SUNNYSIDE — In an announcement which appeared to have blindsided city officials, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, filed a Federal Civil Rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on Wednesday, July 30, against the City of Sunnyside
In a series of detailed media announcements and supplemental documents received by the Sunnyside Sun over a several day period, the AG’s office provided the kind of details in its’ suit and extra documentation, which city officials in their own prepared response, state they were seeking to help correct the situation.
AG and city officials each wrote in respective media statements they agreed they were in discussions together as far back as 2017, seeking joint resolution to the multiple eviction related and civil violations which are claimed in the suit.
According to the AG’s initial release, the suit claims in eviction cases and policy failures, dating back to 2010, the city breached state and federal laws by not following the laws and not protecting individual’s rights of individuals during eviction processes.
In following documentation received by the Sunnyside Sun on Aug. 1, from Brionna Aho, AG Communications Director, the complaint is further detailed, “The complaint alleges that Sunnyside has a policy or practice of denying residents living in the Crime Free Rental Housing Program (CFRHP) housing their right to due process of law afford by the federal and state constitutions, and their notice and process rights under the Residential Landlord Tenant Act (RLTA).”
The city operates a (CFRHP), under WA State authority which allows them to work jointly with landlords to react to issues occurring in rental homes within city jurisdiction. The type of actions taken are intended to reduce gang and crime activity.
Three detailed scenarios of eviction actions undertaken by the city were discussed in the initial release along with the type of violations occurring against city renters.
In this section of the AG release, it states, “Most of the unlawfully evicted residents have been Latino, women or families with children,” charactering this as a practice of civil rights violations and discrimination.
Within the ensuing documentation received by the newspaper was a copy of a July 1, 2019, letter addressed to city special counsel, Kirk A. Ehlis, of Menke Jackson Beyer, LLP, of Yakima. The letter informed the city, through Mr. Ehlis, of its impending intentions,” As such, the AGO will file a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington to remedy Sunnyside’s conduct and prevent it from occurring.”
The AG’s office states that the city, among other missteps, was operating outside of CFRHP parameters, and while doing so, breached individual civil and rent rights, which then created short- and long-term homelessness to the individuals in each case.
The AG’s July 1 document continued, “Finally, SPD’s (Sunnyside Police Department) operation of the CFRHP implicates the civil rights protections of the federal Fair Housing Act. . . Washington Law Against Discrimination . . . and the RLTA provision prohibiting a landlord from terminating a tenancy based on the tenant’s status as a victim of domestic violence.
Although landlords under the CFRHP may expedite the delivery of the eviction notice, the eviction process must still proceed, according to the state’s Residential Landlord Tenant Act, through the court process.
The lawsuit asks the city and its employees to stop “unlawful practices,” and seeks restitution for the affected.
Both parties acknowledged a communication breakdown during the discussion phase of the investigation, but breakdowns at very different points.
According to the AG, “Over the course of its investigation, the AGO has had multiple communications and meetings with city leaders, most recently in March 2019, in an effort to work with the city to bring its police practices in compliance with state and federal law. These meetings were unsuccessful.”