanghi Torres Arshawsky, LLP, 703 Market St., San Francisco, their practice self-described as representing “landlords, property management companies, housing authorities, affordable subsidized housing providers and real estate investors throughout Northern California.” John Stewart hired John Zanghi to author this demand letter.

Paying an attorney to threaten a publication with legal action for reporting witnessed, documented facts that expose embarrassing truths about corruption in his real estate empire confirms bullying as the chief way this corporate leader opportunistically establishes his power and his tyrannical management style.

Attorney Zanghi overzealously denies that his letter attempts “to restrict your constitutional right of freedom of the press” and calls free press “a liberty to which the John Stewart Company, and its clients, are deeply devoted.” This “deep devotion” is questionable when a powerful firm pays lawyers to trample on the First Amendment, pressuring a reporter into withholding facts they find embarrassing.

John Stewart bears responsibility for Garcia’s workplace activity. Let Stewart instruct all male employees to cease and desist from illegal and sexist behavior, incentivizing them to treat Treasure Island residents, especially women, with respect.

Let Mr. Garcia maintain his “reputation” by behaving reputably.

Let Mr. Garcia maintain his “reputation” by behaving reputably.

To regain public trust, let Stewart stop using attorneys as front men to strong-arm journalists and their publications with accusations of libel for meticulously documented, factually accurate reporting which exposes to community scrutiny the overbearing and illegal tactics to which both firms have stooped.

We urge John Stewart and John Zanghi to cease and desist from violating state and federal law. Further, we demand the cessation of human and civil rights abuses inflicted on poor people and people of color renting HUD-subsidized Treasure Island housing from which John Stewart hugely profits.


Carol Harvey, Investigative Reporter, San Francisco Bay View newspaper

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political investigative journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.