ANTIOCH -- All African-American residents of the city who receive Section 8 housing aid can join a class-action discrimination suit, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The action adds about 1,000 people to a lawsuit originally filed on behalf of five women who claimed that the police department's Community Action Team had discriminated against them.
The certification of the class-action suit includes all African-Americans "who have held, currently hold, or may hold Section 8 vouchers and all members of their households, who reside or will reside in Antioch," U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong said in Thursday's ruling.
Only four of the claims, however, are entitled to receive money from a jury verdict, Armstrong said.
Bay Area Legal Aid sued in May 2008 on behalf of five African-American women receiving Section 8 assistance who accused the police department's Community Action Team, or CAT, of racial discrimination. The American Civil Liberties Union and three other Bay Area civil rights groups later sought class-action status for all Section 8 recipients in Antioch.
This week's decision is encouraging because it allows much more testimony for the jury to consider about Antioch's policing practices and to show a broad pattern of discriminatory behavior, said Brad Seligman, an attorney for the civil rights group, The Impact Fund.
"Our goal is to get some protection for these families. They should not be targeted for the sole reason that they are on Section 8," Seligman said. Some of the action team's alleged behavior, such as showing up unannounced at homes or making threatening reports, is totally improper, he said.
The police CAT unit was formed in 2006 to address residents' complaints about neighborhood crime and "persistent nuisance, health and safety issues," according to the city.
The suit sought damages of $4,000 per resident and a permanent injunction against the police to prohibit harassment or intimidation of Section 8 residents.
Armstrong's rejection of a larger damages claim was a victory for Antioch, said City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland.
That decision, along with a federal jury verdict Thursday against an Antioch resident who claimed discrimination affirms that the city's community policing programs "were and continue to be appropriate, unbiased attempts to address crime and neighborhood problems," Nerland said.
Onita Tuggles, a Section 8 recipient, claimed that police should not have reported to the Contra Costa Housing Authority criminal activities involving residents in her house.
"We look forward to another favorable jury verdict," Nerland said. The two cases are almost identical, she said.
Section 8 is a federal rental-housing subsidy program for low-income people administered by the Housing Authority of Contra Costa County.
Antioch has approximately 1,900 Section 8 rental units. Of those, about 93 percent have never had a police visit, the city said in January.
A trial date has not been set, Nerland said.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.